High flier Malarek shows he has the Right Stuff
Published Saturday, October 16, 2010 7:00PM EDT
While reporting W5's documentary about Canadian air racer Pete McLeod, reporter Victor Malarek took to the skies aboard one of the race aircraft to see what it's like to soar through the race course at nearly 400 kilometres an hour. Here's the back-story to his wild flight, which appears in the story.
I may be known as a tough, no-holds-barred reporter who carves notches on his journalist's pen by chasing after bad guys.
A lot of people think I have no sense of humor because they mostly get to see my gruff, edgy side.
So, occasionally, W5's producers offer up a story that showcases the lighter, brighter, gentler side of Victor Malarek.
This past summer, I thought maybe they were pushing the envelope ... that maybe there was something more to their proposal.
Brett Mitchell, who was assigned to produce a W5 documentary on Red Bull air racer and Canadian Pete McLeod, informed me that I'd be working on the story ... a story that involved what I thought were some pretty crazy daredevil pilots doing some really dangerous racing in airplanes.
Cool story, I thought. And then Mitchell offered up his idea to humanize me. He suggested I go up in an air racer plane, to experience the insanity first hand.
At first I balked, until Mitchell jokingly began making chicken sounds, clucking at my office door. Now, no one calls me a chicken! So I agreed, all the while hoping I could find some fine print to get me out of wild ride through the sky. Perhaps I'd fail the medical I knew I'd have to undergo before taking to the wild blue yonder.
Before heading off to Windsor, Ont. for the international race, I got lots of advice from my colleagues -- all of which was cleverly and deliberately designed to make me heave on the flight.
They seemed to think it would make for amusing television: tough guy Malarek turns green on camera!
Equally assuring was when W5 executive producer Anton Koschany advised that the program had taken out extra insurance on my life. Just in case, he said. Do it all the time when our team flies on little planes.
At the hangar, I was escorted to a tent to fill out a medical questionnaire and have my heart and blood pressure taken. Well, my heart rate and blood pressure clocked in a little on the high side. But, to my dismay, the doctor gave the thumbs up.
Now I have to admit that the pilot's suit looked too cool and once I had it on I was feeling like Tom Cruise in Top Gun. That is until my pilot told me to don a parachute and gave me clear and specific instructions on what to do in the off chance we found ourselves careening towards Earth due to mechanical failure.
"All you have to do is pull the cords, …" said Sergio Pla, "but you probably won't have to do it."
That's about all I absorbed as he went on to instruct me in the use of the parachute. I did manage to catch his last word though.
"If I tell you bail out, bail out, bail out three times, it's serious. I'm going to jump, do what you want to do, okay."
Mitchell, W5 cameraman Paul Freer and soundman Brian Mellersh were amused. They giggled. They mocked me and asked if I was wearing "Depends!"
Bare moments later I found myself strapped into my seat in the cockpit and the plane taxied toward the runway.
As we were given clearance for take off, I whispered a little prayer. I figured this was an opportune time to reconnect with God.
Moments later, we were up, climbing swiftly and steeply. Forget economy class -- there was no service, and not much leg room. The view was pretty spectacular. That is until the pilot suddenly dove toward a pair of pylons jutting up from a nearby field and, at treetop level, expertly threaded the aircraft between them.
Pretty wild, I thought.
Sergio then shifted into daredevil mode, twisting, diving, flipping upside down and hitting turns that pushed the aircraft to 5 Gs or five times the force of gravity flattening my face like a pancake.
Through every flip, twist and G-turn, I kept thinking: "Please Lord, make this stop! Let me survive and I will be a good boy!" And: "Don't let me throw up!"
When the pilot asked if I had had enough, I didn't hesitate. "Yes, yes, yes!"
When we finally landed, I made like the Pope and kissed the ground, swearing never to hit the skies in anything less than a big, lumbering commercial jet airplane.
And for my courage, I was awarded a flight certificate and of course, a Red Bull co-pilot tee shirt! I left the tent feeling proud and vowing that my daredevil flying days were over.
FAX: Red Bull Air Race World Championship
Planes can reach speeds 370 km/h, pulling up to 12 Gs, sometimes flying just 3-6 metres above the water.
Six cities hosted races in 2010: Lausitz, Germany; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; New York, USA; Perth, Australia' Abu Dhabi, UAE; and Windsor, Canada.
Races are well attended by spectators -- Red Bull reported that 800,000 people turned out for a race in Barcelona, Spain in 2009.
In 2009, each race was broadcast in over 87 countries, reaching more than 300 million viewers globally.
There are two types of aircraft flown in the Red Bull Air Race World Championship: the Edge 540 and the MXS-R.
Inflatable air gates consist of two cones made from an ultra-light spinnaker material that rips if touched by a plane. The gates stand 20 metres high and 10-14 metres apart.
The first official World Championship began in 2005 with ten pilots competing in seven races.
Fifteen international pilots from twelve countries competed in the 2010 World Championship.
Pete McLeod, of Canada, is the youngest pilot -- at age 26.
Paul Bonhomme, from the United Kingdom, placed first in the 2010 World Championship rankings.