Cirrus Diamond-Nine Formation Feature Report
Wednesday 17th September
Back in May, PPL-holder Jon Butts successfully assembled a group of six Cirrus Design SR20/22 aircraft and with like-minded PPL-holders undertook basic formation training before launching, with Ultimate High's highly experienced pilots, the first six-ship formation of Cirrus aircraft.
joined the formation air-to-air. Additional photography from and .
The Cirrus Design brand was conceived in 1984 on the back of a dream to design and manufacture affordable aeroplanes that delivered greater control, increased comfort, and unprecedented levels of safety. Since those early days the company has developed and grown into the world leader in producing single-engine, piston-powered aircraft, with the SR22 being the world's best selling aircraft in its class for each of the last five years.
Inspired by the huge success of the earlier event, Jon's next goal was to try to put together the first ever Cirrus Diamond-Nine Formation seen anywhere in the world. I was lucky enough to be invited along for the ride in "Cirrus 4", N147KA, a Cirrus SR22 GTS. This event was open to all pilots who could access a Cirrus and were willing to commit to the training (where required) and an equal share of expenses such as camera-ship and Ultimate High administration/logistics associated with the event.
Early responses from members of FreeFlight, a shared-ownership multi-Cirrus group, yielded the initial four pilots and aircraft, and later two additional replacement aircraft, one of which was flown by Curt Sanford, President of the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association who had extended a European visit to participate in the formation. Three more Cirrus were crewed by their owners, coming from nearby Turweston and from further afield, Le Touquet and Guernsey.
The last two formation students undertook their training during the two days prior to the nine-ship, and were soon joined with the arrival of the nine aircraft and pilots at Kemble to complete refresher formation flights.
The pilot with the distinction of leading this unique formation was Steve "Nouj" Noujaim. As with all of Ultimate High's team of instructor pilots, Nouj has a rich and varied military history behind him and spent time on Lightnings and the Phantom with 74(F) Sqn before going on to instruct on the Tucano and the Hawk. He's also a fully qualified display pilot and boasts Corsair, Mustang, Sea Fury and Spitfire display performances amongst others on his CV. Nouj is currently a Captain on Virgin Atlantic Airways Airbus A340-600 fleet, and is preparing an attempt on the single engine piston London-Cape Town-London air speed record held by Alex Henshaw in a purpose-built Vans RV-7.
With two pilots and up to one passenger per aircraft 26 people were airborne in the nine-ship, giving the ensemble the probable distinction of being the largest number of people ever to participate in such a formation.
Following a full briefing where particular emphasis was placed upon safety, the team walked to their aircraft and performed the necessary pre-flight checks. This was my first interaction with the SR22 and what a great aircraft it is! A full glass-cockpit, extremely comfortable seats and plenty of space all help you to understand the popularity the type has acquired in the marketplace. Added to that is the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS™) which, as the name suggests is a safety feature that sees a parachute deployed from behind the cabin of the aircraft in the event that an emergency situation is encountered and the deployment handle is activated. This really is a very nice General Aviation aircraft.
At the controls of my aircraft was Jon, along with Ultimate High pilot Robert "Nitro" Miller, a man with a list of previous military types as long as your arm! Nitro has no less than 5000 hours logged in tail draggers alone and is a former British Air Racing Champion.
As 1355 ticked around, Nouj announced over the radio, "Cirrus check", prompting a chain reaction of numbers being read back from two through to nine. With everybody checked in and ready to go, the call for taxi was made. We lined up on the runway in our allotted slots and awaited our take-off clearance. We were in the second element and with the first briefed to stay low, our take off profile was to go high prior to joining up with the first element in a vic formation of five SR22s. It was a rather impressive sight to see the four aircraft in the rear being flown as a "Box 4" into the space behind the vic to create the full diamond-nine formation.
With the formation set we headed west towards the Severn bridge which had been specially chosen as the backdrop for the photoshoot. Two separate aircraft were to be used for this. The first, a Cessna 182 was flown by Ian Seager, MD and publisher of Flyer magazine, with Damien Burke and Simon Reed inside charged with shooting the formation from some 1500ft above us. Unfortunately there was no direct sunlight due to high overcast with visibility reduced to around 8 kilometres. The other aircraft was one of Ultimate High's Extra 300s, flown by one of their own and also Rolls-Royce's Chief Test Pilots, Phil O'Dell. His photographer passenger was Mike Jorgensen and they had free rein to close in on the formation once the Cessna 182 profile was complete.
After several orbits of the bridge, the formation headed north to Gloucester and the calls of 'relax' and 'change hands' were issued by Nouj. This meant that they could spread the formation out slightly and share 'stick time'. After reaching Gloucester we banked right and tightened up once more for a topside fly-by of Kemble, prior to separating into Alpha (five) and Bravo (four) elements, each in echelon right formation in preparation for the run and break into the circuit at Kemble.
It was a new experience for me to see aircraft in the circuit in front of us but Jon brought us back down to terra firma perfectly and in turn. We all rolled to the end and vacated to the left, before taking our positions on Kemble's "Belfast" apron in diamond formation, ready for one last set of shots from the air. With that complete all that was left was to taxi back, park up, grab some 'team shots' and debrief - the overwhelming theme being an enormous sense of satisfaction about what had been achieved.
This had been my first opportunity to undertake a non-tanker based air-to-air shoot and I thoroughly enjoyed it! The Cirrus SR22 is a great aircraft and it was a privilege to be given the opportunity to be a part of their special day. I can't wait to do this kind of thing again!