Epic Quest Update #4: Steve Pilots a Stunt Plane

I was raised on Top Gun.

Well, Top Gun and Karate Kid, but for today’s post we’ll be discussing the 80’s awesomeness that is Top Gun.

My older brother Jack (by just one year) and I would sit on the two couches in our living room growing up and pretend like they were fighter jets. We’d watch Top Gun at least three times a week, quote it incessantly, and pretty much live our lives like we were Maverick and Goose.

Want to know how much we loved Top Gun?

Jack and I went to a preschool where you could sing a nursery rhyme or children song at graduation in order to get your certificate. Most people picked things like “Three Blind Mice” or “On the Good Ship Lolly Pop.”

Jack and I picked the only song worth singing:

“You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling,” by the Righteous Brothers.

Picture a 3-year old bobble head version of me (I had a big head) and my 4-year old brother wearing blue jeans, white t-shirts, and aviators.  We walked on stage to confused looks from parents who wondered what nursery rhyme our costumes represented, and starting singing our hearts out.  Halfway through the performance, Jack decided that I wasn’t singing loud enough, so he whacked me on the back of the head and yelled “SPEAK UP!” I listened, spoke up, and sang the rest of the song.

Best. Performance. Ever.

“Want to pilot a plane?”

Fast-forward twenty-three years.

At 3PM last Friday afternoon, somewhere between Picton and Nelson, New Zealand, I woke up on the bus disoriented, wondering if I heard the bus driver’s announcement correctly. Upon arriving in Nelson, I asked the man: “I’m sorry, did you say that you get to fly in a stunt plane?”

No, I said ” you get to PILOT a stunt plane.”

WHAT. How had I never even heard of something this before?

Immediately every line from Top Gun came rushing back to my mind, and I couldn’t help but think of what it would be like to actually fly inverted and “keep up foreign relations” (you know, the finger).  I quickly emailed the flight company to set up a flight for two days later.

I was going to be Maverick. I was going to get to pilot a freaking airplane.

U-Fly Extreme

I arrived at the airport in Motueka in the late afternoon on Sunday and met up with the owners of U-Fly Extreme, Vincent and Alison. Vincent has been flying plans for years and years; his true passion is flying stunt planes – this is how U-Fly Extreme came to be.

After a brief introduction, I was handed my flight suit for the afternoon and introduced to the piece of metal that was going to help me experience the miracle of flight.

My first thought when looking at the stunt biplane I’d be flying: “THAT thing is going to fly?”

I was shocked at how small the biplane was – because I had only ever been in big 747s and commuter planes before, flying in a plane that could fit in a garage scared the crap out of me.  However, this was no time for backing out (epic questers don’t back down), so I took a deep breath, composed myself, and said “let’s do this thing.”

Flight prep

After hopping into the cockpit, I was handed my helmet, radio headset, and goggles and instantly felt like the Red Barron. In front of me was the flight joystick which connected to Vincent’s joystick in the seat behind me (in case I lost control while flying, he could quickly take over).

I then got a quick lesson on how to fly a plane: “Grab the joystick. When you turn left, look left. When you turn right, turn right. When you do a flip, grab the joystick with both hands and look out towards the horizon when you pull up. Got it? Perfect.”

Within a few minutes we had navigated our tiny little plane onto the runway and had taken off. After about 90 seconds of flying, some more explanation, and a few guided Vincent asked me to grab the joystick and take control.

Damn, that didn’t take long.

“Okay Steve, look left and turn left. Good, now look right and turn right. Good, now are you ready to get creative? Go ALL the way left.”

And just like that, I was flying barrel rolls.

“Holy crap this is actually happening.”

For the next 15 minutes, I piloted my way through rolls, flips, corkscrews, and figure eights. Being in complete control of open cockpit biplane while flying over New Zealand was easily one of the most incredible things I’ve ever done.  I was actually surprised at how easy it was to control for each crazy stunt.

At one point, Vincent asked me if I was ready to fly inverted.  I replied with “can we keep up foreign relations?” After half a second Vincent (who is also a big Top Gun fan) immediately burst out laughing and said “absolutely.”

We flew upside down and I held up my end of the bargain by flipping the bird in an homage to my childhood naval aviation heroes.

After that, Vincent took back control of the plane and put us through some incredible maneuvers, including one trick that had us flying in an inverted spin (upside down, spinning like a top somehow).

I didn’t black out, I didn’t puke, and I managed to fly a freaking airplane.  Do you know what that means?


This is the 5th goal crossed off my Epic Quest of Awesome, which means I’ve officially leveled up to Level 2! Check out the Epic Quest Page for more details.

Just like I said in my last post, there’s time for a quick celebratory /dance (which I did), and then it’s on to the next quest!

Video Proof

After receiving the video footage of my flight the other day, I loaded it onto my computer. On a whim, I checked my iTunes and noticed that I had Kenny Loggin’s “Danger Zone,” Van Halen’s “Top Gun Theme” and the Righteous Brother’s “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling.” (OF COURSE I DID)

The gears in my head started to turn…

And then I noticed that I had loaded Top Gun into my iTunes way back in college! JACKPOT.

After few hours of editing in iMovie (don’t worry it was done on a Saturday afternoon – and nothing makes me happier than making short movies), I was able to produce and publish my adventure in full 640×480 glory (it would have been like four days to upload an HD video, no joke).  Top Gun fans will get an extra big kick out of it.  That’s right Joel, I’ll see your “pics or it didn’t happen” and raise you with a VIDEO MONTAGE!


Steve Pilots a Stunt Plane

A HUGE thanks to Vincent and Alison at U-Fly Extreme for such a wonderful afternoon. I know this is something that can’t be done pretty much anywhere else in the world, and the opportunity to fly a freaking stunt plane was beyond incredible.  I must have said “I can’t believe this is happening” in my head at least a thousand times while flying.  My face seriously hurt the next day from smiling too much.

If flying a plane is on your bucket list, I found the perfect place for you to cross that one off in style.

Until Monday…

Steve Kamb


Disclosure: I was a guest of U-Fly Extreme for this adventure and thus did not pay for my flight.

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