RAF Chinook Display Team Feature Report
Sunday 7th September
It's 1055am on Sunday the 7th of September. In five minutes time the Flying Display Briefing for the second day of the 2008 Southport airshow will get underway some four miles south of the show location, within the confines of the Liverpool University Air Squadron (LUAS) building at RAF Woodvale. I'm here to spend the day with the Chinook Display Team to see the pattern a typical airshow day takes for them.
spent a day in the life of the RAF Chinook Display Team. Photography by the author and .
Ray Thilthorpe of TSA Consulting Ltd, the company responsible for putting together and managing the show is leading the brief.
After a very brief recap of any items of interest from the previous day, the brief moves on to the planned happenings for the day ahead.
The Met brief is the first thing to be covered and the forecast indicates largely decent visibility with the chance of occasional rain showers.
This is followed by a reminder of the Flying Regulations and CAA Permissions - essentially that the display is run in accordance with CAP 403 and that any military participants are to be governed by their own orders or equivalent authorisations, and that operations must be conducted by whichever is the more stringent of the two.
Once that has been dealt with the areas of (Temporary) Restricted Airspace - RA(T) - are presented graphically on a map - the general one for the show covering a 2.3 nautical mile radius from ground level (surface) up to 5000ft, and special ones for the Red Arrows (6nm radius, surface to 8100ft) and the Role Demo (8nm radius, surface to 3100ft). These are areas that non-display traffic is not permitted to enter during the specified times.
The next slide shows the actual layout of the display site - the position of the crowdline, the makeshift runway, the Role Demo pyrotechnics, airshow centre (the datum) as well as the locations for the hovercraft operations.
Ray talks everyone through the running order and points out any areas that might change (for instance the Vulcan could 'slip' back, but couldn't come forward whatever happened) and any areas of potential conflict (ie people needing to reposition at the same time as someone else was displaying). The guys concerned state their intentions and arrive at a plan of action that works for all parties.
With everyone happy the briefing is adjourned.
The Chinook Display Team aircrew for Southport are Flt Lt Russ Norman, the display captain for the second half of the season, co-pilot Flt Lt Rob Paul, and crewman Sgt Darrell Harding. The crew are drawn from both 18(B) and 27 Sqns at RAF Odiham in Hampshire.
Additionally there are two groundcrew dispatched with the aircraft. These are drawn from the Expeditionary Chinook Engineering Squadron (EXCES) and the personnel involved varies according to rostering. Present for the Southport display are SACs Jim Burgess and "Fozzy" Foster.
The cab and crew had made their way north, tailwind assisted to Woodvale on Friday, dodging the many heavy rain showers along the way.
With such a small team everyone chips in with the preparation of the aircraft.
In addition to performing a solo display, the Chinook Display Team have also been tasked with a couple of other roles during the season. Owing to the lack of availability of Hercules this year, the Chinook has been used on many occasions as the jump platform for the RAF Falcons Parachute Display Team. This isn't the case at Southport, however, as the Falcons are not present.
The other role comes in the RAF Role Demonstration, whereby the Team are responsible for the insertion of a number of ground troops into the 'hostile environment' present on the display line.
It's explained that there are no permanent troops attached for the Role Demo, so consequently they call upon Territorial Army units local to their operating base for each performance. In this case the troops come from a Company of 4th Battalion The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment based in Liverpool. As such there's no opportunity for them to participate in a full role demo rehearsal, so instead they perform a run through on the ground at the airfield.
With their practice complete, the Team's first tasking of the day is a familiarisation flight combined with repositioning some staff to the beach. Russ, the captain, signs for the aircraft and tells me he intends to perform a towering departure, to limit the effect of the downwash on the surrounding helicopters. A few minutes later I watch as the aircraft towers upwards, turning as it goes.
After around a thirty minute flight the aircraft returns with Russ practicing his running landing on touchdown, before carefully repositioning to his spot between the Army Lynx and Apache helicopters.
The Chinook has around 150-160 minutes duration with a full tank and light load, but obviously it's not flown that way during the display. Russ tells Fozzy that he wants 1300kgs in the tanks for the display. While the tanks are being topped up there's just enough time for a bite to eat before the aircraft needs firing up again. There's just sixteen minutes till their on-datum slot time and we still need to get back out to the cab! Russ isn't concerned and states quite confidently that the aircraft can be good to go inside five minutes on the second start of the day. He's not wrong!
Their departure is my cue to hot-foot it to the beach. Unfortunately I don't get to see the solo display on this occasion, but you can't be in two places at once. Leaving when I do ensures that I'm in place for their Role Demo involvement. I've been given a pass to gain access to the pier for some slightly different views of the remaining displays which works out rather well. The beach is absolutely heaving with members of the public!
Off in the distance the E-3D Sentry can be seen circling with an ever increasing number of companions. Eventually all seven fixed wing aircraft can be seen with the E-3 and four Tornadoes (two F3s and two GR4s) in formation, running in to open the sequence. As they peel away the Chinook arrives on the scene with the Apache providing fire cover. The Chinook puts down on the beach and the troops, charged with the responsibility of recovering captured friendly personnel, disembark while the Apache picks off a few bad guys with the gun. With the troops offloaded the Chinook takes to the skies once again, leaving the aerial and air-to-ground wars to unfold.
Once supremacy has been restored the Chinook is called back in to retrieve the troops and extract the previously captive personnel. With no 'friendlies' left on the ground, this is the perfect time for the GR4s to come through and let loose! All that remains is for the final flypasts. While the Chinook and the Apache hover, head-on to the crowd, first the E-3D and then the remaining six fixed wing assets fly through in a swan formation, with the rotary contingent bowing to the crowd as they do so. It sends a little shiver down my spine every time I see it, and the assembled masses always seem to love it.
That's still not the end of the day for the Chinook Display Team, however. They return to RAF Woodvale to refuel and collect their gear, including their vehicle which gets carted around the country in the back! The prediction is for around a 90-minute flight back to Odiham - the wind has swung around from their northbound leg and will once again be at their backs - which Russ says will put them pretty tight on fuel given their load. The plan's to put in a call to Brize Norton to book a fuel stop. If they get that far and need it they'll use it. If not they'll just cancel.
As it transpired they were home in 80 minutes and cancelled that fuel stop at Brize. I only wish my own return journey had been as fast!
So there you go, an insight into a typical day in the life of the 2008 Chinook Display Team.