Interview – Leader of the Swiss Air Force PC-7 TEAM

I am Captain Cyril „Johnny” Johner and I will be the leader of the Swiss Air Force PC-7 TEAM starting from April 2017. I have been flying with the PC-7 TEAM since 2011, on the positions TURBO TRE (left inner wing) and TURBO CINQUE (left outer wing). My overall military flight experience is more than 2000 hours, which I have flown on the Pilatus PC-7, Pilatus PC-21 and F/A-18.COPYRIGHT © Swiss Air Force

Tell a little to our readers about the PC-7 TEAM.

Dynamic, elegance and precision – this is our slogan! Corresponding to this byword, we have thrilled large crowds in Switzerland and abroad for the past 28 years and – as ambassadors for Swiss values – we have represented the Swiss Air Force and the Swiss Armed Forces year after year. The PC-7 TEAM sparks enthusiasm, creates thrills, appeals to different senses, awakens the dream of flying and gives information about military aviation. In the 2017 season, the PC-7 TEAM will see a few personnel changes: As the new leader, following six seasons in the TRE and CINQUE positions, I will now fly as UNO at the head of the PC-7 TEAM. And a warm welcome to our three new team members, who will fly in the DUE, TRE and QUATTRO positions!

My tasks as leader include guiding the team in the air and choreographing our displays, which may be compared to the job of a film director. The 2017 programme features an elegant beginning: large, impressive formations, precise changes within seconds, eye-catching smoke and a soundtrack that has been especially composed for us, bringing out the beauty of formation aerobatics at the highest level. Our commentators skilfully guide the eyes of the spectators through the programme flown in the sky. Launched by the attractive «Winkelried-split», the show then picks up speed, with the subteams and soloists flying their fascinating showpieces and precise manoeuvres. In the final part, we reunite in a large, elegant formation. Following the next highlight where the soloist crosses the closed tunnel – a spectacular and unique move developed by the PC-7 TEAM – we usually close our show with the «Finale Grande».COPYRIGHT © Swiss Air Force

How often does the team train, and when do you start the season training?

The PC-7 TEAM commences its season with a two week training course in spring. The first week traditionally will take place in Locarno, in the mountainous southern part of Switzerland, whereas the second week will be in Dübendorf close to Zurich. Thereafter we don’t have regular trainings but we always perform one to two on site trainings at the different display locations before the shows.

How can a pilot become a PC-7 TEAM member?

You can not apply for the PC-7 TEAM but we will pick our pilots from the professional aviator’s corps of operational F/A-18 pilots. Furthermore, we are in the very privileged situation that we can even choose our commander ourselves! This liberty and mutual trust is the key to success for safe and exciting air displays.COPYRIGHT © Swiss Air Force

What do you do, when you don’t fly with the PC-7 TEAM? How does for example a week look like for you?

All pilots flying with the PC-7 TEAM are operational F/A-18 squadron pilots and flight instructors, either on our front line jet or on the Pilatus PC-7 or the PC-21. We are normally engaged in our tasks as squadron pilots or instructors from Monday until Thursday. Then we reunite on Friday to fly an on-site training with the PC-7 TEAM before displaying on Saturday or Sunday. We are very happy to have the privilege to be both operational squadron pilots and display pilots.

How was the 2016 season altogether? Where did the team perform?

Our season 2016/2017, which ended in February with two air displays during the alpine ski world championship and ski world cup, was a very successful and intense one. One highlight of the season was our air display during the opening ceremony of the Gotthard railway tunnel, the longest railway tunnel of the world. Further highlights were our first show in Scotland at East Fortune as well as our display in Zeltweg, Austria, during Airpower 2016. However we were very shocked by the severe incident at the end of our season in St. Moritz, where one of our planes hit a cable. We are very grateful that nobody was hurt and are looking forward to the findings of the ongiong safety investigation.

What plans does the PC-7 TEAM have for 2017? Any info you can tell?

The main focus in 2017 will be the introduction of our three new pilots, TURBO DUE, TRE and QUATTRO. We therefore will have only minor changes with regard to our programm and aim for a safe and exciting air display made in Switzerland.

The PC-7 is not a new aircraft type in the Swiss Air Force. Any plans you can share, will the team change to a new type in the future?

There are no such plans for the moment.

The PC-7 TEAM regurarly performs together with the other Swiss demo team and solo display as well. How often you train together?

We always are very eager to be able to show something new to the public. Therefore we will also try to put up some mixed displays this season. These mixed displays are always briefed in detail and executed very carefully, so there is no need for any additional training.

During airshows, does the PC-7 TEAM try to make contact with the other foreign demo teams? During this time do you change experience, ideas?

We are always looking forward to meeting our friends from other display teams and to see how their programs are flown. The sharing of experience is always very interesting and vital for the whole community.

Can you remember any “best” memory from your career as a PC-7 TEAM member?

I especially enjoyed flying the combined display of the PC-7 TEAM together with Patrouille Suisse at the Air14 in Payerne. The crowd was thrilled and so were we when the Patrouille Suisse crossed through our tunnel!

Does the PC-7 TEAM have a big number of fans?

We hope to increase the number of fans from day to day. That is one of our drivers to give our best for a safe and entertaining air display!

Any favourite demo team you like in Europe?

I am personally a fan of the Red Arrows as they have the same number and color of aircrafts and are always performing a precise and professional air display!

If one day, the Swiss Air Force would say: the PC-7 TEAM could fly at any airshow around the world, which one would you choose?

As we have no sea and beaches in Switzerland, I would personally be thrilled to perform a sunset show on a beautiful mediterranean island with an enthusiastic crowd!

Thank you! Any final words to our readers?

I hope to see a lot of you at our displays in 2017!