Welcome to the first installment of what I hope will become a regular blog series on the Virtual Horsemen website. Everyone gets into formation aerobatics for their own reasons. We all have our own inspirations and it can usually be narrowed down to one specific moment of “I want to do that!” – For me, that moment was Flying Legends Air Show, 2005.
I had always been interested in aircraft and always messed around with flight sims from a very young age, Combat Flight Simulator, Mig-29, F-22, FS2004 etc… Aviation was in my blood – Perhaps a by-product of my Dad’s parachuting hobby and his fascination with ‘The Battle of Britain’ Movie. As an 11 year old kid, my Dad had spent the whole year promising that we would go to ‘Flying Legends’. I’d always heard people talk about, seen the pictures and videos, but this was the first time we were going to be attending. What followed, was one of the best weekends of my life! Back in those days, we used to drive to and from the show in one day, a distance of 130 miles each way. Being a kid, getting up at 5.00 am was never a good thing – Unless we were going to Duxford (It never seemed to bother me then!).
Anyway, on this particular weekend, there was 2 Spitfires flying formation aerobatics, 3 corsairs doing loops together and, of course, The Horsemen! Flying Princess Elizabeth and Twilight Tear, this was to be my first real experience of warbird formation flying. The Spitfires and Corsairs were impressive, but there was something different about these guys. The routine was low, fast, tight and incredibly polished… I remember just stopping and starring at these two beautiful Mustangs diving, looping, rolling and, my god, that whistle! At the time, I had no idea who these guys were or what impact they would have on my later life. Needless to say, it’s a fascination that has lasted 11 years to date. Flying that day was Jim Beasley and Ed Shipley. Below is some rather blurry footage of that routine. Looking back, it seems so insignificant but, this was the moment!
Returning home that night, I immediately jumped on the flight sim, IL-2 Sturmovik 1946 at the time, and started flying the P-51. Flying online, I found a good group of guys to fly with and slowly started acquiring the skills needed to fly formation aerobatics in the virtual world. Eventually, after a lot of time and effort from my mentor, SkyHawk, I joined a team, the ‘Blue Eagles’ – Flying 4 P-51C Mustangs. The Blue Eagles, lead by Sawamura, gave me my first taste of flying for a professional virtual aerobatic team and, when the team shut down in April 2008, both myself and SkyHawk felt broken. The thing we had both worked so hard towards was now gone…
In reality, it was probably a blessing in disguise. The closure of the ‘Blue Eagles’ lead directly to the founding of ‘The Virtual Horsemen’. After several months in limbo, trying out many ideas, our team was founded by myself, Francessco ‘Yeager’ Brunetti and Julian ‘SkyHawk’ Tirazona. For weeks, we had been throwing around ideas for new teams but then, seemingly out of nowhere, the Horsemen started training a new right wing pilot in an effort to move to a 3 ship show. This was just what we had all been looking for! In an instant, we knew what we wanted to do. Not only would we be unique by representing the worlds only P-51 aerobatic team, in doing so, we had something to work towards – something that we could see in real life and then translate it into the sim. Up to this point, every aerobatic team in Il-2 was flying in fictional aerobatic colours doing made up routines. Whilst there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, I have always been one that has enjoyed the challenge of replicating real things – whether it was learning a new song on guitar or with my skinning work. This just seemed to be the perfect fit!
Initially, VH was just going to be for a video project. We had the intention of replicating ‘The Horsemen’s’ show, producing a video and then that was going to be that! Needless to say, as we’re now entering our 9th season as a team, we all enjoyed it far too much to give it up! Over the years, the team has been through a couple of line-up changes and has now settled on our strongest combination ever. Having 3 pilots all living in the U.K allows us to do so many things outside of our flying that helps to build the team’s morale and keep things fresh / interesting. For me, VH has grown to be more than just a virtual team. I have met some of my closest friends through it and had some of the best experiences of my life because it… But, it all started back on that day in 2005.
I hope you have enjoyed reading a brief history of the Virtual Horsemen and the reasons for why we do what we do. I hope over the next few blog posts to provide updates and insights into our training, how we prepare for shows and everything else this team gets up to, whether it’s related to flying or not. Although we are an aerobatic team, 90% of our time spent together is not in the air. A real team does more than just fly together!