Redbull hangár

Redbull hangár

2012. november 3., szombat

Rotor noise – from inside

I’ve met Marcell Hegyvári Mi-24 helicopter pilot 4 years ago at the training of the Hungarian Glider Aerobatics Team. He has just got into in the military pilot training course (NFTC) then and waited for the flying training with huge excitement. I haven't seen him since then, but a common friend of us always informed me about his career. As he’s been serving as an attack heli pilot for a year, I thought it is time to make an interview with him to know what happened in his life since then. During our chat at Szolnok Air Base, he told me stories about his domestic and foreign training, about exciting survival courses, how feel to land onto a building at night and his task in case of an nuclear emergency situation.

You can find some update at the end of the story about an aircraft with stopping engine and an honor.

Text and photos: Gabriella

Marcell and his mate on a training flight (photo from the interviewee)

Strange, but it became a reality to me just now, that you really did it, when I glimpsed you in the pilot suit with your name and the lieutenant gold star on it. When we met last time, you were between the first parachute jumps and the JAK-52 training. What happened to you later?

The parachute training was a huge challenge in my aviation career, because it has to be done before I flew with any kind of military aircraft. After my first jump, I thought, that I’m the bravest guy in the world, because I dared to jump out. I feared of it a bit, but when we executing the tenth manual, not bound jump, we were braver and started to enjoy it. Then I get to the JAK squadron. After some theory lectures, we began our probationary training. I flew almost 40 hours on JAK-52, when we were divided into two groups of seven.

How long did the JAK training take?

If I remember correctly, it lasted for 3-4 months, it depended to the weather when we can fly. I began in the middle of summer, in the second group, but in the end, both groups travelled to Canada together at the end of August 2009. We started with the English preparation and the theoretical course there. We were allowed to come back home for Christmas and shortly after our return to Canada, we began the flying at different squadrons. I was at the Cobra squadron and liked my instructors very much, all of them provided the same high level of teaching. We went ahead fast, when the weather didn’t hamper us. Executed the tasks, they loaded us more and more. I was in Canada for one and a half year altogether and finished the II Alpha Phase on a Harvard II Turboprop aircraft. After arriving home, I got here to Szolnok Air Base to the Phoenix squadron.

Helicopter or transport aircraft?

Incidentally, when we spoke last time, you told me, that you got an 1/B qualification at the medical examination, so except that many jet pilot candidates (with 1/A) will eliminated, you become a helicopter or a transporter pilot. When was it decided that you will be a Mi-24 and not a Mi-2, Mi-8 or An-26 pilot?

Basically we can divide it to two questions. It was decided, that I will be a helicopter pilot, right after my 1/B qualification, but there was a possibility to travel to Canada with it and do the basic training there. It is a very useful thing and gives you the basic skills to perform well on any kind of aircraft later. It was also beneficial for us who dwelled abroad for a long time, that we got used to the international environment. It is true not only to those who were involved in the NFTC program, but everybody else who participated in international military exercises. You can speak with the foreign staff at this time, as we spend 24 hours a day with them. It was useful too, that I flew in a foreign airspace in Canada, because the radio communication and others happened in foreign environment. And the many new thing you experience during the training, the easier you will learn the new later on.
But returning to the point where it has been decided, that they put me to here to the Phoenix Mi-24 squadron. Actually when I returned from Canada, didn’t have a clue where I will serve, although I would have liked to be here, because I was interested in attack helicopters. I was lucky. One us, who finished as 1/B cadets, went to the An-26 squadron, so he serves at Kecskemét Air Base, others are on transport helicopters. Basically our bosses decided in which position they need people and they distributed us as they saw it well.

Do you remember such successes from your foreign training period what confirmed your belief, that you chose a right goal and you are on the right way to reach it?

Yes, actually every flight was like this. Sometimes you feel from the whole thing just that the aircraft is moving under you, because you watch the instruments, concentrate on the task, think of the next step as it thought to you. But when you see sometimes, how nice is the weather above the clouds, how fast you fly, find the given airport, see the unknown runway and you can land without any problem, that’s a good feeling. I guess, that’s why it worth it. Even if you have to toil for it.

Did you have a favorite part during the whole training?

I’m a strange man, because I always feel, that was the best after every part. But I like the helicopter target shooting very much. It is usually held on the shooting range at Várpalota, we execute direct and non-direct target shooting and cannon shooting. It is a great experience and the responsibility is huge. Even it’s preparation part is very complex, because you need to plan your route, the handling of the weapon system and the restrictions. You have to keep all of them, have to know what to do and when to do. And of course you fly the route as with live weapon on board which is also a big responsibility, where you are not allowed to make a fault. I guess, this kind of flight has everything what makes you proud when you complete it successfully.

Do you shoot to ground targets only at this time?

Yes. There is air combat training too, but I’ve never practiced it before.

Flood and radiation surveillance



Maybe it is a provocative question, but what does a fighter helicopter pilot do in peacetime?

We execute training tasks mostly, to keep our skills and knowledge. We do airspace flights here at Szolnok, these are aeronautics things: take off, landing, hanging in external field, or the helicopter aerobatics, when we practice coordinated helicopter piloting, both from the pilot’s and the operator’s part. Beside these, we do cross-country flights, so navigation, air orientation, flying by instrument flight rules beside the shooting practice and the photo target shooting (it is when we prove our hits with photos).

You mentioned, that the other heli battalion executes especially airlift and search-rescue tasks. Don’t the attack helicopters help them in catastrophe situation for example at floods?

We have the skill to it, we can help if it is necessary, for example in external weight lifting. Or  we surveillance tasks at plane crashes or we can participate even in the search-rescue tasks.
There is another interesting thing whereof we provide standby duty and this is the radiation surveillance service. The essence of it, that if there is a chance to any spot-like or not-spot-like radiation source, for example radioactive contamination happens in the nuclear power station at Paks or anywhere, then we have a 24 hours/7days service to surveillance it. With the help of a radiation surveillance container, we are able to determine, where come the radiation from, how big it is and what is the direction of its expand. There are constant trainings to it.

Escape from the enemy

You mentioned, that you participated in the Logical Decision 2012 exercise. Could you tell me more about it?

I participated in this exercise last year too. This is kind of exercise is to serve the cooperation of the air and ground forces and the joint work with other nations. This time we can practice search-rescue too. There is also possible to practice the rescue of a pilot who ejected at enemy territory. Although I was escaping last year. Namely our yearly survival training was held the same time. (This 12-days training is always held to the ground staff too.) They made us work hard and tire us out for 10-11 days and when you feel that you have enough it and would go home, then comes the best part of it, they transfer us to the fields. Pilots have two kind of tasks this time: one part of them stay at the base and rescue or reconnoitre the other team’s members, the other group is escaping. Then they must be found and saved by the team at the base. I was in the second team last year. We were chased by soldiers who served at ground forces during it, they played the enemy. We constantly went in the mud and rain. We had to walk 40 kilometers, but not on the road, but across the forrest and the goal was not to found by the “enemy”. But who were chasing us, were very proficient to catch people, as it is their task, so we had a hard life. They caught me finally.

After how much time if I’m not nosy? :-)

After a half day, if I remember correctly. I could walk maybe 6-8 hours.

How long should you have to hold on?

24 hours.

Did you have such task for example to find a sleeping place during it?

No, but we constantly practice these things during the training. There are fitness exercises too, 3 times a day, shelter building, survival lessons.

Shelter building? Did you have to build a hut from boughs?

Yes, for example. But if you cut boughs, your chaser will recognize, that you were there. Maybe it is better to collect the broken boughs from the ground.

And what is in yours survival kit? Sleeping bag for example?

No, we don’t have.


We have, because you carry it with yourself. We had only a survival vest, the most important things were in it.

I guess, there aren’t too much place for food in it.

There’s no food in it at all.

What?! Neither a piece of chocolate?

We were allowed to carry with us only 2,5 liters water, which is not enough in the heat. Actually the main goal is of the training to make participants experience what can happen to them in reality. For example when you are forced to land in an operation territory and have to return home to your own troops, you learn how to execute it. Otherwise we have very good instructors and I was really surprised how liflike it is possible to organize it and how useful things we learnt.

Were your instructors from the special forces?

Not only from there, we have our own instructors too, pilots who are specialized in it. 

Is it expected to do a survival training abroad?

I don’t know. The jet pilots tend to go to Sweden. In Canada, who finishes the 4. phase, have a longer survival training, where you spend the night outdoor and have to fight against the cold. I was on a smaller one there and didn’t sleep outside, but it was also interesting in -35 degrees.

Water-survival and flying with night vision device


Any fun in the water?

Ah, the water-survival, it’s good, that you mentioned! It usually lasts for one week and held by the same instructors in a very professional and enjoyable way. We practice in the swimming pool, for example we kick each other and they condense us to feel if you would be drowned. Actually this would occur, because you would try to stay on the surface at the expense of the others. With making us condense, the goal is to experience this. You get used to it, that you have claustrophobia, want to sink and you are stifling. Obviously if you can swim, you can stay on the surface for a long time. They make us work hard physically, we jump into the water from higher and higher diving stands, we must climb out from parachutes under the water, where water often get into your nose. We do it wearing flight suit and boots. It is harder to tread the water in it, but at least you don’t hit your barefoot, when you jump into the water from a height :-) At the end of this training, we are jumping into the Tisza river from heli. Reaching the water, we have to climb into a baby boat, after inflating it with a tank.

At least in summer?

Yes. Last time when I jump, the weather was hot, but I was cold a bit after it.

What was your role at this year’s Logical Decision practice?

One part was like a training flight. We went to the shooting range. We used the same weapon system like before, the executing was the same too, the only difference was, that it was only an event of many. Our task was to (that’s why we practice the accurate flight in time), to be there in time and shoot the target, possibly surveillance the escapees, the search-rescue team to rescue the wounded soldiers or sometimes the own troops and sometimes they also execute surveillance tasks. It as interesting to share the experience with the participated foreign soldiers: with Polishes, Macedonians, Slovaks. Days started with morning briefings, preparations to fly, getting weather forecast data. Our tasks changed often, but everything wich was important could be done.

We had a night mission too. I participated in a super flight, although just as an accompanist, sitting back on board. We flew with one of the Polish Mi-17, which I could try out later. We took off in pair, flew a 1 hour and 50 minutes mission and had to fill up our drop tank to it. We were heading to Lake Balaton. The task was to land on an unknown external territory with NVG (kind of a night vision device) and onto the top of the given building in the complete darkness. I realized, that the four member Polish crew share the on board duties very well and they had a lot to do. We find the external territory soon, where we hung and landed repeatedly. Our lead aircraft was a Hungarian Mi-17 who constantly helped us, watched it from higher if everything goes well. Then we executed the landings onto the buildings. Sometimes the main landing gears were only a few centimeters from the edge of the roof. We lifted up to travelling height after finishing our tasks and start to go home to Szolnok Air Base. This time we were the lead aircraft. At the end of the exercise the helis performed a formation flight, which is very rare, even in international colors. We got know other nations work and methods. You can learn many new things at occasions like this and we enjoyed it very much. 

Photo from the interviewee


Sport career and profession

We made a video about the solo show of a Mi-24 last year here at Szolnok on the day of the state founding parade, which is our most popular film so far. Do you desire to be a display pilot?

Of course! But my helicopter pilot past is very short and the very experienced pilots are appointed to these tasks. But hopefully I can do it one day.

Photo from the interviewee

And what are your plans with your glider aerobatics sport career?

I would like to continue it. I did the preparation with the national team this year too and I planned to travel with them to the world championship, but finally I decided not to go, because of financial reasons. We don’t have any sponsors. So preparation was difficult from this point.

Can you attune it with your military pilot life?

Yes. When I fly here, I do my job. Anything you fly with is a practice. But of course my work is the first. Otherwise many of us fly in civil, but basically it's a hobby, so they don’t care about here what we do in our free time.

The Mi-24 and its crew

Would you introduce your “company vehicle” with your own words to me?

It is a very heavy, 12 tons helicopter, you can feel when you pilot it, that you make a heavy weight move, it accelerates slowly, stops hardly, but it has huge engines, two rotates a regulator and the regulator is fixed to the rotor. This it how it works, but comparing it to a fixed wing aircraft, its aerodynamics, aviation qualities and its building are more-more difficult.
As a rotor wing aircraft, it behaves very differently like a fixed wing one. I dare to say, that it is one of the best attack helicopter types. Very aggressive, has a good weapon system and serves its crew very comfortably. Anyway, it needs a two-member crew, because there is a lot to do in it.

What are the duties of your partner?

Two persons fly with the heli, who sits in the front seat handles the weapon system and the navigation, counts the hit time and communicates. At a complex task, where we fly a route and shoot, the pilot leads the helicopter onto the target from the back seat. Depending on the weapons, sometimes the operator takes over the piloting. So the division of labour is very important, the essence of it is that one of us takes care of the piloting, the other the left. These have a similar volume.

Are there old pairs among you or you are assigned juxtaposed absolutely randomly?

I guess, everybody can work with anyone together very well. There’s nobody who shouldn’t fly together. But of course there are some, who flew together more and like each other more. But there are no permanent pairs, it depends on the task who are appointed to fly together in the heli.

If I’m right, there is a female colleague.

Yes and she likes her job very much.

I thought it. This is not such a work which you choose when you don’t have a better idea, especially if you are a woman.

It’s always harder to be a soldier for them. Men have a different way of thinking. I guess, they must be lonely, but you should ask them. I respect Eva very much, she does a lot to get recognition in her work and she doesn’t come here to the squadron to flirt with pilots like other girls. And expectations are the same towards her.

What are your short and long term goals?

Flying as much as I can.

It is not a surprising information :-)

Yes, but even an ordinary man knows, that Hungarian pilots have never flown as much as their foreign colleagues. We need flight time very much. We can preserve our skills only with flying. It’s not like car driving, what you have learnt once and after 5 years omission you sit in and maybe you are uncertain a bit, but you can park beside the road. You cannot do it here. There are several points to make a fault, everything is so complex, so it doesn’t take for years by chance while a pilot is trained for this profession. If you miss some time, if you fly just a little, it would cost your life.

Update: Marcell executed cross-country flight on low height with a JAK-52 and his instructor, first lieutenant Péter Török on 3rd July. During the training flight, engine problems occurred – stalled several times. Thanks to their professional knowledge and composure, they could take back the aircraft to the base and executed an emergency landing without a damage of human life and technique. The defense minister honored Marcell and his instructor with the “for the Homeland” medal for their outstanding self-maintainment in October.
(It’s typical to the interviewee’s endless modesty, that I learnt this story not from him but the base communication officer.)