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Frederic Handelmann

DC-6B captain & more


Frederic Handelmann always had the knack of being in the right place at the right time. He came into this world as the son of two fanatical aviators, and later found himself at countless airports around the world as a Lufthansa captain. 

The knack was also there when a series of chance encounters brought him into the orbit of the Flying Bulls. Every step of the way, he learned about the world while living out his passion for flying – as captain of the mighty DC-6B and the B-25J Mitchell, and in the cockpit of his secret love, the North American T-6. 


Frederic, one might say you were born to fly.

FH: My father was not just a military aviator, he was mad about flying. On weekends when he wasn’t flying for the military, he would be at the airfield where my mother was a glider pilot. As you might imagine, even as a small child, I was always at the airfield. I got my glider licence as a teenager, but flying only really grabbed me when I saw pictures of all the aircraft my father had flown in his lifetime – especially the T-6 and the T-33. For me, it all started with the warbirds that we now fly with the Flying Bulls. It’s really come full circle.

You went on to spend a big part of your flying career as a pilot, and eventually as a captain for Lufthansa. After flying school you flew the Boeing 737, then later the A330, A340, MD-11 and finally the A350. How did you end up with the Flying Bulls?

FH: I was just in the right place at the right time. Back then I already had a type rating for the T-6 as well as my aerobatic rating. It was also around then that I got to know Raimund Riedmann, our current chief pilot. These were the basic requirements even to be considered for the Flying Bulls and to fly the T-28. One time I was sitting in the cockpit with Sigi Angerer, who was chief pilot at the time, and out of the blue he asked me if I’d be interested in captaining the DC-6. I didn’t need to think twice. Two months after that, I was training in Alaska.

What is it that makes the Flying Bulls unique?

FH: The type of aircraft and the way we fly them. We have the only DC-6 in the world that can transport passengers in traditional fashion in a pressurised cabin. We also have the only B-25 Mitchell in Europe. Then there is the formation flying at air shows, where we might perform aerobatics with as many as five different aircraft. I don’t know of anywhere else you can find such a mix of jets and propeller planes. It’s great that we can inspire people like this. That gives me a warm feeling, partly because I know exactly what goes into it and just how many team members it takes to make the show possible in the first place.

You now fly the B-25, fronting a large formation that includes Alpha Jets, the Lightning, the Corsair and the T-28. What sort of challenges does this present?

FH: You have to have a sound plan in mind for the display, and you have to take account of the different performance capabilities of the other aircraft. Being the lead flyer means thinking for the others. The Alpha Jets really don’t like it if you fly slower than 160 knots because that forces them to fly with flaps or reduce their speed within the formation. Turns have to be taken slowly as otherwise nobody else would be able to keep up. Communication is also very important. We don’t announce manoeuvres, but splits have to be signalled with something like, ‘B-25 splitting now!’ That’s the signal for the B-25 to leave the formation. ‘Visual’ means you can see the others, ‘blind’ means you can’t.

You have appeared at scores of air shows over recent years. What have been the magical moments you will always remember?

FH: For me, the AirPower show is the highlight every time. It’s not necessarily the actual flying, but the feeling of taxiing past 150,000 people after landing. I don’t think about the audience at all during the displays, but afterwards that really blows me away. Just like the final flight at the Flying Legends Airshow in Leeds, where we flew in tight formation. We were at the tail end in the B-25, looking at all the aeroplanes in front of us. Incredible!

How do you manage to adapt to a succession of aircraft? Sometimes you fly several different planes in a single day.

FH: Before every flight, I check my ‘quick references’, handwritten notes of power settings and speeds. When doing aerobatics, I go over the planned manoeuvres in my mind and blindly look for the parachute release. Given that the take-off in a T-6 can be precarious, I have trained myself to locate all the levers, like the landing gear, flaps and tail wheel lock, without looking. In the past, we called this a blindfold cockpit check.

What qualities do you need to be a good pilot?

FH: Of course you need a high level of flying skill, but you also need to sense risk, and the ability to say no. For those of us in the Flying Bulls, you have to be reliable, predictable and work very naturally as part of a team. That’s what makes it so attractive. For me, gliding was a solid foundation because it taught me to fly every aircraft by instinct.


Taxiing past 150,000 people at AirPower is a magical moment. 

Frederic Handelmann
Frederic Handelmann
DC-6B captain & more