Perhaps the single most important element to flying as part of a virtual aerobatic team is preparation. As formation flying is essentially a muscle memory skill, it can not be taught but, simply, has to be honed through constant practice, assessment and more practice. In my years of flying formation aerobatics, I have mentored a handful of people through the process of learning, and it’s always an interesting experience. There is no substitute for time in the saddle and providing a stable, consistent lead whilst offering advice when required is surely the best way help new pilots figure it out.
As important as the flying is, it is important to remember that good preparation starts on the ground. Without good research, you can not be a solid team. Before we take off, we watch video footage of the real routine, notate and combine it with information provided by the real team over the last few years. The display plans contain the entry direction, maneuver, exit direction and any other maneuver specific information. This plan is then distributed to the pilots, camera man and narrator before the flight. The routine is briefed to make sure each pilot understands what is going to happen at every point and then we attempt the flight. Upon landing, a debrief is made where each member can discuss any concerns they may have before a second flight is made if required.
Even when one can be considered an experienced pilot, the process remains the same – Brief, Practice, Debrief, Practice etc… As time goes on, the repetitive process can become a little tedious. Preparation is key for a good show, but motivation can be a challenge, so, having ways to keep things fresh and interesting is a key factor to flying in any professional team. For us, keeping things fresh is easier than for most other teams. As our routine is only 12 minutes long, it’s easy for us to get several practices in during each training session, either flying full routines or focusing on sections if required. We also benefit from the wide range of routines and aircraft flown by the Bremont Horsemen. In recent years, we have flown P-51s, Spitfires and Sabres, even swapping positions for the latter.
In truth, our work as a team goes further than just flying. Over the last year or so, we have been working tirelessly to improve the quality of our live shows. Outside of the flying, we have each taken on our own projects for the team. Jim has been working on creating scenery for our own airfield including hangars, control towers, offices other static objects. I have been working working on our P-51C and, more recently, a P-51D that is accurate to the variations that The Horsemen fly. Pete, on the other hand, works on the coding side of all our individual projects – Simply put, without the code, nothing works. These projects really are a labour of love – It takes a huge amount of time, effort and money to get these objects into the sim.
As we prepare for our next event, the Virtual Thunder Over the Net Air Show, we hope to finally be able to display at our new airfield, North East of Kutaisi. Using an existing, unused, runway as a base, we have created our own scenery to bring it more in to line with where we would expect the real team to fly.
Next time, I hope to be reporting on our first training sessions since the VA show in February