2011 Asian Airshows

APR 12 2011
Airshows >> Asia: Team Viper Does Al Ain

Team Viper formed in 2009 and has already developed from a four-ship unit flying the BAC Strikemaster to displaying in five iconic Hawker Hunters. The Team's first booking in the Hunter's 60th anniversary year was the Al Ain Aerobatic Show in the United Arab Emirates. The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi hosts the show and it's considered a real honour to take part and, as part of PlanesTV, I joined them to record their activities out in the desert.

Viper's expansion to five aircraft meant that the engineering team was facing some real challenges, not least when you consider that John Sparks and his engineers at Hunter Flying Limited were also supporting Jonathan Whalley's 'Miss Demeanour' for the trip east. The total travelling circus of six Hunters was a significant one and that any of the aircraft were able to make the 6000 mile round trip is a testament to John's team's capabilities.

The Team admits that making the journey was a real adventure with a range of very different issues to manage, not least of which were the logistical, weather and engineering challenges to take sixty-year old aircraft on such a deployment. Mark Southern, 'Viper 4', talks about it being a 'boys own adventure' and his teammates readily agree. As he says: "it is not often you get to refuel an ex-military aircraft in the middle of the Saudi desert!"

Unfortunately for 'Viper 2', Gerald Williams, his new pride and joy, FGA.9 XE601, didn't quite make the whole journey and spent the duration of the Al Ain show in Jordan having suffering an engine starter motor problem. In fact, at the time of writing the aircraft is still there, although it's hoped it will soon return to the UK to join in the Hunter's anniversary celebrations. A technical problem sadly also left Hunter PR.11 XG194 back at the Team's Exeter base.

So, the snags left the Team with three aircraft; the usual lead T.7 G-VETA, GA.11 XE685 (an ex-FRADU jet) and, new to the Viper stable, a second T.7 WV372 'Fox One'. In Al Ain, 'Fox One' would lead the display in the capable hands of Sqn Ldr Chris Heames. Moustachioed Chris has a wealth of experience in formation and fast jet flying making him an ideal team leader. Gerald Williams and Andy Gillett shared the number two position in G-VETA and Mark Southern flew as number three in the GA.11, instead of his usual slot position.

The show at Al Ain runs for four days from Wednesday through to the Arabian weekend of Friday and Saturday. Unfortunately, as Karl covered in his article, high winds and sand storms meant that opportunities to practise a 'new' three-ship routine rapidly slipped away, with visibility making jet team aerobatics virtually impossible. The conditions later led to the cancellation of the first two days of the event and the Team only performed its first rehearsals on the Thursday, the day before the show finally commenced.

The routine is a development from that performed in the Strikemasters and which was flown throughout 2009 and most of 2010. It shows off the lines of the Hunter beautifully with graceful formation loops and rolls. The guys also included a formation twinkle roll flown in a loose Vic formation. The power of the aircraft is shown off too with some low level singleton aerobatics and also two-ship opposition work.

Viper was certainly in good company at the show with displays from other jet teams including the Saudi Hawks, the Turkish Stars and civilian team The Baltic Bees. What separated Team Viper however was the audio treat its display provided; the aircraft's distinctive sound a clear indication to the audience that these were not 'ordinary' jets. Aided by the commentary of Team Manager Ian Thompson, the Team always strives to ensure that the heritage it represents remains a key aspect of the display.

Al Ain was also home to a good stock of pyrotechnics which meant the Team was also able to perform a dramatic ground attack sequence in a second slot later in each day's schedule. The two-ship strafing runs and low level simulated bomb runs were backed up with gripping commentary by Ian and Gerald and proved extremely popular.

As well as its commitment to the flying display, the Team was also actively engaged with both audience members and media. Time was spent during both public days in the 'meet the pilots' tent and Viper carried out numerous interviews with local and international media. Ian also visited students at the New York University in Abu Dhabi to give a lecture on the Team and potential pathways into aviation. The level of audience engagement and interaction, coupled with a proactive approach to media work, is impressive to see from a civilian display team.

It was undoubtedly a challenging start to the year for Team Viper, with technical snags and unusually inclement desert conditions, but individual commitment and resolve shone through and they delivered a polished and professional presence at a hugely prestigious event. Team Viper is made up of an accomplished bunch of guys with the enthusiasm and know-how to ensure that one of our greatest aviation icons is well celebrated in its 60th anniversary year and beyond - we're lucky to have them.

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2011-04-13 - mark Hooton
Great article, i'm sure there are many more "stories" to be told about this trip.
I look forward to seeing them displaying in the UK.

2011-04-12 - Neil McCarthy
Excellent article Iain, really looking forward to seeing 5 Hunters this year and the DVD.

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