Interview – Attack Helicopter Display Team Pilot

Thank you very much for your time. Please introduce yourself to our readers and tell us about your career in the Army Air Corps:

My name is Major Jim Trayhurn and along with Sergeant Mark Bowker we make up the display crew for the 2017 Attack Helicopter Display Team’s (AHDT) 2017 season. I joined the British Army in 2004 and after completing my Officer Training at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst I commissioned into the Army Air Corps (AAC). After a short attachment with the 1st Battalion, Grenadier Guards in Bosnia I started my Pilot’s Course in the early part of 2005. On the completion of the course I gained my ‘wings’ and I was selected to go straight onto the Apache Attack Helicopter. The training for that lasted for just over a year, after which I went straight out to Afghanistan for my first tour of duty on Operation HERRICK in 2007. I then completed a number of other operational tours of Afghanistan – the final one being in 2010. It was at this time that I was selected to be an Instructor; a qualification that is referred to as a Qualified Helicopter Instructor (QHI) in the UK Military. I completed the QHI Course in 2010 at which point I was posted to the Army Air Corps Centre (AACen) at Middle Wallop, Hampshire. Here I completed my Apache specific instructional training and taught on the conversion squadron up until the latter portion of 2013. It was at this point that I was posted back to the Attack Helicopter Force (AHF) at Wattisham, Suffolk. I was appointed as the Deputy Regimental Qualified Helicopter Instructor of 3 Regiment AAC. I stayed in that appointment for two years after which I was posted to 4 Regiment AAC as the Regimental Qualified Helicopter Instructor in 2015. I became involved with display flying whilst at Middle Wallop (they have a Role Demo for internal events at the Centre), so when I moved to Wattisham with the AHF I joined the Attack Helicopter in 2014. My time with the Team has seen me fill a number of appointments, from Commentator (2014), to Display Pilot (2015), Training Officer and Supervisor (2016) and now back as the Display Pilot, along with Sgt Mark Bowker, for the 2017 season.COPYRIGHT © AHDT – Credit on Photo

What is the Attack Helicopter Display Team? It’s likely that not many people know about it, so please introduce it to us.

The AHDT is made up of volunteers from the frontline Squadrons of 4 Regiment AAC which is one of the two Regiments in the AHF. The Team started in around 2008 down at the AACen, Middle Wallop, but was moved up to the AHF in around 2011. This brought a frontline focus to the Team which is reflected in our display routine. As it stands the AHDT is the only AAC Display Team (the Lynx stopped display flying in 2015) and is one of only two Display Teams in the Joint Helicopter Command (JHC) – the other being the RAF’s Chinook Display Team from RAF Odiham, Hampshire. As mentioned the Team are all volunteers which means this is a secondary duty for us all. We take time away from our frontline roles to man the Team for the season. I know I speak for all of them when I say it’s a real honour and privilege to be doing it on behalf of the British Army, JHC, the AAC and the AHF. Our aim is to entertain, educate people with our capabilities and hopefully inspire the next generation of service personnel with our involvement in numerous airshows around the country.COPYRIGHT © AHDT – Credit on Photo

What does the program looks like for the Attack Helicopter Display Team’s 2017 Season?

With both Regiments of the AHF being on readiness for operations, we have a busy schedule that involves exercises both for internal training and for wider Army and Defence needs. The AHDT programme rightly needs to fit within those primary tasks and so the modest schedule for this year which is published on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages, reflects how busy we are. Along with this the Team need to fit in some down time, and so that balance between work and home life needs careful management. I know from feedback on social media there is some frustration that we aren’t at certain shows. We can answer that by saying that of course we want to be at all the events throughout the season, but that’s just not possible. I know people will understand the balance that needs to be struck and ultimately the most important focus is our primary jobs in frontline Defence.

How many people are in the team?

The Team is current made up of 6 Military personnel along with our Engineers and Pyrotechnics experts. The roles vary from Officer in Charge (OIC), Display Supervisor and Commentator down to the Display Crew and Ground Crew. You can find more details out about the Team by visiting our social media sites:

Facebook: Attack Helicopter Display Team
Twitter: @apachedisplay
Instagram: attack_helicopter_display_team
COPYRIGHT © AHDT – Credit on Photo

Do you perform with other jets or helicopters as well?

The Team is primarily a solo aircraft display. We did do a pairs routine in 2015 which proved to be very popular, but due to the constraints listed above, this will be very difficult to repeat in the future. That being said, there are a lot of advantages to a solo routine – a smaller real-estate required, quicker manoeuvres, more pyrotechnic potential to name but a few; rest assured we’ve made sure that we’ve incorporated all those advantages into this year’s routine.

Which events will the Team being displaying at for the 2017 Season?

We’ve only a modest schedule, but we’ve made sure that we are attending the bigger events on the UK calendar. That means we are at shows like the IWM Duxford, RAF Cosford, RNAS Yeovilton’s Air Day, The Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT), RAF Fairford and Dunsfold Wings and Wheels. We are also attending a number of internal Families’ Days at MOD establishments – we think it’s important to give back to our military and civilian families.

The team is well known for using pyrotechnics, tell us more about that?

We started using pyrotechnics in 2013 at the Manston Airshow and it’s grown from there. We’ve been hugely lucky to be working with Event Horizon (www.precisionenergetics.co.uk). Their team are first rate and have a vast variety of experience in movie special effects and other sectors of civilian engineering and Defence. We’ve built a great relationship with the guys, who along with our engineers, are such an important part of the Team.
Pyrotechnics are becoming more and more popular on the display ‘circuit’ and having incorporated them into our routine for a number of years, their use receives very positive feedback from the general public, not to mention the brilliant photo opportunities.
Our display routine is broken down into three phases with the first portion of the display using pyrotechnics to demonstrate the capabilities of both the aircraft and the weapon systems. For the middle section, we demonstrate the manoeuvrability of the aircraft before moving into the final portion which uses more pyrotechnics including our famous ‘wall of fire’ at the end of the routine. It must be said that we pride ourselves in putting on a full show. Part of that is obviously the pyrotechnics, but is also our commentary – we feel this is a hugely important part of the show and we hope we pass on the right balance of facts and information along with interesting anecdotes drawn from the experience of the Team.COPYRIGHT © AHDT – Credit on Photo

Who decides which shows you can perform at?

JHC receive all the requests from the show organisers. That list is then sent to us and we look at the dates and our forecast of events (FOE) to deconflict our work calendar with the display schedule. As we’ve mentioned a balance is struck with our frontline role always taking the priority.

One of the other Apache Display team is the one from the Netherlands. You guys know each other, are you in contact in some way?

We do see the Dutch Apache crews around the shows on occasion; they mainly tend to display at the bigger UK shows if they can. We think their work is first rate and I have worked with them on Operations in Afghanistan on a couple of occasions. There is also a Greek Apache Display that we’ve seen on YouTube and I was involved with the training of the Singaporean Air Force Apache Display.COPYRIGHT © AHDT – Credit on Photo

Does the team have many fans?

We are only a small Team, so clearly we won’t have as many fans/followers as our colleagues in the bigger teams like the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team (RAFAT), better known as the ‘Red Arrows’. That’s to be expected as they are a full-time team. That being said, we have a loyal group of fans who are really supportive and upload great photos throughout the season. If you’d like to follow us, our details are in the answers above.

Any favourite helicopters besides the Apache?

Of course not! I couldn’t possibly be disloyal about the aircraft that has kept me (and many others) safe over 11 years of flying it – both in peacetime and on operations. But in all seriousness, it really is a great product and rightly deserves its status as the best Attack Helicopter in the world. As a Force, we are looking forward to getting the new AH-64E which will only further that huge capability.

What is your opinion about the Mi-24 Hind?

I haven’t flown or operated the aircraft so I’m not really equipped to respond to that question with any authority other than to say it’s had a long successful service and I’d love to have a chance to fly it. The 2016 Team flew with a Czech MI-35 at the Berlin Airshow which I know they enjoyed.

Let’s say you can choose an airshow to show the capability of the Apache. Which one would it be?

That totally depends on your intentions. If you’re trying to sell the product, then I’d suggest it would need to be either RIAT or the Farnborough Airshow purely for the amount of ‘industry’ and VIPs who attend those events. If it’s to impress the general public, then we hope we do that at all the shows we attend.COPYRIGHT © AHDT – Credit on Photo

As a member of the Army Air Corps, what is your normal work routine?

The Team is made up of frontline pilots, ground crew and engineers from 4 Regiment AAC. We are always training both on the ground and in the air. The level of that training varies from internal training to working on large multi-national exercises. We are posting our activities (where we can) on social media to give our fan base a feel for our jobs. On a personal level as the Regimental Qualified Helicopter Instructor, I’m the Chief Flying Instructor of the Regiment, so I’m responsible to the Commanding Officer for all aspects of flying training and standards, supervision and flight safety.

Is there a best moment with your time as part of the AHDT?

There are a few memories that stick out for me. I think your first display is always an important one; there are always nerves involved regardless of your experience, but nothing like before your first display! Being part of the first ever Apache pairs display was a real highlight and challenge. Finally, I’d say that displaying at the Red Bull Air Race at Royal Ascot Racecourse in 2015 was a real highlight for me – mainly because of the setup but also for the atmosphere. The fact that the show was at a racecourse on the western outskirts of London meant there were huge amounts of constraints. This meant for some challenging but hugely rewarding flying. I’m sure the 2017 will give the Team and I some great memories and we are thoroughly looking forward to the season.

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

On behalf of the Team, I’d like to thank our supports for their loyalty and feedback. It’s a real privilege to be displaying such a great aircraft on behalf of the British Army, JHC, the AAC and the AHF. Bring on the summer!

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