The acceleration of Jim Bourke’s plane as he does aerial maneuvers can cause him to experience forces on his body that are roughly nine times the strength of gravity: A 200-pound man would feel as if he weighed 1,800 pounds.
During some of the maneuvers he practices for aerial acrobatics competitions, the direction of these G-forces can cause so much blood to be pulled into his head that the capillaries in his eyelids rupture.
But training to endure these forces is a critical part of preparing to compete at aerial acrobatics competitions.
“The trick is as much a matter of physical training as it is learning to put the stick in the right place,” said Bourke.
Corvallis residents may have noticed a number of planes doing maneuvers like these in the skies over the Corvallis Airport on Saturday, when the Oregon chapter of the International Aerobatic Club met there for the first time.
Bourke, a Corvallis resident and the only local member of the club, can also be seen in his plane above the airport this week as he trains for an aerial acrobatics competition in Ephrata, Washington this weekend. He sometimes releases a trail of smoke as he does maneuvers.
“Sometimes (people) will see a column of smoke going straight up — my plane is at the end of it,” he said.
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Bourke said he likes the challenge of the sport.
“It’s like having your own personal roller coaster," he said. "The thrill of flying is there."
Bourke said the Oregon chapter of the club has monthly meetings, and it hopes to meet in Corvallis every year or so as a way to gain new members locally and raise awareness of the sport. This weekend’s event brought seven planes to Corvallis to practice maneuvers, and a few more from pilots who wanted to watch. The group also organized a barbecue.
Bourke, who is also trained as an aerobatics judge, said that in International Aerobatic Club-sanctioned events, pilots fly maneuvers alone, and the emphasis is on moving in precise lines — the pilots are scored, as in figure skating. And he said the sport has only had one fatality since its founding in 1970.
“What we focus on is teaching people how to stay within their limits and expand their limits,” said Bourke.
Bourke said he thinks practicing the maneuvers makes pilots better prepared for emergencies — when things go wrong they have experience controlling the plane through difficult maneuvers.
“I think every pilot should do some form of aerobatics,” he said.