Que: Do we require authorisation from the CAA?

Ans: Quite often a permission of one sort or another is required but not always. If your event is open to the public then we’ll need a permission under Article 164 of the Air Navigation Order, ANO. For a solo display in 2012 this non refundable fee to the CAA is £189. If on the other hand yours is a private event, a wedding say, then there are two options. If you want the sequence to come down below 500 feet above the ground then we’ll need an exemption from Rule 5(3)b known as the 500 foot rule amongst pilots. In 2012 this comes to £111 and again is not refundable. Keep the sequence above 500 feet and there’s no fee at all. Google the CAA website: Scheme of charges (General Aviation) for more details.

Que: How much notice do you require?

Ans: From a personal point of view, very little; but the CAA require would require 28 days, especially during the busy summer period. That said, they can process an application at fairly short notice provided I don’t make a habit of it: they want your custom!

Que: How much will a display cost?

Ans: The total cost is broken down into three bits; the CAA fee if applicable, the fee for the display and finally any significant positioning cost. The fee is agreed on application, depends in part on duration and is often less than you would expect. Positioning is approximately £120 per hour flying to and from your location. Please get in touch and I’ll provide a quotation for you there and then. If there's a cancellation due to weather then there’s no charge from Aerobatics4you.

Que: How long does an aerobatic display last?

Ans: An airshow organiser at a large event will probably ask for as little as 4 minutes and at most 8 minutes depending on the complexity of the programme. At smaller events with only one item, say a country fair, around 7 minutes is optimum. That doesn’t sound very long, but experience shows that after a while even the keenest of spectators has probably seen enough and needs a change of activity. The pilot has probably had enough by then too!

Que: Are you allowed to perform close to or over a town or city?

Ans: The site has to be suitable, and so we’re looking for an area that’s fairly open. We’re asking the CAA to exempt us from some of the day to day low flying rules but we can’t fly over buildings that are likely to have people or livestock in them. If yours is a special event at a location surrounded by wide open space then you’re fine.

Que: Where does the responsibility for safety lie?

Ans: At a larger event a flying display director, sometimes assisted by a Flying Control Committee, looks after safety. At a solo event the pilot is deemed to be responsible.

Que: Insurance?

Ans: Aerobatics4you, the aeroplane and pilot carry insurance cover for aerobatic competitions and displays.

Que: How does the weather affect your sequence?

Ans: A full sequence, including vertical figures, uses quite a bit of sky and so a reasonable cloud base is needed, the sort that we’d get on an average day, somewhere in the region of 2500 to 3000 feet. With anything less than that a display from Aerobatics4you can be tailored to suit the conditions and to comply with CAA legal minima.

Que: How can I find out more about airshow administration?

Ans: Type CAA into google and visit the publications section of their web site. CAP 403 covers air shows and special events. CAP stands for Civil Air Publication.

Que: How is the smoke made?

Ans: The aircraft has a tank holding around 30 litres of “smoke oil” and this is injected at around 2 litres per minute into the bottom of the exhaust system. The idea is not to burn it because then you wouldn’t be able to see it, but rather to vaporize the oil which makes it visible. The oil we use is very much like baby oil and better than the smelly old red diesel that we used years ago. After a day's fying you’d smell like an old tractor: This stuff is fairly inert and costs a lot more.

Que: Do you have an annual check of your sequence?

Ans: Yes, once a year I get together with a Display Authorisation Examiner, DAE, fly a sequence that fairly well represents what I’m going to do during the season. The emphasis is on safety rather than technical content. We’ll discuss ways to improve the content or to make it easier to fly. A pilot might be hoping to change his the scope of his authorisation at one of these sessions; perhaps bring the display lower or move up to include more exotic figures. Aerobatic routines are categorised in terms of the kind of figures flown, how difficult and dramatic they are to you the spectator. A pilot can work his way towards “Unlimited level” if he has access to a suitable aircraft and plenty of time.

Que: How can I get started in aerobatics?

Ans: If you are not a PPL holder then you could try an aerobatic trial flight. These are available at various locations around the UK. Use the web and find the one closest to you. For those with a PPL, then again have a flight with an organisation that offers aerobatic training in aircraft such as the Pitts Special, Extra, Firefly or150 Aerobat. Ask around, find out a little about the level of instruction that’s on offer. You can start by reading magazine articles from back issues that have appeared fairly frequently over the years on a variety of aerobatic topics from getting started to improving knife edge spins. Alan Cassidy’s book, Better Aerobatics and Aerobatics by Neil Williams are easy to get hold of and provide plenty of advice. You might like to get in touch with the British Aerobatic Association. Their website is www.aerobatics.org.uk.

Que: What’s your favourite aerobatic figure?

Ans: At one time it would have been the vertical roll or variations on it: they’re always spectacular and take some beating. Now though as a pilot and spectator, I think the “ruade” in all its variations wins hands down! The ruade is one of those figures driven by the gyroscopic precession of the propeller as it rotates at high speed. You might have experienced this weird phenomenon if you’ve ever handled heavy power tools such as an angle grinder. A heavy disc rotating at high speed seems to have a mind of its own: google precession to see how it works. With a Lycoming engine a pitch forward precesses through 90 degrees in the direction of propeller rotation into left yaw. Together with left rudder, this opens up a whole new world of opportunities!

Que: How do you construct an aerobatic sequence?

Ans: The sequence should reflect the ability of the pilot and the capability of the aircraft. Aerobatics is very demanding, both mentally and physically; the pilot should have some spare capacity in both. Aircraft performance means the power available from the engine and the aircraft’s suitability for the figures that you have in mind. Let’s suppose that your aircraft has inverted fuel and oil systems. That’s a big advantage, because the aircraft is just as happy upside down as the right way up, so the sequence can now include prolonged inverted flight or figures that involve negative G. Perhaps the best way to start is to draw up a list of figures that both you and the aircraft fly well. What you're after is structure together with flexibility. You don’t want to be flying ad lib; but on the other hand you need the option to load shed or dump complexity just in case things don’t go to plan. Without structure you’re on the back foot; the sequence will not be as entertaining and probably not as safe. On the day, managing the energy and thinking about the wind and what effect it will have over the next few figures is vital, so put some figures in that are energy gainers and some that allow a simple wind correction. Perhaps one of the most basic factors is the maximum straight and level speed of the aircraft? You might need to spend some of the time flying well below this speed now and again in order to top up on energy for the next few figures. Fly too fast for too long too often and the first and second laws of thermodynamics predict that you’ll get lower and slower and eventually run aground.

Que: How long does a typical training flight last?

Ans: Typically 20 minutes is about optimum. Any more than that and you’re getting tired and start to make mistakes. Another factor is the aircraft’s fuel system. The Extra 260 has an aerobatic fuel tank in the fuselage with a capacity of about 40 litres. We try not to fly aerobatics with fuel in the wing tanks. Throttled back a bit in training, the engine burns over a litre per minute so that’s a significant limitation.

Que: Favourite aviation books?

Ans: I’ve just re read Fate is the Hunter by Ernest Gann. The book cover includes the following recommendation: The finest book on aviation ever written; First Light by Geoffrey Wellum; Derek Robinson’s Piece of Cake; Talk Down by Brian Lecomber: should be a set text for anyone thinking of becoming a flying instructor.

Que: Favourite flying films?

Ans: The Great Waldo Pepper is a strong contender having some superb flying sequences and no bloody CGI! Then again Battle of Britain has stood the test of time. Memorable music and oft quoted dialogue, great set pieces too. I wonder how the CGI experts would cock it all up if the film was re made: please leave well alone! Having said all that, I never tire of seeing the Mustangs in Empire of the Sun as they fly very low over the airfield at Lunghua.

Que: Carbon footprints, how big is yours?

Ans: Mine is more like a clown’s shoe given the job and flying the Extra. So, yes, I’m messing with the planet! I grow trees and give them away as small saplings for people to plant on. It’s not about guilt, and I’m not a gardener, I just like trees.