Firing fireworks from aircraft: inside the Firebirds aerobatic team

Mark Broadbent talks to the Firebirds aerobatic team, who perform with pyrotechnics and LEDs

Evening pyro displays at UK airshows have brightened an industry rather beleaguered by diminished military participation, rising costs, bureaucratic challenges, new regulations and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Various UK civilian teams now fly pyro displays, with aircraft releasing fireworks and using LED lighting.

The Firebirds use a pair of Van's Aircraft, G-SPRK (c/n 845) and G-SPRX (c/n 1622), RV-4s with their fireworks and multicoloured LEDs
The Firebirds use a pair of Van's Aircraft, G-SPRK (c/n 845) and G-SPRX (c/n 1622), RV-4s with their fireworks and multicoloured LEDs Paul Johnson

One act bringing this colourful dimension to airshows is the Firebirds display team, a duo of pyro and LED-equipped Van’s RV-4s that are flown by Nigel Reid and John Dodd.

 

Pyro growth

The first pyro airshow acts were in the United States in the early 1990s, when some civilian aerobatic display pilots began experimenting by attaching clusters of Roman candles and waterfall fireworks to their aircraft.

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