Introducing our new Chief Pilot…
The summer of 2020 will be remembered by most for a number of different reasons, both good and bad. A certain highlight of the 2020 flying season for us, was the introduction of pilot Jon Gowdy to our hangars at Duxford.
An already incredibly experienced pilot with a wealth of different aircraft types in his logbooks, Jon takes the reins as our Chief Pilot as of December 2021.
Despite his never ending love for the P-47 Thunderbolt, we know Jon secretly feels at home in Aerial Collective Spitfire T.IX’s, and is quickly building up hours on the other aircraft within the Aircraft Restoration Company & Aerial Collective fleet.
By way of an introduction, we sat down with Jon after a long day of Spitfire adventures and asked him a few questions…
So, what do you enjoy about flying?
For me and the warbird experience flights, I think there is a post flight enjoyment, not to say that you don’t enjoy what you are doing while you are doing it, but when flying these old aircraft there is a cloud of responsibility that comes with it, to look after the aeroplane and the person sitting behind you. It’s an awesome, wonderful, amazing thing and particularly with old aeroplanes where there are bus loads, bucket loads of pilots that all would kill to fly these aeroplanes. I am acutely aware of how lucky I am to be able to do it, I feel so lucky that someone has trusted me with the aeroplane, and they wouldn’t do that if they didn’t have faith in the person flying it. That gives me a warm fuzzy feeling, if you like, to think that someone trusts me to do this is great.
Certainly, when doing these flight experiences, you get to watch the different reactions from people which is amazing. I also get an enormous amount of satisfaction out of instructing, if I can take somebody that has limited flying experience and at the end of their time in an aeroplane with me, to have taught them something that might either make them a better flyer or better yet, save their life, I think to myself ‘I’ve done that, my brain has passed a little bit of stuff into their brain and now they’re better off for it”. I think that’s really cool and I know that’s not unique to flying, that’s just something that any instructor in any situation would enjoy.
In regard to display flying, I’m not a particularly artistic sort of person. Displays are the closest I’ll ever come to doing the artistic side of flying. It’s the mix of where tech meets art I think, science meets art, I get an awful lot of satisfaction out of that. For me, display flying is about presenting the aeroplane in the best possible light for whatever your audience is, and the audience can be widely varied, if you are displaying at Flying Legends you are displaying to a completely different audience than say if you are displaying at Clacton Sea Front for instance. Clearly there is some blurring of the lines, particularly with old aeroplanes it is that people want to see the plane displayed in a sympathetic, unscary way. And if you get to the end of it and someone says, “You know, that was a great display”, that gives me a massive amount of satisfaction. More so if its comes from a peer or somebody that I know and respect in the display world, to have them come up and say it was a good display fundamentally means they weren’t scared by it, I’d feel like I’ve done the job well.
And then the best thing about flying a Jumbo jet for a living, is walking through the terminal and seeing all the people hugging each other in the arrivals hall, that’s the coolest bit, it’s amazing to think that you have reunited people, brought them to where they are and they are alive, aha, who would have thought!
If you had to choose P-47 thunderbolt or Spitfire?
What a horrible question! My go-to answer is to say, ‘whatever I am strapped to at the time’, but I can’t not say the P-47. I love the Spitfire, I love them all, but there is just something epic about the P-47.
What has been your most memorable flight in a warbird?
Leading the Ultimate Fighters formation at Flying Legends 2019, it’s probably the coolest thing I have ever done in an aeroplane.
What is the one aircraft you wish you could fly that you haven’t already?
The Mosquito. It’s the coolest aeroplane on the planet. That was easy!
What aircraft in the Aerial Collective fleet do you wish you could fly, that you haven’t already?
If you could perform a display anywhere in the world, where would it be?
I’d quite like to do a display at Reno, if you had asked me a few years back I would have said Duxford and I’m trying to think of anything that would be remotely better than that. I’ve flown a DC-3 over Buckingham Palace, and that was reasonably awesome. I think most people would say to fly over The Queen would be one of them. But i’m going to say Reno because it’s just cool. There’s something really cool about Reno.
What makes Duxford so special?
For me, it’s the history of the place. The amount of history that comes with Duxford and to think of what was done at this airfield, and not just the wartime stuff, you know it’s everything that’s happened in the meantime as well. Hopefully it’s a history that will continue to be written for as long as I am around.
It’s somewhere I have grown up, especially when I was in my formative years and started display flying. So, it’s a very special place to me, I walk through the gate, and I’m getting to know an increasing number of people and they’ll say ‘Hi Jon’ you know? That’s quite cool. I come to Duxford, and it feels a little bit like home. You can walk around the airfield and see your mate Brian Smith getting into a Spitfire or a Corsair, you can spend time chatting with the guys in the hangar. I could easily come up here, clean aeroplanes, drink coffee and drive home without flying and be dead chuffed.
It’s a place to witness some of the best display pilots in the world and for me to be able to say ‘I have flown here’ is pretty special. That and the fact that someone could say to me ‘come and fly an aeroplane’ which would inevitably put a smile on my face.
Out of everything you do, what is your favourite job/role?
Being a Dad is the coolest. Of all my jobs, and I don’t see it as a job, but of all the things I have had to do in life, being Dad is pretty epic.
What is your ambition in your flying career?
I don’t think I have too many major ambitions, other than to get to the end without embarrassing myself and to choose my own time to give it up. For me the great joy in flying warbirds is sharing them with people and having the opportunity to fulfil dreams through the flight experiences is just magic. It always puts a silly grin on my face, and I think it’s the same kick that comedians get when they are up on-stage making people laugh. For me, it’s my silly little version of what a comedian does.
What did you enjoy about managing the FireFlies display team?
The satisfaction of what Andy Durston and I achieved, it was our baby. By no means were we re-inventing the wheel, we were not the first people to do what we did. But there’s satisfaction in going from nothing at all, having an idea and then achieving something.
I appreciated that what we were doing was entertainment. But I dread the whole thought of standing up in front of a crowd. Even amongst my peers, the thought of standing up and presenting something fills me with horror. But once I put on my mask, in this case a pair of wings, then I’m fine. So to think, we’ve displayed at Bournemouth airshow for example, and the average crowd each year is a million people, a lot of TV programmes don’t reach anything like that, but that’s something we’ve been able to do and enjoy.
After a busy day of Spitfire flying, what’s your go to refreshment?
Get me a Beer. Get me a cold beer.