It doesn't matter how I ended up strapped into an Extra 300L stunt plane with US Unlimited Aerobatics Champion pilot Jeff Boerboon on the joystick. When you get a chance to ride in something like that you say "yes," and don't pussy out when they make you wear a parachute.
Not gonna lie, I almost pussied out when they made me wear a parachute.
Somebody had slapped it into my gut like a damn rugby ball as I strode toward the plane, with the reassurance of "don't worry, it's just the law that you wear it in this type of aircraft."
Oh, great. Must be wicked safe.
"If the pilot tells you to, just undo this clip, this clip, and this clip, press this lever, stand up, jump out, and rip this chord. But that's not gonna happen. Have fun!"
I'd already forgotten where to start with that shit as I was injected into the front seat of the plane, which basically had the roominess to make a kayak feel like a Class A RV. As the glass-bubble cockpit closed over my head I started to wonder if I was insufficiently terrified for what was about to take place.
Here are a few minutes of GoPro highlights for those of you who want to see just how hard a man can try not to barf:
The Extra 300L has 300 horsepower and a fully loaded weight of just under 2,000 pounds. That kind of power-to-pounds ratio will make you question everything you've ever accepted as a possibility of performance: the thing can pull 10 Gs. For you aviation nerds, here's a link to all the technical data you could want on it.
Unbelievably, it's stablemate the Jet Waco eclipses even the mighty 300L. Loosely based off a 1929 Taperwing Waco biplane, the Jack Link's showpiece is powered by an absurdly large and beautiful radial propeller engine. That's then supplemented by the jet turbine off a damn LearJet which triples the plane's power.
The Jet Waco can fly straight up, stall vertically, then hit the gas and surge upward again. Luckily for me, there's only one seat in that bad boy.
Earlier I'd rocked up to the little Long Island airport all cocky-like. I'd been in fast stuff. Driven all kinds of cars, motorcycles, a boat with two 454s... hell, I've even spent some hours in two-person planes and solid days of my life in airliners. How scary could this little propeller plane be?
Well I found out as soon as we got on the runway; Jeff had the thing off the ground in less distance than it'd take to bump-start my moped. Oh boy.
My stomach returned to my body for the first time as we leveled out at around 3,000 feet. Jeff was talking about the plane, the view, and dropping Jack Link's taglines into every other sentence like a champ. Basically, this machine was about to sit me down and destroy any hope I could ever have of feeling "extreme" behind the wheel of anything ever again.
Oh yeah... the 300L I was riding in and the beastly biplane it's a sidekick for are promotional tools for Jack Link's beef jerky. (Your move, Red Bull.)
Anyway we got over the Atlantic and Jeff let me take the controls. Well, the plane was operated by a host of knobs and switches I didn't have access to of course, but I was allowed to work the stick and press the pedals to make the aircraft tilt and yaw.
Imagine operating a machine so responsive, you barely felt like separate entities at all. Imagine... something that literally lived up to the hyperbolic descriptions British journalists give every supercar they drive.
"Mental" steering? I mean, yeah. It was mental. I thought it, and it happened.
An input to the joystick on this aircraft caused a reaction as instantaneous and seemingly-impossible as bringing up the scope in a Call Of Duty game. It just... went. Exactly where I wanted it to go. Immediately. No, really. Immediately. The figure from the brochure is 400º per second.
When I got back in the Durango loaner I'm living in right now, it felt like a fucking river barge. Just kiddin, I love that thing... but a stunt plane it is not. I digress.
Jeff took over as ran over a beach, looking like an HO Gauge train set.
"See that monument off the starboard side?"
Before I could consider the question the plane had tilted 90º right. I saw the monument, alright. Somehow on top of my head.
"Okay, now we're gonna do a little seatbelt check."
Oh I'm sure nothing horrible is gonna happen now.
I soon found myself looking straight-up at the ocean. All I could do was giggle as blood rushed to my head and I examined waves that didn't look all that far away. So yeah, the seatbelt worked.
Jeff then verbalized what the next exercise would be. Some kind of "airshow tumble," like I had any clue what the fuck that was. Hilariously, after experiencing it I still couldn't tell you... the plane was plummeting (or were we climbing?) then it was doing the opposite. The horizon might has well have been a kaleidoscope, while Jeff deadpan-dropped Jack Link's slogans and my organs felt like they were being re-arranged.
I hope this guy's well compensated, because he might be the beastliest PR guy on the planet. I literally wanted beef jerky even though I could barely keep the venti chai latte that was scalding my esophagus for the second time inside my body.
Jeff had me take the controls again; letting me aileron-roll and loop-de-loop the plane. I don't know how Starfox does it over and over again... that shit is exhausting. (As I'm sure someone will point out— the "barrel roll" Peppy insists you perform in the Nintendo 64 classic is actually an aileron-roll.)
I won't deny that with each pitch I felt myself getting one click closer to utilizing the Clif bar-sized barf bag taped to the fuselage, but I was having an absolute blast.
There's no vehicle I've ever driven that could even come close to touching the experience that is the Extra 300L. Things just... happened. It went left, right, sideways, upside down, as quickly as you could think. Quicker, in my case.
At one point we were perpendicular with the Earth, just hovering, until Jeff dropped an aileron or something and we went plummeting toward the ocean at over 200 MPH. While he told me why Jack Link's is the number one meat snack in the USA.
As much fun as I had getting my mind blown by the capabilities of the stunt plane, I was pretty grateful to be back on the ground by the end of the ride, and it gave me a chance to take a closer look at the biplane flagship.
"Nothing you're looking at is from 1929," said Jeff as we admired the immense one-person aircraft. "Everything's been... 'beefed up'," he said with a wink. "We like that phrase around here." Swoon. Somebody give this man a raise.
Jeff went on to tell me that aerobatic flying was something he'd wanted to do his whole life.
"I saw some guys doing this at an airshow when I was about six. Ever since then, I figured airplanes were meant to go upside-down." He flies commercially too, but his passion is the airshow insanity.
Screamin' Sasquatch and its sidekick are being carried around the country right now in a semi-truck (they've also got a sweet CJ-7 for pushing it around the tarmac). Both planes will be at the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach on Long Island this Memorial Day weekend. I highly recommend you brave the Expressway to check it out, and I'm not even getting stuffed full of Jack Link's to say that (though, guys, if you wanna send some over...)
If you refuse to have any part of Long Island, here's the plane's schedule for the rest of the year. Jeff will be on the stick making us land-bound performance guys feel like we're pushing shopping carts, putting on what I'm sure will be a hell of a show.
|Farmingdale, N.Y.||Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach||May 24-25|
|Rockford, Ill.||Rockford Airfest||June 7-8|
|Smyrna, Tenn.||The Great Tennessee Air Show||June 14-15|
|Seattle, Wash.||Sea Fair||Aug. 2-3|
|Ypsilanti, Mich.||Thunder Over Michigan||Aug. 9-10|
|Duluth, Minn.||Duluth Air & Aviation Expo||Aug. 23-24|
|Cleveland, Ohio||Cleveland National Air Show||Aug. 30 – Sep. 1|
|Reno, Nev.||Reno Air Races||Sept. 10-14|
|Hillsboro, Ore.Daytona Beach, Fla.||Oregon International Air ShowWings and Waves Air Show||Sept. 19-21Oct. 11-12|
|Pensacola, Fla.||NAS Pensacola||Nov. 7-9|
Images: Scott Snorteland, Scott Russell, Jack Link's, Andrew Collins