Interview Belgian Victors Demo Team

Thank you for your time. Please introduce yourself to our readers and tell us what planes you have flown during your years?

My name is Emmanuel „Manu” De Craene and I am the flight lead” Victor 1” and one of the founders of formationteam The Victors. I retired three years ago from the Belgian Air Force as Lieutenant-Colonel. During my military career, I was an officer Air Defence Controller and flew 10 years on board the NATO AWACS, both as Fighter Controller and Mission Commander. During this military career, I started flying myself to obtain my commercial pilot licence. During my civil flying career I flew, besides training aircraft, the Cessna 404 in aerial surveillance flights, the Embraer 121 Xingu, the King Air B200 and the PC 12 for an airtaxi company. Beside this, I am also an active flight instructor in VFR, IFR and Multi-engine. I totalised 3600 hrs as civilian pilot besides my 4200 hrs on board the NATO AWACS.

The The Victors is probably not well known outside of Belgium. Tell us a bit of the Team.

The team was founded in 2004. After a navigation flight, three pilots (Manu, Luc and Frankie) joined up to perform a formation flight. As none of us had a military piloting career, this was rather new. We started looking for more information with other civilian and military team to improve our formation flying skills. In 2006, we participated for the first time at the Belgian Air Force airshow in Koksijde. This was the real start of the team. In the next years, we added some pilots and others left the team. During some years, we flew occasionally displays with 5 aircraft. The team is also ambassador of the B67 work group. B67 is the name given by the RAF for a second worldwar airfield that was also situated next the current Nato reserve aerodrome from which we operate. The old B67 airfield was at the end of the Second worldwar used by the RAF in the liberation of the city of Antwerp. Therefore we also perform a lot of remembrance flights performing a missing man formation, accompanied by a bagpiper on the ground, playing „amazing grace” during the flight pass. Formationteam The Victors has, in the mean time, performed over 130 displays.

How many people are there in the Team?

Our team consists of 6 pilots in total and a support team . We provide a display with 4 aircraft and have two spare pilots. So, beside Victor 1, we still have 5 additional pilots. Victor 2: The deputy flight lead is Luc De Smet. Luc does not have an aeronautical career, but works as a technician on huge harbour cranes. Luc started his flying intrests with aircraft modelling, but wanted finally to fly himself. Luc flies also the Yak 52, the acrosport and the Bulldog. Luc has 1600 hrs. Victor 3: The Element lead is Rick De Smet. Rick is the son of Luc. Rick is an engine engineer for the CFM56 engine at SNECMA in Brussels. He has been flying the Piper 28 A for about 10 years with a total of 400 hrs. Victor 4: The deputy element lead is Steven Taildeman. Steven is a professional train conductor, but he loves to combine his professional job with flying. Steven obtained his Commercial Pilot licence and his Flight Instructor rating. Steven is an active flight instructor at our homebase Ursel (EBUL). He has been flying also the DA40 and DA42 and the Evektor Sportstar. He totalised 1000 hrs. Victor 5: Our first spare is Freek Van Hyfte. Freek is an airline pilot, flying currently for Cathay Pacific on the B777. Freek has already been flying the Fokker 50, the Airbus 320, the Boeing 737 and the Boeing 747. Besides his professional flying career and being also the secretary of formationteam The Victors, Freek is also an active flight instructor at the Aeroclub Ursel. Freek already totalised over 10000 hrs; Victor 6: Our second spare is Matthias Schmidt. Mattias is also a professional pilot, flying currently the Bombardier Global Express. Matthias has previously also been flying the Citation Jet and the Falcon 7X. He totalised already 2000 hrs. Manu and Luc were 2 of the 3 founders of formationteam The Victors in 2004. Next to the pilots, we also have a support team, mainly consisting of the wifes and girlfriends of the pilots. Additionally, we also have a commentator accompanying us to the different airshows. The Godfather of the team is a famous Belgian actor Lucas Van Den Eynde.

Do you get invitations from other countries? If so, which airshow you attended in the past?

Yes, we have already performed displays abroad. In 2011, we participated at the Slowak International Air Fest in Sliac, Slowakia. The year after, we performed a display in the Netherlands (Beek-Maastricht). In 2014, we performed at the airshow in Helsinki, Finland.

Any airshow you will fly in 2016 outside of Belgium?

In 2016, we will participiate at the Poznan Airshow during the last weekend of May.

The Belgian Air Component will mark it’s 70th anniversary. Will the Team fly at Florennes?

Since 2006, we have not missed one airshow of the Belgian Air Component, so we are hoping to participate this year as well.

Any personel favourite airshow the Team flown?

One of the most preferred airshows we have flown was Helsinki. But, this year, we will be participating for the 10th time at the International Airshow Sanicole in Belgium. This is certainly one of the best airshow in Europe and we are very proud to participate and fly there. Last year, more than 30000 people gathered to watch us flying. This is amazing when you can perform for such a huge public.

How the Team decides which airshow you go?

The decision is taken together. As I am also the chairman, I gather the information and make the coordination. As we are working beside our flying for the formationteam, we have to make sure that we are all available to participate at the selected airshows. However, when we know this well in advance, we can all easily free-up ourselves to make sure that we can fly.

How do you prepare for a season, deciding what program to fly?

A display season starts in February. Then we meet for the first time after the winterstop. During this meeting, we decide on the new display for that year. All manoeuvers are closely looked at to make sure that there are no conflicts or safety issues. Once the display is decided, we start training again in March. We always try to be ready by mid May with the display. The flying season for the team ends in October. In November, we all come together for our annual meeting with all pilots and support team where we look at the past season and what can be corrected or changed for the next season.

What are the reactions from the people after they see your program?

Most people that fly a PA28, as this is a very common training aircraft, know that flying this aircraft in formation is not as easy as it looks and that for two reasons. The PA28 is only a 160 horse powered aircraft with a steering wheel (and so not a stick). This makes the manoeuvres a little more difficult to fly and with he low horse power, you have to plan your display close to public area and make sure that during all the time the formation stays compact. Additionally, the cockpit layout is not ideal for formation flying as you cannot see on top or above you. Therefore the spectators appreciate this show, although we can not fly aerobatic, but especially for the nice tight formation we try to present. Also, every year we try to bring something new. What it will be for 2016, I shall not tell, but I would say; Come and watch.

Where can the people see the Team in 2016?

Beside Poland, we will be seen at the Air Force show in Florennes, Ursel Avia event (2-3 July) at our home airfield. Militaria fair Wings and Wheels (13-14 August, Ursel), Sanicole airshow Belgium (9-11 September). We are still in coordination for additonal displays of which one in the United Kingdom. Beside these airshows, we have also already been invited to fly some remembrance flights.

Thank you for your time. Any final words to our readers?

Thank you very much for the intrest in our team and we certainly hope to participate once at an airshow or air event in Hungary. If you want to read more on our team, please do not hesitate to visit our website.