Gareth Stringer's 2011 blogGAR Entries

OCT 26 2011
blogGAR: Hog Hunting at RIAT

First things first – generally speaking, you can’t just pitch up at an airshow, introduce yourself to a participant you’ve never met before and ask for an interview, it just doesn’t work like that. More so when the intended interviewee is travelling across from the USA and hasn’t even visited the UK before! Fortunately, however, GAR isn’t completely unheard of these days, so an email to Air Combat Command at Langley AFB was the first step (on March 18th incidentally) and, little more than a few hours later, a reply was in my inbox. Essentially it said - ‘No issues at all, here are the contact details for the team, they are very excited to be coming to the UK’ – we were in business!

No kidding, but within just 48 hours or so I was in contact with Joe and his colleagues and, subject to all the usual caveats, and of course with exact details to be finalised, the interview was on. Happy to admit at this stage that I was super impressed with the efficiency and willingness to help and also, just a little bit excited! The A-10 is an aircraft that I remember so well from years gone by in the UK that the idea of interviewing Rifle was pretty much irresistible and I knew it was a feature that you guys would enjoy reading.

Weeks later, and with RIAT looming, I made contact once again and we discussed plans in a little more detail, deciding to conduct the interview either on the Friday or the Sunday of RIAT weekend, with Sunday looking most likely as Joe would be with the jet on static for long periods of time and we could work around his slot in the flying programme.

Having basked in the sun during Friday’s practices and arrivals, including a stunning run-through from Rifle in the A-10, Sunday naturally dawned with heavy rain and a ridiculously low cloud base, fortunately neither of which has ever actually forced the cancellation of an interview; although I was thinking that we might need to find more suitable cover than an umbrella or the wing of the jet!

Picking Elliott and Greg up en route in sleepy South Cerney, we made our way in to RAF Fairford and well, did what you do at an airshow – walked the static, chatted, laughed, bumped in to people we knew, drank coffee and tried to stay dry – it was July after all! I checked out what time Rifle would be displaying the A-10 and shortly afterwards, received an email from him – ‘come to the jet and we’ll take it from there!’

The Hawgs were at the opposite end of the static park to our location at that time but there was no great hurry and we wandered slowly down in that direction, with frequent stops to talk, greet friendly faces and take a look at the aircraft on display along with the many traders. When we eventually reached the A-10 there was a group of cadets being given a tour by one of the pilots from Spangdahlem but no sign of Rifle!

We only had to hang around for a few minutes though when I saw him arrive and, patiently waiting while he dealt with numerous questions, autograph requests and handshakes, introduced myself. What a great guy! Extremely personable and keen to make sure that I got what I needed, we made yet another plan. About 15 minutes or so later he would be making his way over to the Flight Centre for his display briefing – could I meet him there? It would be quieter, drier and perfect for the interview. No problem naturally, so, telling Elliott and Greg that I was off and making a quick plan to meet up afterwards, I began trudging my way towards the Flight Centre, which was located behind the static area, almost adjacent to the concert stage – more of which later!

Not wishing to steam in to the Flight Centre unannounced or unaccompanied I took a seat on one of the tables outside and, once again, waited, though it wasn’t too long before a friend, Jim Robinson, and I spotted each other and he showed me inside. Jim was volunteering for the first time at RIAT and it was interesting to hear how it had all gone for him while various aircrew came and went around us and I kept one eye open for Rifle. On arrival at the Flight Centre, Joe got the latest weather and all the detail he needed before we hunted around for somewhere quiet, eventually deciding to leave the building to head next door in to an empty hangar. Well, empty other than hundreds of plastic chairs as this was where the main display briefing took place on each day of the show.

Now, I’m not one for doing a huge amount of pre-planning when it comes to interviews. Naturally you need to know what you’re talking about but, other than a few key points, I prefer just to chat really and, once you’ve opened proceedings with a question or two, things tend to just go on from there.

Rifle was an excellent interviewee, no question. Very engaging, here is a man who is clearly extremely passionate about what he does and in particular the A-10 itself. He answered all of my questions very fully, talked me through some of that ‘pilot stuff’ that goes on in the A-10’s cockpit and was obviously very proud that he had been able to display the jet in the UK and for such a huge audience. The fact that he also displays his own RV-8 on the US airshow circuit helped (his dad’s an airshow pilot too by the way!), and one day I would love to visit The States and interview him again about that at a show over there.

With about 35 mins of recorded interview in the bag it was time to say goodbye as Joe needed to get back over to the aircraft to begin preparation for his slot, but we did so with a promise to catch up again afterwards for some photos. As I made my way back across to meet the lads I was unsure for a moment why there was such a significant crowd blocking my path to the static when I realised that the Alexandra Burke concert was about to kick-off – it must have taken me five or six minutes just to try and fight my way through it!

After much needed refreshments, and back with Elliott and Greg in tow, we made our way back over to where the two A-10s had been parked just in time to see them being towed away so that they could be prepared for the following day’s trip back to Germany. Fortunately one of the Spangdahlem pilots walked us across and, meeting Rifle and congratulating him on his excellent routine, we were able to get up close and personal with the A-10 in the flesh.

Rifle was brilliant once again, answering some additional questions and also undoing some of the panels beneath the cockpit so we could see the workings of the quite frankly enormous Avenger cannon. Photos complete, which added to those captured by GAR colleague John Higgins of the entire West Coast Demo Team, it really was time to thank Rifle and wish him ‘Bon Voyage’ as he would be heading back to the USA the following day.

The rest is history! I wrote the feature in the week following RIAT and fired it off to Joe before I headed off on holiday for a week and, by the time I returned and one or two emails later, it was safely approved for publication with just one or two very minor corrections.

In some ways it seems like a lot of work all written down here, but it was more than worth it and I must put on record just how helpful ACC, Rifle and all his colleagues were. What on paper might have been a slightly ambitious request actually turned out very smoothly and we were delighted to include the feature as Global Aviation Magazine’s first ever ‘cover story’ as you can see below. If you haven't taken a look I would naturally urge you to do so and hopefully Joe’s enthusiasm comes across in the piece because if it doesn’t then I haven’t done a very good job, in all honesty!

A real pleasure then to meet Rifle and to write about an aircraft which was such a regular fixture here in the UK when I was growing up – how I wish we could see them more regularly these days! One footnote before I close is that in the last few days, with GAM Issue 1 on the virtual shelf, I received an email from Langley AFB telling me that it is “magnificent”. That makes it all worthwhile and is a huge tribute to Karl who put so much work in to putting it together and of course everyone else who features in it.

We’re working hard on Issue 2 as I write this and tomorrow night I'll be attending the GAPAN dinner, which I’ll report on in a future blogGAR – wish me luck, there’s only going to be 700 people there!!

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