BSc Social Science (BPS route), 2013
Nikita Salmon graduated in Social Science (BPS Route) in 2013.
Today, Nikita is a part-time wingwalker for the Breitling Wingwalking display team.
Tell us more about being a wingwalker
The wingwalking team I work for is the world's only formation wingwalking display team. We have four Boeing Stearman biplanes and our job as wingwalkers is to perform a routine of acrobatic manoeuvres on the top wing of the aircraft. Our displays involve a number of exciting aerobatic moves such as formation loops, rolls, and my favourite, the mirror - when one aircraft flies upside down and the other aircraft joins underneath. We can get very close and even touch hands! We are sponsored by Breitling who are support various aviation projects.
How did you get involved with wingwalking to do it professionally?
My family are all aviation-based and as a child I was taken to large number of air shows. I used to love seeing the wingwalkers at the airshows and could not believe the amazing moves they performed on top of planes - it seemed so magical! I never thought I would ever have the opportunity to do it myself. However, after graduating from Cardiff last year, I saw an advert in my local newspaper advertising for a part-time wingwalker. I went ahead and sent my CV with no expectation of being chosen at all. I loved the trial flight and the rest is history.
How is wingwalking different to other sports?
Wingwalking is a completely different and extreme experience unlike any other. We often describe it similar to a rollercoaster but this does not do it justice.
I go to the gym everyday to maintain my strength so I am able to work against the force of the wind. As wingwalkers, we are constantly moving on top of the plane - performing handstands and splits which put huge strain on your body. At points during the display, we can be pulling up to 4G and flying up to 150mph. I can't think of any other sport where you can be flying through the sky, diving, looping and rolling, at such speeds.
Wingwalking is definitely more physically exhausting and it has made me a lot stronger. Like other sports, we have to rely on our team members. We have a great relationship with our pilots and our team work together very well to make every display more enjoyable.
How do you balance a day job with your brave hobby?
I have just finished my teacher training course and will begin my permanent full-time teaching post in September. Teaching has kept me very busy but if I am wingwalking on the weekend it is a fantastic escape and a break for me. It feels as though I lead a double life! I don't tell my children about my part-time job so wingwalking can be my chance to relax and let go. Being part-time means that I generally perform displays on weekends which fits in perfectly with teaching but I have to be very organised with my work. There is very little space in the boot of a Stearman so I can't take any work with me.
Can you tell us more about your time at University?
I loved my time at University. I studied Social Science (BPS Route) and plan on completing further study in education psychology in the next few years. I graduated in July last year, 1 day before my first big wingwalking display at the Royal International Airtatto, Fairford. This year has flown by and I really miss living in Cardiff. I live in the middle of the Cotswolds now so I can't pop out at 11pm to go to Tesco or spontaneous nights out in Glam!
My three years in Cardiff were amazing I enjoyed every second! I lived in Talybont South for my first year and we seemed to spend more time freezing outside in our pyjamas than we did inside (thanks to some fire alarms) or making the ridiculous trek to Tesco carrying a million bags!
How did the University enable you in your current successful career?
I had to have a degree in order to start my PGCE course but the academic discipline I learnt at Cardiff really helped me to succeed in my teacher training. Living in Cardiff prepared me for living on my own, dealing with broken appliances, bills and budgeting. It is a fantastic city and a brilliant university that I would recommend it to anyone.
What is your advice to aspiring wingwalkers?
Go to the gym! It is worth keeping an eye out in the newspaper for job adverts and having a look at our website. If anyone wants to try out wingwalking before committing to a career in it, then you can visit our base at Rendcomb, near Cirencester and we can provide you with information on trial flights. I would recommend wingwalking to anyone, it truly is a once in a lifetime experience and the whole team love sharing their excitement and enthusiasm with anyone who wants to try it out.