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24 September 2017Last updated
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Features | People

Excuse us, while we kiss the sky!

Over the past 20 years, watchmaker Breitling has made a name for itself as a premier aeronautics brand. But just when you thought it’s got it all, the Breitling Wing Walkers showed the world that impossible isn’t its style

By Tania Bhattacharya
3 Mar 2016 | 03:48 pm
  • Martyn Carrington.

    Source:Supplied Image 1 of 2
  • Stéphanie Pansier.

    Source:Supplied Image 2 of 2

To encourage the brave, we have two Breitling Wing Walking team members - Martyn Carrington, pilot, and Stéphanie Pansier, wing walker (and the first French one at that) – talk about their incredible jobs, and quell any doubts should you be battling with yourself about doing this.

Martyn, when did you become a pilot, and why was stunt flying your ultimate profession of choice?

From the age of nine, I knew flying was for me after I took a flight from my little local airstrip. I had been lucky and was taken seriously enough to be given a job helping out at the local flying club. I ended up working there for many years and in return I earned all of my flying lessons. I passed all my flight tests by 16 years and had to anxiously wait until my 17th birthday to be legally allowed to fly solo, which I managed at around 7am that day. I eventually worked at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford and the amazing environment helped me develop an interest in airshows and display flying. As chance would have it, I saw a job advertised with Aerosuperbatics and I was lucky enough to get it. I have now been with the team for 15 years.

Stephanie, what led you to wing walking?

I saw the team performing at an air show in France and I was really impressed so I started following the Wing Walkers on social media. When I saw that you could pay to experience wing walking yourself, I asked my parents for a wing walk for my birthday in 2014. I enjoyed it so much that when I saw the job on the website, I applied straightaway. I’ve always been passionate about aviation and I feel like I belong in the sky. I hope to get my private pilot’s licence very soon.

Martyn and Stephanie, how do pilots and the walkers practice their moves together? Is each wing walker paired with a specific pilot?

We brief on the ground before each flight. The most experienced wing walker is generally assigned to fly on the lead pilot’s wing, leading the sequence and manoeuvres for the other girl/s to follow. They communicate with hand signals and signs throughout the display. Wing walkers are generally assigned to particular pilots for the duration of an event or a particular tour, but they can easily change if need be.

Martyn and Stephanie, when performing at races/shows, are the sequences choreographed in a particular way?

All routines are choreographed beforehand so that the performance is synchronised and as aesthetically pleasing as possible for the crowds below.

Martyn, during your initial wing walking flights, were you afraid, since another person’s safety was pretty much in your hands? How do you handle uncertainty?

I was confident in my ability as a pilot as well as the aircraft, which is specifically designed and maintained to do this specific type of flying. The aircraft and wing walking rigs are fully certified and the wing walker is safely strapped into a five-point military style harness. Safety is our number one priority.

Stephanie, how afraid were you during your initial flights?

I wasn’t afraid, just excited! I’ve always liked adrenaline-filled sports and new experiences so I was just eager to start wing walking.

Martyn and Stephanie, what fitness routines do you follow to stay fit?

Stephanie: When I’m at home I do weight training every day. We have to be fairly fit because of the G forces we withstand while wing walking, so we need to build the strength in our muscles, particularly the neck and arms. I also run to keep fit and eat well to ensure I have a lot of energy.

Martyn: As we are in the cockpit, we don’t withstand the same G forces as the wing walkers, but we do have a yearly medical so it is still important for us to stay fit and healthy. I watch what I eat and keep active.

Martyn and Stephanie, is the team close-knit, especially since establishing trust is such a major part of the deal?

The team is very close-knit - we travel all over the world together so we are like a family. Our pilots have years of experience so we trust them 100 per cent and we also practise on a regular basis to ensure our performances run smoothly.

Martyn and Stephanie, what have been some stand-out moments so far up in the air?

Martyn: The job in general is fairly crazy, but the stand-out moments have been seeing iconic buildings such as the Burj Khalifa, Burj Al Arab and Sydney Opera House for the first time from above. It is in these moments that I am so grateful to do a job I am so passionate about.

Stephanie: Flying above Dubai is one of the craziest experiences I’ve ever had. We fly in different countries all over the world, but Dubai has such a unique landscape, beautiful architecture and ocean views, which provide a stunning backdrop for what we do. The desert views from Al Ain are absolutely incredible too. I am really excited to see Abu Dhabi from the sky during our upcoming performances at the Abu Dhabi Air Expo and the Red Bull Air Race.

Martyn, flying amateurs (like me) is an even greater challenge. How freaked out do people get up there?

Wing walking is not something that you come across very often so the majority of people are fairly apprehensive about the concept of standing on a plane rather than sitting in it. But, by the time they land they are won over by the experience and want to do it again and again.

Stephanie, apart from rolling around in the sky, are you interested in other adventure sports?

Yes, I love anything adventurous! I recently skydived over the Palm, which was incredible. I also do some aerobatics flights, at the moment as a passenger, but in the future I would like to be able to fly by myself.

Martyn and Stephanie, how often do you guys travel in a year? How do you spend your leisure time?

Stephanie: We perform at air shows all over the world so there is a lot of travel involved. This is my first season so I’m excited to visit new places with the team. When I am not wing walking, I like to visit my family in the south of France or work on my private pilot’s licence.

Martyn: We travel throughout Europe in the summer and further afield in places such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the winter, so we travel a lot. But I love it, and I continue to visit new places when I’m not working. I am also a passionate photographer so I like to capture every moment of my travels.

Martyn and Stephanie, what are your biggest achievements so far, as a team and individually?

Stephanie: The biggest achievement for me is securing my first season with the Breitling Wingwalkers. I cannot wait to see what my future in wing walking holds.

Martyn: The biggest achievement for the team and for me is being able to perform at some of the biggest air shows in the world, visiting countries such as the UAE, China, India and Australia. Flying under the Breitling colours is also a great honour for us. Breitling represents precision, reliability and excellence in its field. These are the same traits that pilots must emulate in order to ensure that we perform to the highest possible standards every time we take to the skies.

Martyn, some tips for aspiring stunt pilots, please?

My tips for any aspiring pilots are to join your local air club, continue to practise, gain your PPL, follow your dreams and enjoy every minute of flying!

WATCH THE BREITLING WING WALKERS IN ACTION AT THE ABU DHABI AIR EXPO (MARCH 8-10) AND RED BULL AIR RACE ABU DHABI (MARCH 11-12).

FAST FACTS

How high does one fly? During a display we fly up to 1,500ft.

 

How long are customers up in the air during a paid session? We only do paid wing walking experiences in the UK. Our customers are in the air for around 10 minutes. Each flight costs £399.

 

What should one eat before flying? What are the dos and don’ts before a flight? You should eat something before flying to increase your blood sugar level, but not a huge meal. This gives you best tolerance to G-forces and more energy during the flight.

 

Why don’t wingwalkers wear parachutes? We fly very low so we can’t use parachutes. The customers wear a five-point harness so they are perfectly secure.

 

What safety protocols are in place for the flight to go as smooth as possible? A full safety briefing is given to customers beforehand.

 

Are the pilots equipped to deal with emergencies, such as if a customer gets ill in flight, etc? We use hand signals to communicate with the customers. For example, if the passenger gives us the thumbs-up signal we know they are enjoying themselves and we do what we can to make sure they have a unique and fantastic experience. If, for any reason, the passenger is not having the time of their life and gives thumbs-down, we land as soon as possible, but this is very rare!

 

Are customers provided with body suits before a flight? Yes, we provide all customers with a flight suit to keep them clean and to stop clothes from flapping around.

 

What conditions must be met for a customer to be suitable for wing walking – e.g. weight, height, health conditions etc.? The ideal weight and height for wing walkers is under 1.8m and under 90kg, general good health and physically fit.

 

What’s the ideal weather for flying, and time of day? The weather in Dubai! Clear skies and sunshine is perfect weather for wing walking, especially in the morning.

 

TO EXPERIENCE WING WALKING WITH THE BREITLING WING WALKERS, VISIT www.aerosuperbatics.com.

By Tania Bhattacharya

By Tania Bhattacharya