Interview – Chinook Display Team

Thank you very much for your time, please introduce yourself to our readers and tell us about your pilot career in the RAF.
I’m Flight Lieutenant Stuart Kynaston, and I am the 2018 Chinook Display Captain. The display captain is a one year duty, and I’m very lucky to have been selected for the Royal Air Force’s centenary year. I’ve been in the Royal Air Force for ten and a half years, and joined the Chinook Force in 2011. Since then I’ve flown all over the world, including four operational tours to Afghanistan, training exercises across Europe and America, and even exercises conducted from afloat on warships.

When looking at the Chinook helicopter, one would not tell how manoeuvrable it is, especially after watching a video of the display. 
I know! It’s incredible how such a large helicopter can be flown so dynamically, and it’s down to the fantastic design of the Chinook. As it doesn’t have a tail rotor, all the power is available to the main rotors, giving us an increased amount of lifting power compared to conventional helicopters. It’s really responsive to the controls, and it’s easy to forget just how much helicopter is behind the cockpit when you’re flying it. The display routine demonstrates some dynamic manoeuvres that we would utilise on the battlefield, and it’s easy to see why the Chinook is in huge demand everywhere we deploy.

Will the Chinook Display Team have a special paint scheme for the 2018 season? 
Air Command at RAF High Wycombe has controlled all activities of this nature in relation to the 100th anniversary of the Royal Air Force. They have decided to apply a small ‘RAF100’ logo to the back of the aircraft but otherwise maintain the normal colour scheme. We would love to paint an aircraft in a bespoke scheme, although even when we have in the past, engineering requirements often lead us to fly different airframes throughout the season so we can rarely guarantee that they are used at displays.

How many people are in the team, including ground crew? 
As the captain it will always be me handling the aircraft during the display. Joining me in the cockpit I will have a co-pilot, and there are two on the team this year. They will alternate throughout the season, displaying roughly half each. Their role is to ‘patter’ the aircraft parameters so that I can remain ‘heads out’ throughout the display sequence; they provide a running commentary of height, speed, angles of pitch and bank, all to ensure that I remain within the limits for the display.

In the cabin of the aircraft I will have one crewman during each display. There are three on the team this year, and much like the co-pilots, they will take it in turns each weekend. Their role during the display is to assist with the lookout and positioning of the aircraft, monitor aircraft systems, as well as giving the crowd a wave from the ramp with the big orange hand.

On the ground we have the manager, who is responsible for the team administration such as booking hotels, sorting travel plans to ensure everyone is in the right place, collating a display venue’s risk assessments and paperwork, and he also provides the commentary during the display routine. The final member of aircrew is the supervisor, who monitors the team throughout the season to ensure that they remain safe and within the regulations, as well as monitoring fatigue as the season goes on.

Our ground crew come from a pool of approximately twenty volunteers, with six or seven travelling to each display venue throughout the season. The engineering team is headed up by two lead engineers, who will do alternate weekends.

As you can see, it becomes quite a large team to support the Chinook Display, and it’s all made up of volunteers.

The Display Team for the 2018 season, photo: RAF Chinook Display Team

How does someone become the Chinook Display Team pilot? Is there a selection? 
Members of the Chinook Display Team come from the front line squadrons at RAF Odiham each year. At the end of a display season, aircrew who are interested in being part of the next team are invited to volunteer to the Squadron Commander. He then chooses who he thinks the team should be, based on having flown with us all throughout the year. He’s looking for someone who is not only a capable Chinook operator, but also suited to engaging with the public at the airshows. Once he has made his selection, he then goes to the Station Commander for final approval, before the team is announced.

When did you start your display training, and where do you usually train?
The display training actually started last November, when I attended the Post Season Display Symposium. This is an event for both military and civilian display teams, where learning points and experiences from the previous season are shared, so that everybody can improve. The team then had a few months to read all the regulations and learn the sequence, which included ground briefing days with the 2017 team.

The flying only started towards the end of March, giving us roughly eight weeks to get the flying up to the high standard required to earn Public Display Authority. All being well, we will be granted PDA in the middle of May, which will authorise us to display at public venues around the UK and Europe.

Who decides which airshows the team flies at? 
Anybody who would like to have the Chinook come and display applies to Joint Helicopter Command (JHC). They collate all the bids and it’s then a combination of the team and JHC to work out what is feasible – we clearly can’t be in Scotland and Cornwall at the same time, so sometimes we have to choose one. The final decision lies with the Station Commander, who approves all of our shows.

Have you released a calendar for the 2018 season? Where are you going to display? 
We’re still in the final stages of confirming the 2018 display list, but we are expecting to start at the end of May, and do approximately 30 shows, ending at the start of September. The exact list is still not quite finalised, but you will definitely be able to see us at the big shows such as the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT), Bournemouth, Eastbourne and Sunderland. We’re hoping to confirm others very soon, though all shows are still provisional until we get to see the display areas and risk assessments.

The RAF will celebrate its 100th anniversary this year, which is a remarkable milestone. You and the team must be proud that you will be a part of it in some way. 
It is an enormous honour to be involved with the Chinook Display during the centenary year, and all of us are very proud to have been selected. To be part of the display team for this special year is very exciting, and there are lots of extra shows and opportunities ahead as a result.

Anything special for the 100th anniversary from the team? 
Although we don’t have a special colour scheme this year, we will be marking RAF100 with the busiest display season ever, enabling as many people as possible to see our display. We will also be spending as much time as possible on the ground at airshows, engaging with the public and interacting with our fans.

Any change in your program, or it will be the same from 2017? 
The display sequence will be mostly the same as the 2017, though there will be a couple of small changes to look out for. The main change this year is that we will be displaying a Chinook Mk6a for the first time, which is equipped with the digital automated flying control system. This gives us some excellent features such as position and velocity holds, and inertial height hold, which we building into the sequence where we can.

Do you perform alone during display? 
I’ve described already how we operate as a crew throughout the display, with three of us on board during the routine. We will always be a single aircraft though, as we don’t have a formation display team. Maybe that could be something for the future?!

Personally why do you think the Chinook Display Team is so well known in the UK? 
To me it’s a combination of a few factors. Firstly, the aircraft is immediately recognisable, and performs manoeuvres that people don’t expect it to be able to do. There is also a lot of public support for the Chinook Force due to the role it played deployed on operations to Afghanistan; there was a medical evacuation Chinook ready and waiting 24 hours a day to rescue injured personnel, and many owe their lives to the medical teams that the Chinook flew. The final thing for is that we are different. A jet display is loud and noisy and zooms past one way before coming back again, whereas the Chinook display is more varied, giving more opportunity for fans to see the aircraft close up.

When you are not performing as the pilot of the Display Team, what do you do in the Royal Air Force? What does a week look like in your life? 
Throughout the display season the whole team will be maintaining their front line capability. This will include our other flying disciplines such as night flying, but also all of our generic military training, to ensure that we can still be deployed at a moment’s notice should the need arise. There really isn’t a standard week at work for me, which is part of the joy of the job, but I can expect to fly once or twice, spend time doing the associated planning for those sorties, as well as look ahead to the next display. Night flying changes the routine, especially during the summer months.

Are you in contact with the other display teams in the UK? 
We have been speaking to the other teams most weeks since we took over as the 2018 team. Despite flying very different aircraft, the various teams can learn a lot from each other, and challenges we face may be equally applicable to the Typhoon Display Team, or they may already have solved them. The military display community is quite small, and we all get to know each other fairly quickly. The Red Arrows are the experts, as they are a full time team, and they are very good at sharing their knowledge to assist us in getting up to standard. We will also see the same people every weekend throughout the summer, so it makes a lot of sense to get in contact early.

Does the team have a webpage, where can people contact you? 
The Chinook Display Team has a website, as well as a Facebook page and a Twitter account. These are kept up to date throughout the season by various members of the team, and we’re hoping that people find the pages to be very interactive. We can’t answer every question that comes in, but we do try, and we are always very grateful for photographs taken of us as we display. The details are:
Twitter: @ChinookDisplay

If you could choose any airshow from the world to perform with the team, which one would it be?
I am very excited about displaying at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT), as it’s one of the biggest airshows in the world, and I used to go to it when I was younger. If teenage me had been told that one day I would be displaying there I wouldn’t have believed it! It would also be pretty amazing to display at Dayton, Ohio, which is widely regarded as the ‘birthplace of aviation’.

Thank you very much, any final words to our readers?
Thank you very much for taking an interest in the Royal Air Force Chinook Display Team – we are honoured to write for you. Unfortunately we won’t be displaying in Hungary during the 2018 season, but who knows, maybe one day. Don’t forget to follow us on social media to keep up to date the team’s news and we hope you have a great summer at your favourite airshows.