Loop-the-loop hoots in the Hunter Valley

Flying high ... a Nanchang CJ-6A fighter aeroplane near Cessnock.
Flying high ... a Nanchang CJ-6A fighter aeroplane near Cessnock. Photo: Mal Davies

The generally held notion of a "back-seat driver" is rapidly taking on a whole new meaning for me as we roar across the sky at 350km/h some 1000 metres above the Cessnock vineyards in a Chinese designed-and-built Nanchang CJ-6A fighter plane.

It all seems somewhat surreal - strapped into the rear of the two-seater cockpit, joystick clasped in my right hand, participating in an incredibly realistic in-cockpit simulation known as "ghosting" as we bank, level off, gently climb, descend and bank again.

And then the crowning moment of the flight: I hear Dan's voice in my earphones inviting me to try my hand - strictly in accordance with his instructions and under his supervision, of course - at executing a loop-the-loop.

There's a moment of hesitation before committing, but overall an intense feeling of excitement as I realise that what I'm experiencing is as close as any untrained person will ever come to actually flying a fighter aircraft on their own.

I pull back firmly on the joystick. The plane seemingly responds, nosing up quickly, its engine roaring with the effort as it spears vertically upwards and over on to its back before plunging earthwards and finally levelling out to regain its normal flying orientation.

The plane seemingly responds, nosing up quickly.

I can hear Dan's voice in my earphones: "You've just performed a loop-the-loop. How do you feel?" Only one word readily comes to mind ... unbelievable!

I arrived early at Cessnock Aerodrome, completed the required paperwork, and received a pre-flight briefing from Aerohunter's chief pilot, Dan O'Donnell.

That done, we walked to the plane and Dan settled me into the rear seat of the narrow cockpit before lowering himself into the cockpit directly in front of me.

Moments later, the supercharged radial engine spluttered to life and we taxied slowly towards the runway. A final exchange with the tower, and soon we were airborne and climbing steeply.

As the earth rapidly dropped away below us, Dan explained the plane's capabilities and proceeded to introduce me, by way of "practical demonstration", to the crushing sensation of g-force; momentary weightlessness; and a number of exhilarating and, occasionally, heart-stopping aerobatic manoeuvres including barrel rolls, loop-the-loops, stall turns and free-fall.

As we come in to land, I reflect for just a moment on the past 20 minutes of my life.

What an experience! Aerohunter offers a number of adventure flight packages to the public, including "warbird manoeuvring and acrobatics" and a number of "reconnaissance" and "full military mission" simulations.

Whichever flight you choose, in addition to the thrill of the "hands-on" experience during the flight, you will be awestruck by what you see beneath and around you.

From the cockpit of the aircraft, you'll see some of Newcastle and the Hunter Valley's most spectacular scenery as you've never seen it before.

There are breathtaking views of the city itself, beautiful Lake Macquarie, the mighty Hunter River, the patchwork of vineyards and farms in and around Cessnock, the Watagan Mountains, spectacular coastal beaches stretching north and south, the Stockton sand dunes, the famous wreck of the Sygna.

Last but not least, there's beautiful Nelson Bay, the jewel in the crown of the Great Lakes Marine Park.

I'm already planning my next adventure flight.

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