You don’t often see the eyes of a fast jet pilot. They’re nearly always hidden and anonymously cool, either behind a suitably chic pair of aviator shades, or the ominous Star Wars sinister smoked visor of the helmet as they taxi by, engines whistling at Ground Idle taxi setting.
But sometimes, you get an idea of the mind set of the low level fast jet pilot when you catch a glimpse of the eyes.
A few years ago now, Sunderland Airshow, the largest free airshow in the UK and possibly Europe, was using my local airport as a base.
The airshow takes place on the sea front around 40 miles to the north, so the performers base themselves at the airport, just a short flight away. I’m just hanging around airside, shooting the odd picture with a variety of machinery coming and going throughout the day.
We were based in the local flying club, not far from the end of the runway, with a Green Room area for the pilots to hang out, mostly sitting outside in the sunshine as they watched their colleagues coming and going.
The Run and Break was the standard arrival returning from performances, military jets fitting in between the light civilian traffic.
Of course, as the day goes on, the run and breaks get lower.
Nods of approval from colleagues show that it’s possibly getting a bit competitive, a whiff of testosterone in the air as each pilot, fresh from a 15 minute airshow routine and fully warmed up, sits at low level down the runway centre line before braking off into the circuit for a landing.
The RAF Jaguar, one of the last acts of the day is due to return, the air traffic chatter we’re listening to indicates he’s not far off.
Eyes right, we all gaze down the runway, watching for the run in.
On the radio, we hear the typically clipped, concise RAF voice, “Jaguar display, incoming, five seconds” Air traffic responds with a short clearance, “Circuit is clear, no conflicting traffic” So, there’s nobody else in the air.
Still we’re looking to the right, when something makes me look over my left shoulder.
There’s the Jaguar, absolutely flat out, very, very low level at ninety degree knife edge flight pulling hard into a turn, wingtip vortices like smoke, sneaking in behind everyone.
Bang. Right overhead the flying club people spilling drinks everywhere, hitting the floor as the slam of fast jet noise hits us all.
Past the tower, he’s pulling into a tight turn onto the runway centreline, a sharp, precise, flamboyant flick roll before rolling back the throttles of the crackling jet engines and positioning for a landing.
Taxiing in to park, he passes us and shuts down a few feet away, nods of respect from his colleagues.
At the foot of the ladder, he’s peeling off his helmet and you can now see those fast jet eyes. Buzzing with adrenaline, his eyes show that how, though he’s now standing on the ground, his brain is still doing 500 knots, sparkling with that buzz you sometimes see through the visor of a racing driver. “Nice move, feller.” I comment. “Ground attack mate. It’s what we specialise in…”
That year, 2005, was the final season for the RAF Jaguar airshow appearances by the RAF, as the aircraft were sadly retired right afterwards. Subsequent global events have perhaps shown that the Jaguar still had a role to play, despite what the bean counters may have thought.