The warbirds of a feather

The warbirds of a feather

Among the many performances that set the skies ablaze at the Aero India 2017 were ‘The Yakovlevs’. The Yakovlevs Display Team is a UK based  six-aircraft formation and aerobatic display team, which began its journey into the skies in 1998.

The team flies the Russian Warbird aircraft and are known for their graceful combination of tight formations, exciting aerobatics, high speed passes and breath-taking crosses. The members say that their flawless formation flights that thrilled the crowds are a result of long hours of practice and more importantly, trust and faith.

Jez Hopkinson, who founded the team in 1998 along with Willy Hackett, says that it was curiosity about the aircraft that got him hooked. “I bought my first aircraft in 1994. It was more of a hobby; I and a few of my friends would get together and fly it. Soon after, I bought another one and then I wanted to buy more because I fell in love with the aircraft. I managed to gather a few friends with the same mindset and here we are as a team,” recalls Jez.  He informs that the team has done 2000 displays in 12 countries and says that he soon hopes to increase the aircraft from the existing four to nine. About their trademark manoeuvres, Jez  says “It’s more about grace; we do very gentle manoeuvres which include loops and barrel roll and we also do some flicks, which is about tumbling the aircraft.”

Jez adds that flying itself is not a challenge. “The challenge is in working with your colleague in getting the aircraft close together and perfecting the display,” adds Jez.

David Boardman agrees and underlines the importance of having the right mental attitude to be a part of this team. “You might be a great pilot but if you don’t get along well with the rest of the team, you will not make much headway. The right mental approach is necessary.” David’s interest in planes from childhood was what prompted him to be with the display team of ‘Aerostars’ for about 11 years before joining the Yakovlevs. His love for flying is evident from the way he describes it as a ‘miraculous experience’. “You get to see sights from the aeroplane what you will never see from the ground.”

Marc Vanhove, the youngest member of the team, feels that it was the excitement of being able to do unimaginable stunts in the skies that prompted him to join the team.  “I was in the air force but I decided to join this team. Here we are trained to do different stunts, and it is the skill involved in the training that has impressed me. You learn different ways of flying the same plane,” says Marc. He adds that the job has toughened him both as a pilot and as a person. “There’s no room for fear when you are in this profession,” he adds. 

Willy Hackett, who has been with the team for the last 18 years, says that it is always the team’s collective performance that comes before individual performances. “We believe in blending together the individual skill of every member to showcase a polished display. For me, it’s all about showing off the might and capability of the aircraft,” says Willy, adding that he has always enjoyed performing the ‘Bomb Burst manoeuvre’, which involves breaking away from the formation, 300ft above ground level. About what has kept the team going strong, Willy, says “We all make mistakes but it’s the willingness to learn that has brought us this far.” 

David Nicholas Stobie, a veteran with an experience of more than 35 years in the Royal Air Force, says that it was a childhood dream to perform display flying. “It is my second year with the ‘Yakovlevs’ and I have loved every minute of it.” But it was not an easy journey and hours of practice are involved behind the team’s gravity-defying stunts in the sky. “It is all about practice, just like for anything that you want to get good at. ”

About flying as a career he says, “As a career, I have loved it. It is a great opportunity in a challenging environment but just not for everybody. The technology, the freedom you get when you are flying, the military side of it — I enjoy everything.”

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