This week has been an interesting one – with ‘my’ aeroplane out of action for her annual service I’d resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t really be having much Pitts involvement until well into the new year, but after a few friendly discussions with Al Coutts of the Wildcat Formation Display Team, an invitation over to Norfolk for a few days to see them and experience some formation flight materialised and so off I went.
I love Pitts Specials. I can’t really explain why, but I do. There is just something about these little biplanes that I absolutely adore, and so walking into a hangar with not one, but two beautifully shiny, matching Pitts S2’s was one of those ‘Wow!’ moments for me (I kept very quiet so as not to embarrass myself whilst I picked my jaw up off the floor).
The Wildcat team currently operate two Pitts Specials, an S2A and a more powerful S2B. Wildcat 2, (G-ZIII the S2B) has quite literally just returned to the air with a new paint scheme that now matches Wildcat 1. The photographs don’t do the pair justice – they really do look stunning in their metallic blues and whites. I was privileged enough to be allowed to look at and assist with some of the final bits and pieces being done on G-ZIII before her first flight yesterday, and I am going to now admit that as an engineer by profession, and a pilot by choice, being shown around and taught about some of the basic aircraft engineering bits on these planes, was something I really enjoyed and am keen to learn more about.
I’m currently going through a phase of doing some serious thinking about having my own aeroplane (or a share in one or something similar), and as such I spent a good deal of time talking to the guys about the kind of things I will need to know and what type of options I may have. Such advice and guidance is utterly invaluable, and I’m incredibly lucky to consider people like Al and Willie as friends (I just hope they see me in a similar light!!).
I also learned how painfully cold it is working on aeroplanes out in a hangar in the middle of December…brr.
I hadn’t been invited over just to look at the aeroplanes of course, the intention from the outset was that I would be given the chance to ride up front in one of the S2’s whilst they did a formation practice sortie. I can’t actually really describe how excited I was about this, having never flown formation of any kind before, let alone formation aerobatics. This kind of flying is something I dream of one day doing myself, and so to be given the chance to experience it in the capable hands of the Wildcat team was a real honour.
It had begun to look like the flight wouldn’t happen, due to the weather and a few other issues, but I was delighted to see clear skies on Thursday morning. I was even more delighted to be asked to head out with various cameras and video cameras to capture Willie’s first flight in the newly painted G-ZIII, before climbing into the front seat of Al’s aeroplane to go for a flight.
It was phenomenal. Seeing Wildcat 2 fall in behind us for the first time was an incredible feeling – I’ve never flown that close to another aircraft before, and whilst it felt a little unnerving initially, the capability of the two pilots and the clear link they have to each other when they’re flying (these guys really do gel as a team) soon had me feeling completely comfortable and just enjoying the ride and the views.
A few formation turns led on to a few formation loops and then barrel rolls – I enjoyed every second. Being that I fly aerobatics myself, I was able to focus on watching Wildcat 2 and seeing how tightly the pair managed to keep their formation as we flew the maneuvers – I knew what to expect and where we should be going and none of it held any fear for me, just a simple childlike joy at how amazing what we were doing really was.
As you can probably tell I loved it.
I would like to say a huge, huge thank you to Al and Willie of Wildcat Aerobatics, for granting me a glimpse into a world of which I would dearly love to be a part in a few years time, and for the help and advice they have given me (and I’m sure they will give me in the future). I look forward to meeting and flying with them again soon.
For more info on Wildcat and their first display season next year: