Story 16.06.2016

Chiefpilot and Flight Instructor for the PC-21

Daniel Stämpfli, also called Stampa by his flight colleagues, is very experienced in training for Pilatus aircraft PC-7 and PC-21. At the Swiss Air Force he teaches future air force pilots in the PC-21. Since April 2016, he became the commandant of the PC-7 TEAM, the well-known aerobatics team of the Swiss Air Force.

Have you always wanted to be a pilot?
I grew up in Zumikon, in canton Zurich. The village is pretty close to the airport at Dübendorf, and there was a lot more going on here in the 80s, we had aircraft flying over our house every hour. I loved it, of course. But I really got the bug in 1986, after seeing “Top Gun” at the cinema. From then on, I knew I wanted to be a pilot. Where did you do your pilot training? Back in my day, we used to do pre-flight training (FVS) in two blocks of two weeks.Then we were sent to pilot training school where the real selection process took place. We spent four weeks doing simulator training and tests, and then another four weeks in an actual aircraft. If you got through that, you had a place and you were on your way! Today’s military trainees pass through

How long have you been working as Senior Pilot on the PC-21 programme?
I’ve been working here in Emmen for about three years.

And what exactly do you do in that role?
I’m a flight instructor first and foremost, and I’m responsible for training our student pilots on the PC-21 – on the aircraft itself and on the simulator. I spend about ten percent of my time taking care of Senior Pilot duties – checking whether the PC-21 meets our training requirements, for example, or whether we need to make modifications. That goes hand in hand with the task of updating our user handbook – or “Flight Manual” as it is called. There’s a whole team working on that. I visit Stans on a regular basis to talk to the senior guys here and discuss any concerns I may have.

Can you tell us about a typical working day?
I don’t really have a typical working day. I work both in the air and in the office, doing a wide range of jobs. I spend about ten percent of my time at the Operations Centre in Dübendorf. I was also made commanding officer of the PC-7 TEAM on 18 April. Each different task requires different preparation, and I lose a bit of ti in the car for that reason. When I work as an instructor, my day typically starts at 7.15 am with a joint briefing during which we make a careful analysis of the weather situation. My day tends to be more open towards the evening. It ends when the flight training is complete. My work is very varied – it’s rare that two days ever look the same!

How many pilots does the Air Force train on the PC-21 each year?
We’re currently training five students. The number varies from year to year – it depends on operational requirements. Theoretically, we have sufficient capacity to train up to eight student pilots.

How many hours do you fly per year in the PC-21?
I fly about 200 hours in the PC-21 in a normal year. It’ll be less from this year on, because my work as commanding officer of the PC-7 TEAM will take up about 40 percent of my time. But I still expect to fly about 100 hours in the PC-21 every year.

Where do you fly?
We fly mainly from Emmen with our students. We spend three months in Sion in the summer, and a week flying with trainees outside Switzerland: it’s an opportunity for our students to see something new. Just flying to the destination is a challenge in itself. You have to remember that flying in unknown territory takes special planning; the flight rules are different, the procedures are different. It’s also a valuable opportunity to exchange ideas with other air forces. We were in Wales last year, for example.

Where do you see the advantages of the PC-21 as a training aircraft?
I’m a great fan of the PC-21. I’m very impressed by the way students can transfer direct to the F/A-18 from the PC-21. It says a great deal about the qualities of this training aircraft. Since changing over to this programme, all our students – almost 40! – have passed the training course. Which proves that the training can be completed without a costly jet trainer. The PC-21 obviously doesn’t have the speed and weight of a jet – those are aspects which students get to know on the F/A-18 – but the PC-21 puts them in contact with a modern cockpit. The PC-21 cockpit closely resembles that of the F/A-18. The functions of the buttons and switches on the control stick and power lever are virtually identical to those in the Hornet, too. Our philosophy is simple: the sooner our students come into contact with the systems management of our  fighter jets, the faster and more durable is the learning process. Training on a PC-21 is much more cost-effective, too: an hour on the PC-21 costs about one-eighth of an hour on an F/A-18. The Pilatus trainer also has a very high availability – over 90 percent – so we can count on it being operational pretty much whenever when we need it. It all helps to move training forward.

Where do see room for improvement?
Well, generally speaking, pilots believe that aircraft never have enough thrust, and could always go faster! No, joking aside, I really don’t see the need to change anything fundamental for the time being! We make minor adjustments to suit our needs on an ongoing basis. I’m very happy with this trainer. And I appreciate the way Pilatus continues to help us explore exactly what this aircraft is capable of in terms of training.

What are the most challenging flight conditions you’ve flown in a PC-21?
The PC-21 is very easy to fly, which is great, of course, because it means the pilot has time to concentrate on the systems and on completing his mission. I personally find the PC-21 demonstration flights very exciting and technically challenging. I fly these programmes at military events and I fly alone, not in a squadron, which is a relatively new experience for me. During these demonstration flights, the programme may include manoeuvres that impose forces of up to 7G on the pilot. The display programme was developed by the senior Pilatus test pilot, Reto “Aeschli” Aeschlimann – an excellent pilot who knows the PC-21 like the back of his hand!

You were appointed commanding officer of the PC-7 TEAM. What are you looking forward to most?
The team experience! I used to fly with the Patrouille Suisse, which I enjoyed very much.

Which do you prefer – the PC-7 or thePC-21?
That’s a very difficult question! The PC-7 was the first military aircraft I ever flew, so I’ll always have a special relationship with that aircraft. But from a pilot’s perspective,I prefer the PC-21. It’s faster, more modern, and includes many more integrated systems. The PC-21 is equipped with a moving map for precise situational awareness. I also like the way the aircraft is very quick to react to control inputs.

What are your plans for the future?
I’m very happy with the way things are going at the moment. I started out in Dübendorf, then I was stationed in Meiringen, and now I’m in Emmen. I hope I can stay in Emmen. My family and I like living in Central Switzerland very much.