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17 Jan, 2009 10:21

A stunning blonde – and Best Pilot of the Century

Daredevil activities are usually considered a man's world, but one female pilot who competes in aerial acrobatics has managed to leave most of her male colleagues trailing in her wake.

With her head in the clouds and joy in her heart, Svetlana Kapanina is a woman who both flies with the best, and into the history books. Over the course of her flying she has earned 32 gold medals, including the title of the Best Pilot of the Century.

“Nowadays there’s nothing that men can do that women can’t,” Svetlana is convinced.

“Everything is possible. Men’s and women’s pilots’ programmes are identical. When we fly the judges don’t care who is sitting in the cockpit, a man or a woman. Their marks are not gender-driven.”

Although many still imagine aerial acrobatics as a sport for men, the petite blonde disagrees as she keeps everyone on the edge of their seats.

Svetlana's favourite sport aircraft is the highly manoeuvrable Russian-made SU-26 – said to be one of the best acrobatic planes in the world. This one-seater is normally flown by men, but Svetlana, a six time world champion in aerial acrobatics, is an exception. In order to reach the control stick she has to stuff several pillows into the back of her seat.

Aerobatic flying subjects pilots to serious g-forces that can result in loss of consciousness and vision. Russia’s aerobatics team coach Kasum Nazhmudinov says even some military pilots who wanted to become members of the team found they just couldn't take it.

“In the last 30 years I’ve taught dozens of students. Many of them became champions. You can describe Svetlana in many ways. But in a nutshell, she’s a genius of aerial acrobatics. She’s above all others. The only one in history,” Nazhmudinov noted.

Her husband Vladimir, an instructor in martial arts, finds his nerve falters when it comes to his wife and her daredevil career.

“Of course, I’m in terror of her life. I’m nervous. It’s easier to for me to go to war than to worry about her,” Vladimir said.

Not surprisingly, the sky is not her limit. As a mother of two kids, Svetlana is walking on air when comes to spending time with her family. She’s a fan of gymnastics and takes her kids to the gym twice a week. Both of them were airborne even before they were born, as Svetlana continued to fly for as long as she could while pregnant.