Paul Bennet, stunt pilot - 2nd May 2008
Man Australia continues to meet and interview
greats from the stunt and aviation world.
How did you get started
in aviation, working your way up to stunt pilot?
didn’t become an air show performer or stunt
pilot as you call it over night. It has taken
a lot of hard work and practice to become competent
to do all aerobatic maneuvers down to a crowd
pleasing ground level. To start with I have flown
model aeroplanes all of my life. My Father has
a pilot’s license, and we used to go on
flying holidays. My interest in aviation has always
been there from when I was very young. For a long
time I didn’t have enough money to learn
to fly, so I tried to stay away from full size
flying. I wish I hadn’t. One day I was offered
a ride in a Pitts Special S2A. It was fantastic.
I new what was next. I went straight to the Royal
Newcastle Aero Club and booked my first lesson.
It all started. As soon as I received my restricted
license, I started my aerobatic training with
Phil Unicomb at Action Aerobatics.
was a lot of fun and very challenging. I remember
thinking early on it Pitts training “will
I ever be able to fly this machine?” It
had a mind of its own. It is a common fact in
aviation that if you can fly a Pitts you can fly
soloing the Pitts S2A I proceeded to compete in
aerobatic competitions. I competed in the Graduate
category at the Nationals which I won. The following
years I continued competing in Sportsman coming
second and then Intermediate coming second again.
I them moved to Advanced where I have been competing
for four years always finishing in the top three,
and currently the Advanced Australian Champion.
In the process of moving through the grades of
competition, this requires new approvals to be
allowed to fly lower to the ground. When I moved
to Advanced I received a 500ft low level approval.
In the second year in advanced I received a 300ft
low level approval. After a lot of low flying
and practice I received a ground level approval.
There are only 7 people in the country that have
ground level approvals. When I had been flying
in Advanced for a few years I started doing a
few small air displays. I enjoyed it a lot. I
decided to do more air show flying. Since making
the decision to make this move the low level display
flying has really taken off. The crown loves the
Pitts Special with the noise and smoke and the
way I fly it. I have now added the knife edge
ribbon cut to the display. This is a real hit.
It takes a lot of practice and skill to get comfortable
at ground level.
types of aircraft have you had the opportunity
to fly over the years?
have flown several different aircraft over the
years from the Cessna 152 which I learnt in to
the Cessna 172, and 182. I normally fly a Beechcraft
Bonanza for traveling long distance or an Eagle
Aerobatics I have flown the Pitts S2A, S1S, S2C,
S2B, as well as the Extra 300L and Giles 202.
I have also flown the Tigermoth, and the Stearman.
I have been fortunate enough to do some Warbird
flying in the T28 Trojan. I love flying and will
fly anything offered to me.
do you look up to and see as a mentor of sorts?
are a few people that I look up to and follow.
Unicomb is the guy who has taught me from
the start. I have done all of my Pitts training
and ground critique with Phil. Phil has been a
very successful competitor. He has won most aerobatic
competitions in Australia as well as the World
Tigermoth Aerobatic Championships. He is well
known in the aviation industry as one of the best
pilots and instructors available. He is a great
guy and a great friend. Phil used to fly in the
Sky Aces Formation Aerobatic Display team. He
has also done my formation training. I also talk
to Skip Stewart from America from Skip
Stewart Air Shows. He is one of the most dynamic
air show pilots available.
do you take notice of in the aviation business,
and what's your thoughts on Dick Smith and Richard
the business world I have great respect for both
Smith and Richard
Branson. They are both fantastic business
men. I like their attitudes. I grew up knowing
Dick Smith as my father used to build Dick’s
Shops. I remember having Christmas Parties at
his weekender at Ross Glenn on the North Coast.
We always received Christmas Cards and letters
from Dick’s wife Pip. They are great down
to earth people. Dick has been great for the aviation
is certainly a go getter. His ideas and goals
are excellent. It is great to see a business man
like him making his goals happen. He has the right
people in Burt Rutan to make his space travel
possible. Richards’s ideas for the environment
are also excellent. I have no doubt he will achieve
all of his ambitions.
parts of Australia has your aviation career taken
career as an aerobatic performer has taken me
all over NSW, QLD and Victoria. In the near future
I will be heading to Perth for some displays as
have opportunities to compete and display overseas,
however this costs a lot of money. I will compete
overseas shortly as I have qualified for the past
your current aircraft?
aero plane I currently use is a Pitts Special
S1S. It has 200HP with a fixed pitch propeller.
It is a great advertisement because it is eye
catching as there are not many Biplanes around
as well as being loud. It is certainly unique.
sort of venues and events do you perform at?
do a number of different shows for different viewers.
The Air Shows are normally at major airports with
approx 10,000 to 20,000 people. I do some other
display such as surfing competitions where there
are a different range of people, however still
at least 10,000 watching on.
sort of sponsor would you prefer to have advertised
on the plane?
am not fussed on exactly who the sponsor is to
be. Any company could get advantages out of being
a sponsor and I would do my best for whoever it
have you been performing lately?
recently was invited to fly at the Albury
Air Show. My display was a great success.
There has been an excellent response to my performance.
It was the first Air show where I have performed
the knife edge ribbon cut. I am the only air show
performer to attempt this in Australia. I have
since performed the ribbon cut again at the Mudgee
Air Show last weekend. It was another huge success.
will now perform the knife edge ribbon cut both
ways as well as upside down. This has only been
done in America by Sean D Tucker.
events have you got coming up?
have several displays coming up in the near future.
This weekend I have a small display at Maitland
for a private function for probably 500 people.
The next Air Show is at Coffs Harbour, followed
by Evans Head, Bunderberg, Nowra, Nelson Bay,
and Avalon. I have a number of events pending
at the moment.
your thoughts on performing at a beach, and how
about Bondi Beach if the opportunity comes up?
is excellent to perform at large events held at
the beach as there are such a large number of
people that can see the performance. It can be
a real winner for a sponsor.
media attention have you received?
have done several TV and radio interviews over
the years to either promote the given Air Show
or to promote the display. Earlier this week I
was on the front page of the Mudgee
Guardian performing the knife edge ribbon
safety precautions are in place?
aero plane is maintained thoroughly as it is essential
to make everything as safe as possible. The moment
we think that display flying is safe is the day
we should give it away.
each public performance the air frame has a thorough
inspection with some of the panels being removed.
The engine cowls are removed and the engine thoroughly
checked. The oil and fuel are checked as well
as all of the control surfaces. The aero plane
is then polished before departure.
sorts of stunt, in collaboration with other stunt
performers would you like to attempt?
would like to perform a knife edge pass with a
stunt bike rider doing a back flip over the top
of me as I pass underneath him with a wall of
you have anything in mind for the Guinness Book
am not sure about the Guinness Book Records however
I am sure we can find something to break.
charities and world causes are you associated
am a member of Virgin
Unite. I have done several shows to help charities
such as the Westpac
sorts of challenges have you overcome?
have a few challenges with the aero plane. Approx
18 months ago I had to rebuild the top wing on
the aero plane as a block had come loose on the
rear spar. This was a major job. When I put the
wing back on I wanted to make sure the engine
was in good condition. On further inspection I
realized that the engine was making metal and
needed a rebuild. This was another major problem
as it is expensive to rebuild the engine and you
can not do it yourself. I pulled the engine apart
myself and delivered all of the parts to Scone
Aircraft Maintenance for the rebuild. I picked
up the engine six weeks later and re installed
it I. A week later the great machine was back
it the air.
amendments would you make to your Pitts?
goal is to build or have built a new Pitts with
a larger engine. I would like to start with an
S2S and strengthen the fuselage. I would build
new wings with big ailerons for a faster roll
rate as well as make larger elevator and rudder.
I would also have built a 400HP Lycon Lycoming
engine. This aero plane would be far better than
anything seen in Australia.
your current engine specs?
current engine is an IO360 4 cylinder 180 HP producing
200HP. You can’t ever have too much power.
does the internet assist you?
think the internet is a great way to be seen.
Everyone looks on the internet. I have seen several
of my performances on YouTube
from people that I don’t even know. I guess
they really liked the show.
your favorite movies?
Favorite movies are Top
Gun and The
Aviator. Howard Hughes reminds me of me.
are you currently reading?
am reading the commercial pilot study books so
I can improve my license situation.
motto is Don’t let Fear Stop You.
do you do to relax?
relax I spend time with my great family Rachael,
Summa, and Jett, or I go for a fly, sailing or
note: That was Paul Bennet, one of Australia's
greatest air show performers. Something tells
me we are going to hear a lot more from Paul.
The skies the limit!
Wheels and Wine 2008