Wings India 2020 Begumpet airport, Hyderabad

Wings India, Hyderabad 2020 Blog

Friday the 13th to Sunday the 15th of March 2020.

In a few weeks from now we’ll probably realise just how lucky we’ve been for any flying to have taken place at all. A pattern is starting to emerge where we arrive at the airfield a little after 0900, plan to fly three times through out the day, only to find that our afternoon show is cancelled at very short notice: usually as we’re getting changed into flying gear! This is obviously disappointing, not least because we lose the opportunity to train for the season, though quite what that will be, come the summer is anyone’s guess. Meantime our performances are well received by the press, invited guests and many of the exhibitors at this the largest aviation gathering in Asia.

We’re flying a sequence of around 15 minutes which starts with a three-ship departure in Vic formation off runway 09 at Begumpet. A quick change to “stud 1” our discrete frequency which we’re not going to divulge, and then it’s a smoke check and arm the pyros! All this before we’re halfway downwind to run in at low speed for a fan break using coloured wing tip smoke. Mark is on white engine smoke while Chris and Steve each set off a dozen orange and green wingtip smokes to make the colours of our host nations national flag: and very impressive it is too when the background is clear blue sky! Mark also carries green and orange smokes, hits the vertical, torque rolls at very low speed in an orgy of green and orange before joining the formation together to run in for the main part of the show. The sequence is text-book Global Stars, in front of the audience all the time, no long gaps while the formation turns around, there’s always something exciting happening just in front of you. We haven’t had any problems with energy, never had to bin a figure because of the density altitude, though the temperature has been up around 38C over the weekend.

Last figure is the “Indian Break” from a three-quarter loop that bursts into smoke on the down line; Chris and Steve break right and left through 90, while Mark rolls smartly through 180 degrees to exit on the B axis. A stream landing follows. The pilots quickly unstrap and remove headsets while taxiing back to the ramp, shutting down as one facing our audience. Canopies open together and three pilots give a wave back to a very hospitable and appreciative gathering: Thank you! There is now twenty odd minutes of selfies and some media interest before the team retire to the gazebo and flake out for a while before moving onto the next task.

Which is! By late afternoon the aircraft are fuelled, smoked and equipped with pyros for the evening show which starts at around 1845. We are extremely pleased to see that word has got out about the pyrotechnics, something of a novelty in India, and by six o’clock there’s quite a gathering in and around our small working area. Lots of questions, the inevitable selfies and a sense of anticipation. Taxiing out with LED’s lit up adds to the feeling, so we kick off with some warm-up figures using just the smoke. Then as the light level drops just that little bit more, the team runs in and lights up the sky for miles around. These pyros burn at a speed and intensity that we haven’t seen before. Your entire world is that small part of the aircraft along-side that is lit up so brightly that peripheral vision is minimal. And that’s no exaggeration either, there’s nothing out there in the dark other than the familiar reference of a wing root divided at the trailing edge so that you aim to see only a bit of Mark’s upper and lower surfaces. Keep it like that with small control inputs and you’re in the right place. We also fly a little further apart than normal to avoid sparks from the leader’s aircraft, which inevitably means slightly larger power changes in the turns as the turning radii of each aircraft differs just that little bit more from its neighbour than it usually does. After just three pyro shows it’s fair to say that our friends in Begumpet are hooked! On Sunday, the last show day, our afternoon and evening performances are cancelled as the organisers start to wind down the event. We make good use of this additional time and start to reconvene in the area we began assembly a little over a week ago.

By late afternoon on Sunday we are ready for wing lifts on all three aeroplanes. Think of playing the film we described on days one and two backwards, and you’ll have some idea of the time scale involved. Strapping things down in the shipping containers though adds to the time taken as we must be sure that nothing will move in the six or seven weeks that these containers are at the mercy of the high seas and the handling agencies. Finally, lunch time on Monday, the containers are sealed, and we head back to the hotel for a bite to eat and start to pack. Then comes the British airways on-line checking in process and we are more than a bit relieved to see that BA are still running the flight that leaves the main airport In Hyderabad at 0720 tomorrow.

While all of this has been going on the world has changed for ever. A virus has taken hold, and by the time you are reading this we will have no doubt become accustomed to new social norms about herd immunity and our responsibilities as citizens of planet earth, our home for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, we will continue to be The Global Stars. Thank you for your support and for reading the team blog. We’ve sussed the bed room lights by the way!

Wednesday and Thursday the 11th and 12th of March 2020.

Hyderabad is just a little over 17 degrees North of the equator and is quite a way in land so visitors to this metropolitan district of just under 10 million people will get a flavour of life on a sub-continent. It gets very hot here, and whereas the sun in England dips below the horizon in a leisurely diagonal, at this latitude it doesn’t mess about one bit, and you can watch it set in an almost vertical trajectory. Choose a vertical landmark, a building or a tree for instance, take a minute or so and you can’t help but notice the descent rate and get a feel for earth rotation. If on the other hand the sun went around the earth, then it would also look just like this, and no doubt in the land of Trump there are some who still believe this to be so.  

Sorry, back to India and this all- important wind and weather pattern that is not at all like the British maritime climate we all know and love. What makes it go? The days start warm with a high overcast and by lunch time this gives way a little and the convection gets going, the sky then clears briefly before towering cumulus start their shift and are looming over us by mid- afternoon. Some of these dark Cu look particularly threatening. We might only feel a few drops of rain, but we’ve had reports of heavy downpours of biblical proportions less than an hour’s drive away. This thermal activity is the trigger for bird activity, and during practice we’ve had a few close encounters with Black Kites, cousins of the ones we know only too well North of here in Ahmedabad. They’re inquisitive, and when these columns of warm rising air lend them a hand they’ll come and have a nosey at us. Thankfully they do this for a living, no doubt commenting on our formation keeping, and always manage to duck!

The wind is always on our minds because during an aerobatic display we’re performing on, or more accurately in a moving stage. The Global Stars pride themselves on keeping a performance as near to crowd centre as possible all the time, not just in between turn-round figures. This obviously means keeping straight lines to a minimum, so if you come to watch us then you’ll notice that even on a flat calm day the formation is always pitching or rolling or both; and if the wind is blowing say left to right at 20 knots then the show goes with it like a toy balloon unless we do something to prevent it. Tricky thing here is that the wind on the ground is often a brisk easterly and yet up at cloud base, just above our display height, it’s blowing from the South or South West!

Wind, weather and temperature then are never far from our minds while thinking about the performance. It’s our working environment and quite frankly the difference between performing somewhere once only or alternatively making the right impression and being asked to come back next year. To this end Mark has done a great job of positioning the sequence during practice and today on the first of the show days. Chris and Steve have worked on ways of improving their section of opposition manoeuvres so that they cross in front of the VIP area no matter whatever tricks the wind has in store for them. Re-joins with Mark have been taken apart in minute detail so that they now seem effortless. Engineers, Neil, Junior and Arunas are quick to refuel the aircraft and top up smoke oil after landing, so that the whole enterprise which goes by the name of the Global Stars has now become very slick indeed! It’s now Thursday and lunch time.

After a morning of press and media interviews, and our first show for WingsIndia2020 we’re back on the ground, looking a bit sweaty, so back to our hotel for a shower and a quick bite through another five-minute murmuration of two and three-wheel threats. The light switches are still an Enigma of code breaking proportions by the way. One job, he had one……!

Just as we’re about to walk to our aeroplanes for the afternoon show an Ops vehicle rolls up and disgorges several familiar faces from the Risk assessment meeting on Monday. The afternoon show is off, no doubt as a result of that pesky virus. For the next three days, until Sunday afternoon, we’ll be performing only to those who have business on site, exhibitors, sales and media peeps, Air Trafficers, G4S Security operatives, a wide variety of other ancillary staff and the odd one or two who managed to scale the perimeter fence. This is a bit of a disappointment to us as we received a great reception from a very appreciative public in 2016. Instead, we’ll continue to improve the performance and use it as an extremely valuable training opportunity. Over to the team now for preaf rooding before you get to read this.     

Tuesday 10th March 2020.

Day four and we’re starting to find a routine that works for the team on arriving at the airfield. One of us will pop up to the tower to discuss requirements for the day, how many flights, who’ll fly, and at what time. Begumpet doesn’t have scheduled traffic but has several flying schools and a Flight Training Academy on site. There are also ad hoc arrivals and departures to work around, anything from a C17 to a Citation or Embraer 135 Legacy.

Last time we were here in 2016 the temperature hit 45C and energy management became a major concern for us in our sequence design. Today it’s just a balmy 36 degrees Centigrade! Begumpet airport is some 1800 feet above sea level so after adding in the high temperature the air density reduces and this shows up as a very noticeable loss of performance. The aeroplanes literally behave as though they are tired and need a break. The team have in mind a series of manoeuvres that will include the usual energy gainers such as gentle, floaty Half Cubans in between those that are obviously more dramatic and crowd pleasing but maybe a little more costly in the long run.

For energy think bank accounts, balances and accessibility. Take a snapshot of an aeroplane in flight and it has three kinds of energy, speed, height and chemical energy in the form of fuel. The first two, speed and height, are in a current account, are easily accessible, and you can do what you like with them almost instantaneously. Fuel in the tank is in a deposit account and the rate at which you can get your hands on it is known as power available, 180hp in a Pitts S1S and typically a smidgen over 300hp in one of our Extras. The question is are you a big spender? Do you fly a bit too fast, pull back too hard, or use the smoke too much? If you’ve a tendency towards any or all of these then you’ll run out of height, interesting options and eventually run aground! The team flew in formation twice today and Mark trialled some new locally made pyros after sunset. Fair to say, they’re still a work in progress.

Back in our hotel rooms there is of course one other puzzle to solve at bedtime and that is turning out the bedroom lights! It’s day four, and you’re none the wiser. How hard can it be? The phrase “One Job” comes to mind. When you’re tired and bleary eyed the rows of buttons on either side of the bed and the ones by the door become an enigma. Logic is pointless, because as one light goes off another one comes on. Giving up on the ones within easy reach, you resort to the master switch by the door. Fumbling your way back to bed across the room in the dark you stub a toe on the mini bar, collide with the swivel chair and let out a little whimper. Tomorrow is the final practice day so sleep well.

Sunday and Monday the 8th and 9th of March 2020.

The food at the Vivanta Hotel in Begumpet has to be second to none; further-more as hot food goes it comes with the added advantage of being served hot on warm plates, which means that by the time it reaches your table it’s still warm and edible. This is largely down to a discovery around 1850 by Lord Kelvin in Scotland, and Rudolph Clausius in Germany, known as the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which variously stated suggests that hot things are more likely to cool down than warm up, and before you snigger, that’s not really as obvious as it sounds. This uncertainty can lead to a sense of extreme optimism and might explain why in some hotels we visit, food intended to be served hot is barely warm, and is often inedible by the time it reaches your table via a cold plate. India has a great reputation amongst scientists and mathematicians, and arguably the most notable of all its sons is the mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan who came to Cambridge, in the early twentieth century to work on the theory of numbers alongside G H Hardy. So, while toilet paper folding and the laying of chocolate bars on pillows is favourite for Day One Lesson One at some hotels serving cold food, thermodynamics is top of the list at The Vivanta in Hyderabad, India.

Sunday is the first proper full day assembling the Global Stars’ Extras, and by mid-day we’re nearly ready to fly two of them. Steve has a minor brake issue, and the team have various options to solve the problem. Long story short, some parts are swapped left to right, to mitigate the inconvenience and eventually all is well. Meanwhile Chris and Mark have a shake down and pairs flight as our new home in the shape of some gazebos joined end to end is assembled out on the ramp. Back in 2016 a storm cell developed near-by and the outflow blew these very same gazebos over the fence and into the public enclosure: Perhaps Sydney Camm was right, air can be very cantankerous!

Monday, and our body clocks are aligning to Hyderabad’s “Zeitgebers” or diurnal time givers. The hours spent on the ramp in the sunshine and personal supplies of Melatonin help to facilitate a welcome re-adjustment. Yesterday some of us had muzzy heads and were probably a little prone to error, but today we feel mostly fine and make fewer silly mistakes. A briefing about the show at 1030 with airport officials guides us through the increased threats that the airport faces as it hosts “Wings India;” and as the Global Stars are the headline act we have come armed with CAP403, which is our country’s guide to staying safe and away from the news headlines. After a certain amount of numerical- analysis we learn that the increased threat is of the order of 39 % and go on to learn that this is a mere trifle and therefore an acceptable risk: Good, because we’ve come quite a long way.

Heading out on to the ramp the pilots meet up with the engineers and prepare for the first of what will be three flights as a formation. This first flight will be simply a case of holding hands, getting to know each other again, nothing too cheeky as we haven’t flown regularly for a couple of months. Mark’s leading is very good so Chris and Steve have a fair chance of hanging on in there, which they clearly do on this first outing. At the end of this first three ship, we’re confident that the sequence will be fairly-well polished by the first show day on Thursday. Some of you are sniggering at the back: Stop it!

The day ends well, and everyone returns to the hotel having caught the sun. Bedtime now, after a busy day. It’ll get easier as we drop back into tried and tested routines. The minibuses leave at 0900 sharp, when we’ll head out into busy traffic, under the flyover that was nearing completion last time we were here. We’ll pass familiar street markets with their new live-stock and wares, winding our way to the airfield narrowly missing a variety of motorised threats that come in all shapes and sizes, most of them on two or sometimes three wheels and occasionally on foot. Night-night.

Friday-Saturday 6th and 7th March 2020.

Sydney Camm, designer of the Hawker Hurricane, once complained that “air is very cantankerous stuff.” Looking out on the wing, along the beautifully clean, uncluttered leading edge of this 787 Dreamliner, we’re clearly not at home to Mr Grumpy. We’re on a 27 Right departure at Heathrow, approaching rotation with picture and very little sound, and as the wing tip starts to rise the leading edge now describes the most elegant of curves: The 787 is indisputably therefore little short of an engineering miracle. Thanks to Boeing’s engineers getting their sums right, this eight and a half hour-journey across Northern Europe, Russia and beyond to Hyderabad will be nothing like the feat of endurance it used to be. We’ll arrive relatively refreshed, drop our bags, grab a couple of hours sleep before heading to Begumpet airfield to open the containers in preparation for “Wings India.” And that’s exactly what happened as the world came to terms with a virus and Friday the 6th of March became Saturday the 7th somewhere East of Greenwich meridian.

Some aerobatic teams would probably take a day or two off, sight see, and do the tourist thing before getting down to business. As you probably know by now, that’s not a Global Stars trait. We clear customs, hope that the air side passes have been printed, are good to go, and get straight down to work. There’s always a feint whiff of tension as the seals on the shipping are cut away and doors opened. Taking in the scene, we look for any obvious signs of damage, check tension in the straps to see if anything might have moved and make a note for next time if it has. Within the hour we have three aeroplanes, tools and spares laid out in the assembly area and start two to an aeroplane, pilot and engineer. Chris, aka Junior assists Mark with the 330, Arunas from Lithuania helps Chris with his 300S while Steve and the 260 are kept out of trouble by Neil. By sunset on our first day in India for well over a year, we are very pleased with ourselves having wings on all three aeroplanes before setting off back to the hotel for a “black-un.” Regular readers to this blog will remember that this is cheeky, Northern colloquial blokey chit-chat for a beer before dressing for an evening meal which can be either dinner, tea or supper, depending on whether-or not you ski.

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