A busy time ahead for the Hungarian Gripen demo pilot
Summer is here, and with it come many popular events. An example is air shows, which always attract thousands of people interested in spectacular maneuvers, high speed and roaring engines. One pilot who will be sure to delight the audience this summer is Máté Majerik, Hungarian Air Force Gripen demo pilot.
If you happen to attend an air show this summer you will most likely have a chance to see Máté flying a Gripen. He and his ground crew will visit most of the biggest air shows in Europe, so you had better start planning. But who is Máté, and where can you expect to see him this summer? Read on and get to know him a bit better.
Becoming a demo pilot, was that a dream-come-true moment?
In general, becoming a fighter pilot had been my dream since my early childhood years. I remember attending airshows where the performance of the fighter jets simply amazed me. And now, having the chance to bring out those emotions in others and to show them the best job in the world is definitely a rewarding experience.
How does it feel to fly a Gripen in the advanced maneuvers that you do during a flying display?
The Flight Control System provides precision for conducting the maneuvers. In the meantime, the advanced maneuvering capabilities of the aircraft (e.g. the roll rate and the high-g rapid onset) are quite challenging for the pilot’s body.
What does your flying career look like?
I completed my basic and advanced flying training between 2010 and 2012 in Hungary and Canada. Together with other NATO members, the Hungarian Air Force put its fighter-pilot candidates through the NFTC (NATO Flying Training in Canada). The training included ground-school classes, computer-based learning, simulator and of course real flying sorties. After earning my Wings some of us were re-stationed to the CFB Cold Lake airbase for lead-in fighter training.
During these years I flew 350 hours with the Yak-52, the CT-156 (T-6A Texan II) and the CT-155 (BAE Hawk mk.115) aircraft.
Only after this were we eligible for transition training in the Gripen.
How much training do you put in before the demo season?
My primary job is to conduct operational flying. That means that I only start to practice display flying just weeks prior to my first show, according to our Standard Operating Procedures which detail the preparations required.
The ground crew also plays an important role when keeping the fighter in perfect condition: how does this co-operation work, and do they train extra as well?
We don’t have a dedicated demo team. Any of the maintenance crew can be part of an airshow weekend. Standards are just as high during their everyday work as during an airshow.
Do you have dedicated Gripen aircraft for all the displays or do you fly with any of the HunAF Gripen?
No, we can not afford to have dedicated assets solely for displays. We fly with whatever jet is available on the flight line.
Have you changed your programme compared to last year?
Yes, I try to make small changes every year.
How do you prepare mentally before a display?
20 minutes before walking to the jet I like to have my own peace of mind, mentally rehearsing the display sequence and also doing a warmup exercise.
Which is the most demanding maneuver in your programme, and why is that?
I have multiple maneuvers where I hit 8-9 g in 1.5 seconds. It feels like someone dropping 9 times your body weight on your shoulders. At 9 g, your helmet alone weighs more than 10 kg. Also, the negative -3 g turn is quite unpleasant for the body.
Regarding aircraft handling, the slow roll is a challenging one to perform precisely, because of the continuously changing aerodynamic forces on the jet when it slowly rolls and also accelerates for the follow-on maneuver.