Squadron Leader Andy Pawsey Exclusive Interview
Friday 20th March
Sqn Ldr Andy Pawsey is a busy man - just not this week. Seven days leave for Andy, the calm before the airshow season storm, allows us to catch up socially and was also the catalyst for this feature. "Why don't we ask the forum for questions and I'll ask them when we get together?". Simple really and to Andy's credit he didn't hesitate to say yes. "Any stipulations?" I asked. "None - I'll answer as many as we've got time for". When you've got the chance to quiz a key member of the RAF events teams, indeed the one and only Light Blue Spy and creator of the Role Demo, you really don't want to miss out. An engineer by trade, Andy has been Creative Director of the RAF Events Team since its inception and, as well as the day job, has also commentated at numerous shows ranging from Leuchars and Dawlish to Malta. This year, for the first time, he will add a new perspective to the Flying Display Committee at the RAF Abingdon Airshow in May. True to form, the forum didn't let itself down, with a range of interesting and probing questions gradually appearing, so on Friday 20th March 2009 I sat down with Andy and a list of your questions, along with one or two of my own. Here's what happened…
put the questions to Squadron Leader Andy Pawsey on behalf of UKAR. and provide the illustrations.
How does the RAF Events Team (ET) allocate static aircraft for airshows?
Static aircraft are applied for in the same way as display aircraft, the solos and so on. My colleagues at the ET take the applications, coordinate them and farm these out to the squadrons. The squadron will then come back with dates when they have available airframes and they can then be allocated. There is a deadline for applications but this process is not as formal as that for flying aircraft, so it can be a moving feast, which is why, for example, we got some heavies at some shows and none at others- that's just the way it works sometimes. It should also be noted that some aircraft appear on static display as a result of squadron connections, special occasions and such like.
The Chinook always participates in Yeovilton's commando assault, is there any chance of the Typhoon taking part in the commando assault?
A Chinook does normally take part in the assault. What Yeovilton does is factor in the commando assault as part of their routine training and flying programme, this means it is something which, in essence, is standardised and with one rehearsal two days before the show, is authorised and ready to go. In terms of adding Typhoon to the mix, I have to say it is unlikely. The first reason is one of authorisation as this would mean the demo being authorised not only by the Navy and JHC (the tasking allocation for RAF support helicopters) but also 1 Group for Typhoon. This would then require an additional level of authorisation - things can get very complicated very quickly when you start working across various chains of command! Secondly I would probably say that adding Harrier to this demo would possibly be more appropriate and although neither option is impossible to foresee, I think it is extremely unlikely - keeping it simple is what enables Yeovilton to carry this great demo out year on year.
Is it the airshow organiser or the ET team who request aircraft for flying and/or static display at RAF airshows?
Each show is run by a dedicated team of employees - generally a mix of civilians and ex-military - on behalf of the RAF. Just like all other shows, they apply for display and static aircraft, receive an allocation, have to complete all the necessary paperwork and pay the bills! The difference is that the three RAF shows are given the highest allocation priority so they get everything available.
Why therefore are Harrier and Chinook, for example, not displaying at Cosford?
The Harrier squadron took on the displays this year as an extra task - covering 10 events - and was allocated following the usual policy. (Author's note - the allocation of ten dates for a Harrier role demo was confirmed at a late stage compared to other solo displays for this season. It is an additional, not a programmed task i.e. 29 Sqn know they need to allocate a Typhoon for a large number of displays this season so it was already planned for).
However, this did not necessarily mean that it would be available for those events because 20 Sqn may already be programmed for other tasks over a particular period, as is the case with Cosford. In terms of Chinook, these are tasked, along with all support helis, by Joint Helicopter Command, not by the RAF ET. Unfortunately we have no direct control over where these helis are allocated. (Author's note - Chinook has been subsequently added to the programme for Cosford 2009).
Will we see the Merlin back flying at airshows soon?
Nothing would make me happier! There is a huge amount of work going on behind the scenes to get Merlin flying at airshows. Gareth Attridge is one of the hardest working guys as you know, and the aircraft should be seen on static a fair amount this season. We are all hoping to step this up to a flying display sometime soon - never say never!
Any chance of a Squirrel or Griffin flying display at airshows next year?
I think I would answer this with a question - what benefit would we (the RAF) get from having them display? What would the impact be? This is an important Engagement Strategy policy strand - you don't just do something because you can. As an item in its own right, I don't think either Squirrel or Griffin would be especially noteworthy, but where they could work is as part of a training scenario, which is something we would like to do with Tutor, then Tucano, King Air and Hawk etc. This would certainly work, is a good idea and is commensurate with the Engagement Strategy.
What are the rules on mixed aircraft type flypasts at airshows? Is it possible to have a Tutor - Tucano - Hawk - Typhoon?
The technical issue here is with speed differentials. You would have the Tutor close to Vne (never exceed speed) and the Hawk close to stalling! You also have to make sure that you are not eroding safety margins. Single engined aircraft are not at their happiest in a low energy state. It is possible and some planning was done last year to see what might be possible. Nice idea though!
Which has the greater influence on which aircraft attends a show and when precisely it arrives, aircrew availability or aircraft availability?
In terms of static display aircraft, we are told before the start of the season how many times we are able to allocate each type during the season. What we obviously like to do is get aircraft in on a Friday and home again on Monday morning to save opening airfields for movements at the weekend where it might not really be necessary. Obviously requests far out-strip availability so what we have to try and achieve is a marriage between when we have aircraft and crews and when organisers want them
In terms of when the aircraft arrive that is entirely down to planners on the squadron and if there are issues with airframe or aircrew availability. The show Organiser's POV is also important. Arriving one hour earlier than originally intended may mean that a particular aircraft becomes the star item in a media event.
Could we ever see a Dominie display?
Again, I would have to ask what would this really deliver for the RAF? The King Air gave us some great opportunities last season as one of the new aircraft in the RAF fleet, and I'm not sure the same could be said of the Dominie.
Can you get Air Command to control the RAF Support Helicopter Force again?
(Laughs) No comment!
Would there be any chance of the Typhoon/ Spitfire duo coming back for a full one-off airshow season?
We had a great routine planned with Spitfire and Typhoon last season and, due to the weather, hardly anyone got to see it! It was planned for a limited number of venues, as it has to be due to the rationing of hours for the Spitfire, and this would probably preclude it from flying a complete season with the Typhoon. If we added hours flying this routine then something would have to give in terms of the BBMF's normal display schedule. A large proportion of their work is ceremonial flypasts which are extremely important; we couldn't just remove chunks of this time by taking hours working up a routine for a full season. It's a very welcome display but will most likely happen quite rarely.
How about other similar 'Duets' e.g. Hercules/ Dakota etc?
Other dual displays are feasible, but again, work-up time eats away in to training hours etc, and I have to question what these displays would deliver to the RAF. Vulcan and Lancaster was undoubtedly worth it - would others be worth the time? I'm not so sure...
With the ties between the RAF and USAF so strong, how about a duo of the Raptor/F-15 with the Typhoon?
It could happen, but with the display pilots from the two forces regulated in different ways, it would take a hell of a lot of effort and again that means time away from training and other commitments. It would also have to 'cut both ways' - would you be happy to lose the Typhoon display for a month mid-season whilst it is displaying with the Raptor/F-15 in the USA? Would the Organisers be happy? Would the RAF be happy? Like Spitfire and Typhoon, these sorts of displays can happen, but usually only rarely.
Do the events team do any visits to Hospitals, Respite Centres etc? The reason I ask is, I witnessed every Demo last year of the Role Demo and after the second one at Southport and on my way back home to Newcastle, I stopped off at a place called Derian House, which is Respite Centre for Parents with Disabled Children, This is in Chorley, near Preston and I was visiting friends who were staying there at the time. This to me was very rewarding and any stickers and posters I had acquired at Southport were quickly snapped up by the Children and I left there with a big smile on my face. I know when the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels role into town in the U.S.A., they always find time to visit Hospital etc. I work within Health and Social Care and I find it very rewarding. I myself do not mind dropping off stickers and any other freebies this year again when I attend Southport and would love to do this as a full time job.
What a great question! We do a lot of this kind of work in the community, especially the three 'teams'; The Reds, BBMF and The Falcons. Everything from school visits to hospital visits are covered off, but it is a little harder for the solos. We work the solos very hard in terms of getting them to fly as many displays as possible and they all of course have another full time job to fulfil on their squadrons. Every year, for example, we conduct a visit in Cirencester after Kemble and, on my desk at Cranwell I have all the thank you letters from the kids which is fantastic.
We could probably do more. What really helps with these kinds of things is when the event organiser does the spade work. It's difficult for us to be that locally proactive, but if an organiser asks us to fulfil something on say a Monday morning before our RTB we will always try our hardest to fit it in.
Can we expect to see another RAF display act this year? (C-130J TAC Demo, Merlin, Dominie, C-17.....)? Also, Now that there is no Tucano display is there any chance of getting another trainer to display this year e.g. Dominie or Squirrel or even having the Merlin back or Tornado for one season only?
The simple answer for this season I'm afraid is no! The problem with Tucano is that last year's display pilot has now been posted away and there is no time for him to return and get up to speed. Mike, this year's pilot will be out of action for too long and there simply is no time for a new pilot to come in and be ready for the forthcoming season.
In terms of other displays, as I've already said, the solos have to be effects driven and I question what Squirrel etc would actually deliver to the RAF. People ask me 'what does Tutor deliver to the RAF?' but I always say that a Tutor display, in the right location and with the right commentator is a hugely effective tool. You can stand next to a 13 year old and say to them - "if you joined the Cadets you could be up in a Tutor next week". The Hawk solo, at the right venue, is the star item. That's why we do this, not just to fill six minutes of an airshow schedule, it has to be an effective tool and, with aircraft such as the C-130 and C-17 you really need to consider the operational requirements they are fulfilling at present.
What is the cost charged for this year's displays, from the Reds through to the Tutor display?
Costs vary from £1685.95 for the Typhoon to £367.84 for the Tutor (Inc VAT for a UK display), with The Red Arrows costing £7305.78.
I would just like to say that anyone can apply for an RAF display. We don't do private events, weddings or funerals! Many of the current UK shows were started by people with a love or aircraft who just wanted to have a go! They start small and hopefully grow with each passing year. Hopefully the budding organisers of the future are out there right now? Don't forget that organisers also have to cover a range of other costs associated with aircraft displays such as accommodation and transport. This can be a huge amount!
Is there any plan to have the Tornado F.3 do a 'swansong' year on the show circuit in 2010?
Well, firstly, in terms of this season, if you want to see an F.3 I would say to everyone - go to RAF Leuchars for the airshow, as F.3's will certainly be involved.
Looking ahead to next year, many people are keen to make something happen but with the squadrons still holding QRA duties and such like it is difficult to foresee a dedicated solo display. There are no definite plans and we'll just have to wait and see. (Editors' note - this interview was conducted before the recent news surrounding the F.3 fleet reduction being brought forward. It makes a final solo display season extremely unlikely).
Would the ET ever consider cancelling one of the RAF's 'home' airshows due to lack of money/participation?
The ET have no direct control over the three RAF stations which hold At Home Days, as we still call them internally, as they are tasked and resourced to hold the event each year by the RAF. The ET supplies the RAF acts, it doesn't run the shows.
The 'home' shows would be in a difficult position should the RAF ever decide to disband all solo and teams display items. These shows are held on behalf of the RAF to benefit the RAF and give the public a chance to meet the RAF - that is their sole reason for being. When it comes to participation it is all about the RAF, and quite frankly, I don't think about foreign participation very much. I don't care about Mirages or MiGs at RAF shows. Our job is to get the best engagement for the RAF.
Will there be any special Royal Navy/RAF displays to celebrate the 100 years of Naval Aviation?
Fly Navy 100 has a series events planned and you should be able to find details online. Special RAF displays to celebrate the Navy? All I got last season from the Navy for the RAF 90th was banter, which is exactly how it should be! Joking apart, we are supporting Fly Navy 100 and I know many Organisers are making it a major theme for this year. I'm looking forward to it!
How does Andy see the future of RAF participation at airshows in the next 5-10 years?
My private view is that it won't get any better, that's for sure and I think we might see less assets provided. The teams will continue as they are I think; BBMF will continue as a National treasure and the RAFAT looks pretty set. The Falcons is always a little harder with airframe issues but in many ways they are our single best engagement tool. Solos are pretty fixed now I think but I also believe we will go overseas less and less to display although some anniversaries etc will always be supported and rightly so.
Do you think the solos will continue pretty much as they are now?
I think so, but once things have gone it's always very difficult to get them back. We've gone through the main chop and change and I think it will remain pretty steady. Don't place any bets though!
Will we ever see special schemes on front line RAF fast jet flying display airframes, or will this continue to be the domain of the Tutor, Tucano and Hawk. How is this decided, and with recruitment in mind, does Andy think that the balance struck at the moment is correct, or would there be more interest drummed up by seeing a specially painted Typhoon along the lines of the Dutch F-16?
I would have no special schemes whatsoever on any frontline aircraft, if it was my decision! These aircraft are not advertising hoardings, nor are they supposed to be flying around like kids with their faces painted - they are instruments of airpower and, as such, should be seen as best as possible in their natural state. The Red Arrows does the gloss - the rest of the aircraft I would like to see as they should be.
That said, I can see the attraction of such schemes and I know the squadrons concerned take great pride in what they produce. Special schemes on training aircraft are interesting and appropriate. What I would like to see is front-line aircraft carrying ordnance. It's possible but can impose severe limitations.
Bearing in my mind that it does happen, who pays for it etc?
It's all done at squadron level - the ET has no input whatsoever.
How does Andy think that the 'branding' of RAF aircraft has developed awareness of the RAF, especially at shows overseas?
Corporate image is important and extends to more than a logo on an airframe. Press releases, souvenir programme, commentary, etc all play a major role in delivering the message.
Do you ever get fed up of with 'enthusiasts' asking you for the almost impossible?
Any interest is better than no interest at all! Seriously though, when I was lucky enough to get this job I decided to operate a zero tolerance policy and wouldn't let anything remain uncorrected or unanswered.
Could we see the display acts having a USAF style photo pass incorporated into their display, where the aircraft come in low and fast, with the top side of the aircraft banked over towards the crowd - even if it was at the end of the display?
I would probably argue that a flypast like this has been incorporated in to almost every frontline display we've put on... and isn't it easier from a photographic point of view to get a shot when the aircraft is at 300kts rather than 500kts?! From an impact point of view I would say our displays are much more impressive than the majority of American displays I have seen. Our display pilots work hard to produce the most impressive display possible, whilst staying firmly the correct side of the rules and regulations.
Why was the Role Demonstration canned? Is there any chance of another RAF 'spectacle' like it at any time in the future? For the purposes of recruitment wouldn't something like the Role Demonstration appeal to youngsters more than just solo displays?
Yes - that's why I started it in the first place. As a recruiting tool it is very good, as an engagement tool it is excellent. I am biased!
In terms of why it was canned, it was really for a variety of reasons. Resourcing issues were key - we are 'busy'. A Role Demo needs frontline jets and helicopters - all of which are in short supply.
What are the main drivers for decision-making?
We are tasked by the Engagement Steering Group which gives us direction on what we need to do and where we need to make a difference, both in geographical terms and in terms of roles where recruitment is required. Anniversaries and such like are also factored in as these need to be covered - such as providing assets for the Berlin Air Lift commemoration for example. We also need to react to the requests we get from organisers. Conflicting interests are discussed and smoothed-out whenever possible. Sometimes, a hard decision has to be made.
Do the opinions aired on message boards like UKAR influence decision-making?
They are certainly read by decision makers although I can't speak for everyone who reads them and whether they are influenced. Well thought out and well argued points of view are always considered.
Who decides the budget for the ET?
There is no true pot of money for the ET (Here's £X, go spend!). We are part of the Media and Communications organisation of Air Command who resource us accordingly.
Will a Typhoon ever receive special colours? E.g. for 100 years of No 3 Sqn in 2012?
Hope not - see previous answer! Any decision to do this would be down to OC No 3 Sqn.
When do preparations for an airshow season begin and where do you start?
It never stops! We already have requests for 2010 and I believe one request for 2011, even though we don't know exactly what we'll have displaying. It really starts properly in October/November. By then display pilots are being nominated, we know roughly what we'll have for events and also which special events will be commemorated.
With the sad news (and perfectly understandable) that there will be no Tucano display this year from the RAF, as the display aircraft is already in the paint shop, nearly completed, will this one be sent out wherever possible as the static aircraft this season?
Yes - and I am sure Linton will be looking to do this wherever possible.
Can we expect to see many more SAR displays? With the Sea King's retirement approaching in four or five years it would be nice to have it back.
It's never actually gone away - I commentated on it at Dawlish last year and Leuchars the year before that. Such displays are limited by airframe availability and distance between the display site and home base. They are also liable to be pulled at no-notice! Requests are passed onto SARTU at RAF Valley and they do get out to as many displays as possible, not always airshows but certainly at coastal events with the RNLI and such like.
It wasn't that long ago that Gordon Brown made some comments along the lines of "let's be proud of and show off our armed forces, bring them closer to the people". I've not seen any noticeable increase in Armed Forces engagement activities (excepting the disaster that was "RAF Interactive") in recent years; if anything the opportunities to see and meet 'your RAF' are decreasing. Why can't the old style RAF 'At Home' Days be brought back - even if on a smaller scale than previous?
Of course we need to meet the public more often, but we also have plenty of other jobs to do too. RAF airfields are among the worst sites for airshows and generally speaking it's getting worse with more infrastructure being built. It is so much work for the stations to support shows on their own real estate. The guys and girls lose a number of weekends to support the show - weekends often out of their family-time whilst they are home between deployments. We do not have the pool of gash manpower anymore. Perhaps outsourcing is the way forward?
It's a great idea to throw open the doors at as many stations as possible but it just isn't feasible these days. I have little sympathy with the "I've paid for it so I deserve to see it in action" argument. What your tax pays for is the fact that you are defended - not for an airshow. That said, I would personally love to see more engagement opportunities but just have to live in the real world.
What role do you see UKAR playing in the airshow world and how do you see this developing?
I think there is a huge need to represent the 'spectator' in the airshow world. Football clubs do this but I am not aware of any such airshow representation at events such as EAC (European Airshow Conference). If information could move both ways it would help avoid some of the rumour and speculation that goes on. Maybe some people like the 'rumour and speculation'? The ET is not geared up to engage with the enthusiast community 100% of the time, but it does play a part in what we try to do. It is an important factor.
So, how do you preach to the unconverted via the ET?
We have to be on the front foot - we target other kinds of events such as White Air and Global Gathering and we try to do things differently, such as, dare I say it, the Role Demo.
Are airshows good recruiting tools?
People need to go home feeling better about the RAF and knowing a bit more about it than they did before the event - then that's a good result. We can do that at an airshow and we can make people consider joining the RAF, if not running straight out to sign up.
What do you think of the experience of those people paying good money to attend airshows?
I think there's a lot of work to be done. Has the product improved significantly in the last ten years? Some of the best raw materials (i.e. acts) are no longer available. I think that complacency has crept in because crowd figures are still fairly strong. It may not be broken but that doesn't mean you stop thinking about repairs. Events need more showmanship - with a little bit of thought, you can often do something amazing just by putting your mind to it. Some of the dinosaurs should try rethinking everything they do at their show. I have no doubt they would learn a lot.
Showground layout is a classic example. Fairgrounds for example are important for revenue, but their positioning needn't be a win / lose situation. You can look at your venue and accommodate fairgrounds so they don't spoil the view and so have a win / win situation. Biggin Hill reserves the best areas of the showground for spectator alone - a clear view free from burger vans and raffle callers! A good PA system and spectator-orientated commentary team should be in place at every show. Is a five hour flying programme inherently better than a three hour one? A show doesn't have to consist of an eclectic collection of items thrown haphazardly on to the display programme page.
So much to think about.
I don't think the experience has improved since I first went to a show - about 20 years ago. Do you agree?
In many ways yes and this is probably the most damning comment of all. Back to answer above. You have to keep working, keep trying, keep looking...
(Author's note - We could have spent the best part of the weekend debating these last two questions and Andy and I are agreed that they should possibly form the basis for a future feature - a state of the nation on airshows).
And that was pretty much that. As promised, all of your questions answered one way or another in two and a half very interesting hours. Andy will, I'm sure, be delighted to clarify anything outstanding within the forum and is always open to discussion and debate. He is a busy man and in an ideal world we would like to have presented this article to UKAR closer to the time at which it was actually written - Andy's schedule just didn't allow this unfortunately and I'd ask for your understanding.