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Interview with The Gazelle Squadron

The Eastbourne International Airshow will be welcoming a host of teams who are displaying at the show for the first time in 2019, one of these being the Gazelle Squadron.

As the airshow summer continues, Matt Silvaire, a writer for airdisplaysuk.co.uk, caught up with The Gazelle Squadron to find out more about their display, their aircraft and the team behind the scenes.

 

The Gazelle Squadron are a fairly new team on the scene, having been formed in 2014, but have slowly grown from a single aircraft display, to a two-ship this year, with plans to grow that further in the future. They are based in Hampshire, near Hurstbourne Tarrant, and for 2019 have put together a very enjoyable and slick routine which sees the two aircraft perform a synchronised display of manoeuvres, including their dramatic crossover.

Gazelles_Matt Silvaire

“Firstly, what is the Gazelle like as an aircraft? Obviously, it is a well-known aircraft and has been used in a multitude of roles in different armed forces. Is it a nice aircraft to fly and to display?”

“The Gazelle excels in all areas, it's fast, manoeuvrable, smooth, responsive, reliable and very safe. It's often referred to as the ‘sports car of the helicopter world’ and rightly so, it will cruise all day long at 120 knots and can obviously be pushed harder up to a maximum speed (VL*) of 168 knots. The cockpit layout is great and of course with its Perspex bubble and roof the visibility is unrivalled. When it comes to operating, it has very few serious limitations.

With that said, very long hours in the front seats may give you back-ache, whilst long hours in the rear seats tend to give your leg cramp. The engine (Astazou 3N2) is outstanding, but we are mindful of the fact that it's distinctive high frequency noise signature, which gives the Gazelle it's ‘whistling chicken leg’ nickname is damaging so we treat it's potential to damage your hearing with respect.

The aircraft that we operate are all on a ‘permit to fly’ and with the granting of that permit comes restrictions on how we operate them by way of aerobatic manoeuvres, so unfortunately we'll never be able to publically demonstrate fully what the aircraft is capable of, as these more extreme manoeuvres are forbidden under the terms of the CAA permits. It is certainly capable of doing a lot more by way of aerobatics than you'll see us performing at the shows. Images of inverted Gazelles do exist!”

“The Squadron is fairly new on the airshow circuit, how did you come to bring the Gazelles to form this squadron and decide to fly at airshows? What was the inspiration?”

“The Gazelle Squadron was established about 5 years ago by an ex-Army Air Corps pilot, Bruce Stuart. Without doubt Bruce's vision, knowledge, skill, support, drive, and ambition is the sole reason that we exist today and have grown to the position where we currently find ourselves. We're based at a private airfield near Hurstbourne Tarrant in Hampshire. Supported by Falcon Aviation Ltd, a CAA approved maintenance organisation which is owned and operated by Bruce and his team.

The Squadron itself consists of around 35 volunteers who donate their time and skills throughout the year to ensure that our aircraft are displayed in pristine condition. Our crews are almost all ex-military with many 1000's of hours experience operating the Gazelle. Additionally, the Squadron has within it a small number of individuals with no military experience whatsoever, but their contribution is no less valuable, we are a very cohesive team.

The Squadron operates to a military structure simply because it works, and everyone understands it. Thankfully, for some at least, we don't pursue the physical training aspect of military life, but we certainly have mandatory annual training in First Aid, Helicopter Handling and Flight Safety.

The decision to bring the Gazelles to the display circuit was, once again, down to Bruce. He is an ex-Army Air Corps Blue Eagles pilot and it is his ambition to see the Squadron deliver a four-ship display in the future. It is a measure of his confidence in us that he is happy for us to continue to work towards fulfilling his ambition. However, knowing Bruce's drive and enthusiasm he almost certainly won't stop there!”

Paul Johnson

“Is there a personal favourite part of the display and show weekend for you guys? The display? Or meeting the public? As I know that's an important part of your work too.”

“Displaying the helicopters aerially is both challenging and satisfying, but it's not until your feet are on the ground and talking to the public that you can gauge how successful or otherwise your display was. Meeting the public is immensely rewarding, you never know to whom you are talking and ironically, we spend as much time listening to them telling us tales of their exploits in, or with the Gazelle than we do regaling them with what we do!

"How many pilots do you have within the team, and who are the display pilots this year?”

“16 individual pilots have been active this season – remember we're all volunteers, so even with what is quite a large pool of aircrew we sometimes get caught out by availabilities. Many of the aircrew are commercial pilots and are at the mercy of their rosters, as are the remainder who also have commitments whether they be of a business, domestic or professional nature, add to that holidays, illnesses or licencing/currency issues and the demands of crew resourcing become apparent. The same availability issues apply to our groundcrew too.

Six of these pilots currently have a Display Authorisation (DA), but naturally this number will grow as we work more aircraft into the aerial display routine. We always transit to events with 2 crew per aircraft, not only is this safer as it eases the workload but sharing the transit flying helps us to maintain crew currency. Flight Safety is foremost in everything that we do.”

Paul Johnson

“Finally, are you looking forward to bringing your two-ship display to the Sunshine Coast? I believe the last time a Gazelle displayed at Eastbourne was way back in around 2001 when the Blue Eagles displayed with their mixed army helicopter display.”

“Eastbourne has been on our dream sheet for the past few years, so we are delighted to be displaying there this year. The popularity of beachfront, council sponsored shows is growing, they're a real family event, great fun and of course they're free! We particularly enjoy the team trip to the pub in the evening!


It must be said that the work being done within the Gazelle Squadron is superb and very exciting, as an enthusiastic fan of rotary aircraft, it’s very compelling to watch this type being seen again on the UK airshow circuit and continue to grow. This year will see the Gazelle Squadron travel up and down the country to display their two aircraft in what is a very enjoyable display – having seen it already this year, I can say it is definitely worth watching!

My thanks go to Craig and the team at The Gazelle Squadron for their time and insight.

Interview conducted by Matt Silvaire.

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