Meet the Men Behind the Machines
After a short commission in the RAF in the eighties, Al worked overseas for several years and gained his civilian pilots wings in Swaziland in 1992, quickly he became very interested in the dark side of aviation or aerobatics as it’s commonly known. He built a single seat Pitts Special from drawings with the view to competition, he competed for 5 years and won bronze in an International competition. He has subsequently rebuilt several Pitts Specials and Christen Eagles. Display flying appealed so he gained his Display Authorisation in 2005 and has been doing airshow work ever since. Al has passed the CPL exams and is hoping to become a Flying Instructor. He has nearly 1500 civillian hours of which more than two thirds are in the Pitts Special. When not flying, he rears rare breed cattle and pigs at home in South Norfolk.
Even before he flew his first solo flight in an Air Training Corps glider at the age of 14, Willie was determined that flying would play a major role in his life. Awarded a flying scholarship, 3 years later, he gained his pilots licence before he could drive and has never looked back. He was commissioned into the RAF as a navigator in 1985 but always believed that with hard work and perseverance he would one day achieve his dream of being a fast jet single-seat pilot.
After 3 amazing years as a navigator on the Buccaneer, and countless letters requesting a branch change, he eventually got the call he’d been waiting for and started pilot training at RAF Linton on Ouse on the Jet Provost in the summer of 1990. Graduation of the Advanced Flying Training courses at Valley and Chivenor were rewarded with his first choice posting to the Jaguar and he joined 6 Squadron at RAF Coltishall as the new junior pilot in November 1992. After an array of flying and staff appointments dispersed with frequent deployments to contribute to operations in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, Willie found himself back on 6 Squadron in May 2004 – this time as ‘the Boss’.
Away from the ‘office’ of his Jaguar cockpit, Willie developed his passion for flying increasingly complex aerobatics in Chipmunk, Bulldog, Tiger Moth, Yak and Pitts aircraft. Retirement from the RAF in 2010 provided Willie with the opportunity to devote more time to his passion and paired up with like-minded pilots Al Coutts and Blair Keen to form Wildcat Aerobatics.
Originally flying a single-seat Pitts S1D, Willie upgraded to the more powerful two seat Pitts S2B with the purchase of G-ZIII which now flies in the Wildcat 2 slot. Willie is married to Nicola and his children, Rory and Maisie, can often be seen occupying the front seat of the Pitts and feature in a number of the Wildcat Aerobatics videos.
Little known facts about Willie:
- He can claim to have sunk HMS Yarmouth in 1987 with a Martel TV guided missile fired from his Buccaneer. It’s OK, he was meant to do this.
- He was responsible for dropping a pair of 1000lb bombs on the wrong Scottish island. Ouch, he wasn’t meant to do this!
- He is the ‘Laird of Glencairn’.
Ed has been around aeroplanes since he was 13, and can still vividly remember the first time he saw a Pitts Special – which incidentally was being flown by Wildcat One! Ed was lucky enough to begin learning to fly at 15, and flew his first solo on his 16th birthday – the youngest age you can legally do this in the United Kingdom. He completed his skills test a month before his 17th birthday, and thanks to the Civil Aviation Authority, was handed his licence on his 17th birthday – again, the youngest age at which this is possible. Four months later he passed his driving test!
Now over ten years later, Ed still flies, and is also responsible for the Wildcat web presence, social media, and other technical issues. Ed married Kate in 2014, where of course a Wildcat wedding display thrilled and amazed the assembled guests, some of whom said it was the highlight of the day: Ed couldn’t possibly comment!
Rory Cruickshank has been involved with Wildcat since its inception and over the last three years has developed from useless 11 year old Crew Chief (although he did have small hands for getting in to small places) to a pretty cool 16 year old display commentator. Now that his legs are long enough to reach the rudder pedals he’s also proving useful as the pilot of Wildcat 2 on transit flights between display sites and has aspirations to get a PPL before he can drive. This year Rory is also branching into post flight video production as the latest member of the Wildcat Media Team and is responsible for the operation of all of the team’s on board cameras. However, he still has much to learn about making a decent cup of tea and cleaning aeroplanes to Wildcat One’s exacting standards!!