2011 UK Airshows

MAY 24 2011
Airshows >> UK: Army Air Corps Apache Display 2011

There is something quite chilling about the Apache. It's not just the look of the thing, for it is certainly an imposing looking aircraft, but there is definitely an aura about it. That's the feeling I get when this year's display crew, WO2 Bruce Allen and Capt Scottie Hewitt are hovering, far too close for the lens attached to my camera and what feels like a matter of feet in front of us, having completed their fourth practice of the day at Wattisham.

The routine is hugely impressive, let's get that important fact laid down for starters, and it is a full display, not a role demo as had been speculated when news of the Apache's airshow return leaked out. It's an important distinction and, while the UK's Apache RTS (Release To Service) documentation doesn't allow for complete rolling and looping manoeuvres, the routine, certainly based on my impression of it anyway, has not been compromised as a result.

Without the inevitable loss of energy that rolls and loops result in, the crew has put together a flowing, high energy routine with very little by way of pauses for either them or the audience. There are still some pretty extreme sections in there which will leave many onlookers shaking their heads in disbelief, great opportunities for the photographers among you and, perhaps most importantly, a chance for the whole crowdline to see some of the power, manoeuvrability and menace that helps make the Apache one of the battlefield's most successful, and for any potential adversary, feared assets.

"This (displaying the Apache) is something I have always wanted to do," explains WO2 Allen as we sit in the crew room at Wattisham along with Capt Stewart Pearce, the Display Manager for the season ahead, while waiting for Capt Hewitt to return from a training sortie in the local area.

"I have recently returned from Afghanistan," he adds, "and I'm due to start an instructor's course in the new year so the timing was perfect for me."

"We've always tried to support local events with role demos", explains Stewart, " and with the Blue Eagles and its Apache role demo taking a break last year and again this season, it has fallen on us to provide a solo. We were going to support some local events again anyway and when we were asked if we would like to formalise it in to a full display we were delighted to do so."

Stewart, a former member of the Blue Eagles who has also performed a number of Apache role demos over the five years he has been based at Wattisham, is more than just a Team Manager as he also takes on the role of Display Supervisor and this is the first time the Apache display has been delivered by the Field Army as opposed to the training units at Middle Wallop. That's not all, as Stewart goes on to explain:

"We're setting another precedent this year as, in previous years, the display has always been flown by QHI (Qualified Helicopter Instructors). While I myself am a QHI and the supervisory role for the display has to be filled by one, Bruce isn't, he's an Airborne Instructor (Weapons); he and Scottie both come from the Field Army, not the instructor cadre, and that's a first for an Apache display."

"We don't have the speed of a fast jet obviously so we've tried to maximise what the helicopter can do and also keep it all as close to the crowd as we're allowed," says Bruce. "That means throwing it around and keeping it nice and low whenever we can. The RTS allows us up to 90 in pitch and a maximum of 2G so it still gives plenty of opportunities to show the Apache off, even without the full rolls and loops.

"I did my training with Tony Thompson (ex-Blue Eagles Apache display pilot) a couple of months ago and he showed me some of the manoeuvres as we obviously don't do them every day; there is really no comparison, not even with our operational flying."

"It is outside of our normal comfort zone," adds Stewart, "and that's why the display pilot needs to be of above average ability."

"That was 50 well spent," Bruce laughs at the compliment, "but joking aside, sometimes the cab doesn't respond as you would expect it to so you do need someone with a good deal of experience.

"You have to really concentrate on the wind as it has a big effect on us and it would be very easy to over compensate for it. You are working hard as you have to position the routine correctly, observe all the limitations and listen to the front seater - by the end of the eight minutes I've got a bit of a sweat on, despite the air con!"

Scottie's role in the front seat is a vital one and as Bruce so succinctly put it, "he's not just there as baggage". This is most definitely a team effort with Scottie providing a running commentary for Bruce as they work their way through the entire routine, very much like a rally driver's mate.

"It's tough to pick out any favourite parts of the display," says Bruce in response to that question, " what people will see is the Apache from every angle and it also makes a fantastic noise, especially in the low level turns.

"I'm quite looking forward to chatting to some of the other display crews as well. No doubt there'll be some banter but it will be good to see what they think of it."

It almost seems a shame that so much work has gone in to just four events but the team are hoping that this year's effort could lead to an additional number in 2012, operational commitments and availability allowing of course. Stewart Pearce again:

"It's great to get the Apache back to airshows having had a year off. We honestly don't know how things will pan out beyond 2011 but we'll make the most of this season and work closely with the Army's recruitment team as well to maximise the engagement."

It's a plan that is sure to make an impact with anyone that sees the display this year and backing it all up of course is the Apache's performance, and reputation, on operational duty, especially in Afghanistan.

"There is no doubt that the Apache remains the weapon of choice for troops on the ground," says Bruce. "With the optics, the weapons and the loiter capability it really is a fantastic tool.

"I'd sell being an Apache pilot all day long to anyone who wants to ask me about it, and the more younger guys we get coming through the better."

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