Pilots

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gnat-profile

Chris Heames – Squadron Leader Chris Heames flies the lead aircraft in the three-ship display. Chris joined the RAF from school in 1970. After Officer training, he was posted to RAF Wattisham, RAF Akrotiri and RAF Brawdy as an air traffic controller.

In 1979, Chris began his pilot training at RAF Linton-on-Ouse in Lincolnshire on the Jet Provost and subsequently at RAF Valley and RAF Chivenor on the Bae Hawk. He then went to RAF Binbrook and converted onto the English Electric Lightning, followed by a further conversion course onto the McDonnell/Douglas Phantom with 19 Sqn at RAF Wildenrath in Germany.

Chris then served with 17 and 14 Sqn in RAFG at Bruggen after a conversion onto the Tornado GR1, returning to the UK as an instructor with TTTE at RAF Cottesmore. Following QFI training on the Tucano at Linton-on-Ouse, Chris then went through a further conversion onto the Tornado F3. Short tours on 5 and 11 Squadron flying the Tornado F3 were followed by a year at CFS Tutor Sqn Cranwell as a QPNI flight commander.

He currently has approximately 13500 total flying hours of which 6000 are fast jet and 3500 gliding. His experience spans a diverse array of aircraft from including Tucano, Yak, Gnat, Hunter, Tornado, Lightning, Phantom and L29, Avro Tutor, Tiger Moth, Chipmunk and Bulldog…the list is endless.

Chris brings an incredible depth of experience and professionalism to display flying and currently helps a number of teams bring their product to the European airshow circuit, acting as display pilot and team mentor.

Best Aviation Moment:

Getting to 26,000 feet in a Glider over Aconcagua in Chile, the highest mountain in the Andes. From there a short trip over to Tupongato – an active volcano, where he could look into the volcano and see the smoke.

Other interesting facts:

Chris enjoys helping many owners operate historic jets and playing Bridge with his partner Christina.

 

Willygnat-profileWilly Hackett MBE MA BSc (real name Peter – he picked up his nickname during his RAF fighter pilot training days), lives in Washington DC and heads up the British military team working on the F35 Lightning II stealth fighter. Prior to this Willy worked as a test pilot on the Lightning II at the Lockheed Martin factory in Fort Worth Texas.

Willy took up this exciting post after spending almost four years flying the Eurofighter Typhoon as a test pilot with the Fast Jet Test Squadron at MOD Boscombe Down. He flew Tornado F3s in the first Gulf War and the Bosnian conflict, and was the RAF’s F3 display pilot in 1997 and 1998. Willy also spent three years flying the FA2 Sea Harrier jump jet at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton, including six months at sea aboard HMS Illustrious, including operations in the Persian Gulf and Sierra Leone. In 2002 he completed test pilot training at the Empire Test Pilot School (ETPS) at MOD Boscombe Down where he won the Cobham trophy for being the best fixed wing pilot on the course.

Willy met his wife Debb, a journalist in December 1998 and married her in 2004. They are the parents of two girls and so have near encyclopedic knowledge of Disney and are kept very busy. Willy and Debb are keen SCUBA divers and all four Hacketts enjoy adventures and exploring new places.

Willy has been flying in the Gnat Display Team since 2005 and is also one of the team’s instructors. When not flying with the team, he flies with the Shuttleworth collection at Old Warden aerodrome, and with the Boultbee Flight Academy at Goodwood airfield. He also teaches gliding at his club in Pennsylvania.

Best Aviation Moment:

His first solo in an RAF aircraft, a Jet Provost Mk 5 at RAF Barkston Heath airfield or watching Debb land after her first solo in a glider.

Other interesting facts:

In 1999, Willy was awarded a well-deserved MBE for his services to aviation.

Mark (2)gnat-profileMark Fitzgerald completed his initial RAF Pilot Training during the late 90’s. Since then, he has continued to fly in numerous military fixed wing and rotary aircraft, including the Jet Provost, Folland Gnat and Bell UH1-H “Huey” – all of which he has displayed on the European Airshow circuit throughout the last decade.

Mark is a part-time Corporate Jet Captain and Flight Instructor, but has spent most of his career working in technology and start-up businesses. He started flying the Folland Gnat in 2005 and was one of the founders of the Gnat Display Team/The Heritage Aircraft Trust Charity.

He lives in London and splits his free time displaying both the Folland Gnat as well as the iconic Bell UH1-H G-HUEY helicopter. Mark is also the Chairman of The Heritage Aircraft Trust, helping in the day-to-day running of the Charity. When not involved in flying, Mark is very active within the UK start-up business space, helping early stage companies and entrepreneurs. Mark’s aim with the Gnat Display Team and The Heritage Aircraft Trust is to preserve these fantastic vintage jets in flying condition for generations to come and protect this iconic piece of British aviation heritage.

Best Aviation Moment:

3-Ship Display flying with the Gnat Display Team!

Other interesting facts:

Mark’s ambition for the team is to complete the restoration of the Trust’s Folland Gnat F.1 fighter jet and have it lead a four-ship Formation Gnat Display one day soon.

Stephengnat-profileStephen Partridge-Hicks, known to all as SPH, was born in London and decided to learn to fly aged 10 after being introduced to model gliders at prep school. He first soloed a glider when he was 16 and was introduced to powered flying and aerobatics in Chipmunks and Jet Provosts in the RAF CCF section at school.

He started hang gliding in 1977 and progressed from club flying to competition. He was part of the Norfolk Hang gliding group that developed winching and then aero-towing of hang gliders in the UK. He qualified as a flexwing, weight shift microlight and tug pilot in 1992.

He joined the national hang gliding team for the 1995 World Championships in Ager in the Pyrenees, coming 5th and was a member of the World Championships hang gliding team in 2002 that won in Chelan, Washington State, USA.

He flew Shadow 3 axis Microlights from 1996, Jet Provost III from 1998 and an RV4 in 2001. He acquired a Yak 50 in 2003 and upgraded it to 400hp with a 3 bladed prop following an engine failure over the channel in 2005. The RV4 was replaced by an RV8 which was built at home in Suffolk. Both the Yak and RV8 share the same silver and blue colour scheme designed by his artist daughter Lucasta.

The Gnat came along in 2006 and the Jet Provost was upgraded to a Strikemaster in 2008. SPH also competes in the Reno air races in the Formula 1 class. Finally, SPH has been restoring an Mk 17 Seafire.

Best Aviation Moments:

• Winning the 2002 Hang Gliding World Championships • Winning the Silver heat in Formula 1 at Reno in 2012.

Other interesting facts:

• SPH has his own 1,000 metre runways on his farm in Suffolk where he keeps the Yak50, Rv8 and Microlight. • As well as being one of the Gnat Display Team pilots, SPH holds an aerobatic Display Authorisation for the Yak 50.

 

Oli (2)gnat-profileOliver Wheeldon – Oli was born in Nottingham and was educated at Nottingham High School, where he was a member of the RAF Section of the CCF, often flying in the Chipmunk and Vigilant glider. Having gained both Sixth Form and Flying Scholarships from the RAF, he went on to read for a B.Eng (Hons) degree in Mechanical Engineering at Coventry University.

Whilst at university, Oli was an active member of the University of Birmingham Air Squadron (UBAS), where he flew the Scottish Aviation Bulldog training aircraft out of RAF Cosford. Due to defence cuts in the early 1990s (known as Options for Change), there was a significant reduction in the requirements for pilots in the RAF; as a result of this Oliver left university without a secured flying position. At the ripe age of 22, upon being declared ‘too old’ to commence RAF pilot training, Oli turned to a career in Engineering, working as a Design Engineer developing engine test beds for Rolls Royce. He later moved into the IT industry and, in 1999, moved to London to start a new career in Telecoms.

Having subsequently worked for two major global communications companies, he currently works for PwC as a telecoms consultant. Oli completed his Private Pilots Licence in the mid-90s and flew ex-RAF Bulldog aircraft before joining a syndicate at North Weald airfield in 2000 operating two ex-RAF Jet Provost aircraft (a T.Mk3 and a T.Mk5a).

In 2008, Oli joined the Gnat Display Team as Manager of Ground Operations, which also afforded him the unique opportunity to undertake a fast jet conversion course to become a qualified pilot on the Gnat. Today, Oli is a Trustee of The Heritage Aircraft Trust, in addition to being Accountable Manager for the Trust’s own CAA-approved engineering organisation.

His plan for the immediate future is to display the Jet Provost whilst continuing to amass experience flying the Gnat, with a view to displaying the No3 aircraft as part of the Gnat Display Team’s new three-ship display in 2015. Oli lives in London and, when not flying, can be found either on a squash court or on the slopes satisfying his passion for snow boarding.

Best Aviation Moment:

First Solo in the Folland Gnat in 2009. Truly a sport of kings!

Edwin (2)gnat-profile Edwin Brenninkmeyer was raised in Southwest London and has always been interested in flying, having started learning to fly at 14 and soloing a few days after his 17th birthday. When at University in Durham, he continued to pursue his passion, taking people flying in either an aerobatic T67 or on sightseeing trips over the North Yorks Moors in a PA28. He prides himself in pursuing as wide a variety of flying as possible and has always strived to achieve the highest levels of professionalism gaining multiple flying qualifications, right up to ATPL level.

Edwin’s early career was in retail and venture capital and he used his flying to transport himself around Europe in his Cessna T210N, in which he still flies some 200 hours per year to this day, avoiding airlines wherever possible. Edwin is now professionally active in business aviation both as an advisor / investor and as a corporate jet pilot flying a Citation Excel part-time. His work in the sector has also given him the opportunity to make a memorable ferry flight in a brand new Phenom 100 jet from the factory in Brazil to Nashville, Tennessee.

Edwin also has a passion for vintage tailwheel and aerobatic aircraft and his flying still keeps him current on piston aerobatics, the occasional competition in a Cap 10, as well as display and formation flying in vintage aircraft such as the Stampe and Tiger Moth. He has also been involved in other charitable aviation activities, including volunteering and fundraising flights as a pilot for Fly-to-Help and Flying Scholarships for Disabled People.

He lives in Kent with his wife and together they both enjoy skiing during the winter and all the theatrical and musical activities that London has to offer as well as, of course, flying together whenever possible!

Best Aviation Moment:

First solo in the Gnat.

Other interesting facts:

Edwin is known as “Shorty” or “Stilts” in the Gnat Display Team and claims to shrink by an inch during the day, from 6’5’’ in the morning to 6’4’’ in the evening!

Best Aviation Moment:

First solo.

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