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Sunderland Airshow

You are in: Wear > Entertainment > Sunderland Airshow > Fly me to the moon

The Blades formation aerobatic display team

Top left plane is upside down, naturally

Fly me to the moon

Myles Garland is Blade 4. His day jobs involves flying an aeroplane, upside down, 12 feet from another one, hundreds of feet up in the air.

The Blades are a full time aerobatic display team made up of ex-RAF Red Arrows pilots. These days they do it commercially.

Upside down, looping the loop, tearing along in close formation, corporate clients can fly with them for about 1,400 per person. Be grateful if your work's team-building exercises only involve a flip chart and biscuits.

The Blades are accredited by the Civil Aviation Authority. Myles Garland, who flies Blade 4, describes their aircraft as "over engineered" to easily meet their requirements.

Apparently insurance and the duty of care is identical to a normal passenger airliner, except you'd hope you wouldn't end up upside down and plummeting towards the earth on a holiday jet.

Run over by a bus

Myles is very keen to stress how safe it is and how they don't go out of their way to court danger.

Of the likelihood of an accident, he says: "You're more likely to get run over by a bus. You could say that display flying is dangerous but then so's everything.

Myles Garland

Myles Garland - Blade 4

"Display flying in itself is more dangerous than lying in bed but you do everything you can to reduce that...the heritage, the training, the attitude that we approach it, minimises that risk almost to negligible."

They're careful who they let onto the team. They're all ex-Red Arrows for a start and, Myles says, there's a stringent selection procedure to get into that.

"It's definitely not someone that's out there to try and push the envelope, that's not what you're looking for at all. You're looking for someone that is probably fairly talented but fully appreciates the fact that pushing the envelope is not what is required. The skill is to make simple things look difficult."

Sunderland International Airshow

There are rules at airshows about how high you can fly and how close you can get to the crowd. The idea is to remove any risk for the spectators. Which is a relief.

The Blades love working at the Sunderland International Airshow, partly because the people are very friendly.

"Regardless of who you are and where you are there's always a great reception," says Myles.

"And the fact that, you know, it's such a huge crowd, everybody's there because they want to be there, it's great.

"It's the one that you want to really perform well at because you've got 200,000 people generally each day watching you."

The science bit

Once they're in the display season they fly so often they don't need to train. But, if it's winter or they have a new member of the team, they practise regularly.

The Blades performing a spit roll

The Blades performing a spit roll

One pilot does any new routine first, higher than normal so they have plenty of time to recover the situation if something goes wrong. Then they lower the heights and bring more planes into the equation.

Myles talks of trust: "You absolutely know the people that are around you and you know what they're going to do and every single manoeuvre that we fly has a briefed escape, so to speak.

"If something didn't go right, if there was a problem with the aircraft or you hit a bird, there's a specific way to leave the formation without causing upset or chaos to any other aircraft within the formation."

Myles points out that, if it's windy and turbulent, staying in the right place is ten times harder. They concentrate, he says, 110%.

But he's insistent there are no computers keeping the aircraft in the right place: "It really is just looking out the window, positioning your aircraft in the right place and doing your best to keep it there."

The "it" in question, for those who're interested or wanting to impress at parties, is an Extra 300 LP. Made in Germany by a company founded by Walter Extra with 300 horse power engines. It's certified to withstand + or -10G, which is pretty extreme. In their display The Blades will hit between -4 and +8.5/9G.

And all to entertain the crowds.

last updated: 25/07/2008 at 13:04
created: 11/07/2008

You are in: Wear > Entertainment > Sunderland Airshow > Fly me to the moon

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