Flying high with The Blades of Sywell

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A flying start to the 2012 season

Turning the clocks forward is an important marker in the calendar for any display pilot. It means that summer is truly on the way and the countdown to the display season has really begun.

Since 25th March when the clocks went forward this year, The Blades, an aerobatic team of former Red Arrows pilots based in Sywell, hvae been focused on preparing for our seventh year of air shows.

To most people air shows conjure up images of eating ice creams and looking around historic and current aircraft, or relaxing on the sea front whilst watching different displays. For us it means over 50 public displays in less than four months – our busiest but most exciting time of year.

The season started, as always, with our display at Southend-on-Sea. For the past couple of years bad weather has tormented the show but this year the sun shone down on Southend as The Blades flew straight into their display from Sywell, a fantastic start to the season! Scorching temperatures saw record crowds of 300,000 along the seafront and the Team arrived in style directly over the heads of the crowd, we are one of the only display teams that are permitted to perform an arrival into the show in this way.

Thanks to the good weather the pilots flew the full display at Southend which lasts 15 minutes and includes a sequence of over 30 separate manoeuvres such as opposition crosses, solo ‘gyroscopic’ aerobatics, synchronised rolls, twists, double-tumbles and knife-edge spins to name a few. The pilots reach combined speeds of over 400mph flying just 12 feet apart during certain manoeuvres. The completion of the first display of the season at Southend was cause for double celebration as 2012 is Team Leader, Mark Cutmore’s, first season as Blade 1.

Our next display was at the 2012 TT in the Isle of Man combining high speed action from both wings and wheels alike. The weather took a severe turn for worse meaning the flight over there in the Extra’s was a little bumpy to say the least. We’re all well used to coping with all kinds of weather conditions but it’s certainly tough battling against high winds, it takes a lot of control just to keep the aircraft in the same place. Designed for performance aerobatics the Extra’s only weigh 800kg which means they are very susceptible to strong winds!! Disappointingly, our first display at Laxey had to be called off, but fortunately, a gap in the weather allowed the Team to take to the skies for their evening display over Douglas Bay. The low cloud base meant the Team had to perform their first flat show of the year, we perform this display when the cloud base drops lower than required to fly loops.

The last stint of a very busy three days took The Blades to RAF Leeming and Ards Festival of Speed in Newtonards, Northern Ireland. Soon after our lunchtime display at Leeming, we coasted out to Northern Ireland for our first display at Ards Festival of Speed. Again, one of our favourite combinations of wings and wheels, the event celebrates aviation and motorsport and this year included a special guest appearance from Formula One legend Eddie Irvine attracted large crowds.

The two hour flight back to Sywell meant we flew no fewer than 1,200 nautical miles between taking off for the Isle of Man and touching down after our adventure to Northern Ireland, not bad going for three days!