Published: 04 Feb 2020
Last Friday we said a tearful goodbye to our much-loved Head of Air Ops, Tom Gibbons, after eight years of amazing service on the permanent team and twenty-two years as a volunteer. We caught up with Tom to talk about his time working at the Air Tattoo.
In the eight years as Head of Air Ops you have achieved a great deal. What is the one thing that you are most proud of?
"Kind words and I'll open with something that is a common theme throughout - it's a team effort and I certainly couldn't have done it alone. There have been a number of stand out moments (B-2 flypasts, Battle of Britain 75th, USAF 70th, RAF100, Protector UAS and NATO 70th) that have been delivered against a background of thorough preparation and hard work.
However, the UK debut of the F-35B in 2016 following the disappointment of 2014 was particularly rewarding. Following months of effort alongside teams from the UK and the USA, it was pretty special to watch the three aircraft - two US Marine Corps and one UK example - arrive at Fairford in late June."
There are many within the Air Ops team who you've worked closely with over the years. What would be your overriding memory of the team you'll be leaving behind?
"Supportive, professional, hardworking and fun!!! I'll miss them all."
During your time as the Head of Air Ops you've experienced a lot of regulatory changes concerning aircraft participating at airshows? Which one piece do you think has made the biggest contribution towards improving safety at airshows?
"I had to give this a long hard think and I don't think there's a single piece that has stood out as making the biggest contribution within the UK MAA document (RA2335). It has been reviewed and regularly updated and overall it's a comprehensive document.
As with a lot of regulatory and policy documents, I think the danger is trying to be too prescriptive within the regulation in order to try to legislate against every eventuality rather than having the framework that can be interpreted by professionals."
Which new regulation have you found the most challenging to implement and why?
"Within the industry and particularly RIAT given our unique position with a large number of non-UK military flying display participants a significant challenge has been that of validating these participants against the requirements of RA2335. Not all non-UK military routines are compatible with the requirements within that document, getting to a position where the requirements are satisfied can be a tricky process."
Which three aircraft have you most enjoyed seeing at RIAT during your time as Head of Air Ops, and why?
"Probably unsurprising to those who know me - Polish Air Force Sukhoi Su-22M 'Fitters', Spanish Air Force SF-5M Freedom Fighters and Hellenic Air Force A-7 Corsairs. Classic aircraft that are an increasingly rare sight at airshows - indeed the A-7s are no longer in service.
If you could have chosen one current military aircraft from any air arm in the world to perform at the Air Tattoo which one would it have been and why?
"Russian Air Force MiG-31 'Foxhound'. I suspect the routine would be nothing special, however, the sheer size and noise of this aircraft would be a sight to behold in the skies above Fairford."
If you had one piece of advice for your successor Peter Reoch, what would it be?
"Find your own style, work with the (whole) team and trust their input. Develop your relationships across all disciplines and trust yourself.
Not exactly one piece of advice but........."
From everyone at Air Tattoo HQ, we wish Tom all the best in his future endeavours!