UK Airshows

AUG 29 2012
Airshows >> Exclusive - Squadron Leader Ben Murphy on Miss Demeanour

More than 1000 hours on the legendary Harrier, Synchro Lead with the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows, and then two years as Red 1, the Boss and team leader. Undoubtedly great experience and preparation for Squadron Leader Ben Murphy as he took on the task of qualifying as Miss Demeanour's new pilot. But that doesn't mean it was easy, or a task that he took in any way lightly; far from it.

When we spoke, Ben had just been awarded his DA (Display Authorisation) from the CAA and was readying himself for a quick holiday, returning just before this weekend's huge Bournemouth Air Festival, the scene for his first public appearances in Miss Demeanour. Sadly, due to his work schedule, these are likely to be his only displays in 2012, but we should see more of him in the jet in 2013 and, hopefully, beyond.

“Jonathon first contacted me earlier this year and explained that he would be going away for some of the airshow season and was looking for someone to convert on to the jet to cover the events he would miss. He wanted to bring a second pilot in anyway, and when he asked if I was interested, the answer was clearly yes!

“I suppose the closest I had to come to solo aerobatics was my role in the Synchro Pair with the Red Arrows. That was certainly the most dynamic flying I did during my time with the Reds and far more akin to what I'll be doing in Miss Demeanour than actually leading the team was.”

As well as being grateful for the opportunity to get back in to that sort of flying, Ben was well aware of the challenge that it presented.

“The bottom line is that despite five years on the Red Arrows, with two years on the Synchro Pair and two years leading the team, I haven't actually done this kind of solo, low-level aerobatics before. What Jonathon was describing was closer to 'jet freestyle', so yes, there is definitely a challenge there.”

There is little doubt that the appeal of the Hunter was strong too, and that appeal goes hand in hand with a certain synergy as Ben accumulated so many hours on other Hawker family members, the Harrier and the Hawk.

“It is quite fitting for me personally, and it's excellent to add Hunter to my repertoire. It is a true classic, there's no two ways about it, and to be given the opportunity to display it for the public is very exciting.”

Exciting yes, but also very different, especially when it comes to converting on the aircraft....

“I suppose it was a little bit like going in at the deep end! I'm used to a very regimented and comprehensive training system in the Royal Air Force, but naturally there isn't a fleet of Hunter trainers available, or many hours of flying time.

“But, a fuel system is still a fuel system, and a hydraulic system is still a hydraulic system, and in essence, Miss Demeanour isn't that much different to other aircraft I've flown, so that helped when I went through the ground school elements of the training that Jonathon prepared for me.

“When I strapped in to her for the first time there were definitely some nerves, though I think that's the same when you are about to go solo in any aircraft!”

Ground school essentially meant that Ben had to hit the books, learning everything about Miss Demeanour's systems and foibles before getting airborne for the first time.

“In many ways, the conversion package that Jonathon put together and had approved by the CAA, was very similar to the way it is done in the RAF. It started with a consolidated period of ground school, reading the manuals, the pilot's notes and all the other documentation that goes with the aircraft, to make sure that I was up to speed. I took ground school exams at the end, and only when that was successfully concluded could I move on to a package of three conversion flights in Miss Demeanour.”

Those three trips enabled Ben to get a feel for Miss Demeanour and the way she handles, explore some of her limits and, perhaps most importantly, examine a number of “What ifs”, should he have to deal with any emergencies.

“The fact that process was so similar to the RAF way of doing things was reassuring, because we know that it works!"

And, looking back now, what does Ben recall of his first trip in the Hunter, I wonder?

“I must say, one thing that really made an impression, before I even flew her, was the quality of the maintenance. She really is exceptionally well looked after, and in terms of the avionics she's equipped with, is probably more hi-tech than some current RAF aircraft!

“In terms of flying, she's fast. It's quite ironic really, she's the oldest aircraft I've flown to date, but the fastest!

"Overall, a beautiful aircraft to fly and operate. Exceedingly quick, very smooth on the controls and very predictable; definitely a pilot's aeroplane.”

I tell Ben that famous test pilot John Farley described the Harrier to me as, “....a Hunter that can take-off and land vertically” in a 2010 interview we conducted at Dunsfold.

Now that he's flown both, I wonder if he concurs with Mr Farley's sentiment?

"I'm inclined to agree with him completely!

“Great fun to fly and yes, while you can't take off and land vertically, they are similar in many other respects. I think it's that mixture of being an aircraft that it is a challenge to fly well, but exceptionally rewarding when you do fly it well.”

So, conversion complete, the next stage was to look at actually displaying the aircraft and deciding on the best way of going about that.

“When we worked-out my commitments for this year and it looked like it might just come down to covering Bournemouth, that really made the decision for us. Firstly, if it ain't broke, why fix it? Jonathon's display routine achieves everything that you need a Hunter display to do.

"That's one difference between doing this and flying the Hawk in the Synchro Pair, for example. There you are eking out every last bit of performance from the jet, but with Miss Demeanour it is subtly different.

“It is all about showing the aircraft off in the best way possible, so my routine is broadly similar to Jonathon's. Equally, I was well-aware that I wasn't, and still aren't, very experienced on the jet, so didn't want to jump straight in and do something overly complicated.

“Who knows, maybe we'll evolve it in the years to come. For now though, this works for the public and it works for me, as I can build experience of flying the manoeuvres and develop a comfortable and safe display, which is the ultimate aim.”

For those of you who don't know, only two pilots other than Flapjack have ever even flown Miss Demeanour, and neither of those on any sort of regular basis. I can't resist asking Ben to what extent that adds to the pressure? Miss Demeanour is, after all, very much Jonathon's baby!

“Firstly, I was hugely honoured that he even asked me and trusted me do it, that was a huge boost for my confidence.

But I am also very aware that Miss Demeanour is his aircraft and that she is unique! That brings a lot of responsibility with it, both to fly her safely, and equally, to display her effectively.

“There are a few nerves ahead of Bournemouth. After five years with the Reds, I'm now on a ground tour in the RAF, so I suppose I thought that the airshow chapter of my life might have ended. I think that when I take-off for the first public display though, I'll probably be straight back in to the old airshow mindset, concentrating on flying a safe and effective display and foreseeing as many of the foreseeables as I can.

“Jonathon's mantra is definitely one of going out there to enjoy the display flying. It's not a job any more, so you wouldn't do it unless you really wanted to jump in the jet and go flying, and I don't think that's a bad mantra with which to approach it really. It's subtly different to being part of the Red Arrows, and although I enjoyed display flying with the Reds very much, I can't wait to get started in Miss Demeanour now.”

Deprecated: mysql_connect(): The mysql extension is deprecated and will be removed in the future: use mysqli or PDO instead in /var/sites/g/globalaviationresource.com/public_html/comments/displaycomments.php on line 8

2012-08-29 - Neil McCarthy
Welcome to the Hunter club Ben! dont you just love flying in manual ;-)

Global Aviation Resource's photographic and written work is subject to copyright and may not be reproduced or distributed in any form without express written permission.

If you would like to discuss using any of our imagery or feature content please contact us.