With the end of the 2014 airshow season rapidly approaching, Flt Lt Dave Kirby will be able to reflect on a job well done as the Royal Air Force’s Tucano Display Pilot. Gareth Stringer sat down with him to see what the experience has been like.
He’s certainly been busy, that’s for sure, and I should imagine that ‘Kirbs’ will also be looking forward to a break at the end of the 2014 season, for barely a weekend has passed where he and his Display Manager, Flt Lt Jon Trueman, haven’t seemingly been criss-crossing the country in order to display the Tucano at one event or another, and Kirbs will have flown more than 60 displays by the time his season comes to a close.
It’s certainly a far cry from life as a Qualified Flying Instructor at RAF Linton-on-Ouse but, with a season as Display Manager under his own belt, at least Kirbs knew what to expect, and that has undoubtedly helped him deal with the rigours of life as a display pilot. It’s a lot of hard work!
“There’s certainly a lot more to it than just eight minutes or so of flying, and I actually think I start focussing on the display the moment I wake up. I check the weather on the television or via the web and start to think about what the day ahead might have in store.
“Will we get our displays in, are they likely to be full shows or might they be affected by the weather? They are the sorts of questions I start asking myself so I am prepared as best I can be. The problem with airshows is all the distractions, and they can easily knock you off your stride!
“You inevitably bump in to friends and colleagues, we have to make time to meet the public, which is very important, and then there are media duties, like this. These are just some of things that can cut in to the preparation time, so that period first thing in the morning and, if I can, maybe on the journey to the show or at the brief, I immerse myself wholly in the flying side of the day.
“I don’t need loads of time to actually prepare the Tucano for the display, so I can also use some of that to focus completely on what I am going to do, even if it’s just ten or 15 minutes of ‘me time’.”
It might not take too long, and is very much routine, the same as it would be back at base, but preparing the aircraft remains a vital task ahead of the display, as Dave explains.
“We basically have to service the aircraft and we don’t have a team of ground crew with us to help, so I, along with another instructor, will prepare both the display aircraft and the spare, just in case we need it.
“We de-blank it, check all the fluid levels and perform a walk-around, just checking that everything is ready to go. It’s a very simple aircraft in that sense and really that only takes me 20 minutes or so.”
Once he is in the cockpit, Dave admits that his mind-set does change, with the display getting ever closer.
“It has to really, I think. You have to ensure you don’t make silly mistakes and operating from unusual locations can throw you a little, so I brief the instructor who is with me to do everything that the ground crew would do back at Linton and I follow all my normal procedures, as best I can.”
Once airborne, Kirbs proceeds to a hold and awaits clearance to commence his display, and the mind-set changes once again.
“It’s the start of eight minutes or so in front of the public and I go through my pre-display checks and run through everything in my head, which now feels like a very natural process, having done it so many times by this stage of the season.
“But, I still have to pick up the 230m line, spot the features I have chosen to help me through the routine and make sure I know where datum (crowd centre) is – everything is done visually. Even if I’ve practiced at a venue beforehand, you still have to do all that, and every day is different with the wind and visibility etc, so I am always totally focussed.”
Such is that focus, Kirbs admits it is only towards the end of the display that he is even able to enjoy it…
“I have a couple of quite tricky manoeuvres so once they are out of the way I am able to breathe out a little bit, although I am still working hard to make sure it is all happening properly. But, once I get to the 100ft pass at the end, I can steal a glance at the crowd, and I can see them waving, and that it probably the most enjoyable moment. Hopefully I know I’ve flown it quite well and not broken any rules!
“I am very self-critical though, and it galls me that I haven’t yet flown what I would consider to be a perfect display.”
Kirbs also admits that his season as Display Manager, in 2013, for Flt Lt Andrew Fyvie-Rae, was useful ahead of the 2014 campaign, for both him and Jon Trueman.
“For me it’s been the same but different! But we knew some of the pitfalls and some of the niggles that you know you are going to have to deal with at some of the shows, so you can plan ahead to try and avoid those and that has certainly been very useful.”
Most of all I hope that Kirbs, and Jon, have been able to enjoy the season as a whole. Judging by the feedback on social media, airshow-goers have certainly enjoyed seeing his display and his specially-schemed aircraft and also meeting the team, so it must be satisfying to know that all the hard work has paid off.
It’s been another successful season for the Tucano and RAF Linton-on-Ouse, and let’s hope they return again next year to do it all again.
Many thanks to Flt Lt Dave Kirby and Flt Lt Jon Trueman.
You can still catch the 2014 Tucano Display Team at Jersey, Guernsey, IWM Duxford, Southport and Malta.