INTO THE JAWS OF AN
by CHEN LIANG, China Daily staff, 12/13/1999
ZHANGJIAJIE, HUNAN PROVINCE:
It might be mankind’s first effort at flying planes through a natural cavern. And a smooth exit might land the pilot in the Guinness Book of World Records. But Hungarian Peter Basenyei did the stunt with ease. At 2:33 pm Saturday, the
ace pilot, who just won the bronze medal at the 1999 Zhangjiajie FAI World Aviation Grand Prix, flew through a cavern here named “Heavenly Door” while turning his Extra 300S plane upside down.
“It is really exciting and impressive,” he said after landing at the Zhangjiajie Lotus Airport. “When I was there, I found the cave was bigger than I thought and so I decided to fly my plane upside down,” he said. “It was a little windy today and I did have some hesitation at one moment. I knew I had to be careful. But I just wanted to do it the harder way because I am confident in myself.”
Inspired by his gallant creativity, 10 other stunt pilots pierced the cave safely and artistically with their planes. They made big loops around the cave. They spun and rolled. Four planes of the Czech Republic’s “Sky Box” team went through the cave in an orderly vertical row.
But at 1,261 metres above sea level and set on top of steep cliffs, the mountain cavern did challenge the pilots’ flying skills. An unsteady air stream and whirlpool, which results from the temperatures varying with height from time to time, posed the biggest risks.
However, the cave is 127.37 metres tall and 279.42 metres long with a minimum width of 28.03 metres. These measurements provide enough room. With modern flying skills, said Swiss-born Jacques Saillard, chief engineer of the grand prix, planes with seven to eight metres and a wingspan of at least eight metres can master this cavern.
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