Wing it

A hard-working equine and small animal vet, Dr David Clemence of The Animal Doctors in Pakenham, Victoria, likes to relax by flying aeroplanes upside down.

“When you’re doing aerobatics, the g-force is the same as experienced by fighter pilots. All the blood rushes to your legs and if it goes on long enough, you start to lose consciousness.

“Negative g-force is an even weirder sensation. Instead of pulling the plane up from a vertical dive, you push around, upside down. Now all the blood rushes to your head and you feel like your brains are about to explode. It’s horribly uncomfortable and distracting. It’s very hard to concentrate as you mentally work on the next manoeuvre while trying to hold your position in an area we call the aerobatic box.

“Flying is in my family’s blood. My grandfather learned to fly with the Australian Flying Corps in the First World War and my father had a long, distinguished career as a fighter pilot with the [Royal Australian] Air Force. I’m colourblind so was ineligible to join the Air Force. However, I was determined to fly and started lessons while at uni.

“I continued with flying lessons until I purchased my veterinary practice in Pakenham. I then undertook further training and extra qualifications to do aerobatics. I’m now the president of the Australian Aerobatics Club.

“I’ve been competing in aerobatics since 1995 and have been working my way up through the categories. I’ve been in the second highest category for the past 16 years. Last year I managed to win my category at the Nationals and that gave me permission to move into the top category. It’s called Unlimited because that’s what your bank balance needs to be if you want to be a contender!

“Aerobatics is an exciting but very safe sport. There’s more chance of being injured getting to and from competitions than actually competing. That’s not to say that things can’t go wrong. Two of the most dangerous words in aerobatics are: ‘Watch this’.

“What I love about aerobatics is that every flight has a purpose. There’s always something new to practise or something to perfect. Often you’ll have someone on the ground coaching and critiquing your flying, which I like. It’s a mental sport with lot of sequences to memorise.

“I’ve immersed myself in aerobatics for 20 years and there’s a great community involved with the sport. It attracts a lot of characters with very big personalities and that makes aerobatics a fantastic study of the human condition.”

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