The P-3 Flyers are a civilian aerobatics team. The members fly demonstrations on the Pilatus P-3 throughout Europe, helping to promote the Pilatus name all over the world. Officially founded in 2002, the team is based in Ambri, Switzerland, and is led by Marco Guscio. Pilatus Aircraft Ltd
Marco, what’s the story behind the P-3 Flyers?
The team was created essentially because the aircraft we fly were available on the civilian market. We’re a group of friends, and we’ve know each other for a long time because of our shared passion for flying. I still remember our first flights at the end of the 1990s, when we did formation flights at some of the first vintage aircraft meet-ups – we had very little experience, but that didn’t stop us! One of our first shows was the “Walliser Flugtage” in 1994, in Raron, Switzerland. It was memorable because all the new pilots were “baptised” in the evening!
Can you tell us a bit about the history of the P-3 Flyers?
We bought our first Pilatus P-3 in 1992, and we started appearing at air shows in 1996 with two aircraft. We’ve used five P-3s in the team since 2006. We realised early on that we need to be very professional. We developed further over the years, and underwent training in formation flying with military pilots. We do a yearly brush-up course – imposed by the Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA). All five of our aircraft were fitted with a smoke system in 2007, to make our performances even more spectacular.
What makes the P-3 Flyers so special?
We are the only civilian team in Switzerland, and one of only a few in Europe, to perform using this type of aircraft. As a general rule, these flights are presented by professional or military teams only.
Did you always want to be a pilot?
Yes. I was born in Ambrì, close to the military base which has been in active use since the 1940s. As a child, I often went walking in the area around the airport with my mother. We used to watch the DH100 Vampires and DH112 Venoms. The airport rules were rather more relaxed back then, and the local children were welcome to run around the parked aircraft and talk to the pilots and mechanics. My passion for aviation began back then. I earned by private pilot’s licence in 1977, before I had passed my driving test.
So, how does one get to buy a P-3?
The Swiss Air Force sells off aircraft which are about to be decommissioned. That’s how we came by the P-2, which we used to own, the P-3 and our two PC-7s, which we now use for scenic flights. Each aircraft used by the P-3 Flyers is the personal property of one or two of our members. My P-3 was put up for auction in 1995.
What do you like about the P-3?
I love the way one can see right into the avionics bay. It’s obvious the P-3 was built with a huge amount of care. Our aircraft are nearly 60 years old, but they look like they came off the production line yesterday. Apart from flying, we also do the annual maintenance inspection ourselves. Each team member is FOCA-licensed to work on his aircraft. One of the big advantages is that we know our aircraft inside out from a mechanical point of view. It also creates a real link between pilot and aircraft – and another opportunity to appreciate the superb quality of this machine.
What makes this aircraft so special for a pilot?
The P-3 has superb aerodynamic qualities, but rather limited performance in terms of power. But pilots who know how to work the aircraft to get the most out of it love flying aerobatic programmes with it.
How many members do you have in the team?
We’re seven pilots for the time being. We’re actually looking for a new team member at the moment so that we can carry on even if one of the five regular pilots is absent for any reason.
How many times a year do you perform at shows?
We usually take part in about 15 events, visiting nearly every country within Europe. The limited range of the aircraft and the fact that we fly according to visual rules, make some of the trips pretty adventurous. In 2003, for example, we made it to Duxford, England – in three legs – in a single day. The return flight took a week, however, due to bad weather and a zig-zag route right across France.
Which events do you remember most?
Taking part in the Duxford Air Show (England) is pretty much the holy grail for any pilot of vintage military aircraft – fondly known as "warbirds" – as this air show is a mecca for anyone interested in historic aircraft. Taking part in Air14 in Payerne, and, more recently, at the Sion Air Show 2017, was a fantastic experience, too. Not forgetting the invitation to the PC-24 rollout on 1 August 2014. It really was a huge honour for the P-3 Flyers to be able to fly at such an important event.
What other Pilatus aircraft do you fly besides the P-3?
I’ve flown with the P-2 which the P-3 Flyers owned until a few years ago. I fly regular scenic flights in the Alps with our two PC-7s and I also have an instructor rating on this type. I used to carry skydivers in a PC-6 and I’ve also done some flying with the PC-7 MkII.
Has flying always been something special for you?
Absolutely! The beauty of the scenery makes flying in Ticino and the Swiss Alps something really sensational for me. The feeling of freedom and the challenge of defying gravity are two aspects of flying which I find fascinating. Another thing about flying is that there’s always something new to learn!
Many thanks for your time, Marco. We wish you and the P-3 Flyers many more satisfying hours and plenty of fabulous flights!