Sunday the 9th of June was the date of the Welshpool Airshow. A small, intimate affair featuring some big names – the BBMF gave a fantastic and moving display with the Lancaster, Hurricane and Spitfire in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Dambusters raid, the Vulcan made the earth move with some ear shattering and beautiful low passes, the Typhoon nearly made my ears bleed in a display of raw agility and power, and the Royal Navy Historic Flight’s Sea Fury made me long once more to be sat behind that behemoth of an engine, the Bristol Centaurus.
So why was this show so special for me? This sunny Welsh Sunday was my initiation into the incredible world of airshow flying! There I was, sat on the flight-line, waiting my turn knowing that this was really it – I was about to become an airshow pilot.
The day started the same way all of these days seem to start – slowly and with decidedly uninspiring crappy weather. Taking off from Little Gransden and climbing to the almighty height of…about 800ft didn’t exactly bode well, especially as the journey went on, the ground got higher and the cloud got lower. Just as I was contemplating giving up and going back home someone decided to brighten my world up a touch – the cloudbase suddenly started getting higher and around about Kidderminster I started seeing bright blue patches – the game was well and truly on!
My first inkling that something in my flying world was about to change was when I caught my first glimpse of the airfield – it was literally covered in people. Thousands of people. I admit now that the knot in my stomach noticeably tightened as I landed and taxied along the crowdline, too overwhelmed to dare really look over at all the smiling faces eagerly watching the display acts arriving.
The briefing was simple, effective and the Display Director amazingly friendly and encouraging. The other display pilots also managed to calm my nerves by so openly welcoming me into the fold, the feeling of camaraderie and mutual excitement was tangible!
So there it was, the sun was shining, not a cloud marred the beautiful blue sky and my time came around. Everything seemed both frantic, scary, serene and natural all at the same time. I prepared the aeroplane, strapped on my parachute and carried on as I always do, except this time people were watching. Lots of people. I don’t think I could help but grin like a lunatic as I taxied down the display line back to the end of the runway, hearing the commentator talking about me mixed with the bustle of the crowd, all over the top of the throbbing Lycoming as it gently settled into its stride. People were waving, smiling and staring as ‘KDR and I headed off into a new chapter of our lives together. I waved back.
Closing the canopy was like flicking a switch, we were back together alone – me comfortably revelling in my little bubble of noisy peace before pushing the throttle forward, feeling the wonderful rumbling growl as we surged forward, tail high, then climbing back home to the sky.
The sequence went past in a surreal slow blur – the maneuvers flowed into one another, the sheer joy of the speed and g-forces apparently on full display to the phenomenal crowd of spectators below. We chased our smokey tail, drew corkscrews in the sky, looped, rolled, turned, swooped and grinned at the crowd from every conceivable angle until it was finally time to land.
Opening the canopy during the landing roll to breathe in the glorious fresh air opened up my world to the crowd once more – I simply cannot express just what it felt like having just lived out my own dream to then return to taxi past a crowd of thousands of people all waving and cheering – loud enough that I could hear them even with my headset on and the engine still purring away. Emotions are often overwhelming and mine in that moment will stay with me to my dying day – personal, moving and more powerful than I ever imagined this could be. Nothing felt real, I didn’t feel real.
I climbed out of the aeroplane to be greeted by the smiling faces of my compatriots, to be congratulated and pointed toward the crowd who were still watching me, still waving and still cheering! None of them knew what I’d just lived through, that I’d just entered a world I’d never genuinely believed I was capable of reaching – they all simply enjoyed watching us do what we do, me and the Pitts together in harmony.
The rest of the day whirled past in a haze of hands shaken, faces smiling, words of warm congratulation and awe and even the occasional autograph signing. I simply cannot convey just how amazing and moving the day was, how grateful I am to the organisers, the other pilots and most of all to the incredible crowd of spectators – so many of whom have since emailed, Facebook messaged and Tweeted me (thanks especially to Adrian Brown and Misha Kucharsky for the phenomenal pictures I’ve included here) to congratulate me on being ‘an inspiration’ to so many people. Honestly I don’t know what to say, for me life has taken another very humbling turn, and I hope to keep myself moving ever forward, to keep inspiring people and to keep becoming a better pilot and a better person.
Thank you for reading.