Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Flying in formation

The Patrulla Aguila, the Eagle Patrol, is the  the aerobatic display team of the Spanish Air Force. It was created in 1985 and is based at San Javier air base in Murcia. The patrol uses Spanish built CASA C-101 jet trainers. Its show-piece is a formation landing but the formation's real trademark is that it trails  yellow and red smoke to represent the colours of the Spanish flag in its shows.

The Patrulla can trace its origins back to 1954 and the Matacan Air Base in Salamanca but, during the 50s and 60s, the Air Force had other aerobatic teams based at Talavera in Badajoz, at Los Llanos just outside Albacete and the most long lived, the Ember Patrol, which flew from Manises in Valencia.

It was the entry into service of the C-101, ideal for aerobatic work, that led to the creation of a permanent display team. Training began in mid 1985 with pilots being chosen from the instructors of the Air Academy, Academia General del Aire. Even today the pilots share their duties in the display team with their day jobs as instructors. Originally five aircraft were used but this was upped to six within a few months and in 1988 a seventh plane was added to give more versatility to the displays.

The team has existed for over thirty years and has logged thousands of flight hours and staged displays at most of the major Spanish events in that time from the Expo in Seville and the Olympic Games in Barcelona through to the celebrations for the Football World Cup. The planes are routinely involved in military events such as those for Hispanic Day in October but their main role is in International air shows. In 2015 for instance the team will perform at the Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton and at RAF Fairford for the the Royal International Air Tattoo.

It was at the Seville Expo that the team first deployed the now trademark red and yellow smoke. The planes are fitted with small auxiliary fuel tanks which release diesel directory into the jet exhaust – the fuel oxidises and produces white smoke. Smaller tanks containing diesel fuel coloured with red and yellow dyes produce the characteristic smoke.

In flight Eagle 1 heads up the formation and directs the various manoeuvres, Eagles 2 and 3, the point-men, sit to the left and right of the flight leader and give shape to the left and right halves of each move. At times Eagle 4 takes a position behind the leader with the point-men to left and right to form a four sided formation. Eagle 5 acts alone in some of the more  extreme manoeuvres whilst the tail pair, Eagles 6 and 7, perform particularly precise and coordinated manoeuvres. A typical display lasts around twenty five minutes and is usually divided into three parts. Initially all seven planes fly together to highlight the team's rapport, co-ordination and accuracy. In the second phase Eagles 1 to 4 fly in a rhombus shape, Eagles 6 and 7 manoeuvre together whilst eagle 5 performs alone. All three mini formations interact. Finally all the planes come back together and sign off with the colours of the Spanish bicolour flag.

You may well come across the team flying at any number of events here in Spain but if you are ever in the San Javier area you could be treated to a free show as the squad regularly practice over the sea just off the Mar Menor. Oh, and if you ever shop at the Dos Mares Shopping Centre the traffic roundabout there is decorated with the airframe of one of their aircraft.

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