Royal Australian Air Force classic and Super Hornet displays commonly seen at major sporting and cultural events around the country are probably one of the most effective ADF recruitment tools.
The sights and sounds of an F/A-18 manoeuvring at low level is enough to get the adrenaline flowing for all but the most hardened among us, and more than one child has gazed skyward at these displays in awe and wished they could be in the cockpit.
One such child was a young eight-year-old Matthew Trayling who, while attending the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix in Adelaide in the early-1990s, was mesmerised by one of the RAAF’s Edinburgh-based Hornets performing a display over the famed street circuit.
“You can just imagine the sound through the buildings and just seeing them cruise around through the city going really fast, that’s what drove my desire to want to do that one day,” Trayling told Australian Aviation. “Pretty much all I wanted to do was fly jets, ever since I can remember. It was initially sparked when I was playing soccer when I was about eight and a Hornet flew over. One of my mates’ dad was a Hornet driver, and the dream was cemented when I saw the display at the Grand Prix.”
Twenty years on, the now Flight Lieutenant Matthew ‘Traylz’ Trayling has more than realised his dreams, and is now the RAAF’s classic Hornet display pilot.
“I grew up in the Adelaide Hills,” he said. “I spent the first 18 years of my life there before moving down to Golden Grove where I finished year 12. I had tried to join straight out of high school but never got that, so I did labouring for about a year and a half in Adelaide before I reapplied. I must have given them the impression that I was still motivated and pretty keen, so I went through the recruitment process again and was accepted after that.”
Traylz attended the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) in Canberra, graduating with a Bachelor of Aviation Technology in 2008.
“I didn’t know anyone else when I joined up, and it was literally my first time moving out of the state and first time living away from home,” he said. “So, at 20 I was living away from home for the first time doing a university degree at the same time as my military training.”
After graduating Traylz attended the Basic Flying Training School (BFTS) at Tamworth, learning to fly on the CT-4B.
“Prior to that flying in the CT-4, all I’d really done was gliding at the Gawler gliding club in South Australia, that was really my only aviation experience prior to joining. I initially joined up through the Woodside Cadets in South Australia, so that’s how I got into the gliding.”
After his time on the CT-4, Traylz progressed to the PC-9/A advanced trainer at 2FTS at RAAF Pearce near Perth, being awarded his ‘Wings’ before being selected to fly fast jets and progressing to 76 and 79SQNs to fly the Hawk lead-in fighter trainer.
“After Hawk I had a bit of down time because they weren’t ready for me on OPCON (the Hornet operational conversion course),” Traylz said. “So, I went and did a tour on Heron UAVs for about a nine-month period which took me out of the fighter scene for a while, and then after that went straight on to Hornet OPCON.
“That was a little bit of a different path for me. Not many people get to do that, it was pretty eye-opening for me, just seeing how the ADF fits into the whole world military machine. That was my first exposure to that.”
Today, when not working up or performing his Hornet display, Traylz’s ‘day job’ is as an operational flying instructor at Williamtown-based 2OCU, where he is currently finishing the instruction on his first group of students.
Traylz didn’t apply for the job as display pilot, but was both surprised and honoured to be offered the role in late 2016.
“I was standing around with the boys at a barbecue and the CO of 77SQN came up to me and literally said, ‘Uh, by the way, congratulations’. I was like, ‘What?’, and he said, ‘You’re taking over from Bung starting next year’,” Traylz recalled.
“He had put in an application for me and it got offered to me. Not many people in their right mind would say no. It was offered to me and I absolutely wanted to do it.”
Long before he flew his first display, Traylz was linked up with two former Hornet display pilots, SQNLDR Aaron ‘Wardy’ Ward and SQNLDR Phil Eldridge, who mentored him through the work-up.
“It was about a six-week course for the display work-up, which involved a lot of reading. There’s a lot of standing instructions to get your head around, a lot of new numbers, emergency numbers, relearning the flight manual etc before you even get into the simulator. We did probably about five simulator rides where I got checked out with Wardy who mentored me through that.”
The simulator work-up also included performing the routine in different weather conditions and cross winds, and emergency procedures. After learning the routine in the sim, the next step was to get in the real jet to refamiliarise with the edge of the envelope handling of the Hornet, including high power output handling, low speed, high speed, roll rates, and high angle of attack (alpha) performance.
“So, you go out and do that by yourself first. And then, the next ride is with the instructor in a (F/A-18B) ‘tub’ where I took Wardy in the back seat. He was monitoring my display sequence, giving instruction as I’m going through the routine, and giving feedback after the flight,” Traylz explained.
“We’re not doing it down at low level to start with. We started off using a base altitude of 5,000ft to allow for any errors in the display sequence. It’s all under strict guidelines, and then as the flights progress, you step it down by 1,000ft at a time until you’re doing it at 1,000ft above the ground, where you do another check ride. Then you go out and you do it to the base altitude so all the way down to the minimum altitude for the display at 200ft.”
The step-down work-up took about six weeks, after which Traylz completed a full dress rehearsal display overhead Williamtown in front of senior officers and his peer pilots.
“They don’t hold up score cards,” he joked. “But they film it with the RAAF film crew there – each flight is carefully scrutinised. They look at every number in the HUD (head-up display), all your altitudes, your turn rates, the alpha you pull at different spots, the G forces. That’s all critiqued down to the nth degree to make sure you’re hitting the numbers every time.
“I’m constantly asking for feedback. It’s often best when they’re on the ground and they can see the moves because they know the moves. During the display, for instance, they say, ‘Hey, it’s fine but it didn’t look quite right from the angle you went off. So, maybe try and keep working on this particular part of the pull or the roll rate’.
“In terms of getting up in the jet with me and actually supervising, that will only occur if I haven’t flown the display sequence for a period of months and lose currency. I’ll be supervised, critiqued and then it’ll have an appropriate simulator work -up as well.”
Traylz struggled to nail down what traits or characteristics are required to be a good display pilot.
“I suppose you have to be really committed,” he offered. “For me, you have to pull yourself aside from everything else that’s going on, and you have to be able to block out a lot of other factors and really concentrate in the weeks leading up to the display.
Representing the RAAF is also an important role, so good communication skills and an awareness of public relations considerations are important.
“For the flying, being good with your hands and feet I suppose, so you can handle the jet in a number of situations and under intense pressure, and deal with emergency situations should they arise when you’re in the public eye.”
The display routine Traylz flies has changed little from that put together by SQNLDR Paul ‘Simmo’ Simmons in 2004 in consultation with Boeing test and display pilot, Ricardo Travern.
“The guts of the routine is the same because that was originally designed to safely showcase all the capabilities of the Hornet,” he said.
“But what I do have to change for each display is the way that I arrive in location. Some displays might take off from an airfield and start from the ground, but others start in the air. If I’m flying from Williamtown all the way down to Bathurst for example, I’m starting the display from a unique position. In that sense, you can mix it up and you can change the entry or the departure or change the sequence.”
Bathurst is a good example of how the routine can be mixed up – here he knocks off part of the routine and flies a hot lap of the track. But like the full routine, any deviations need to be practised in the simulator, and authorised.
“Because you get so focused during the display cycle, changes really need to be practised both in the simulator and then airborne again before you go ahead and do it at a different location. Any breaks in the sequence need to have a game plan for it, briefed, and authorised, before I go ahead and practice it.”
New display locations can be loaded into the Hornet simulator so Traylz can familiarise himself with the terrain before performing there.
“The guys at Raytheon and Milskil help me do that. So, for instance, I did my first display in New Zealand at the Ohakea Airshow earlier this year (2017). They built up the appropriate ground features around that airfield. They can make the terrain and features more accurate to really reflect what I’m going to see when I arrive there, such as, there’s a mountain there, or a grandstand there – they put that all in the simulator for me.”
Traylz also factors in local weather conditions. In a cool climate for example, he can climb to 20,000ft in the vertical departure, whereas at somewhere like Darwin he might top out at 15,000ft, and that will affect the number of rolls he will complete in the vertical.
Another factor to consider when performing in hot and high environments is that the aircraft bleeds speed much quicker in the loaded roll, so the airspeed and alpha need to be much more precise.
“You get to your ‘numbers’ a lot quicker. Whereas, down in Wanaka where the air is much thicker and colder, the aircraft is going to roll quicker and it’s going to have a lot more G available, so that’s going to look much more impressive in the display.”
Traylz says he flies the routine using a combination of watching the ‘numbers’, visual cues, and seat of the pants ‘feel’.
“I’ve got the numbers in my head,” he explained. “So ‘gates’ as I call them, I get to a gate, then I have to start recovering from an altitude, for instance.
“At other times I’m using visual features, features on the ground for my display line, or features on the ground for where I’m offsetting to. A good example of that is (at the recent Supercars race) in Newcastle, the Hunter River was the perfect 60 degrees off the display line which I was using as my visual feature.
“And then, feel, that’s particularly important in the loaded roll. Feel for when the alpha is on the jet and I need to maintain 25 (degrees) alpha through that, that’s all based on feel. I back that up by looking into the HUD at times and making sure what I’m feeling is correlating to the alpha I’m meant to be pulling. So, it’s a mixture really.”
A lot of the routine, while designed to display the Hornet in a positive light, also has real-world applications in basic fighter manoeuvres (BFM).
“A lot of the feel that I described, in the loaded roll for example, that feel is directly applicable to how we would fight in training, say if we’re in a dogfight for instance.
“So the feel and the sounds that we’re hearing with the jet, the stick movement, the coordination that we’re using, that is directly applicable to how we fight the jet in BFM. The high G manoeuvres, the high-speed pass into the reversal, the brake away, that is all very similar to how we do a brake turn, for instance.
“All those hands and feet are just like the way we fight the Hornet at altitude. But we incorporate that into the display at low level and with a crowd line and obstacles.”
This feature story will appear in the January-February issue of Australia Aviation, on sale on January 4.