I want to be an RAF display pilot…

Flight Lieutenant Phil Bird, the RAF Hawk Display Team pilot is delighted that he is displaying the Hawk T1 at the 2012 Airshow at the National Museum of Flight. Phil is also pleased to be flying a strikingly painted aircraft to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and complement the London 2012 Olympics.

Topside of Hawk T1  XX278 flown by Flight Lieutenant Phil Bird © MOD Crown Copyright
Topside of Hawk T1 XX278 flown by Flight Lieutenant Phil Bird © MOD Crown Copyright.

Phil attended Farmor’s Secondary School, Fairford, and had an interest in flying from an early age, not surprisingly with his father John an RAF pilot.  He joined the Air Training Corps at RAF Brize Norton and was awarded both RAF and Air League Flying Scholarships, which together enabled him to gain his private pilot’s licence aged 17. He studied Economics at the University of Manchester and flew with Manchester and Salford University Air Squadron, where he completed Elementary Flying Training.

Joining the RAF in 2002, Phil was selected to be a fast jet pilot and posted to the Tucano at RAF Linton-On-Ouse. He completed Advanced Flying Training on No 208 Sqn at RAF Valley before undergoing Tactical Weapons Training inn Canada with the NATO Flying Training Program. On return to the UK, Phil was selected to fly the Tornado F3. After the operational conversion course with No 56(R) Sqn, he was posted to No 43 (F) Sqn at RAF Leuchars, Scotland. There he played an active role in the air defence of the UK and Falkland Islands, as well as participating in large scale exercises across the UK, Europe and Middle East, and became an Electronic Warfare Instructor. In 2009 he was posted to No 19 (F) Sqn to instruct on the Tactical Weapons Course at RAF Valley, a role he now performs on No 208 Sqn.

Flight Lieutenant Phil Bird © MOD Crown Copyright
Flight Lieutenant Phil Bird © MOD Crown Copyright.

As the likely last solo Hawk T1 display pilot, Phil Bird could be bringing to an end over three decades of superlative airshow performances and his dynamic routine more than matches the high standards set by his predecessors. “To be the Hawk T1 display pilot is a real privilege, as is the opportunity to represent the very best of the RAF to the public and meet so many great people”, he stresses. “Doing so, in potentially the last year of the Hawk T1 display, is even better.”

XX278 Hawk T1 vertical underside © MOD Crown Copyright
XX278 Hawk T1 vertical underside © Paul Heasman.

Flt Lt Bird’s Hawk T1 display takes one of three forms, depending on the weather. In the very best conditions, he’ll perform the full show, which includes 100 ft passes at almost 600 mph, soaring vertical manoeuvres and a spectacular climbing finale. “The end is probably my favourite part,” he says. “There’s an outside turn, pushing a lot of negative G and accelerating all the way round and then I point the aircraft straight at the crowd and depart vertically up to about 10,000 ft. It’s very physical and extremely exciting.”

In his spare time Phil enjoys skiing, surfing, SCUBA diving and backpacking around the world with his wife Lucie. Phil completed his second London Marathon this year, this time with the Hawk Display Team, in aid of the RAF Benevolent Fund. At the end of the year, after a very busy and enjoyable airshow season, Phil says he hopes to return to the RAF’s air defence front-line flying the Typhoon.

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