At the mid-point of the 2013 airshow season, and with rave review following rave review, Gareth Stringer sits down with RAF Typhoon Display Pilot Flt Lt Jamie Norris to see how he feels things have gone so far.
Sunday 21 July and the Royal International Air Tattoo is just about done for another year. Only a handful of display acts remain to close out the show and, in the hot summer sunshine, many of the participants who have already displayed are enjoying some hospitality courtesy of sponsors or industry partners.
That’s why I currently find myself in the Rolls-Royce chalet, as Flt Lt Jamie Norris, ‘Noz’, and some of his Typhoon colleagues are currently engaged in a part of the job that shows like RIAT, Waddington and, not this year though, obviously, Farnborough, demand.
On top of flying the displays and meeting the public, we shouldn’t forget that Eurofighter Typhoon, like much of the military hardware we see performing is essentially in the shop window. Promoting the aircraft, and indeed British industry, is another raison d’être for the Typhoon display, so it falls to Jamie, albeit not on a weekly basis, to play his part in delivering that message, and that’s why he is here so late on Sunday afternoon.
He flew his display a few hours earlier and, as pretty much anyone who has seen it this year will surely confirm, he’s nailed it. It’s extremely loud, extremely tight and extremely impressive – delivering, I think, everything he hoped it would when he put it together.
Earlier in the weekend I saw him interviewed as part of ‘RAF LIVE!’ – a new innovation for RIAT this year and one which proved extremely popular, run by the RAF Presentation Team and RAF Reserves with a stage, huge screen and sound system and a host of guests.
Post-interview, Jamie was surrounded by autograph hunters and it took him a good 15 minutes or so to extricate himself (having signed each and every one I should add) so he could head off to another appointment, this time with the media, so it’s been a busy and very successful weekend. So busy in fact that we’ve left it very late to fit in our planned interview – so off to Rolls-Royce I go!
We find a free table and, despite the cacophony of sound as a backdrop (thanks to Stitch and his RNLAF F-16!) sit down for the first time since we met at RAF Coningsby to introduce Jamie and his plans in a GAR feature published back in March. Half the season has gone already and we begin by discussing the superb comments the display has received to date…….
“The positive feedback has been overwhelming and I can assure you that it isn’t me feeding those stories to the press! It’s humbling in all honesty; we’ve all put a lot of work in to the display, and behind the scenes, and it means a lot to the team, especially as the general public don’t get to see all of that, so it really is very encouraging.”
How does he feel the flying part of it has gone so far, from a purely personal perspective?
“I’ve got a few displays under my belt since we last spoke and well, you’d probably be a better critic, but I hope that people have seen an improvement. I would like to think that it’s tighter and got a little more finesse, but that the two main consistent elements that I wanted the routine to convey – namely the Typhoon’s thrust and carefree handling – are still right at the forefront of the show, but hopefully getting a little better!
“There is always room for improvement and I landed today, after what was an excellent display from my point of view, and still made four or five points on things that I think I could have done better, in my own debrief.
“As you know, when I was designing my display I trawled the internet for hours and hours, looking for previous Typhoon displays, now I do the same, but looking for my own display! The public provides me with a great debriefing tool by posting those, and I’m always trying to make the next show the best one.”
And what about the airshows themselves – the planning, admin, travel and engagement? Has that been as expected?
“It’s great, but it is hard work. Again, there is a huge amount of preparation that goes on behind the scenes, just for the eight minutes or so you see me or any of the other aircraft on show – months of preparation in actual fact.
“A lot of that is down to the organisers themselves; they do a fantastic job, with huge amounts of spectators, aircraft and displays, it’s an incredible achievement to put all that together, and they deserve great credit.
“As for the engagement, well, meeting the public has been hugely enjoyable – I hoped that would be a significant part of the job when I volunteered for this and it hasn’t disappointed. A lot of it is about the future and I think it’s important to remember why we take the Typhoon out to displays. Firstly it is about demonstrating what the aircraft is capable of to the public at large, but secondly it is about getting young people interested – because hopefully they will be the RAF’s future men and women, whether it is as pilots, engineers, air traffic controllers or battle space managers…..
“That’s what it is all about, and I really hope that we as a team can encourage young people to get involved.”
It’s very clear that he does genuinely enjoy that part of it too, as I saw for myself earlier in the day….
“I really do. My own children are saturated with aviation on a daily basis and have heard all about Hawk, Harrier and Typhoon for the past 12 years, so they’ve been listening to this noise (Stitch roars past in the F-16) a lot, so it is refreshing to speak to kids that are truly interested in aviation!”
The other fantastic thing about Jamie’s season so far has been the weather – I hope he doesn’t think it’s like this every year!
“We’ve had a great run of it and we’re calling it a heatwave, but a few years ago we just used to call it summer! I’m thoroughly enjoying it and we had a run of about four weeks where we (RAF solo displays) all flew full shows – I even jumped in to the simulator to get current on my limited and flat displays!
“It was such a shame that I couldn’t fly the full show yesterday, but today the clouds parted and it was beautiful weather to show off Typhoon’s full capabilities.”
One thing I am interested to know is what Noz makes of the other fast jet displays he’s seen in recent weeks, having now displayed alongside RNLAF F-16, BAF F-16, Solo Turk (F-16), Czech Gripen, HuAF Gripen, SwAF Gripen, Polish AF MiG-29 and AdlA Rafale?
“You know what, every single display is incredible, and I don’t just mean the fast jets when I say that. It’s always nice to receive praise from a peer, though, and even today I spoke to ‘Tao’ (Capitaine Benoit Planche – Rafale display) after I landed and he praised my display and I praised his. It is also refreshing to talk to guys like that and compare notes.
“That doesn’t mean that people should be making direct comparisons between fast jet displays though – each one was designed with a different role in mind and sometimes from a completely different generation. What I’m trying to convey is the versatility of Typhoon as a multi-role fighter, but other displays might be trying to do something else.
“Hats off to all the display pilots though and, as an aviation buff, I really could sit and watch them all day. I would like to take this opportunity to put on record, and I am sure they will thank me for this, that Flt Lt Paul Farmer and the team’s Chinook display remains my favourite display of all time, of any aircraft at any airshow. What they do in that helicopter is phenomenal – it’s stupendous.”
So, (obvious question alert) no doubt at all then that Noz is looking forward to the second half of the season?
“I am! You got me at the start of the season and saw how much I was looking forward to it and that hasn’t wavered, if anything it’s actually increased. Being given the opportunity to open the jet up on the display circuit really is the most incredible privilege of my career so far.
“There are some fantastic displays ahead of us right across the UK and I know that the whole team is looking forward to taking the jet out and giving a lot more people the chance to see it and learn more about it and the Royal Air Force.”
With that, and with, as Noz says, Stitch deliberately trying to spoil his interview by making a lot of noise, we call it day.
That’s not quite the end of the story though, for we meet again later in the evening at RIAT’s traditional hangar party where Jamie was the proud recipient of the The Paul Bowen Trophy – presented by MBDA (in memory of Royal International Air Tattoo co-founder Paul Bowen) for the Best Solo Jet Demonstration.
Afterwards, Jamie said: “It’s phenomenal to have walked away with the trophy. The display would not have been possible without the capabilities of the Typhoon, but the award is as much for the support and ground crews, as their hard work makes it all possible.”
The 2013 Royal Air Force Typhoon Display Team should be very proud of what it has achieved already this year, and thankfully we’ve all got plenty of opportunities to see them, and Jamie’s superb display of course, at numerous displays to come.
It all finishes at Southport in September, and we’ll be there too to wrap-up Jamie’s season with a final feature.
Gareth Stringer would like to thank Flt Lt Jamie Norris and Jim Robinson at RAF Coningsby. For more information on the team please visit the official website.