Frequently Asked Questions
How do I book a display?You can book a display at any time, although the UK airshow season starts taking shape over the winter months, with most big shows booking their acts between Jan and March for the following summer. Generally British flying displays take place from May to October when the weather and light are more favourable for flying displays.
Smaller venues can often be fitted in enroute to other shows, and we regularly fly several displays in a day at venues as far away as Scotland, Cornwall and Central Europe. It is preferable to have a 300-400m long landing area for the glider adjacent to the display area, but not essential. We have pioneered a glider display we call our ‘seaside profile’, first flown at Bournemouth in 2008, the glider staying on aerotow for the whole flight. We have now performed this display at venues as diverse as the Windermere (Lake District), Sunderland, Eastbourne, Lowestoft, Southend and Barcelona (Spain).
For smaller venues, once you have expressed an interest in our display, our first task is to look at the display location and determine if any previous permissions have been granted. The CAA need to know details of the planned crowd position and public areas, car parks, the flying display area and also local contacts for the emergency services. Repeating a previous application is much easier than starting from scratch, which may require a site visit.
Once satisfied, the CAA will issue a permission to perform a public flying display. Included is often an exemption from the low flying rules, to permit the display nearer and lower than would otherwise be allowed. The CAA fee for a small event is currently £185 and the process takes a minimum of 28 days, sometimes longer. Regrettably this fee is not refundable.
If your event is a wedding, private party or event that is not open to the public then it is not always necessary to gain a permission from the CAA, if that is the case then there is then no CAA fee.
Once we have agreed which of our display profiles suits your event, we can confirm the booking with a 10% deposit.
Some useful documents are here:
- CAP403 - Flying Displays and Special Events
- SRG 1303: Flying Display Notification Form
- SRG 1304: Special Events and Unusual Aerial Activity - Application Form
- The CAA charges are listed here
How much does it cost?Regrettably we cannot provide free displays, however displays start from as little as £400 + VAT.
Many charity events and shows only survive with the goodwill of volunteers, and we like to think we can do our bit, by offering a unique aerial spectacle at a very competitive rate.
We have a pedigree of innovative and flexible solutions to most problems and have occasionally used local aircraft to reduce costs.
Do you need a special licence to do what you do?Yes - Our pilots hold flying licenses, medicals and a license from the CAA to perform public displays, called a Display Authorization (DA).
The DA describes what aircraft and what manoeuvres are authorised.
The aircraft must also be insured for airshow flying, and we have 3rd party liability cover for £7,500,000.
Tell me about NOTAMSNOTAM is an acronym of ‘Notice To Airmen’, a weekly list of unusual flying activity across the country produced by the CAA. Its just one way we keep safer as other pilots can avoid displays or events.
NOTAMs are issued for airshows and displays as part of the CAA application procedure by the Aerospace Utilisation Section (AUS). Their telephone number is 020 7453-6582.
The Red Arrows are unique and set up protective airspace around their display venues. Pilots who wander into the TRA (Temporary Restricted Airspace) are regularly prosecuted.
Some excellent independent websites now offer a map of current NOTAMs and protected airspace:
NATS own NOTAM plotting application by Skydemon is here.
Can I book a banner, like your airshows?We have teamed up with Simon Moores from AirAds which is one of the very best and most competitive banner tow agencies in the country. Simon has the experience to fly any banner – anywhere.
Is it dangerous?All flying carries a risk, and airshow flying has many different risks to other forms of flying. Our job is to understand the threats and risks and balance the performance with the dangers to deliver a safe but dazzling display.
It’s a well know motto amongst the airshow veterans that you don’t try anything new at airshows. The art of a good display is to keep the aircraft in front of the crowd, to fly with confidence and not to attempt the impossible.
Most of the dangers come not from the display but the transit to and from the venue. European weather can be fickle, and long distance journeys almost inevitably find bad weather, with low cloud, storms and rain all posing significant risks to our operation.
Where does the glider land?For airshows based on airfields or airports we normally land on the main runway, although we have also used aprons, taxiways and grass strips in the past. The glider is fairly manoeuvrable on the ground, and can usually vacate to ensure minimum runway occupancy time to keep the show schedule running smoothly.
For other venues, we can be as imaginative as you like and have landed in many fields, on sandy beaches, parkland and even a horserace track and motor-race circuit. The glider can be de-rigged into a trailer, so it is not necessary to be able to re-launch from the landing site.
If there is no safe place to land, then we can perform our acclaimed ‘seaside profile’, the glider performing the entire display on aerotow.
How do I learn aerobatics?Most pilots will learn some aerobatic manoeuvres as part of their basic training, both in gliders and powered aircraft. Aerobatics can be fun, but it is also important to be able to walk before you try and run. With this in mind, we do not recommend that you concentrate on aerobatics until at least solo. Learning aerobatics can be expensive, and it is important that a student can learn as much as possible with every flight with out getting bogged down in learning the basic flying skills.
Any British Gliding Association (BGA) instructor should be able to demonstrate the basic aerobatic manoeuvres in a glider. There is also an advanced instructor rating for those teaching manoeuvres like rolling and inverted flight.
Many display pilots have a grounding in competition flying. This teaches a disciplined approach to flying and will hone aerobatic flying skills, particularly the key skills of precision, repeatability and positioning. In many ways a small group of judges are just like a large crowd. They like to be wowed but not frightened, they recognize and reward confidant and accurate flying and prefer to see the aircraft nicely in front of them and never behind.
The British Aerobatic Association (BAeA) runs all aerobatic competitions in UK and is the envy of the World for its very structured approach to running events and developing pilots skills and confidence with mentors across the country.
Is it hard to roll-on-tow?Rolling gliders is a huge challenge. The long wingspan of most training gliders presents some unpleasant side effects of adverse yaw from the large ailerons and differential lift. A glider’s wing-section is optimised for soaring performance and this does not usually lend itself to working upside down for inverted flight.
The biggest difficulty to roll-on-aerotow is to keep the roll very smooth and the lateral movement of the glider to a minimum to not upset the tug and above all-else to keep the rope tight. It should go without saying that a very fast roll rate is necessary to make the roll-on-tow safe and repeatable, and we only use the Swift and Fox gliders for this manoeuvre.
The perfect technique took over 8 years to develop after trials with tow planes from Extra 300L to Supercub and a range of rope lengths. We found the secret to the manoeuvre is to limit the tow-speed and practice practice practice!
Is that a special aerotow rope?We have spent several years developing the ideal aerotow rope for our displays. The rope needs to be strong, lightweight, and show good resistance to UV light, water and abrasion.
Dyneema is a Polyethylene fibre rope developed in the Netherlands for yacht rigging. On a weight for weight basis, it is 15 times stronger than steel wire but also too rigid to use on its own and needs a length of shock absorbing nylon rope at the glider end.
The length of the rope is also critical. Too short and the aerotow gets more difficult, too long and it is harder to maintain rope tension whilst rolling.
The rope does windup during our roll-on-tow, but 10-15 twists over 49m of rope does not cause any problems.
There are weak-links on both ends of the rope, designed to shear at a known load in order to protect the tug and glider.
The ropes get maintained regularly and we owe debt of gratitude to Roger Bray of Southdown Gliding Club for his innovative solutions to keep our ropes in tip-top condition.
How much 'g' do you pull? and how fast do you go?Our gliders are capable of pulling up to 10g, a force equivalent to 10 x the force of gravity you will experience while watching us, with a top speed of 180mph. This is both uncomfortable and very inefficient. The drag on the glider will increase with greater speed and when a larger effort is required to create lift.
We try and fly a smooth and efficient display, and typically pull +5g/-3g and reach speeds up to 140mph (120kts).
What makes your wingtip smoke?Piston powered aircraft like our Pawnee tug generate smoke by injecting smoke oil into a hot exhaust. In a similar way, Jets like the Red Arrows create coloured smoke by spraying a mix of azo dye and diesel into the hot exaust gasses. In both cases the heat must be sufficient to vaporise the liquid, but not so hot as to burn.
The glider has no heat source, so we have to resort to pyrotechnics. The wingtip smoke is from a special ‘smoke candle’. The chemical formula is designed for stability and safety for ground handling and gives very consistent burn rate to provide 3-4 minutes of dense coloured smoke.
The nightFX pyrotechnics are also a special formula and a closely guarded secret.
I've won a competition prize for a trial lesson with gliderFX, what should I know?Firstly, please make sure you are available to take your trial lesson flight as specified in the competition. Very often such flights take place at an airshow venue, either before the airshow starts or in the late afternoon after display flights are completed.
Before flight, you will be asked to sign a declaration confirming that you are in good health and that you agree to these terms and conditions. A sample declaration can be found here.
How do I join the team?We are always pleased to hear from like-minded motivated individuals with above average flying skills and most importantly lots of spare time and a great sense of humour.
Airshows and display flying are not always glamorous, and there are many hours of work behind the scenes for every hour at an airshow.
I am building a model of an MDM Fox glider, can I copy your plane?We have several requests a year to take photographs and measurements from our display gliders. We are always very pleased to help. You can find us during our display work-up and training sessions in the spring or at airshows through the summer.
The logos and livery are constantly changing as we support different organisations and sponsors come and go.
For detailed plans of the Swift and Fox, please contact the manufacturer, Marganski & Myslowski Zaklady Lotnicze (Marganski & Myslowski Aviation Works).
What music to you play at your displays?We have an airband radio in the glider for communication, but cannot hear the PA system when we are flying.
We often leave the track selection up to the commentary team, but our favorite tracks over the years have been:
- ‘Shine on you Crazy Diamond’ by Pink Floyd (1975), made famous by the Skyhawks in the 80s
- Sleeping Satellite by Tasmin Archer (1992)
- The Theme from Harry's Game by Clannad (1982)
- Ombre Mai Fu by Paul Schwartz) (2005
- And for pyro displays this year possibly Firework by Katie Perry (2010) - “you gotta ignite the light and let it shine, just own the night like the 4th July, ‘cause Baby you’re a firework” – a lyric with our name on it!
Have you seen our displays? Is there something you particularly liked or something you would like to see? We would love to hear from you so please leave a message on our Team Facebook Page