Typhoon pilot Flight Lieutenant Matt Brighty reveals secrets of the skies ahead of Blackpool Airshow 2023

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Ahead of Blackpool Airshow this weekend, Typhoon pilot Flight Lieutenant Matt Brighty discusses the demands of the role, how he is looking forward to thrilling air show crowds and the many hours of work that is going into designing his routine.

Born with a ready-made RAF nickname, Typhoon pilot Flight Lieutenant Matt Brighty was always destined to be a pilot.

After a career of professional highs behind the scenes, Brighty is now destined to play a big public role as the RAF's Typhoon Display Pilot for the 2023 season.

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Here ahead of Blackpool Airshow this weekend he discusses the demands of the role, how he is looking forward to thrilling air show crowds and the many hours of work that is going into designing his routine.

Typhoon pilot Flight Lieutenant Matt Brighty ahead of his appearance at Blackpool Airshow 2023Typhoon pilot Flight Lieutenant Matt Brighty ahead of his appearance at Blackpool Airshow 2023
Typhoon pilot Flight Lieutenant Matt Brighty ahead of his appearance at Blackpool Airshow 2023 | NW

Who inspired you to become a pilot?

My dad was in the RAF and I grew up around aircraft, spending a lot of time at different RAF bases all over the country. My interest in being a pilot was fostered further by grandparents and uncles taking me to air shows and to watch planes at Gatwick Airport.

I first got my hands on controls when I was 13, when I had the chance to fly a motor glider with the air cadets. After that I was hooked. Then it was a case of honing the skills needed because I was determined to join the RAF.

Tell us something about your career to date?

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I joined the RAF in September 2007, and underwent standard flight training. Then I went to RAF Lossiemouth on the Tornado GR4s. By mid-2013 I was combat ready. Since then, I’ve served on squadrons involved in Operation Herrick and Operation Shader, as well as in the Falklands and on deployment to Estonia. I was lucky enough to move across to the Typhoon in 2017. I joined 29 Squadron at RAF Coningsby in spring 2020. To date I’ve got 1,000 flying hours on Tornados and just shy of 700 on the Typhoon.

Do you remember your first Typhoon flight?

It was awesome from the get-go. The thrust, the acceleration down the runway, the manoeuvrability and the power — it was incredible.

No matter how many times you fly the Typhoon you never get bored. Sometimes you have to pinch yourself that you are lucky enough to get to fly this aircraft. It’s pretty fantastic! 

What attributes do you need to become a display pilot?

First, you need to have a real determination and a passion for display flying. Second, you need to be trustworthy because you operate throughout the season with relatively minimal supervision. Finally, you need to have demonstrated a level of flying ability. I feel very proud to have been chosen to do this job. There is pressure, but I knew that coming into the job, it’s something that you learn to deal with. 

How much work goes into developing your routine?

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You start with a blank sheet of paper. I began with the manoeuvres I’d seen over years of flying and personally enjoyed. I went back through YouTube and watched videos of displays from 2012 onwards, picking out individual manoeuvres. Then worked out how I could mould them into my routine in the most eye-pleasing manner.

From that I sketched some rough diagrams and went to the flight simulator to test out the different moves to see how they flow into each other, making adjustments, and then re-testing.I probably got to an 80 per cent solution and then felt confident enough to show my supervisors, to get their take on it and their view on whether it would work or not.

A Typhoon set to appear at Blackpool Airshow 2023A Typhoon set to appear at Blackpool Airshow 2023
A Typhoon set to appear at Blackpool Airshow 2023 | nw

How much testing is there to get the display into the air?

Once my supervisors give their seal of approval, the next step is formal simulator sorties to work up the display. 

We work to very strict rules. The work up is fixed with a minimum of six simulator sorties. There’s also a minimum of two sequencies at 5,000ft before I’m allowed to go down to 1,500ft.

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At that point, I have to have approval from the station commander. Then we fly a minimum of 10 sorties at 1,500ft before being allowed to go down again to a height of 500ft. That, then, requires another simulator sortie at the new height before going down to the minimum, which is no less than 100ft. 

All of the sorties, air and simulator, are assessed by supervisors. From the tower they analyse how I handle the aircraft and make sure it’s in accordance with the rules.

What is it about the Typhoon that makes it the star of the show?

It’s a big fans’ favourite. People love its manoeuvrability and agility. They love the acceleration and speed of the Typhoon as well as the thunderous noise. There’s also the visual impact of the afterburners.  

Can you tell us anything about the display?

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I’m trying to keep things tight, right in the front of the crowd and produce a combination of high speed and noise, with the visual impact that comes with the use of reheat. I’ll also bring back a couple of manoeuvres that haven’t been seen for a few years — including the slow roll and holding the aircraft at a 90-degree angle.Display flying is challenging. You have to be able to adapt the routine for different venues and be able to cope with varying or deteriorating weather conditions. It is both physically and mentally demanding.

Flt Lt Matt Brighty, right, shakes hands with 2022 Typhoon Display Pilot 'Paddy' O'Hare ahead of Blackpool Airshow 2023Flt Lt Matt Brighty, right, shakes hands with 2022 Typhoon Display Pilot 'Paddy' O'Hare ahead of Blackpool Airshow 2023
Flt Lt Matt Brighty, right, shakes hands with 2022 Typhoon Display Pilot 'Paddy' O'Hare ahead of Blackpool Airshow 2023 | nw

What role does the display team fulfil?

It promotes the Royal Air Force, the Typhoon Force and the 29 Squadron by demonstrating high levels of professionalism and expertise. We also champion the aircraft —  it’s important that we get across how capable the aircraft is, and what it enables the Royal Air Force to do.I really do count myself lucky I’ve been chosen. The team has massive experience, with some members having been involved for almost a decade. It’s a well-oiled machine and is great to be part of such a professional unit, it fills you with confidence.

What are you looking forward most?

The main satisfaction for me will be putting a smile on people’s faces and bringing that sense of enjoyment and pleasure and excitement from watching a display that I got as a youngster. If I can do that, I’ll count it as a successful year.

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