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Monday, 12 May 2014 19:03

Gonzalo O’Kelly, President and Chief of the Display Team Jacob 52 Featured

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Gonzalo O’Kelly is President and Chief Pilot of the aerobatic team, Jacob 52.  It is one of the fewer teams in the world formed by five civil pilots flying aerobatic formation with Yak 52s, and the first civil formation aerobatic team created in Spain. Jacob 52 was formed in 1999 when Gonzalo - persuaded by a friend who already owned one - bought a Yakovlev Yak-52. He convinced a few other friends to do the same and created the Jacob 52 Association, an organization with the aim of expanding the sport of aerobatics.

Jacob 52 is comprised of five experienced pilots from civil and military fields. O’Kelly, for example, was born in Cuenca, Spain in 1952. He is a member of the 28th Promotion of the Spanish Air Force Academy, and he retired from the Air Force in 1987 when he was hired by Spantax Airlines. The following year, when the company shut down, he joined Spanair, being one of the airline's first 19 pilots. Today he is retired, with more than 20,000 hours of flight experience. He enjoys formation aerobatic flight with Jacob 52, which performs stunning airshows in Spain and Portugal.

- How did the Association begin?
 
In 1999 five airline pilots, led by my friend Tomás Fernández Buergo, decided to buy a Yak-52. They were attracted to its flight capabilities and low cost.
After this first Yak arrived in Spain, they formed the core of Jacob 52 and began to call other pilots, like me, to convince us to buy more aircrafts. In my case, I took about 1 millisecond to say yes.
Jacob is Spanish for Yakov, and the initials of the names or surnames of those first five pilots formed that same word, so it was easy to determine the name for the association.
At this moment our fleet is comprised of 8 Yak-52s and 1 Yak-55, based in Casarrubios, Axarquía and Son Bonet.
 
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Gonzalo O'Kelly in his Yakovlev Yak 52 
- What are its goals?
 
Our goals are to expand the sport of aviation, particularly aerobatics and formation flight, and to improve the flying skills of our members in both areas.
Almost all flights of our Yaks are training flights.
 A very important part of Jacob 52 is our Aerobatic Patrol, which was created to participate in the Aviation Centennial in 2003, held at Torrejón Air Base.
 We also held a modest celebration in Casarrubios.
 Many of our members come from the fighter wings of the Spanish Air Force, so we had the right aircraft and expertise. It was an easy conclusion to come to.
 Since then, we have flown in a lot of airshows in Spain and Portugal.
  
- What sets it apart from other display teams?
  
We are the only civil Aerobatic Team in Spain. In Europe there are four or five more, but we are also different because they have sponsors, and we pay our training expenses out-of-pocket.
  
- How many members are there?
  
There are 33 members in Jacob 52 , and 5 of them fly in the patrol. We have a special training program for other members wishing to fly in the patrol, and I'm very proud to say that we have very capable substitutes for the near future.
  
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Five experienced pilot comprised Jacob 52
- Who are the members of the patrol, and what role do you each have?
  
Leader Juan José Barta Hernández, Airbus 330 captain in Air Europa. He started out flying in the right wingman position, until two years ago when he was elected leader.
Right wingman, Javier Cruz Pérez, Airbus 320 captain in Iberia Express, ex-Eagle Patrol.
Left wingman, Tomás Castro de la Torre, retired Iberian captain.
"Perro," or number four, is me, another retired captain. I close the diamond, and I've flown in that position from the first flight of our patrol.
"Solo," Manuel Rey Cordeiro, Airbus 320 captain in Vueling. He flies aerobatics for the public while the diamond climbs, re-joins after any break, or repositions.
 
- What experience does each member have? Do they have backgrounds in aerobatics?
 
On our team, the only pilot without fighter pilot experience is the "Solo," but he is the most skilled in aerobatics.
The other four come from the air force. They have all trained in aerobatics and formation flight from the very first flight, and daily since then.
 
- What does aerobatics mean for you?
 
For me, flight - any flight - is pure enjoyment. Everyday problems remain on the ground, and my mind is solely dedicated to controlling the aircraft and enjoying every minute.
Aerobatics is a step forward. You and your aircraft become one, and the adrenaline flows throughout your body.
Flying aerobatics in formation is the highest level a pilot can attain, the full embodiment of flight skills. In formation flight you are not only fused with your aircraft, but also with four others.
Nothing can compare, and if you look at us after a training flight or airshow, you can see that.
To summarize, as my friend Juanjo Barta says, it's the most fun you can have with your clothes on.
  
- How important is safety?
 
Safety is the number one consideration in every flight. We hold a full briefing before every flight, reviewing emergency situations and the correct response for each of them.
Flying in formation is not just about skill; each pilot in the formation must be certain that the others know what to do and when to do it.
 
 - What Kind of plane is the Yak-52?
  
It's a wonderful plane designed by Yakovlev in the late seventies as a basic trainer-plane for the Soviet Union and satellite countries' air forces. It is derived from the Yak-50, an aerobatic aircraft that won a couple of world aerobatics championships.
It's very simple and easy to maintain, has no frills at all. It's also capable of flying any maneuver in the Aresti catalog.
Very fun to fly, though it is not for a rookie pilot. It has very strict procedures and you must comply with all of them.
 
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Jacob 52 perform a mix of vertical and horitzontal maneuvers, breaks and crossings
- Which maneuvers do you do at exhibitions?
 
Our exhibition lasts 25 minutes and we perform a mix of vertical and horizontal maneuvers, breaks and crossings. And of course, the "Solo" performs very complicated aerobatics.
 I think it's quite exciting and thrilling for the public, because since we fly propeller aircrafts, much slower than jets, we stay very near to the public throughout the exhibition.
 
 - Do you have different acrobatic sequences?
 
Yes, we have different sets of maneuvers to adapt mainly to weather conditions. If the ceiling is low for instance, we suppress the vertical maneuvers.
  
- Which festivals do you participate in?
  
In Spain we have flown in Gijón, Cádiz, Barcelona, Córdoba and Ocaña airshows. We have collaborated with our Air Force for opening days at the Zaragoza and Getafe Air Bases, and of course, for the Aviation Centennial Celebration in Torrejón.
Outside of Spain, we have been invited to fly in the Cascais Airshow twice.
 
 - What is your next event?
 
 The Last few years have been very hard for airshows due to lack of funding. In 2013 we were scheduled to fly in the Festa al Cel airshow in Barcelona, and were very disappointed when bureaucracy killed it. I really hope it can be re-instituted this year, and let me take the opportunity to send a message to my friend Dani Ventura: "Go for it, we are with you."
Fortunately, 2014 looks a lot better for us. Next June, we'll fly in the Motril Airshow, our first time there. We'll do our best, as usual. This airshow is a clear example of how a small group of aviation fanatics can make something happen without any help, based solely on hard work.
In July we'll go to the First Coruña Airshow, where we'll try to make sure there will be a second one.
Of course, if there is Festa al Cel, we'll be there, selling t-shirts if need-be.
Our main focus this year is the celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the Spanish Air Force, next October. We have been invited to participate as former fighter pilots and as Jacob 52 members, and we feel honored.
 
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For Jacob 52, the main focus of this year is the celebration of 75th Anniversary of the Spanish Air Force

 

Read 61672 times Last modified on Monday, 12 May 2014 18:52
Ingrid Font

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