Chinook Display Q & A

Towards the end of the display season the Chinook Display Team offered their supporters the opportunity to ask any questions that they may have thought of over the course of the season. The Chinook Display Captain, Flt Lt Stu Kynaston, has answered a selection of these below.

Why is the Chinook Display never on the bill at the two main shows north of the border; East Fortune in July and Prestwick / Ayr in September? – Colin McLeod

The Chinook Display Team do not get to choose themselves which events they attend. A show will submit a bid to Joint Helicopter Command, who collate a provisional schedule for the team. The team then get the opportunity to establish if that schedule is feasible – for example a bid for both Cornwall and Cumbria on the same day cannot be achieved, but they cannot choose shows that haven’t submitted a bid. If there are multiple bids for the same day the team try to find a way of achieving them all, but if this can’t be done they will then a decision will be made based on practicalities.

In 2017 the team were set to display at East Fortune, but the weather meant that the display was cancelled. In 2018 the team were bid for, but the event organisers withdrew their bid prior to the show.

Prestwick bid for the Chinook Display this year, but the event falls on the same weekend as the Bournemouth Air Festival, and therefore the team could only be allocated to one event. At the time the team were expecting to be displaying at East Fortune, and that, coupled with the RAF Events Team (who allocate the fixed wing displays) having allocated the Typhoon Display to Prestwick, meant that Bournemouth won the bid for the Chinook Display.

It will be passed to the 2019 team and Joint Helicopter Command that Scotland has not had a display for a couple of years, and that will be fed in to the planning process, but I, as the 2018 captain, cannot say if the team will be allocated to a Scottish show next year.

What does it take to be in the Display Team? How many hours of flying the Chinook do you need? Dawn Rhodes

There is no minimum number of flying hours specified to conduct display flying. All display crews however are very experienced pilots, and will generally have in excess of 1500 hours. The Chinook Display Team are volunteers, and at the end of a display season the Squadron Commander will invite requests for the following year. He is not just looking at a candidate’s flying ability, but also their suitability for media work and engagement – the flying is just a small part of what the team will do throughout a season. The captain will usually be confirmed first, with the remainder of the team shortly afterwards.

What emotions do you go through the very first time you fly a Chinook? – Gillian Snell

The first time I flew the Chinook I remember being in shock at the size of it. The start of the Chinook conversion takes place in the classroom (ground school) and the simulator, which is just a cockpit rather than a full aircraft, and you don’t get the sense of scale that you find in the live aircraft. I remember turning over my shoulder and seeing this enormous cabin disappearing towards the back, with the crewman looking tiny down on the ramp. You realise just how vast the Chinook is!

Once airborne it is easy to lose sight of how large the aircraft is – the view from the cockpit is surprisingly restricted and the aircraft handles so well that it doesn’t feel like a large aircraft. I remember then getting very used to the size of the Chinook, and it was only when I saw a training aircraft parked next to one a few months later that I was recalibrated!

What is it like going from the first time you ever try to fly the display to the last shows of the season? Is there a big difference in how you view the flying or how you plan for it? – David Franklin

It’s quite a journey! The start of the display workup was really challenging, as a lot of the manoeuvres were either brand new for the display, or flown to really fine margins compared to normal, so a one hour practice sortie was exhausting. The first time I sat through the display sequence I was grinning like mad, whilst wondering how I would manage to do it! After a couple of weeks I had learnt all the individual manoeuvres, and started linking them together. This was really good fun, but again hard work, as suddenly it became even more important to exit a manoeuvre on the right parameters. I remember my first full sequence – it was incredible but also mentally exhausting. I couldn’t believe it had only been 12 mins – I felt like I’d been flying for hours!

From Public Display Authority (PDA) onwards there is very little difference in the flying. PDA is the benchmark for the season – that is a really polished and perfected sequence, flown at the end of a very intense workup. From this point forwards I would drop to sometimes just one show a week, rather than every day, and that was challenging. There are no warmups for a public show – you’re straight into performing to the public regardless of whether you displayed that morning or a week ago. Across the season the flight data is monitored to ensure that the display is still being flown to the correct standard, and complacency hasn’t set it. It would be very easy to just ‘find a little more’ each week but then you risk breaching PDA, aircraft limits and the professional standards expected from the team. It is these reasons that mean the first and last shows of the season will look the same, with the same planning and preparation. The only difference really is that having done many more displays, it does get easier, so there is more scope to enjoy the show and take in the view!

What does it feel like to be selected as a display crew? Have you all enjoyed flying together and were you crewed together before the year or is it just for display? Sue Pearce

Being selected for display duties brought a wide range of emotions. Firstly, I was immensely proud – there is only one Chinook Display captain each year, and to be chosen to represent the Chinook Force as the display captain was a huge honour. There was also excitement – with the RAF Centenary this year I knew it was going to be an incredibly busy year, and that there would be great opportunities available throughout the season. I also had a sense of nervousness though, as it is a very different style of flying from what I had done previously, and the standard required to achieve a Public Display Authority is very high.  As the season draws to a close, it is something that I will look back on with pride, with some amazing memories from what has been an incredible season.

Unless deployed on operations we tend not to fly with a constituted crew on the Chinook Force. In the UK you will generally fly with a different crew on every sortie, so to have a dedicated crew for the display season has been really good. We had flown with each other prior to the season, but not so regularly, and I think I speak for all of us when I say that we’ve really enjoyed it, and spending so much time together has certainly made us much closer than we were at the start of the year. Working together so closely really builds trust in each other, and everyone can rely on each other to be doing the right thing at the right time, even without being asked to, which is really important in the high workload environment that is display flying.

The Typhoon Team seem to fly displays all over Europe. I realise you can’t travel as quickly or as far perhaps, but is there ever an appetite to bring the display to those of us in now rooted inside the EU? – Alexander Greet

The Chinook Display has been involved with overseas shows in the past, and were planning to do some in the 2018 season too. Having conducted a Role Demonstration in Berlin in April, the team were set to travel to southern France for a full display in June, though a lack of available Mk6a aircraft meant that the team sadly had to withdraw from that show. There were also bids for the team during September, but the team had to call the season to an end earlier than they would have liked in order to return to operational training overseas – the day after the final show, the team deployed to the USA to join a desert environmental exercise in preparation for operations next year.

Whilst we don’t travel as quickly as the Typhoon, a lot of the northern European shows are actually closer to our home than some of the UK shows! More foreign shows are certainly something that we will look to include in future seasons should the balance with operational output allow us to.