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Belgian Air Force A109 Interview

Eastbourne Airshow has always had a close connection with the Belgian Air Force and the Display teams which represent it. This year is no different with the Belgian Air Force A109 Team representing them over all 4 days at Airbourne.

 

The Belgian Air Force A109 Display Team is appearing at only 3 UK Shows; RAF Cosford Airshow, The Royal International Air Tattoo and Eastbourne Airshow (Their only UK civilian airshow) and the team will be a welcome addition at the event with their aerobatic and energetic routine in the Agusta A109BA Helicopter. There aren't many aerobatic helicopter displays around so the chance to see a flare-Firing, fully aerobatic display in a helicopter is a change from the usual airshow items!

BAF A109 Matt Silvaire - Air Displays UK

Matt Silvaire from Air Displays UK got to have a chat with the team ahead of their appearances in the UK this summer. Text and images with thanks to the author.

Firstly, thank you for your time. I appreciate your taking time out of your busy schedule. I'd Like to begin by asking who the team is for 2018?

The Display Team has a completely new configuration this year. The Display Pilot is Captain “Stijn” Soenens: he has been an instructor on the A109 since 2017 and has flown about 1300Hrs on the helicopter. He was first part of the team as the non-handling pilot and has now shifted to the right-hand seat. The non-handling pilot for this year is Captain Jo “J.J.” Jacobs – He has about 1000 flying hours on the A109.

Something special about this team is the fact that “Stijn” and “J.J.” have almost known each other their entire career. They started together in the Military Academy in Brussels for a theoretical education of five years. Afterwards they started their basic flying training on the single engine aircraft, Marchetti SF-260 and continued their education on the EC-120 helicopter in Dax, France. After that, a final conversion onto the A109, they then joined the 17 Squadron in Beauvechain, Belgium. They are Supported by a team of six technicians who are joining them at all the air events: “Yves” “Koen” “Marvin” “Thomas” “André” “Bart”.

What should we look out for in 2018 from your display? Any special manoeuvres we can look forward too?

We have two air displays: one good weather show and one bad weather show, so that we can provide an adapted display in function of the weather conditions. The bad weather program will be the same as it was the last two years, but the good weather program has been adapted this year to make the show a bit more compact with the purpose to stay close to the crowd.

The most complicated manoeuvre during the display is the tiger turn 180°. It is an incredible manoeuvre to perform from our point of view and of course we hope that the public will enjoy it just as much as we do.

What is the A109 like to fly? Is it an especially easy or difficult helicopter to operate?

The A109 is a very agile helicopter with an impressive maneuverability. This is one of the specifications of the aircraft that we try to demonstrate during our display. However, it is not the (easiest) helicopter to fly these kinds of manoeuvres because we really are flying at the power limits of the aircraft during our display. That’s the reason why the non-handling pilot will be (fully) concentrated on the power instruments during the display to help out the display pilot (who will be mostly looking outside during the manoeuvres) to stay within the aircrafts power limitations.

BAF A109 Matt Silvaire - Air Displays UK

Do you look forward to displaying at new venues? Does this pose a particular challenge?

It is always challenging to fly at new venues. We can get to know a completely new crowd and are especially looking forward to our airshows in the UK (Eastbourne, Cosford and Fairford), because we already have a lot of positive reactions from the UK fans. Of course, every new venue means a completely new preparation for us: navigation, refueling airfields, new display directors, etc. so each new venue means a new challenge for us.

BAF A109 Matt Silvaire - Air Displays UK

Is there any part of the display which you look forward to most?”

We are really looking forward to presenting our aircraft and display to the UK public and hope that we will have positive comments. We also are looking forward to meeting the many fans before and after the display so that we can answer their questions.

There aren't many aerobatic helicopter displays around, but does your display take inspiration from any other displays? And if so, which displays?

We try to adapt our display each year. This is not really with inputs from other display teams, but each new display pilot looks at a new program with the outgoing display pilot. He can share a lot of experiences or own feelings about certain manoeuvres or sequences of manoeuvres and this will (then) be put into a new flying display.

BAF A109 Matt Silvaire - Air Displays UK

Finally, I'd like to ask if you have a message you'd like to pass on to the UK Airshow goers who will see your display this year?

We can tell you that coming to the UK for the airshows is a hot item on our display and personal calendar. We are really looking forward to getting to know the UK crowd and they can already have a small preview of our preparation for the upcoming season on Facebook (Belgian Air Force A109 Display Team) and Instagram (bafa109displayteam)

Definitely do not hesitate to like or share our messages or to tag pictures that are taken during the airshow or to put a #a109displayteam.

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