2009 UK Airshows

JUN 13 2009
Airshows >> UK: 2009 Royal Air Force Typhoon Display Pilot - Sqn Ldr Scott Loughran

Talking to Sqn Ldr Scott Loughran about flying the Typhoon, one thing quickly becomes apparent; his great enthusiasm for what he does is very real and in a strange way a little infectious. For someone who at this point is as close to a Typhoon as he’s ever been I can’t help but find myself feeling like a kid at an airshow again.

“It’s just awesome” Scott says.

We are sitting sunning ourselves on a bench outside VASS (Visiting Aircraft Support Section) at RAF Shawbury. It’s Saturday 13th June and less than 24 hours before the annual airshow at RAF Cosford where Typhoon will be one of highlights. Forty minutes ago he was practising his routine at Cosford before flying in to Shawbury with its 6000 ft runway. We are both looking across at the two imposing Typhoons, just yards away from us on an almost deserted hard-standing, with a single Hawk looking rather small and inconsequential by comparison.

“It continues to impress me after two and half years of flying it, which shouldn’t really be surprising as it is a fourth generation fighter, but it is just fantastic.”

Scott can clearly remember the moment when he first decided that he wanted to be a pilot. Watching a television programme on ‘Search And Rescue’ he saw a crewman scramble to the chopper and dive in, not through the door, but through the window. The film cut to the cockpit and showed the pilots, cockpit, dials and instruments with Scott thinking ‘that’s what I’d like to do’.

Born in Paisley, Scott’s journey to Typhoon has been a fascinating one via Tornado F.3 as navigator on 43(F) Squadron at RAF Leuchars where he contributed to the F.3’s presence on Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) in the UK and Falkland Islands. Having successfully qualified as pilot, Scott went on to then fly the Jaguar with 54(F) Squadron at RAF Coltishall where he was immediately deployed to Turkey as part of Operation Northern Watch and the build up to Op Telic. He left 54(F) Sqn shortly before they disbanded in 2005 but not before taking part in a number of overseas exercises in North America, Europe and the Middle East.

Moving to the Typhoon Force as an instructor within the Typhoon Training Facility, in July 2006 Scott joined 29(R) Squadron where, on completion of the OCU he remained and trained as a Qualified Pilot Instructor (QPI). Towards the end of the 2008 airshow ‘season’, pilots assigned to 29(R) were invited to apply for the 2009 Typhoon display slot and it says much about the popularity of the role when Scott tells me that every single eligible pilot bar one applied for the job. It also says something about Scott that he was the successful candidate.

Is his life this good every single day I wonder?

“It isn’t necessary to always operate the aircraft to its limits, during BVR (beyond visual range) sorties for example, but the performance is really impressive during dissimilar air combat training (DACT). If you’re flying against another Typhoon you kind of forget that you are turning incredibly hard or that the aircraft has a huge thrust advantage, simply because the aircraft you are fighting against is another Typhoon. Then you then go and employ the same tactics against an F-16 or Mirage and very quickly you are in a position to bring weapons to bear, sometimes you need that comparison to bring it all home.”

Display flying is a demanding task for any pilot and Scott readily admits that in Typhoon that this is especially true from a physical perspective.

“One of my favourite stats from flying the display is that when I push out of my inverted pass the jet is registering minus 1 ˝ G, I then roll the aircraft, give her full back-stick and immediately pull to 9 G, the aircraft almost instantaneously transferring 10 ˝ G so yes, that is demanding.”

Not however as demanding as a tactical sortie he says, suggesting that nothing can compete with the demands of fighting your way in, laser designating targets and then fighting your way back out. Typhoon is a true multi-role weapon system with situational awareness and the pilot’s capacity to process information stretched to their limits when performing this kind of mission.

“The aircraft is essentially an easy aircraft to max perform. Regardless of height, speed or power setting I can pull back on the stick and the aircraft will always give me the maximum performance in terms of G or ALPHA (angle of attack). It looks after it all for me.”

Having been selected as display pilot for the 2009 season much of Scott’s work-up was initially carried out in the full Typhoon simulator at RAF Coningsby, one of numerous ground-based training options at the base, but looking back he admits that when he first flew in the back-seat so 2008 Display Pilot Flt Lt Charlie Matthews could show him the ropes it was quite an experience. “It was an eye-opener that’s for sure.” he says with a smile.

“You see things from the cockpit that only other people who have displayed the Typhoon have seen. Anyone on the squadrons can take the jet up and fly aerobatics with a base height of 5000 feet, but when you are 90 degree nose down at 2500 feet it is definitely something new and that takes a little while to acclimatise to. Also, I would much rather display it from the front seat than be a passenger, which always makes you a little more nervous!”

With both variants sitting quietly in front of us we briefly discuss the negligible difference between displaying the single seat jet, designated F.2 (FGR.4 for newer aircraft) and the T.1 (T.3 for newer aircraft) two-seat ‘twin-sticker’ then Scott says there is one thing he must tell me regarding a marked difference between jets on the squadron.

“I don’t want to bore you......”

Not even close.

“One thing that became very apparent during my work-up was the varying way in which aircraft from different production blocks behave, as the flight control software has been refined and improved upon – I was gobsmacked! In a jet with the newest version of the software I can be in a max-rate turn at 9G and the jet will still be accelerating despite the extremely tight radius. I have to come out of burner to avoid going over the limit I have for speed during the display, but on one occasion still exited the turn at 510 knots. If I leave the burner in and fly out of the turn in a straight line I’ll be supersonic by the end of the runway!”

Listening back to the recording of the interview this short explanation is followed by a brief silence. I recall trying to get my head round the idea of a fast jet accelerating in a 9G turn and in some ways I’m pretty sure Scott was doing the same, remembering that particular moment with a smile and a shake of his head.

Scott’s work-up was therefore designed to ensure that he was up to speed on all versions of the software, explaining that while the aircraft’s limits in terms of G and ALPHA are exactly the same, the new versions do everything that little bit quicker, something it took a little while to adjust to.

Typhoon is of course an immensely powerful aircraft with two Eurojet EJ200 Turbojet engines delivering some 40,000lbs of thrust at full reheat. It’s an engine, Scott says, the manufacturers are rightly proud of.

“I obviously want the display to be as tight as possible so I’ll only really come out of burner if I don’t want to accelerate too much for whatever reason. The best way to counter the aircraft’s massive power is by loading it up, by which I mean applying G or ALPHA.

“What I found early-on was that the aircraft doesn’t want to slow down if you accelerate in reheat in a straight line. I can gain 30kts per second in reheat and if I cut the power to idle it takes an age to decelerate and it just continues at the same speed, which is remarkable. So what I do for maximum impact on the final pass is start slow and then demonstrate the acceleration down the display-line.”

What exactly does he mean by “slow” I ask?

“About 300 kts at the start of the runway.”

And crowd-centre?

“By then I’m usually at about 550 / 570 kts,” he says. “I start at around 300 partly for impact, as I don’t want to have to come out of burner at crowd centre and partly because I do not want to cause a sonic-boom.”

This of course is a very fair point.

Scott’s role as Typhoon Display Pilot extends far beyond ‘just’ flying the aircraft of course. Engagement and public relations need a human element that the general public can meet at events, ask questions of, get autographs from and all those extra things that combine to make any display an effective tool for recruitment and in changing perceptions. During our conversation Scott conceded that he hadn’t done as much work in this area as he would have liked to yet with early performances seeing him operate some distance from his actual display sites, but that all changed the day after this interview when he made visits to RAF Cosford both before and after flying his display, the second visit after hitching a lift courtesy of the Royal Navy ‘Black Cats’ in one of their Lynx helicopters. Nice bit of inter-service co-operation there.

The Typhoon Display Team tent was literally surrounded when I wandered over at around 9.45am on Sunday, with Scott busy signing Typhoon prints and answering questions while Fg Off Durham and 29(R) ground-crew handed out leaflets and brochures to the large crowd which had gathered. Scott looks equally at home here as he does in the air which is undoubtedly one of the reasons why he was picked as this year’s display pilot. We live in testing times for the armed forces where every penny counts and engagement with the public on the ground is in many ways as important as the display we see in the skies.

“I didn’t actually get to many airshows when I was a child,” he admits. “My parents don’t have any particular enthusiasm for aviation so I didn’t get dragged along to events, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate how important they are for engagement purposes.”

When operating away for an airshow weekend Scott will always be joined by a second Typhoon, something that provides more than just the benefit of having a spare jet in case of any technical issues.

“The spare jet is obviously flown down by another pilot and the chance to do that comes up on an opportunity basis. That pilot will be on the ground at the venue so the public will never miss out on the chance to ask questions, even if I’m away preparing to fly or perhaps off displaying at a second event, but I intend to do as much of that as I can too.”

What is massively apparent during my time at RAF Shawbury is that the Typhoon Display Team is exactly that, a true team effort with ground crew and technicians swarming around the two jets as they arrive. An hour later they are still doing so and at one point we are interrupted by Sergeant Andy Hawkins so he and Scott can talk about getting spare break parachutes sent down from Coningsby, which jet Scott would rather display and departure times for Monday. When you book Typhoon for an event you don’t just get two jets with two pilots – the “footprint” as Scott refers to it is in the region of twelve people.

“The reason there are so many people out there is partly because of the complicated nature of the aircraft. A specialist tradesman is required for each aspect of the jet, including avionics, engines, etc.”

If the jet lands fully serviceable then their work is fairly simple in terms of packing the chute and fuelling the jet, but the team really comes in to its own when something needs fixing. It’s not just about the team that travels with the jets either and their reliance on the professionalism and expertise of staff back at RAF Coningsby in operations, administration and logistics as well as specialists in aviation medicine, photography, media, transport and catering Scott readily acknowledges.

As many servicemen and women know, the team effort required extends well beyond what happens at ‘work’ and tracks right back to the domestic front as well, something Scott is keen to highlight when he looks back at his application to display the aircraft this year.

“I have a very understanding wife,” he says laughing.

“It was a big deal; she knew that I wanted to apply for it and that if I did apply for it I might get it, which would mean I would largely be away for the summer, but she just told me to go for it. It’s a right pain for her as she has to look after the kids every weekend but she knows it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for me.”

Later this year the Loughran clan will be on the move as Scott goes back to RAF Leuchars in Fife to fill an executive position on 6 Squadron as they ‘stand-up’ with Typhoon, the third operational squadron and the first to form away from RAF Coningsby. It’s a move he is understandably excited about.

“It’s exciting in itself to be involved with standing-up a new squadron and also one at a new operating base in terms of Typhoon. It’s a great opportunity for us to maybe try some new things and while I’ll obviously have a boss I will have a reasonable say in those things which is fantastic. In addition to that, Leuchars is in a lovely part of the world and the surrounding area is very nice. From an operating perspective we’ve got the North Sea where we can do our thing, the Highlands to work with some other squadrons and we can meet jets from Coningsby half way!”

On top of all of this talk of display flying and engagement it mustn’t be forgotten that Scott still has a day-job instructing for 29(R) Squadron at RAF Coningsby which in essence makes him an extremely busy pilot at the moment. How do students find the Typhoon when they arrive at the OCU I wonder?

“It’s got bags of thrust and the head up display, flying control systems and instrumentation all add-up to make an aircraft which is very easy to fly,” says Scott. “It has the potential to do so many things as a true multi-role aircraft and while it is designed to tell the pilots what they need to know and when they need to know it, that is still a shed-load of information. Managing that information and having the capacity to deal with it all is the key thing.”

“The guys coming from Valley have a lot to learn and they won’t learn it all for a long time, so our job on the OCU is to teach them to fly the aircraft, which only takes around seven sorties after ground school. We then use building blocks to teach them other aspects such as basic air combat and beyond visual range combat.”

What the OCU provides is a pilot who can join a front-line squadron and operate as a wingman. They then move forward and develop with their squadron, learning all the time. Scott maintains that if a pilot at Valley can cope with flying a Hawk at low level through the Welsh mountains in foul weather then they should be able to crack the Typhoon.

Bearing in mind everything Scott and I have discussed about flying the display and engaging with the public, how will he know if he’s had a successful season?

“One thing Charlie (Matthews) said to me that I have already seen this season is that people are not reticent about offering feedback on the display. I’ve had a lot of people commenting positively on the display and thankfully very few saying anything negative so far. My supervisors will tell me if there is something they’re not happy about and I know myself how things went. Sometimes you land and feel you could have done things a little better and equally, sometimes you know you’ve nailed it. If I can keep nailing the display and ensure that the team gets to meet as many people as possible then I’ll be happy.”

It is abundantly clear that Scott is a highly motivated individual with 100% belief in what he’s doing and the aircraft he’s flying. His amiable and affable nature makes him an ideal role model for the RAF’s pilots of the future, while his willingness to enthuse so descriptively about his job and the team aspect of displaying Typhoon is refreshing. Best of all though he flies a thrilling Typhoon display which will be seen by thousands of people across the UK this summer, displaying not just the aircraft and his own ability in a great light but that of the RAF and maybe, just maybe, that will convince a few people to think about signing-up and joining the team.

As we walk across to the aircraft for a closer look, interview now complete, I mention to Scott one thing which bizarrely we have neglected to mention. I know the aircraft is awesome but he must fundamentally really enjoy it right? I mean, what a job?

For almost the first time he seems a little lost for words.

“Yeah, it’s fun...............it’s definitely fun.”

- ENDS -

Not only is Scott displaying the Typhoon at venues around the UK this summer he, and members of the Typhoon Display Team, are actually cycling home to RAF Coningsby from various venues in a quest to raise money for three charities. As you can imagine it would be far quicker to fly back in a Typhoon and the aim is complete each trip in approximately 24 / 36 hours with each route measuring somewhere between 150 and 180 miles! The three charities are:

• The RAF Benevolent Fund

• The Royal Air Force Association

• National Society for Phenylketonuria

If you would like more information on this extraordinary charitable effort please visit the following page: http://www.justgiving.com/typhoondisplayteam

You can also donate in person if you prefer by visiting the Typhoon Display Team tent at any of the venues at which Scott is displaying, where he and his colleagues will also be delighted to talk about the aircraft and answer any questions on the Typhoon display or the Royal Air Force.

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