This year’s stunning desert-schemed RAF Tucano display aircraft is already turning heads and will undoubtedly continue do so. Gareth Stringer caught up with display pilot Flt Lt Andrew Fyvie-Rae and his manager, Flt Lt Dave Kirby, to see how the season is progressing.
I’m live side at RAF Waddington International Airshow with Flt Lt Andrew Fyvie-Rae, usually known simply as ‘Fyvie’, and it is absolutely baking hot. There’s barely any shade over here and, especially over the tarmac, you can really feel, and see, the heat. As I said in my review of the event, it’s a scorcher…..
We got over here at around 1115, meeting Fyvie outside aircrew hosting to jump in a car driven by a volunteer from 8 Squadron, making our way across the end of the runway as soon as we could and round to where the display Tucano and the spare aircraft for the weekend are parked, adjacent to Rod Dean’s Bulldog and just in front of a Royal Navy Lynx and Army Air Corps Apache.
Fyvie’s display takes less than ten minutes, but if I tell you that we finally get transport back to aircrew hosting at around 1500, you’ll see just how much time flying that one display can take out of a pilot’s day. That’s having caught a very early bus just to make it into RAF Waddington, attended the pilot’s briefing, conducted various public relations duties and completed all the requisite planning for the display.
That’s not all either, for once Fyvie returns to the public side of the airfield he will be whisked away to the main exhibition hangar for a live interview, this time as part of the show’s hugely successful ‘RAF On-Air’ production.
It’s no wonder that he’s grabbed one of the few shady areas, under the Tucano’s port wing, to sit quietly for a while and study the map of the display site for the last time before strapping in. Fortunately he’s not completely alone, and one of his colleagues has accompanied him over, helping to pre-flight the Tucano and take some of the workload away from Fyvie so he can concentrate on the most important thing of all, completing a safe and successful airshow performance.
Earlier in the weekend, and with a little more time on our hands, we found a quiet corner and I sat down with Fyvie and his display manager, Flt Lt Dave Kirby – ‘Kirbs’.
“I’m feeling more confident as the season progresses,” Fyvie tells me. “For a variety of reasons we didn’t actually get our first public show done until RAF Cosford on 9 June, so we had a slightly delayed start to the season.
“We took the camo aircraft to Duxford at the end of May and that was a little frustrating as we weren’t actually displaying, and lots of people were asking, so it was great to get started at Cosford and get that first one in the bag.”
Fyvie learned that he would be the 2013 display pilot back in October of last year and planning for the routine and paint-scheme started straight away. Flt Lt Jon Bond, the 2012 display pilot was still on hand at Linton then and was able to pass on his words of wisdom, so Fyvie knew what to expect.
“I gleaned a lot of information from Bondy”, Fyvie admits, “Especially on designing the sequence and also his comments on various events and venues. I was also able to accompany him to both Farnborough and Ostrava and that was an extremely useful exercise as I could see how things worked from his perspective.”
Fyvie’s sequence has been designed very much with the aircraft’s eye-catching paint scheme in mind. The scheme marks the 70th anniversary of 72 Squadron’s involvement in North Africa, in support of the Tunisian campaign during World War II, and the squadron also assisted the Allied 8th Army as it advanced through Italy and France, whilst it was based out of Malta and Sicily.
During this period, 72 Squadron flew the Supermarine Spitfire Mk Vb, Mk Vc, Mk VIII and Mk IX; a number of which were painted in Mediterranean Camouflage (Dark Earth, Middle Stone and Azure Blue), which was used to better conceal the aircraft in the more tropical climates of North Africa and Southern Europe.
“The Azure Blue won’t look great on a lovely summer’s day next to a blue sky, so I essentially wanted to make sure that the top of the aircraft was on view as much as possible, and hopefully I’ve achieved that!
“Flying low-level aerobatics is very different from anything we do as instructors at Linton. The performance of the aircraft is much better; it’s more efficient, and as you work your way down to low level, through the display training, the sequence actually changes a little to make sure that it works for the crowd. I think most of the airshow pilots find that.”
Kirbs meanwhile put his name forward for the manager’s role last summer, at roughly the same time as Fyvie applied for the pilot’s job. Airshows are nothing new to him though as, in his previous role as a C-130 Hercules pilot, he spent three seasons dropping the RAF Falcons parachute display team, a year as the Hercules role demo pilot and also was one of the crews who took part in the 2007 / 2008 RAF Role Demo.
One of Kirbs’ first jobs was to work with Fyvie on the aforementioned paint scheme, and everyone involved is very happy with how it all panned out.
“The paint shop at RAF Linton-on-Ouse did a fantastic job, and huge credit goes to Indestructible Paint and also Babcock, who supplied and applied the paint at no cost, respectively. Their support was invaluable and we’ve already had a great response from the public.”
The display spare is also a little special, and supports RAFA – The Royal Air Force Association – with a special 70th anniversary paint scheme, while the team will also be donating the money it earns from sales of merchandise to RAFA, as well as the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund, Leonard Cheshire and Candle Lighters.
Kirbs’ role now is partly to try and ensure that Fyvie doesn’t do anything that might impinge on his actual flying….
“Engaging with the public is incredibly important, that’s part of our role and we’re looking forward to doing that all year. But, we have to be putting on a safe and enjoyable display, so it is equally important that Fyvie doesn’t find himself doing anything to interfere with his planning and preparation, and I can help with some of that workload and make sure it doesn’t happen.
“We plan to bring a spare aircraft to each show, which means that there will be four people at the venue, so we should always have some assistance with the peripheral jobs, as important as they are.”
With a packed season ahead, partly as a result of the team picking up some of the shows that would normally be spread between the Hawk T1 and King Air, both of which are missing this year, Fyvie and Kirbs will probably be glad of the assistance.
“You can’t help but look forward to the big ones, like here at Waddington and also RIAT, of course, but I think the truth is that you look forward to each and every one on the calendar,” Fyvie says.
“Each one is different and I think that’s part of the experience”, adds Kirbs, “I did Jersey last year with Bondy and that was excellent, so it will be nice to go back there again.”
Lots of managers often have one eye on having a crack at the display itself, and I can’t resist asking Kirbs whether that might be the case for 2014?
“I’m not sure I should answer that!” he laughs, “But we’ll see, there would be a competition at Linton as usual and I would definitely be interested.”
That, however, is a fair way down the line, and before that Fyvie and Kirbs have the remainder of a long season ahead of them, and let’s hope that the sun continues to shine on their rather lovely looking Tucano, and Fyvie’s flying display.