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2009 Articles

SEP 27 2009
RAF on Display 2009 - Season Wrap Up Part 1

Inspired by the features we published with various RAF display assets earlier this season Global Aviation Resource decided to do something that we considered long neglected; a season wrap-up. It's one thing to meet the aircrews involved and ask them about their hopes and expectations for the season ahead, but no one it seemed had every really gone back to them and asked how things had panned out.

While the Chinook display crews had remained elusive we had already interviewed Sqn Ldr Scott Loughran and Flt Lts Bill Ramsey, Leon Creese and Matt Barker, so we knew we were well-placed to follow-up the work we had previously carried out and, with all the solos due to perform at Southport, this seemed like the ideal, indeed only, opportunity to do so in one hit.

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Sqn Ldr Scott Loughran - Eurofighter Typhoon:

"I think so" says Scott. "I set out to have a safe season which I've done and from a flying perspective I set out to demonstrate certain things and think I have been able to do that."

I can't help but comment to Scott that if setting off car alarms was an objective then he can definitely tick that box for the 2009 season.

"I'm not proud that I've been responsible for making children cry either" he laughs, "but one of the things almost everyone has commented on was how loud the display has been.

"Raising money for charity was another objective and we managed to do that although I was a little disappointed with how the cycling fundraising went. I cycled seven hundred miles back home from displays but didn't manage to raise as much money or awareness as I would have liked, so we maybe didn't do a very good job of publicising that."

It's more than obvious that Scott has enjoyed displaying the Typhoon but not necessarily in the way that you might assume.

"Overall I describe the display flying as something that you can only enjoy retrospectively because when you're actually doing it you're thinking about the next manoeuvre or the wind or the weather, so the manoeuvres slot together quickly and suddenly it's over.

"I tend to pull up in to the vertical, check that the fuel and everything else is taken care of and then relax and realise what fun it's been, albeit with a bit of a sweat on! Before that it's just been busy, busy, busy."

As Scott was so keen to emphasise back in June his job this year extended well beyond just flying displays and it was illustrated perfectly just an hour or two before we sat down to conduct this interview. There was a large crowd round the Typhoon display team's gazebo and it was great to see him chatting to so many youngsters, signing autographs and telling them more about the aircraft and the RAF.

"Doing the PR and putting out a positive message for the RAF and the armed forces have been excellent and if you base it on the amount people we've met and talked to, that part really sells itself."

Displaying the Typhoon across the UK and Europe must result in a catalogue of highlights but do any venues stand out I ask?

"You know, I really enjoyed today and this weekend. It felt like a tight display and flying out of an international airport like Liverpool was excellent, very rewarding.

"Events such as the Goodwood Festival of Speed and the British Grand Prix were really enjoyable as they weren't aviation crowds who were expecting to see the display. I met people at Silverstone who were amazed by the aircraft and many of them had never seen a fast jet display, let alone a Typhoon. It was the same at Goodwood and that was very rewarding, being able to show the aircraft to a new audience."

We've all had times when we would like, with the benefit of hindsight, to turn the clocks back, but would Scott have done anything differently if he'd been armed with the knowledge he has now?

"I think I would have done some things differently but nothing major and certainly the way I operated the aircraft wouldn't have changed. Perhaps some of the admin and trivia could have been handled differently, but that's it really."

When Scott thinks back at his season of displaying Typhoon, when he looks beyond the overall sense of achievement and the rewards the experience brought him, what are the moments that will always stand-out I wonder?

"Doing a half-cuban to land at a busy international airport is something that you just can't do as a fast jet pilot. That's made me chuckle every time I've done it.

"Liverpool John Lennon Airport, or somewhere similar, you go down the runway at 100ft with a 747 or an Airbus holding for take off and you go screaming past in the opposite direction, pull up in to the vertical, roll over the top, put the gear down and land - that's something I will remember for a very long time.

"It's like arriving at a venue at 100ft and pulling straight in to a loop. Not being able to do it is going to be quite difficult because it is a huge privilege to be a display pilot and you are authorised to do some great, but very unusual flying. The day I am no longer a display pilot is the day I can't do that any more - not without going to visit the Station Commander with my hat on anyway!"

For Scott, the 2009 display season is one which has left him with many unforgettable moments.

"I displayed at Largs which is my home town, so that was special anyway, but all my family were there and it was the first time many of them had seen my display. It was a seaside show on a very calm day and, as I pulled in to the vertical at the start of the show, I looked back to check my line and could still see the ripples in the water where the burners had disrupted the surface.

"That was very cool and I'll remember it for a long time."

So, with his successor waiting in the wings, if Scott could only give him one piece of advice to help him along next season, what would it be? It's a question that Scott considers long and hard.

"Don't crash" he laughs.

Well, joking aside, that's not a bad mantra for a display pilot and on that note Scott and I say our farewells. He and his team have been great ambassadors for the RAF, the armed forces and the Typhoon; certainly a tough act for the 2010 display pilot to follow. As for Scott, he'll soon be starting a new job looking after 6 Sqn's resurrection with the Typhoon and, all being well, GAR will catch up with him again in the not too distant future.

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Flt Lts Leon Creese and Chris "Kiwi" Enright - Beechcraft King Air B200:

Joined this year by a new co-pilot in Flt Lt Chris "Kiwi" Enright, Leon's King Air display remains one of the most eye-catching of the RAF solos and one which promotes the vital job of training multi-engine pilots for the RAF's tanker, transport and surveillance fleets.

Having already completed their Saturday slot at the Southport Airshow, Leon and Kiwi are all set for GAR's grilling as I interview them on the journey back from Liverpool Airport, their base for the weekend.

"Yes" is Leon's immediate answer when I ask him if the season has been a success.

"Over three million people have seen the RAF King Air display this season; we really feel that we are doing our bit for recruitment: for the taxpayer if you like.

"In terms of our engagement on the ground I do feel that it could always be better. We often find ourselves at remote airfields having displayed at a seaside venue for example and we just don't have the time to get back to the venue to meet the public. Maybe the airshow organisers should provide more helicopters for us to use!

"We always have students with us so they can interact with the public to some extent and in a sense it's useful to have people doing that who aren't too far down the line from being recruited themselves. They can answer questions about the training and what they are experiencing as trainee pilots.

"It is also good for their development I think; getting out there to meet the public and gaining an appreciation of what the public think."

Leon now has two complete seasons of displaying the King Air to his name so what has he learned since he started that perhaps he has been able to apply to the role more recently? He answers only after long and careful thought.

"With hindsight, I think we wouldn't have tried so hard to do this with such little financial impact as we have basically spent two years attempting to display the aircraft at no cost to the RAF and that has resulted in a lot of hard work.

"We try to make sure we have students in the right place at the right time so we can dedicate as many display transits as possible to training, this mitigates some of the cost to the RAF but can make life difficult for us.

"Having been as successful as we have at minimising the cost of our display, I suspect we'll be expected to keep doing it that way" says Leon, pointing out that they do not take a spare aircraft to events, they keep to the minimum crew and have no engineering support.

What of the King Air's 2009 highlights?

"It's definitely Volkel for me" says Kiwi.

"It was an exciting display with a great international line-up. Having never been to an airshow in Holland before it was all new for me and everyone was so enthusiastic as well."

"Dawlish had its challenges" adds Leon.

"The geography of displaying there made it, along with Shoreham which is surrounded by towns, a most challenging venue in terms of flying the display.

"Bournemouth for me was right up there again this year though. A huge crowd is always good to see and it's a tight display line with the two piers." Leon may be a little biased however as he spent many a childhood summer afternoon on the beach there.

"I should also mention the Mr Blue Sky moment at Fairford when, at the end of a day of heavy showers and having lined-up on the runway to start the display, I recognised that the weather was below the required limits. I saw a gap in the cloud drifting our way and asked to hold for two minutes for the weather. Surely enough, within a few moments the gap settled over the airfield and we were able to complete the entire display to a backdrop of blue sky helped along by ELO. I'm told for some observers it was the highlight of whole weekend."

While the plan for next year is yet to be confirmed Kiwi has completed his term with the team. How about some words of wisdom for those fortunate enough to display the aircraft next year?

"Display flying is some of the best flying you can do" says Kiwi.

"It's unique and adds another string to your bow as a pilot so it expands your horizons and, being mainly visual flying, truly adds to your skills as a pilot."

"I would advise anyone coming along to do this to go back to basics" adds Leon.

"Preparing simple plans and carrying all the necessary information on your knee, ready to go and in a simple format is the one thing that I've really learned. You can get bogged down in unnecessary complexity and organisers often don't help, for example when you have complex holds and such like to work with. All you really need is half a dozen radio frequencies and a decent picture of where you're going to hold. You don't need too much detail."

After a long, busy season the weekend at Southport certainly seems to have an 'end of term' air about it and, from an affable team like Leon and Kiwi, we're not short of anecdotes with which to close to the interview.

"One of my favourite moments was at the Swansea Airshow" recalls Kiwi as Leon nods knowingly in agreement.

"All of the solo displays were up together on the same frequency; Tutor, Hawk, Typhoon and then the Chinook which was due on after us. We were all on time despite operating from remote locations and it really stuck out as a moment which summed-up the professionalism of the guys involved."

And that, for the King Air display 2009, is that. It is an important part of the mix when it comes to RAF solos and will no doubt continue to impress and make a positive impact in 2010.

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