Redbull hangár

Redbull hangár

2011. július 10., vasárnap

Interview with the Dutch F-16 demo team - Airpower11, Zeltweg - Part II.

Tobias and Roy - both are F-16 pilots

When I decided to visit the Austrian airshow in Zeltweg (although it wasn’t really a question since I was amazed by the latest one 2 years ago) I begin to plan, what kind of materials can I make there. It has come up to my mind almost immediately, that I would need a cool interview with one of the solo display pilots. Of course I could do more interviews, but in that case, I would have seen much less from the program as I spent there only one day this time. After checking the list of the participating aircrafts, I chose the Dutch F-16, because of several reasons. First of all, this demo team’s members are among those few who are not just stand up their tent in the visitor area, but spend their whole freetime there during the weekend. When I say tent, I don’t mean their sleeping place under it of course, but their shop-tent in which they sell souvenirs with their logo and also a rest place for the team. Otherwise the transporter van and the tent have a special painting with the team’s colours: orange and black. So their image is a unique one, including their outstanding webpage too ( Their special kind of moxie and humor (what I could experience personally later) can be felt reading the news about them.
The Dutch F-16 always makes a stunning show in the air (I can confirm it after watching it several times). The combination of speed and maneuverability perfectly represents the skills of this aircraft. So it’s not surprising at all, that its unit is invited for every big airshow in Europe. I can say that the orange-black jet is one the stars at these events.

Roy and his favourite toy ... no, sorry, his indispensable device at work: his Blackberry

After discussing the interview possibilities via e-mail with one of the team coaches, Captain Roy “Chunky” Vincken (it was a nice surprise how quickly they replied to my media request and how keenly they support my idea) we agreed, that we will met at their tent as they will be there the all day. We didn’t exchanged mobile numbers, which proved to be a fault. ‘Cose I didn’t find them on Saturday morning. Only the little transporter was there alone, but no tent, no team. (Otherwise the minivan is not just a decoration in the background, but they carries the necessary equipment with it to the airshows.)
Hearing that the Austrian organizers held a hangar party already on the first day, I thought that it was hard and they need some more sleep after it. But after they appeared finally, Roy told me that their shuttle bus has started too late from their accommodation and they were trapped in the huge traffic jam near to the airfield, which were caused by the thousands of spectators. I believed him ;-)
Otherwise arriving late wasn’t a problem for them at all, as the F-16’s display program started at 14:45, so there was enough time to prepare to the show for the pilot and the aircraft too.
Although I planned to speak with all team members, I could chat longer only with the display pilot. The others were busy with the spectators who attacked immediately their shop-stand as they built it up and keep it under siege constantly. The Dutch demo unit must be really popular as a lot of T-shirts, cap, etc. were sold during that time while I was there.

Boys behind the shop desk - Sergeant Johannes Tiedema technician and Sergeant Sybren Bakker also technician at the team

Roy also takes part in the T-shirt business - but somebody in the background doesn't at the moment :-)

But fortunately Captain Tobias “Hitec” Schutte told me a lot about his mates during the interview. Otherwise it was held at a very special place (thanks to the very kind press officer from the Austrian army): behind the start zone, in the catering tent of the display pilots. This zone is part of that area, which is closed to the public, even during the airshow weekend. So I felt myself really honored. During the interview, some jets were roaring across above us, approximately 30 meters “high” which created a unique atmosphere.

We caught Tobias right after his display. He was markedly still on a high rev, but was at my service immediately.

Gabriella: This display program what I could see now, seemed very different to me comparing it to what I saw from you at the Kecskemét Airshow last year. Maybe I’m wrong, but this one was performed in a wider and higher frame, while the other one looked a bit more dynamic as it seemed to be on a shorter distance.

Tobias “Hitec” Schutte: It can be true, as I have three different choreographies for different weather conditions. For example when the clouds are at a very low level, I need to be fly closer to the ground as we (the display pilots ) are not allowed to fly through the clouds.
But the main reason of the difference, that we make a new demo program in every second year. Two military air bases of the Netherlands provide the personnel of the demo team in turn, in 2 years periods. This has been a process for a long time as the Dutch Royal Air Force has a demo team for 32 years. The other tradition is, that in the first season - which is a learning year for the new display pilot - the former choreography doesn’t change, but a new program is made for the second year. But of course we cannot create a completely new one, as people likes some spectacular elements, so we keep them.

G: Could you tell me how born a new show exactly?
THS: As for my new demo program, the team coaches and I found out new ideas during the airshow weekends in last year. We sat down together at the end of the season and start to draw it down. We discussed the order of the elements and if it is really possible to bring them into effect. We also had to count with time factor and the necessary fuel amount. After this, we tried out the new program in a simulator several times. (It took approximately 2 months while we get to this point.) Then the air force’s aviation laboratory examined it from the view of safety. After they said, that it’s OK, then I had to perform it to my principals and they gave the permission finally to use it this season.

G: Not an easy process. As for the practice, do you need some time alone to prepare in your mind before starting your show?
THS: It would be good, but never happens. Usually I’m always stopped many times before it, asking about this or that or I even giving interviews. Sometimes I repeat the choreography in my mind and this time my head follows the program elements which can be funny for those who are looking at me in these moments.
But when I’m in the aircraft, I feel myself like if I was in a bubble and nothing can disturb me in concentration.

Tobias "Hitec" Schutte

G: Even if you have to fly in rain?
THS: No, not really.  But if it starts to rain really heavily I terminate my program. (It happened sometimes.) Otherwise I really cannot realize anything just my task. I watch the public only, when I’m rolling back to the start zone in front of them.

G: And see as they are applauding to you.
THS: Hopefully (smiles).

G: They do it. You are a favorite. The F-16 demo team’s Facebook profile also shows it with more than 1.600 fans up to now.
THS: We are very happy with it and also like when our fans send great pictures of us. Even when I get home after an airshow I check on YouTube if somebody uploaded videos about my demo. It also helps to improve, when I see these films. For example, I can do a correction when I made a slight mistake caused by a sudden airflow without anybody realizes it from the public. If I see it on a YouTube video, that I could really do it unnoticeable, I’m satisfied.

G: What do you like the most in your job?
THS: Flying very close to the limits. Sometimes it happens, that I approach the ground to 30 meters. It is really amazing to feel the power of this great aircraft.

G: Do you need a special physical training program to keep yourself in a good condition?
THS: No, flying is the best training which keeps in form those muscles which are stressed during the display program. Although I care about what I eat, but I don’t have any special dietary.

G: Did you realized, that the Belgian F-16 display pilot is also invited to also almost every airshow where you are?
THS: Especially to my request. No, just kidding. But we know each other very well. Last year, in my first season, I often ask his advice regarding my display flight. Anyway, the relationship of the Belgian and Dutch air force is good, because of the many common military training. It is fortunate, that although the spectators could see two F-16 solo display programs, but the Belgian and the Dutch one are very different and we both aspire not to copy each other.

G: You mentioned the two team coaches. Why are they two and what is their work exactly? It was a bit strange to me to see it in their biography on the team’s webpage, that they have less flight hours then you. Usually trainers have much more experience, then the trainees.
THS: No, they are not trainers like in that meaning. Although when I practice my program on weekdays, they watch it from the ground and told me on the radio when something wasn’t perfectly performed. It helps to develop the show. They also have more than 1.000 hours with the F-16 and they could do the display program as spare pilots if I wasn’t able to do it. Beside it, they organize everything (hotel room, fuel, etc.) around me to ensure every necessary condition, so I have to take care only with flying. Actually I work only 21 minutes a day - says it with some self-irony and laughs.
There is only one coach at the airshow weekends, the other one stays at the base and do the tasks regarding the following airshows.

G: How many team members work at these weekends?
THS: Eight altogether: six technicians (one of them is an engine specialist) and two pilots

G: How can somebody become a display pilot? Is there a big contest to get this job?
THS: I think that this work is not suitable for everyone. We are on the road on almost every second weekend, then go back to the base and there are only a few days which we can spend with the family. If somebody has more kids, it can’t be too good for him. Last year we visited 25 airshows, this year (due to cost saving) we will participate on 11, which is the half but still a pretty high number.
As for me, I visited an airshow when I was 16 and saw a solo jet display. I thought, that this is the best job on Earth. So when a few years later the occasion arose to become a military pilot, I took the chance.

G: What do you do on weekdays?
THS: I participate in the squadron’s flight tasks even in foreign missions (for example in Afghanistan), but rather in the winter.

G: Some thinks that this is the peak of a jet pilot career.
THS: And they are right! I’m sure, that my future job at the air force will be less interesting than this. And even if I think about my civilian future career after retiring from the army, I can be maximum a commercial pilot. Although I love to be a display pilot, but it won’t make any problem to me to passing over the demo jet to the next candidate. I’m satisfied with my career so far, as I achieved all of my goal: I wanted to be a mission commander and I did it, I wanted to be a display pilot and I did it too.

Speaking with Roy a bit later, he told me some additional information about them. The members of their team are all operational members of the air force with experience in Afghanistan. Besides Afghanistan the Dutch Air Force and especially airbase Leeuwarden also supports operations in Libya, provides Homeland Defence with the Quick Reaction Alert and of course provides support for the demo team. As he said, the Dutch demo team is a just a small enthusiast part of a huge operational and motivated team.

At the end of the day, they start to pack up their tent and equipment, because after the closing hangar party, on Monday morning, they moved to Belgium directly to the next airshow which is held this week, unusually not on the weekend, but on Wednesday and Thursday.

I hope that they will come to next year's Kecskemét Airshow too.

Text and photos: Gabriella

Daily conciliation

The Dutch F-16 demo team's headquarters at Zeltweg