Brian Lecomber - a personal tribute

It was a privilege, and a very moving experience, to be a part of the missing man formation at Brian's funeral in his home town of Great Missenden, Bucks, with aircraft representing each type that Brian flew as an aerobatic pilot.
Pitts S2 - Alan Walker (Leader)
Pitts S1 - Stuart Goldspink
Stampe - Chris Jesson
Extra 300 - John Taylor and Ben Nielsen

He looked at me with a piercing stare through large rimmed aviator spectacles … “So the idea is we fly a 12 minute sequence of continuous aerobatic figures within a 1000 meter cube. No wingovers or turning circles and all in line abreast, stack or mirror formation! Think we can manage that…….?”

Listening to the very many tributes paid to Brian Lecomber since his untimely death in September, it’s very obvious that his life was packed from beginning to end with a courageous disrespect for anything that would thwart his ambitions, the vision and imagination to take everything he touched to a different level, a bold sense of humour, and very, very many talents. I’m not the best person to comment on his achievements as a best-selling author, motoring journalist, British Freestyle Aerobatic Champion or his highly influential contributions to air show safety.

I can, however - and am very proud to - share my experiences of developing and flying the award-winning formation display that took us both to retirement from air shows without - as Brian once put it - turning us to fertiliser!

The first part of my “interview” to join Brian at Firebird Aerobatics was a short flight in the Extra 300s, and apparently sticking to his wing tip line abreast for 10 minutes was enough to get his imagination whirling. The second part of the interview was more serious. I had run my own display team for many years and was twice Brian’s size - so would I accept him as The Boss at all times? And then there was the serious discussion on the relative merits of a wife either objecting or tacitly supporting our mysterious occupation. Fortunately I was able to reassure him and passed muster on both counts.

As we developed Brian’s ultimate display sequence of “continuous aerobatic figures within a 1000 meter cube” I realised that flying with Brian was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Brian was always “The Boss”, but the synergy between us became palpable and, at times, exhilarating.

Practice sessions were always demanding. At first I would often be reminding myself that the calculated risks were worth the odds. But then I learned that Brian was exceptional in this respect. There was no mistaking the shrewd, possibly unique, blend of showmanship tempered with a hefty dose of “what if” escape scenarios and subsequent flight paths. It was an intoxicating experience to work closely with a little human dynamo that was willing to explore every twist and turn that makes an aerobatic sequence blend seamlessly together.

Making the dream come true took countless hours of practice, discussion and tweeking. The number of times we came close to touching was truly a testament to his dogged belief that we could, and would, make the duo work his way. And there was never going to be a limit on budget when it came to putting in the hours to make it right!

The definition of Boss these days is a lot different to the traditional style of leadership that Brian had. Fortunately we had both grown up in the air display world through the school of hard knocks where basically you shut up and deal or get off the pot. By the start of our first display season we felt a special chemistry at play - a union of joint ambitions. He described that feeling to me as having a savage satisfaction in getting the performance to work perfectly. The sense of competition was always present (which is fine if you just fly for contests) but Brian’s ability to imbue a partnership of two pilots with the same fierce ambition was truly a defining part of the Firebird Aerobatic Team.

Our display was technically demanding and very intense, physically and emotionally. The Boss usually had a pipe in his mouth and I swear to this day, he wouldn’t have functioned without it. His mantra to anybody offering the wisdom of not smoking 8 hours before flight (or drinking within 20 feet of the fuel bowser) was to employ the acronym MFA!

Brian’s ability to express the reasons we all fly is well understood! There is a gift in being able to put in words the complexities of aerobatic flying machines and his straight talking personality shone throughout his legion of magazine articles. Brian shared this talent with another extraordinary pilot of a previous generation, Neil Williams. But the language of Brian Lecomber was always immediately recognised and illuminated his fascinating insights when writing for Flyer Magazine.

Bestselling novelist and journalist
Award-winning Aerobatic Display Pilot
British Freestyle Aerobatic Champion
Liveryman and Freeman of the City of London
Guild of Air Pilots and Navigators Sword of Honour
Henry Seagrave Trophy 2004

A hard act to follow? I would say an impossible act to follow - a unique personality of immense talent who will rightly live on in so many ways. Rest in Peace matey – you’re going to need it after that lot!

October 2015