Interview – Captain Darko Belančić, Leader of Krila Oluje

First of all thank you very much for your time, please introduce yourself to our readers and tell us about your career in the Croatian Air Force and Air Defence (Hrvatsko ratno zrakoplovstvo i protuzračna obrana).

Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to say a few words about myself and about the Croatian Air Force Aerobatic Display Team “Wings of Storm“ (Krila Oluje). I graduated at the Zadar Air Base in 2007 at the age of 24. As the Zadar AB is a Training Squadron, very soon I got an opportunity to become flight instructor. The same year when I graduated as an FI I became official speaker for the Aerobatic Display Team and started flying with the ”Wings of Storm” at the airshows. Four years later, in late 2014, I took the training for an Aerobatic Display Team pilot and in 2015 I entered the Team. In 2017 I became Team Leader as the former Leader resigned after a long and brilliant career.COPYRIGHT © Croatian Air Force

Tell us about the “Wings of Storm” Aerobatic Display Team.

The “Wings of Storm” are the sole aerobatic display team in Croatia. Our first official display was in August 2005 in a 4-aircraft formation. By the end of the year, the team grew to a 5-ship formation and from 2009 we are flying as a 6-ship formation. Given that PC-9 is not a particularly loud aircraft or fast, or particularly attractive, we saon realised that in order to gain the public’s interest we had to be attractive and professional. That is why we always trying to upgrade our display. During our short career, we have managed to put some very eye-catching and even unique maneuvers to our display like the formation “stall turn”, the “spin” and “triple mirror” (also known as “Dia”).

The team flies the PC-9, tell us about it? Is it easy to fly, do you like flying it?

Pilatus PC-9 is an excellent aircraft. It is very responsive and agile but on the other hand, very stable from minimum to max speeds. 950 HP give us enough power to perform the elements but with certain adjustments. The biggest challenge is a propeller that creates a lot of momentum. Each power-setting change or speed change requires constant rudder adjustments to keep the aircraft stable and without yawing. It means that in a simple loop we go from applying a left rudder when entering the loop, right rudder at the top point and then again left to keep the aircraft stable during the speed increase. And all of that has to be synchronised so that people on the ground don’t see those changes.

You have been promoted to the Team Leader position this year; please describe your job at the position, what are your tasks?

Being a Team Leader just adds more reasonability. From the pilot’s aspect, the Team Leader has the additional responsibility to lead the group in a way to help them maintain their position. As you go further away from the leader position towards outside positions, the responsibility decreases but the flying technique is getting more difficult. So, they are working hard to maintain the position, and I am concerned because I have to keep everything under control by checking the situation and by adjusting our display accordingly so that everything looks good from the ground. From a non-flying aspect, it just means a huge pile of paperwork and lots of phone calls in order to prepare and organise everything for the season.

When does the team start training for the season?

Usually, we start in late winter and the beginning of spring. The weather gets better, and it leaves us enough time to prepare for the PDA and the season.

Who decides what programme the team will fly? Is it a Team’s decision, or is one person to decide?

The decision is made by the pilots but everybody can suggest something and we definitely take it into consideration. Until 2015, we were always changing something to keep the display interesting, but as of 2015, we had so many changes in the Team regarding the organisation of the season that we decided not to change anything with the display, but to use the approved flying hours to polish the existing elements. And it paid off at SIAF this year, where we got the Award for the Most Precisely Performed Display. But now, we feel ready and we are thinking about upgrading some elements in the Season 2018.

How many people help the team on the ground?

Since we are not a separate squadron with dedicated aircraft and logistics, but we are all flight instructors that “occasionally” fly displays too, we do not have any logistics and the aircraft we use are those used daily for pilot training. It is just six of us plus the Official Speaker and the Advisor/Spare aircraft pilot.

The team won The Trophy of the Flight Director for Most Precisely Performed Display at SIAF this year and in 2016 at RIAT, the King Hussein Memorial Sword for the best overall flying demonstration. The Team must be very proud.

Winning any award is always amazing but both awards are very special for us for other reasons. In 2015, when all six pilots from the previous team resigned, the “Wings of Storm” faced a difficult time. In just a few months, through hard training and dedication, we managed to regroup and we had our first display. But unfortunately, a stigma of being a substitute and not “the real thing” was still out there. RIAT 2016 was, for the most part of the team, a first international display, and to win such a significant award at such a respected airshow was just too good to be true. Winning the award also confirmed that the flying and training quality of our pilots remained at a high level. SIAF, on the other hand, was the same thing but scaled down. It was my first season as a team leader, and we had two additional position changes in the Team as well. Winning the award actually helped us realise that we were on the right track and that we just needed to continue so.COPYRIGHT © Krila Oluje Display Team

Who decides on where, at which air shows the Team will perform?

Usually, our HQ issues the plan for the next year very early, even before most of the airshows are confirmed. I have to do a survey to check which airshows are scheduled for the next year, and which of them are within our reach. I combine that information with all the invitations that we receive by then and send everything to our HQ for the final decision.

The “Wings of Storm” are ambassadors of Croatia, are you aware of that during airshows, that you also represent Croatia and the Croatian Air Force?

We are aware that we represent Croatia and Croatian Air Force wherever we go, and we always try to be as professional as possible. Whether we are flying, or just filling and sending the paperwork. Still, during the display we try not to overstress ourselves by thinking about that too much. We just try to do our best.

How can a pilot become a member of the team? I presume he needs some flight hours first.

Given that we are all flight instructors with a primary job of training young students to fly, we have the chance to observe all the students develop from the early stage, and already there we can see if the student is capable of flying in the display team. But, flying is only one side of the medal. Personality, teamwork and professionalism play a huge role. There is also a minimum of flying hours required and flying grades as well.

Which airshow/flypass you liked best during your career?

I have so many good memories and experiences from many airshows and it is very difficult for me to choose only one. RIAT 2016 and SIAF 2017 will definitely stay very high on my personal list and I will definitely remember those two for a lifetime.

What are the reactions after a sequence on the ground from the audience?

People on the airshows are always full of encouragement and good words. Other pilots even more. I always think that the worst critique comes from ourselves while, everybody else is always supportive.

Where can the fans find the Team, any website?

All the information about the team can be found on our official website and on our unofficial Facebook fan page Akrobatska Grupa “Krila Oluje”/ ”Wings of Storm” display team as well.

Any plans now for the year 2018? What can you say?

We have some ideas for the next season but as the HQ is still in a process of making a plan, I cannot say anything in advance. However, we expect to have two to three international displays and around 25 displays in Croatia.

Personally which international display teams you like?

I watched quite a number of display teams during my career and I have to say that I’m a big fan of the “European style” of flying, a balanced ratio between the elements done for the audience and the elements for the eyes of the pilots. But if I have to choose, I would say my top two are the ”Frecce Tricolori” and the “Red Arrows”.

When you go to airshows, do you meet with the other teams?

We do. That was a tradition way before we joined the team and we have always tried to continue the good relations. Display teams always hang around together. This year the “Frecce Tricolori” and the “Red Arrows” visited us in our home base, which will hopefully become a tradition as well.COPYRIGHT © Krila Oluje Display Team

If you could choose an airshow to perform with the team, which one would it be?

PC-9 is an amazing aircraft but it has its limitations and does not allow us to go too far. If I could choose, I would like us to go somewhere beyond our reach, such as like Dubai.

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

Thank you for supporting us and I wish you and your readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.