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Dublin: 13 °C Thursday 21 February, 2019
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'My display will be what I call old man aerobatics': Life as a veteran Irish stunt pilot

Limerick native Gerry Humphreys has spent over 9,000 hours flying planes over the past three decades.

G Humphries 2 Gerry Humphreys in 'The Flying Cow' Source: Frank Grealish

“MY MOTHER, WHO is 93, tells me that the day I was born my father flew me around the room and I’ve never stopped since.”

60-year-old Limerick native Gerry Humphreys has spent over 9,000 hours flying planes over the past three decades.

Beginning his flying career as an Royal Air Force (RAF) pilot in the 1970s, Humphreys has in recent years taken a different path into small aircraft flying and will this weekend take part in the Bray Air Display Show.

“Ever since I remember, I was made about airplanes. I drew pictures of planes, I wrote essays about planes, I built model planes. I’ve had a lifelong passion for airplanes and flying,” Humphreys told TheJournal.ie. 

In the mid-1970s, Humphreys secured a place in the Aeronautical Engineering course at Queens University in Belfast. During his time at Queens, he joined the Northern Ireland Universities Air Squadron, an RAF volunteer reserve unit for full-time undergraduate students.

After completing his studies, Humphreys completed RAF pilot training in England and Scotland before being stationed mainly in West Germany, where he accumulated over 2,500 hours as a Harrier Fighter pilot.

“I was based mostly in Germany; the former West Germany, near the border. Our job was to be sort of a deterrent against tanks coming across from the East,” Humphreys said.

“I didn’t directly get involved in any punch-ups shall we say. The Falklands War happened when I was in Germany, but I wasn’t actually involved in the war itself.”

‘A totally new part of flying’ 

After just over 20 years in the RAF, Humphreys made the decision to move back to Ireland with his wife and children after being offered a promotion which would have involved more office hours and less piloting. During this time, his father also fell ill.

“It was a no-brainer to leave at that stage,” he said.

Humphreys then took over management of his father’s farm in Limerick and began flying with the Limerick Flying Club in Coonagh, where he obtained an instructor rating.

“Really, a totally new part of flying started for me then because I had never really done anything outside of the military,” he said.

Over the years, his passion for flying never dwindled and this year he made the decision to lease the farm and become a full-time instructor with the Atlantic Air Academy in Cork.

“We teach from zero to hero in about 18 months. We do everything from the beginning to the end,” Humphreys said.

Looking at the similarities between light aircraft flying and his time in the RAF, he said: “There are similarities in that it’s flying, albeit at different speeds and different aims, although the training system in the RAF would be very similar to the training system outside of the RAF.

Learning to fly in the RAF or learning to fly for an airline or anything is very, very similar. It’s very structured, you learn how to fly straight, you learn how to do turns, you learn about performance, you learn about manoeuvring, stalling and circuits. It’s very similar indeed.

“For example, in the RAF or whenever you went flying there was a guy behind the desk and he checked, it doesn’t matter who you were or what you were, he made sure that you had your flight plan and he went through what you were going to do.”

This checklist-style method was something that Humphreys incorporated into his life as an instructor.

Bray Air Show

Humphreys built his own Vans RV7 aircraft on his farm over a five-year period – the first Vans aircraft kit to be built and flown in Ireland. As he painted the aircraft white with black patches, Humphreys nicknamed the plane ‘The Flying Cow’.

Humphreys will take his plane to the sky this weekend as he takes part in this year’s Bray Air Display.

“My display is will be what I call old man aerobatics. I had my 60th birthday last week and although I’m still 21 in my head I have to take it easy because I have a bad back,” Humphreys said.

“My display is more gentle, sort of loops, rolls, a bit of smoke – a combination of graceful ups downs, loops and rolls.

My main concentration will be to try to keep as close as I can and as I’m allowed to the crowd, so people can see the airplane. I try to go down with the wing down and wave to people and that sort of thing.

Bray Air Display, supported by the Irish Aviation Authority, will see high-speed, powerful jets and vintage aircraft take part in the show compromised of more than 40 aircraft.

“They’re going to be absolutely spectacular displays. There are some world-class machinery and people driving, flying the machinery. It’s a spectacular chance to go and see something that is highly unusual and it will be great fun,” Humphreys said.

Reflecting on the joy of flying, he added: “Really, there is a thrill and you do see some wonderful sights, there’s no doubt about it.

“Occasionally, it’s breathtaking, you see a sunset or a sunrise or you see something shimmering on the water or beautiful countryside. Ireland is a magnificent country to fly over because it’s so beautiful.”

Bray Air Display will keep off at 3.30pm today and 2pm tomorrow. The Foynes Air Show also takes place today in Co Limerick.

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