I’ve not been posting much here recently, not because I’m lazy but because I’ve been working hard on building a new website, as well as working harder than ever at my flying.

With the competition season over, winter presents a number of options to the aerobatic aficionado – firstly, the easy option is simply to clean up the aeroplane and tuck her away for the winter, after all it’s cold in the air and muddy on the ground! I’ve never been one for easy options though, and so for me the winter is yielding a new challenge – becoming a display pilot.

Over the next few months my aims are fairly simple, but lots of hard work. I have to get smoke fitted to ‘KDR, build a new media profile and start advertising, but primarily I need to gain my Display Authorisation. Gaining a DA involves learning to fly ‘display style’ and coming up with some crowd-pleasing sequences, going through lots of paperwork and a whole host of other aspects. The main challenge is definitely in developing an aerobatic style that is completely different to that needed to be successful in competition.

So what are the differences and why is the ‘conversion’ proving to be such a challenge?

  • Firstly – straight, level lines are boring. In competition straight lines are the very basis of everything – essential between figures to demonstrate where one figure ends and another begins, and also allowing repositioning for wind. You can’t add any additional embellishments in a competition sequence, whereas in a display sequence long, straight lines are decidedly yawn-inducing. Hence the knack is to minimise the time you spend ‘transiting the display line’ by working to firstly keep everything in as tight a space as possible (often smaller than a competition box) and secondly ’embellishing’ the flight with different types of rolling combinations. The number of embellishments needed to optimise the display positioning may well vary, and so the sequences may be slightly different on different days – a completely different concept to that of a competition flight.
  • Nothing is fixed. As I’ve already briefly made mention of, a display sequence doesn’t have to be totally fixed. The sole aim is to keep everything as interesting and exciting for the crowd as possible – so for me with a small aeroplane, keeping the flying as close to the display line as possible is a high priority. This means that changes may be made on the fly – altering the direction of a turn or a vertical roll for instance in order to bring things back to the line on a strong wind day. Adding additional simple repositioning figures, or indeed missing some out altogether may also be needed. The pure, regimented, judged competition process simply does not apply!
  • In keeping with the need to keep the flying as close to the crowd as possible, the display flight can also take place at a lower altitude than a competition flight has to. For me this has been a big step forward – the 1000′ minimum height for a competition flight no longer applies so I’ve been learning how to fly figures accurately and stylishly at a much lower level. Getting past the ‘ground-rush’ isn’t necessarily a terribly easy thing to do, and of course the priority is as always keeping things safe. I’m not flying anything I can’t EASILY do – the margins are smaller in terms of safety altitudes, so I make them bigger again in terms of my personal ability.
  • My display sequences, although not containing any particularly difficult individual figures, are proving to be some of the hardest things I’ve ever flown. Keeping everything moving and dynamic, whilst totally centred and as close to the display line as possible (without EVER crossing it), flying a good quality sequence at a lower level than I’ve previously been used to and that lasts considerably longer than any competition sequence I’ve ever flown involves such intense concentration and sheer physical endurance that every flight leaves me feeling extremely tired.
  • Creating a good display sequence is an art-form all of itself. In the competition world you are normally told what to fly, or at least given strict parameters within which you have to keep your designed flight. The total freedom of display design is actually a little over-whelming at first – it takes a while to get used to not having to fly exact angles, not having to draw corners or even keep exact shapes. Everything can be free-form and as such is really rather good fun to fly.

In short, I’ve been discovering that display flying really is a completely different discipline to competition flying. Of course the accuracy and precision learned in competition aerobatics make the transition into display flight more a matter of getting used to a change in conventions than actually learning any major aerobatic differences. Positioning is even more critical for a display flight than a competition flight, but also considerably easier to get right (after all you can just add simple repositioning turns at will). Keeping everything active and moving is the main thing we find somewhat different – more elements, figures and less time to spend appraising a situation all create a different kind of pressure and excitement.

I think I’m going to enjoy this display malarky!