Shortest of updates for the project itself this month as I have managed to infect my lungs full of COVID 19. Also on the basis of why suffer alone and just for good measure I have passed it on to my good wife Gill who is clinically vulnerable and who you might imagine, cannot thank me enough for doing so….. 

The following link to the online community site Epoxycraft is a nice follow on progress article of the build to date of our jet hydroplane Longbow by Sasha Millington-Latham, Head of Marketing at one of our sponsors, Wessex Resins which I hope you enjoy:

A few photos attached below showing our good friend Dave Warby back at Talbingo Reservoir in New South Wales, Australia this month for a weekend of development runs with his jet hydroplane Spirit of Australia II. One of the support trailers suffered a broken axle on the way to the reservoir requiring a roadside strip and replacement but once there Dave and his team were able to get some useful development runs undertaken.

With kind permission of Christine Prat, Lesa Wilkins & Dave Warby

A nice little piece by our driver for our jet hydroplane Longbow, David-John (DJ) Gibbs with his job as a military pilot for the RAF undertaking an aerobatic display at Southport Air Show this month is as follows along with some photos taken of him in action:

Exciting. Awesome. Dangerous. These are words you might hear from aviation enthusiasts watching an airshow display. If you were to ask a display pilot, however, you would likely instead hear the words planning, professionalism and practice. And probably practice again…

Those of you who have been following our updates will know that I was selected as the 2022 Royal Air Force Grob Tutor display pilot, RAF Grob Tutor Display Team and a recent highlight of my calendar was displaying at my hometown at the Southport Airshow. There is quite a lot of lead-in and preparation involved to becoming an air display pilot. The days of just turning up in an aeroplane and hoping it all works are thankfully long gone; no one wants to see the show go out with a real bang.

The journey begins in late October when the call for volunteers to be the next year’s display pilot are put out, with all Qualified Flying Instructors on the Grob Tutor being eligible to apply. The personal commitment at this stage should not be underestimated: the role is in addition, not instead of, your primary role as a flying instructor and the airshow calendar mainly falls over weekends in the summer months. You need a supportive family and also be willing to make some significant sacrifices to your spare time activities; my classic jet flying and powerboating have unfortunately taken a bit of a backseat over the summer months. The pile of applicants undergoes a complete review of annual reports, flying ability and character, resulting in a shortlist of three candidates. These finalists then fly with a previous display pilot to be assessed on their aerobatic ability. Once the lucky winner has been nominated the hard work really begins…

In simple terms, display flying involves flying aerobatics close to the ground with very little margin for error, so a very disciplined and comprehensive series of practices starting at a safe height are flown at your home airfield – in my case RAF Wittering. Each practice is filmed and witnessed by a senior officer, and is followed by a full and frank debrief to identify any areas for improvement. Over a period of a couple of months, practising several times a week, the height is gradually lowered until display height (500ft for aerobatics, and 100ft for all other manoeuvres) is reached. At this point, you fly a formal display check in front of a very senior (2-star) RAF officer who must be sufficiently satisfied that you can fly a safe and competent display to issue an authorisation that will allow you to fly in front of the public. Coincident to this, a team to provide administrative and engineering support is formed. The team members too are required to perform their display team duties in addition to their primary roles.

After about 6 months of practice and paperwork, we are ready to fly our first airshow of the season. There is yet more planning, paperwork, phone calls and briefings to complete. But now the big moment has arrived! Run in to the arena at 1800ft. I’m at the maximum level flight speed of around 135 knots. Pick the correct moment to commence a dive, trading speed for height. Levelling off around 600ft, now at 180kts. Tense the legs and abdomen for the 5.5g pull into the opening manoeuvre – I don’t want the blood rushing away from my head at this point. Up into the quarter clover. Look up through the top of the canopy at the ground. I’m upside down now, though still pushed into my seat by g forces. Check the height. Safe to continue? Yes. Quick adjustment to ensure I’m positioned exactly where I need to be before I pull out exactly in front of the centre point of the crowd, back down to 600ft again (always good to leave a little safety margin!). Make another adjustment for the wind – the aim is to avoid drift and stay close to the crowd – brace and pull up into the next manoeuvre.And so it continues…. 5 mins 45 seconds of intense focus and concentration, reading and compensating for the wind, bracing against g forces, quick glances at the engine instruments to make sure all is well, extracting the maximum performance from the wings, constantly monitoring height and speed as the potential and kinetic energy gradually decay over the sequence despite the engine running at full power throughout. Exciting – hopefully. Awesome – possibly. Dangerous – absolutely not.

Although that sounded a bit relentless (and believe me, it was…), there were no nerves or anxiety. I have practised so many times that flying the routine felt almost Zen-like. It felt like the display sequence had lasted less than a minute. Then, back to the airfield to land. I still need to make a reasonable job of this, you never know who is watching! Only later, when the adrenaline fades, do I suddenly feel the need for a very strong coffee.

I hope you have enjoyed this brief insight into display flying. You may even have noted some parallels to driving jet boats….

With kind permission of Neil Draper

Hopefully see you back with us fit and well at the end of August and in the meantime stay safe everyone.

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