UK Airshows

APR 18 2012
Airshows >> Hold on to your hats - it's The Turbulent Team

If you’re reading this, then it might be safe to make some assumptions about your interest in airshows. I’m going to bet that you’re not totally and utterly devoted to fast jet heavy metal. You probably don’t only go to airshows for noise and afterburning thunder. You most likely appreciate where airshows originated from and understand that a variety of different airborne entertainment is the key to attracting, and retaining, large audiences.

If your usual airshow drug of choice is fast jets and warbirds, however, then I commend you for stopping by, for The Turbulent Team is just as valid as Typhoon, F-16, Spitfire, Sea Fury or any other such act that you might care to mention. The team is also extremely popular with the masses, as I saw for myself at Dunsfold in both 2010 and 2011, and at RAF Cosford last year when they were one of just a handful acts which were able to brave the horrendous weather. As one fast jet display pilot said to me recently; “I always watch The Turbulent Team, they are entertaining and very, very good at what they do.”

What can you expect to see from The Turbulent Team? Well, formation flying, tail chases, flour bombing, aerial limbo and balloon bursting all play a part in a mission solely designed to entertain. It’s intimate too, with the aircraft’s low speed allowing the crowd to see everything that goes on and meaning that they too can get involved, as they invariably do when The ‘Turbs’ display.

The team came in to being as far back as 1961 and, as display leader Richard Pearson tells me, it’s all about “Fun and display flying in its original form. We like to use experienced members of the team and give new people an opportunity to get involved too, as that allows us to plan for the next 50 years!”

The aircraft itself, the Turbulent, after which the team is named, is pretty much unique to the UK airshow circuit and, other than the occasional Cri-Cri, we really don’t see anything similar at all.

“It was designed by Frenchman, Roger Druine, in the 1950s and is very small and very simple. Many of them were constructed in the UK by a company called Rollason, which was owned by Norman Jones who founded The Tiger Club. Most of our Turbulents are owned by the Tiger Club (two of them are privately owned) and that is something we also all play an active role in.”

Powered by a 1600cc engine, the same as that which powered the original Volkswagen Beetle and, weighing around 350lbs empty with a wingspan of just a little over 21ft, the ‘Turb’ has been described by some as little more than a flying motorbike! Of note, in this, the Queen’s Jubilee year, is the fact that the Duke of Edinburgh himself flew G-APNZ in 1960, making the Turbulent the first, and, thus far, the only, single-seat aircraft to have been flown by a member of the Royal Family.

“Twenty nine D31 and three D31A Turbulents were manufactured by Rollason Aircraft & Engines at Croydon Airport, and the Tiger Club has been home to at least eighteen of these, frequently taking them to foreign shores and famous airshows across the past five decades and even creating a competition - the Dawn to Dusk challenge - around the aeroplane. The Tiger Club currently owns five examples which are regularly enjoyed by its members no less now than they were 50 years ago.

“From a pilot’s perspective, the Turbulent is extremely responsive in the air.” Richard tells me. “It is also very easy to manoeuvre on the ground and is basically great fun. Open-cockpit flying at its best I would say.

“They aren’t toys though, they are real aeroplanes, and while the display might look a little crazy at times, we practise endlessly and never cross the aircraft’s limits.”

So why, I wonder, when it is patently obvious that the team is hugely popular with the majority of airshow-goers, do we not see them a little more often? The same could probably be said for the likes of O’Brien’s Flying Circus and, to some extent, The Breitling Wingwalkers, which, since being sponsored by the watch brand, seem to spend more time displaying to audiences in Europe than in the UK.

“I think the old adage is that if you really enjoyed seeing us somewhere, tell your friends and contact other airshow organisers to ask them to book us! We do a fair amount of shows every year but we’d be delighted to do more.

“I don’t honestly know why the tradition has died a little in this country. The Tiger Club is actually capable of putting on a whole display centred around this kind of flying and of course we don’t always have to do a full display. We can do weddings, and have done so on numerous occasions, model aircraft shows and all those kinds of events too. A farmer’s field would suffice, it doesn’t need to be a bowling green surface for us to operate the aircraft.

“We wouldn’t suggest for one moment that we can replace the modern military hardware or the likes of the BBMF, for example, but we do provide a nice contrast and what we do is very different.”

Glyn Richards is one of those at the experienced end of the Turbulent scale and actually rebuilt G-ARBZ so that it could fly with the team once again. He’s another designated display leader and his passion for the team, and its diminutive steer, shine through when he joins me for a chat.

“It’s fun with a capital F, that’s how I always describe it. We convert lots of people on to the aircraft at Headcorn and they all land with what we call ‘the Turbulent Grin’ – it’s unavoidable! They are also unique, incidentally, in that they are the only Light Aircraft Association aircraft that operate on a Permit to Fly and can be used as a club aircraft. It’s great that we can give people the chance to fly them for themselves.

“As for the display, we know that it’s the barnstorming flying that people want to see, so we don’t overegg the formation part of the show and, when we get in to flying underneath lines of bunting at just three or four feet off the ground and flour bombing, we’re quite happy knowing that we are providing the light relief from the bigger and noisier acts at an event. We do take our flying very seriously though; no one should be in any doubt about that at all.

“It’s satisfying when people like Paul Bonhomme and the Red Arrows come up to offer congratulations following a display, as they did at Dunsfold in 2010, when it was quite windy for us. We do sometimes feel that the crowd and our peers think we are a bigger attraction than some of the organisers do though, and we would definitely love to do more shows.”

There is little doubt that crowds lap it up – you can see that for yourself when The Turbulent Team perform – and maybe more organisers should look outside of the box and consider booking a team which guarantees entertainment for the bulk of the audience and, importantly in this day and age, is a relatively inexpensive addition to the flying programme, especially for a four-aircraft display.

Never ones to rest on their laurels, the team hasn’t stood still either and the Turbulent Team has evolved over the past half century, always striving for entertainment excellence.

“We are always trying to improve the show,” pilot Mike Kemp says. “We revised the show for 2012 and we are able to tailor it depending on the weather conditions and any time constraints, so that makes us quite flexible. The commentary is also a very important part of what we do as ours is the kind of act that needs the crowd geed up and involved in the show.”

Another crucial element of course is ground support, and it goes without saying that any display team that takes four aircraft anywhere is largely reliant on this. Mike Le’mmon has been fulfilling this role for the team for six years now and I assume that they would go nowhere without him and his colleagues?

“Allegedly!” he laughs. “The nicest thing is that we actually play an active role in the display itself as we hold the poles that the aircraft fly through and under, for example.

“We’ve probably got the best seat in the house and it is a spectacular view as they approach at a matter of a few feet and about 100mph. There’s plenty of practice and lots of trust involved!”

“A“Especially in a cross-wind,” adds Samantha Williams who is both ground-crew and team PR, “that’s always interesting!”

A little like the Team’s actual display, in fact. Always interesting, always something going on and a reminder of where these airshows that we all cherish so much, came from originally. I make no apologies for repeating something that I’ve said on many occasions - we are extremely lucky in the UK to be blessed with so many airshows and such a broad variety of acts and performers. The Turbulent Team has been solely dedicated to providing airshow entertainment for the past 50 years and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t continue to do so.

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