Breitling Wingwalkers Interview

aircraft, airshow, Aviation, displays, Farnborough 2012, Features, photography, tom mercer, tom mercer photography

AeroSuperBatics are the world’s only aerobatic formation wingwalking display team and in August I was fortunate to spend some time with the glamorous Breitling girls.

AeroSuperBatics are a British aerobatic wingwalking team and since 2011 have been displaying as the Breitling Wingwalkers following a major sponsorship deal with the global watch manufacturer.  The team was founded in 1989 by Vic Norman and operates four modified Boeing Stearman biplanes that are capable of achieving speeds of up to 150mph during their display.

On Monday at Wings & Wheels in Surrey I was lucky enough to spend some time with the girls and got the chance to speak to Dani Hughes before the day began.

Unlike the glorious Sunday, the day started off pretty cloudy with some lingering spots of rain. The Sunday display was superb and I was keen to find out what it was like to perform in the rare blue sky!

“It was a really good display yesterday, it was really warm and the air kept quite still for the duration of our display. Its slightly cloudier today (Monday) so it may be a little bumpy when we get up later but it should still be good fun.”

Sunday at Wings & Wheels pulled in the biggest audience that I’ve ever seen at the show – I imagine this was all to do with rain being forecast for the bank holiday.

Dunsfold is perhaps one of the smaller shows in the Wingwalkers display season and it was the first time that Dani had attended the show for about three years and she said that it was a pleasure to be greeted by such a big crowd.

2012 marks Dani’s sixth year with the team and by all accounts, those years seem to have flown by!

“Yeah it’s gone by very fast. I wanted to wing walk with the team since I was about six years old when I first saw them display – I think they were known as the Crunchie Wingwalkers back then. From that age, it’s all I wanted to do. When I was 18 the team was looking for somebody new and I pestered them A LOT – eventually they gave me a chance. I had an audition and lots of interviews – I soon found out that I’d been chosen to fill the position.”

Wingwalking isn’t exactly a run of the mill profession so how does one get into it and what would make you want to walk on the wings of a biplane…at over 150mph?

“Well I did lots of martial arts when I was younger and I had a very sporty background. I wanted to have a career doing something active – I’m not the sort of person that can sit around and do nothing or sit at a desk day after day. I had to have an exciting job and this seemed like one of the best jobs in the world.”

Not only do the girls have to concentrate on their movements as they’re in the air, they also have to maintain that glamorous appearance – surely its harder than it looks isn’t it?

“We try to make it look as graceful as possible but when we’re up there we’re usually fighting with very strong winds. By the end of the display season our necks are pretty strong and our muscles are strong enough to beat the guys at arm wrestles. It can be very tiring but I still love it!”

After a pretty long season for me, Dunsfold was probably the last airshow I will be able to get to but the team’s doesn’t stop yet…

“We’ve still got quite a few shows left to do. We normally attend about 100 shows a year so we tend to be away most weekends and sometimes during the week too. We’ve got some shows left to do in France so and then we’re off to China so that should be a great experience.”

Earlier this year we saw the Black Eagles display team being flown over here in a 747 for Waddington and Fairford. I wanted to find out if their aircraft were getting to China in the same way.

“The two aircraft we have here today will be staying in this country for the rest of the European and UK display season. The other two are currently being dismantled and being ferried to China in containers which will then be reassembled when we arrive.’

Its not the first time that AeroSuperBatics have been to the country either –

“I last went to China bout two years ago to display but I think the team have been there three or four times before. Its amazing country and I’m really looking forward to being over there again.”

Some may not know but the team do not always display with only two aircraft. I saw the four ship display at Farnborough this year for the first time in about three years. The two ship and four ship displays tend to differ slightly, but how?

“The formation pair is the display that is the most popular I suppose – it’s consists of very tight and dynamic formation flying. We usually only perform the four ship routine three or four times a year. The four ship is quite unusual, we have a few passes at the start of the display in formation and then break off into the two formation pairs. It’s a very exciting display to fly and is something special for the crowd.”

With the Autumn on the horizon and the European display season coming to an end, I was interested to find out when Dani and the team were due for a rest.

“Our season usually ends the last weekend of September but this year we’re going on into mid-November because of the visit to China. It’s nice to have a longer season this year as I miss it so much over the Winter break. It’s always a bit strange when you go from having a really intense Summer display season to a quiet and very normal Winter.”

From what Dani said I was starting to think that the Winter break was quite long, but no – Dani just loves her job THAT much!

“We tend to start training again February/March time. We have about a month of intensive training where we start to wingwalk again and then because of the amount of shows that we do, we have to keep very current. Its nice being kept busy on the wings.”

The last thing that I wanted to find out from Dani was whether there was one stand out venue for her – one show that she enjoys displaying at more than the others. I was expecting it to be a nice warm place abroad…

“I think my favourite show is probably Fairford because its rather special to me. It’s where I first saw the wingwalking display and it was then that I realised it’s what I wanted to do. Its local for me and my family always attend. After Fairford, I’d probably say St. Tropez! Its a great way to see the world as we visit so many countries.”

Dani also revealed something that I wasn’t aware of…

“We’ve done shows in Italy, Switzerland, China and Dubai. If all goes to plan, we’ll be off to Australia next season. It’s a great way to see the world.”

Aerosuperbatics are truly turning into an international display team and it was an absolute pleasure to spend time with Dani and Freya (who is currently in her first season with the team).

None of this could have been possible without the help of  the entire team and a special thank you to Sarah Tanner who helped put this together. Also massive thanks to Dani for giving up her time for this interview and Freya for her time for the accompanying photography.

I look forward to catching up with the team next year – If you’re at a show with the Wingwalkers then go along and say hi!

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