Teenage technician to Airshow ace

I’ve had the honour to be the air display director for Scotland’s National Airshow for a number of years now, but before I delve into what an exciting and thrilling air display we have for 2017, I’d like to tell you how I got into this line of work in the first place.

© Spencer Harbar Photography
Sea Fury at Scotland’s National Airshow © Spencer Harbar Photography

Teenage aircraft technician and travelling the world

I joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) straight from school aged 17, and trained as an aircraft technician. My first posting was to the newest aircraft the RAF had at the time, the Hawker Harrier, an example of which is in National Museums Scotland’s collections. I thoroughly enjoyed my time as a ‘techie’ but after few years applied and was accepted for aircrew training.

I then continued onto a very enjoyable and varied career lasting a total of 37 years, mainly on helicopters but with a short period on tanker/transports. I’ve travelled the world (well, a substantial part of it), and have a store of experiences that would be the envy of many.

RAF Tutor Display Team at Scotland's National Airshow © Spencer Harbar Photography
RAF Tutor Display Team at Scotland’s National Airshow © Spencer Harbar Photography.

Royal International Air Tattoo volunteer

In my last few years in the RAF I became a volunteer for the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT), which is the world’s largest military air show. Then, literally on my last day in uniform, the Royal Air Force Charitable Trust Enterprises (RAFCTE), the company that organises RIAT, rang me and offered me a job, working as the flying display coordinator for the Eastbourne Airshow, a four-day seaside show.

As display coordinator, my job was to work hand in hand with the Flying Display Director (FDD) to produce a seamless show with a variety of participants. As I was working in the same office as the team that produced RIAT it was inevitable that I would be pulled into that show as well, and I became the Ops Officer for RIAT.

Over time, the company took on several smaller one or two day events and I became the organiser/coordinator for these as well, ultimately becoming the FDD for the small events, culminating in becoming deputy FDD for RIAT itself. And really, that’s how you become an air display specialist – by doing air displays in different roles over several years.

P51 Mustang at Scotland's National Airshow © Spencer Harbar Photography
P51 Mustang at Scotland’s National Airshow © Spencer Harbar Photography

How does Scotland’s National Airshow compare to RIAT?

Scotland’s National Airshow is a civilian flying display, regulated by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), using their documents as the organising guide, whereas RIAT is a military flying display, regulated by the UK Military Aviation Authority (MAA) and uses their documents as the organising guide. Probably the biggest difference in the planning effort concerns scale.

It’s a matter of scale

At Scotland’s National Airshow we are dealing with up to 18 display items over four to five hours, with no static park except for the odd helicopter. At RIAT we are talking a three day event, with a 7 – 8 hour flying display on two days and a five hour display on the other.

We also then have a static line that can be up to 2 km long. Last year we hosted nearly 250 aircraft over the week. Aircraft start arriving at RIAT on the Wednesday before the event and don’t leave until the following Monday. We also have a staff (mainly volunteers) of over 3,000.  It’s a bit different to Scotland’s National Airshow. The main issue is that sometimes (as this year) RIAT happens literally the week before.

On the ground at Scotland's National Airshow © Ruth Armstrong Photography
On the ground at Scotland’s National Airshow © Ruth Armstrong Photography

What this means is that if I don’t have the Scotland’s National Airshow finished and set at least two weeks before the event, there is no way I can get it sorted while RIAT is happening – it makes for quite a busy June. My entire delivery team for Scotland’s National Airshow also work at RIAT and they all so enjoy this event after the mayhem that is RIAT, that they just want to keep coming back!

Looking forward to Scotland’s National Airshow 2017

At Scotland’s National Airshow, we have been lucky again to be allocated the whole RAF flying display line-up, the Red Arrows, the Tutor, Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane), and for the first time in quite a while, the Chinook.

RAF Chinook Display Team 2017
RAF Chinook Display Team 2017 © MOD Crown Copyright

Add to this the Royal Navy’s willingness to send the Swordfish all the way north for us (the crew of the Swordfish are truly the UK display fraternities greatest unsung heroes – it only does 80kts, and the cockpits are open and unheated!) and we have the core of a great show already.

I’ll talk about the other air display teams heading for Scotland’s National Airshow 2017 in my next blog post. In the meantime, keep up-to-date with the Scotland’s National Airshow here www.nms.ac.uk/airshow.


Book tickets advanced tickets by 5pm on Friday 21 July 2017 and order your copy of the this year’s programme in advance to save time on the day.

Find out all you need to know about Scotland’s National Airshow 2017 at nms.ac.uk/airshow

Event programme subject to change.

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