FIREFLIES 2019 SEASON REVIEW
What a year it’s been! 2 completely repainted aircraft, an engine overhaul and 30 displays performed at 13 events. We welcomed and trained 3 new pilots to the team and this year saw our first appearances at Sanicole Airshow, Cleethorpes, Swansea, Swanage Carnival, and Harwich. It’s been busy!
The first few months were taken up by some fairly sizeable engineering tasks, including a top-end engine overhaul on one of our aircraft. Both machines were completely stripped of their previous paint schemes, dismantled, prepped, repainted and reassembled. This represented around 1000 hours of labour over the winter and having incurred some delays, sadly meant we missed the first couple of airshows in 2019.
With the work finished, maintenance flights and paperwork all completed, we were excited to perform at the last ever Wings & Wheels at Dunsfold, albeit saddened by the loss of a great event. As well as flying for the FireFlies at Dunsfold, Andy flew the P47 Thunderbolt and Jon displayed the Hawker Hurricane in a fitting tribute to close the show.
In amongst the displays, hard work was going on in the background to design and wrap the aircraft with a new livery. During this process we also had to move our base. A huge thank you to those who were so generous in helping with this process and providing us temporary accommodation.
Our three new pilots, Nigel Reid, John Dodd and Jon Corley all committed large amounts of time to learn the skills required to fly with us. They are all extremely accomplished pilots but flying relatively small aircraft in close formation aerobatics with fixed pitch propellers and therefore limited power, takes some getting used to! Never-the-less, they all rose to the challenge and performed daytime and evening pyro shows. The summary from all of our new pilots, many of whom have flown a variety of iconic aircraft, was that it was hugely demanding but the most awesome experience to fly with pyrotechnics streaming from their wing-tips.
Swansea kindly welcomed us to their show for the first time this year and as a first for them, they offered an evening pyrotechnic show on the Saturday, which we understand was well received. Jon G and Andy flew this display in the FireFlies and for Ultimate Warbird Flights in the Spitfire and Buchon. A busy weekend!
Bournemouth Air Show is always a favourite show of ours. This year, it involved 7 displays over 4 days. 4 of the 5 pilots were involved this time, with Andy and Jon G flying in the “Ultimate Fighters” display team, the majority of the flying fell to Nige, John Dodd and Jon Gowdy. None of this would be possible without the work of Tom Everitt who kindly gives up his time to organise the logistics, pyrotechnic wiring, smoke oil and consumables. The highlight - flying in formation with a Spitfire for one of the evening displays! Does it get any better than this?
The leading and following rolls are hugely different skill sets. The roll of leading is all about being smooth and predictable, managing the energy, taking account of the wind effects and ensuring the safe conduct of the formation’s flight. All of this whilst actioning manoeuvres with radio calls, instructing pyrotechnic events and smoke. The following roll involves huge levels of trust (in the leader) and accurate flying to ensure you are in exactly right place with the right amount of energy at the right time. Nige, as a huge credit to his abilities, performed several displays in each of the lead and following rolls this year – no mean feat!
Sunderland was unfortunately marred with bad weather, but it always amazes us just how many people turn up to watch an airshow even when it's drizzling! We did manage 2 out of the three displays this year, although it did involve us abandoning the aircraft there and driving all the way back down to the south coast on the Sunday evening!
Having completed our last display of the 2019 at the end of November in Harwich, work now continues throughout the winter to ensure the aircraft are ready for the demanding season that lays ahead in 2020.
The administrative processes continue as well. Every 3 years each pilot has to attend a 2-day seminar to refresh the multitude of complex regulations, as well as home-study to keep up to speed with the Civil Aviation Authority’s ever changing set of rules. Additionally there is a lot of work discussing displays with Event Organisers and of course agreeing the forthcoming season’s commitments! We also spend time looking carefully at the aircraft and performing the annual maintenance inspections.
During the season, we lost a great friend. Tom Castle kindly helped us out in many ways including ferrying one of our aircraft to Swansea Airshow. We have no doubt that one day he would have made a great display pilot - such a tragic loss, particularly as he was so young. You are sorely missed Tom.
With the 2019 season now behind us, we would like to say a huge thank you to all of the event organisers for welcoming us at your shows, to the teams that coordinate the flying displays (especially TSA Consulting and R5 Air Displays amongst others), to our pilots for their time and the pilot’s families for their understanding! A huge thank you to Tom Everitt for all of his help this year. Claire and Katie do a lot behind the scenes, preparing pyrotechnics and consumables, as well as coordination much of the admin and logistics, so a huge thanks to them too! Our greatest thanks goes to Adrian Brook, our good friend and our engineering inspector.
Finally, a massive thank you to our followers and to the millions of people who turn out to support local airshows. Whether it’s to join the 840,000 spectators at Bournemouth Airshow or visiting a much smaller event, we are thankful for your participation – without you, we would not be able to continue our passion in performing these shows.
Shows performed at this year:
Dunsfold Wings and Wheels
Cleethorpes Armed Forces Day
Wales National Airshow (Swansea)
Bournemouth International Air Festival
Plus a couple of private events
Photos above are either our own or those taken by the superbly talented Paul Johnson of Flightline UK!
We wish you a Happy New Year and look forward to seeing you at an airshow in 2020!