Piloting a Stunt Plane in Abel Tasman

Don’t miss the video at the end of this post. It documents the most ridiculous, fear-inducing and totally insane thing I’ve ever done!

My trip to New Zealand was all about conquering my fears. As anyone who’s ever had the misfortune of sitting next to me on a commercial jet will testify, my biggest fear is heights. I do not deal well with being up in the air, especially in a metal cage that defies gravity.

So, you can imagine how I felt when I discovered it was possible to pilot a stunt plane in Abel Tasman.

I read and re-read the website, disbelieving that there was actually a company out there willing to take a nervous flyer with absolutely no previous piloting experience up to 5000 feet and then hand over control of the joystick! I hadn’t been seeing things. With a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, I realised I was going to have to add flying a stunt plane to my #ScaredBritless itinerary.

Pilot a stunt plane in Abel Tasman - the ride

Our ride

I was feeling sleep deprived and petrified when Vincent from U-Fly Extreme came to pick me up from my hostel. As we approached Motueka airfield, I had to swallow hard to force the nausea back down my gut. Was I really about to do this?

When we entered the hangar, Vincent set about giving me a brief training session. He used a small, wooden toy plane to demonstrate the twists and turns we’d be doing, and made me feel at ease by explaining that it’s a lot easier and safer to teach someone to fly a plane than to drive a car. ‘Think of how a boat still floats when you stop steering it,’ he said. ‘A plane will still fly if you let go of the joystick.’

Feeling a little more relaxed, I followed him over to the shiny red Pitts Special S2A. He showed me the controls and, trying not to think about what the next 20 minutes would entail, I climbed into the front seat!

Pilot a stunt plane in Abel Tasman - a quick lesson

Vincent gives me a five-minute tutorial on how to fly

Pilot a stunt plane in Abel Tasman - ready!

…and I’m good to go!

Vincent started up the plane, checked our microphones and harnesses were functioning and then hit the runway! Minutes later we were airborne and the dreaded moment was upon me.

‘You have control,’ he said. ‘Pull the joystick left and right a bit to get a feel for how the plane flies.’

I gave it a go and, sure enough, it wasn’t difficult at all. I might even have relaxed if Vincent hadn’t told me it was time to start the aerobatics!

During the course of a 15-minute flight, he had me rolling, looping and flying figure 8s. I kid you not, I did more loops than the world’s loopiest rollercoaster, and he was ‘so impressed’ (his words, not mine), that he let me do a reverse figure 8 as well!

Pilot a Stunt Plane in Abel Tasman - going up!

Gaining height in preparation for some crazy manoeuvres!

Pilot a Stunt Plane in Abel Tasman - and we're rolling!

…and we’re in a loop!

Then, after a brief spin with Vincent back in control, he landed the plane.

Pilot a Stunt Plane in Abel Tasman - me and my plane

Back to safety. The matching Crocs definitely complete the look!

Pilot a Stunt Plane in Abel Tasman - my certificate

You even get a certificate :)

And here’s the video you’ve all been waiting for:

If you’re in New Zealand and looking to try something totally unique and exhilarating, you can’t beat U-Fly Extreme. It really is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and one you can definitely feel proud writing home about.

Getting there

NelsonIntercity Buses provide services to Nelson from Picton (just over 2 hours). For travel from the north island, you can book the InterIslander Ferry (3.5 hours from Wellington to Picton). If you’re coming from the south, there are buses from the following popular destinations (rough times in brackets): Kaikoura (4 hours); Christchurch (7 hours); Westport (4 hours); Greymouth (6 hours). See the Intercity website for a full list of their services and bus pass options.

Motueka: You might decide to base yourself in Nelson for the whole of your stay in the region, but if you plan to do a few activities further west, you’ll save time and money by spending a night or two in Motueka. A single journey between Nelson and Motueka typically costs about NZ$15. The public bus options are limited, generally heading west early in the morning and east in the late afternoon. Book your buses in advance at the tourist centre in Nelson or ask your accommodation for advice. Alternatively, you might be able to wangle a transfer with one of the local tour operators. It doesn’t hurt to ask!

Once in Motueka, U-Fly Extreme will pick you up from your accommodation and take you to the airfield. If you’re feeling doubly brave, the Abel Tasman Skydive office is right next door!

Where to stay

Nelson: I spent a few wonderfully cosy nights at Tasman Bay Backpackers and it was one of my favourite hostels in New Zealand. The social area has a roaring fire to keep you warm in the winter evenings and there were hot water bottles scattered around too. The hairdryer in one of the bathrooms was a welcome extra, but the biggest bonus was the free chocolate pudding and ice cream every evening! Tasman Bay really goes out of its way to welcome guests and I can’t imagine there’s a better place to stay in Nelson.

Motueka: The Laughing Kiwi hostel has a great reputation. I spent two nights there. The kitchen and social areas are huge and comfortable, and the rooms spacious. They have free internet and even a heated spa pool!

My flight with U-Fly Extreme was sponsored by Nelson Tasman Tourism. They did not request that I write a favourable review and any opinions expressed here are my own.

You can follow my Kiwi adventures on Twitter via the hashtag #ScaredBritless or check out my Facebook updates hereFor more information about travelling in New Zealand, visit 100% Pure New Zealand.


    • says

      It’s the best! I should point out that I edited this video myself using their footage and the video they provided of me. They do offer the option of putting one together for you though. The photos are a combination of my regular camera and stills taken from the video they provided and my own GoPro, which was attached to the wing of the plane!

  1. says

    I was lucky enough to do this myself about 18 months ago… Truly the most exhilarating experience I’ve ever had! Would love to go back to NZ just for another lesson!

  2. says

    Wow it’s insane that this exists! But I can’t say I’m that surprised, New Zealanders did invent bungy jumping for the sole purpose of creating a scary activity. My tour group in NZ was talking about how skydiving is actually a useful thing, for the military and stuff, but bungy jumping has no purpose except to raise adrenaline levels. I went bungy jumping which was pretty scary, but the Canyon Swing in Queenstown looked even scarier!
    Charlotte recently posted..My First Month of Travel BloggingMy Profile

    • says

      It really is insane. I couldn’t believe it existed and then I couldn’t believe I was actually doing it! New Zealand is the place to test your limits though, as you say. I think the bungy jumping was the scariest thing I did. It’s just so unnatural to jump off a ledge head first!

    • says

      Thanks! I couldn’t not do it after I saw it was a possibility! Once you’re up there, it’s not as scary as you’d think. That has a lot to do with Vincent. He’s a great teacher!

    • says

      hi Charley,, so, just so you know, this really is just a flying lesson, but instead of being in a low powered little training plane.. you are in a high performance trainer, capable of pretty insane aerobatics. We never make anyone do anything aerobatic, that is their choice, but it really is a lot simpler than you might expect. We love sharing that revelation with folks.. Flying a plane is simple, and aerobatics are not difficult either. :)

    • says

      Awwww, thanks! I thought by the end of this trip I’d have done enough crazy things to actually get over my fear of heights but I’m still just as scared every time I do another silly activity!

    • says

      yes, in fact it is quite often that people fly with us who let us know that a fear of heights or even of flying is a fact of life for them.. they always impress us. love flying with them.

  3. says

    This is awesome, Arianwen! What a total blast! My dad was a aerobatic pilot as a fun hobby on the side…thanks for the great memory flashback for me :)

    • says

      I have a feeling there might have been a vomit bag. Vincent is very good at asking if you’re ok. He says it on a regular basis and you have to shout back that you’re happy. He’ll take silence as a no and bring you straight back to land. I think most people just have the time of their lives and scream a lot! :)

    • says

      hi Jill, yes a bag is there should it be needed, but only about 3% actually do.. we try our hardest to have people just fly, and not have motion sickness affect them.. it is a lot more fun that way :)

  4. says

    I so wish I had done this!!! I actually found out about it through this post and had it on my list for years! Unfortunately I ended up doing NZ on a tight budget (not ideal for a place like that!) but if/when I go back this is number one on my list!

    (as an aside I also did the Wanaka sky dive, think we both picked a winning location for that one! Incredible!)
    Clazz – An Orcadian Abroad recently posted..A Day Trip To Mount Sunday: Discovering EdorasMy Profile

    • says

      Haha. The skydive in Wanaka was amazing. Such beautiful scenery. I still think flying that plane is one of the craziest things I’ve ever done, but skydiving isn’t far behind. Definitely give it a go next time you’re there!

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