RAF Flying Competition

Sgt Tony Ayre representing the Force Development Training Centre (Gliding) RAF Halton won the first ever aerobatics competition held by the RAF Flying Clubs Association (RAFFCA) on 3 May 14 at RAF Cranwell.

Blessed with professional assistance from the British Aerobatic Association (BAeA) and fantastic weather, the day was a huge success.

After the morning brief the competitors assembled next to their allocated aircraft and instructor for the day’s challenge. With five aerobatic aircraft in use RAFFCA ran a slick operation with 22 competitors doing a 20 min free practice each, then a runthrough of a set sequence. This had to be performed in a small box of airspace (3,000ft to 1,500ft) and was marked for accuracy and positioning by the three judges from the BAeA. This practice did not count towards the final marks but Sgt Tony Ayre from RAF Halton was placed in the top spot. The second and final flight for each competitor was straight into the flying area with no practice and the same sequence was judged again by the BAeA. The day concluded with the honour of ACM (retd) Sir John Allison presenting the awards to the top three places.

Sgt Tony Ayre’s Perspective

Anxious at the thought of sleeping in, I woke up to realise it was still dark outside. The clock said 04:30 so I wished myself back to sleep, but it was no good, I was far too excited.

Arriving on the very quite airfield at first light I went through the aerobatic sequence again and again. Trying to remember the sequence and using what I had learnt with two short flights some years ago. It was a relief to see the first people arriving and we were all soon being briefed and allocated to an instructor and aircraft for the day.

Strapped in with the engine running I weaved along the taxi to check the route forward was clear, before beginning the practise run. Feeling honoured to do the take off, after not having flown a Pitt for over 10 years, I opened the throttle and in what seemed like seconds reached 3,000ft. Here I attempted each of the six manoeuvres, while my instructor, Simon, with the patience of a saint and nerves of steel, demonstrated and critiqued.

All too soon I was called to the box. Indicating to the judges my intentions with three wing rocks I felt far from confident. The first manoeuvre, a 270’ left turn, went well and then a 45’ down line, which once corrected by Simon felt more like 90’ down. Looking forward at the 12 o’clock position I was absolutely amazed to see the horizon level, the first time today I had got it right. With boosted confidence pulling out of the loop I looked left again and sat the Pitts on its back to enter the stall turn. Climbing away vertically on full throttle I patiently waited for the string on the end of the wing to wiggle, indicating me to initiate full left rudder and full right aileron. As we pirouetted around the left wing I was wide eyed, heading straight for the ground and quite stunned how smooth it felt.

While manoeuvring I became conscious of Simon hooting and roaring from the back, but too engrossed I pushed the stick hard left for the last manoeuvre. It was not until we were wings level that I realised he was expressing his amazement that I had put it all together. Nearly forgetting the final wing rocks we laughed and joked all the way downwind on a knifeedge to land. What an experience, I’d like to thank RAFFCA and the BAeA for making it all happen.

1st Sgt Tony Ayre
2nd Mark Thomas
3rd SAC Craig Emslie