Flying a jet fighter

DUBBY HENRY
Last updated 08:59 18/07/2012
Fighter JEt
DUBBY HENRY
SAFE HANDS: Pilot Andrew Hope is taking New Zealand’s first charter flights in a fighter jet at Ardmore Airport.

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Ever wondered if you could have been a fighter pilot in another life?

Now's the chance to test your nerve.

New Civil Aviation rules allow fighter jets to take charter flights but so far the only company to take up the challenge is Strikemaster Ltd, based at Ardmore Airport.

Strikemaster pilot Andrew Hope has been flying planes for 25 years but still loves coming to work every day.

The Te Hihi resident is chuffed that "the only fighter jet in New Zealand you can take rides on" is on his back doorstep.

Jet aircraft fly much faster and higher than propeller-powered aircraft.

Their engines work by burning a mixture of compressed air and fuel, which rapidly expands in a jetstream out the back of the plane, propelling it forwards.

The downside is the huge noise that comes from the shockwave when the hot exhaust meets the cold outside air, Mr Hope says.

He's been exposed to his fair share of jet engine noise in his career.

He was a military fighter pilot in the Australian Air Force before he moved to Papakura 12 years ago.

The BAC 167 Mk88 Strikemaster he's flying now was used by the New Zealand Air Force for training until it was sold in 1992 to a private owner in Australia.

A Kiwi bought it back last year for $250,000.

The true costs of owning a jet are in running the plane - a one-hour flight burns $4000 worth of jet fuel and a 15-minute charter flight complete with rolls and loop-de-loops will set you back a cool $1600.

A half-hour ride including a 650kmh run over the Hauraki Gulf costs passengers $3000. The highlight is a simulation of a strike mission - including a dogfight with an enemy plane.

Mr Hope reckons the ride could be a good gift alternative to "socks and jocks" on Father's Day - although flying upside down or skimming 300 metres above the ground at breakneck speeds while pretending to dodge enemy rockets might not be every dad's idea of a good time. Luckily the pilots are happy to tailor the flight for the fainthearted and can simulate other missions - like searching for last month's missing tramper in the Hunua Ranges.

Most passengers will only get the chance once in their lifetime so the experience needs to be top-notch, Mr Hope says. "We try to exceed peoples' expectations."

The pilots know what they're doing, although the first time in a fighter jet can be terrifying, he says.

Dave Brown, the Strikemaster's other main pilot, flew Skyhawks for the Air Force and now captains an Airbus A340.

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Each of the Strikemaster pilots could be flying jumbo jets but they like this job better, Mr Hope says.

"All the fliers are at the top of their game," he says.

"They've all got the highest qualifications you can get."

Go to jetfighter.co.nz for more information.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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