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Stefan Doblhammer

Military & Alpha Jet pilot

Story

As a young child, Stefan Doblhammer developed an urge to fly jets. The pilot from Upper Austria can’t remember where this urge came from, but he does remember it was so strong that it eclipsed all else. 

This iron will would take him not just into the cockpit of a Saab 105 and F-5 for the Austrian Armed Forces, but also to the front seat of ultra-fast Alpha Jets for the Flying Bulls. With the latter, Stefan makes up the Alpha Jet unit in partnership with his former Tiger Squadron colleague Philipp Haidbauer, and delights the crowds as part of a larger formation. 

Interview

Stefan, before flying an Alpha Jet for the Flying Bulls, you were in the cockpit of a Saab 105 and F-5 for the military. What does flying a jet mean to you?

SD: Without a doubt, it’s the kind of three dimensionality you only get from such an aircraft. You don’t just fly left and right, but vertically too, and they are so powerful that you can shoot rapidly upwards. An incredible feeling.

Do you recall your first solo flight?

SD: Of course! I’d wanted to fly jets ever since I was a kid. It finally happened in a Cessna 150 at a flying selection in Graz, having completed 15 or so flying hours. We took one last test flight, and the instructor climbed out. It’s a wonderful feeling, especially when it goes well and you’re back on the ground.

What are the qualities that make a good pilot?

SD: As far as the Flying Bulls are concerned, being part of a team is definitely the main criterion. Since we fly our aeroplanes in tight formation, you must be able to rely on the others. What we don’t need is the classic lone wolf. If you’re leading a formation of different aircraft or you are in the formation yourself, you need to be thinking about the others the whole time. How will they keep up, what speeds do I need to fly? In the military you always travel as a group, and the smallest unit is known as a Rotte, or a pair. Collaboration is in our nature.

Do you go through a particular routine before every flight?

SD: Before I fly, I write out a briefing guide, then keep it close by on the kneeboard in the cockpit. I note down the key points, including weather data, alternate airfields, waypoints and so on.

You have said you need the Alpha Jet in your life. Why is that?

SD: I really can’t get by without the Alpha Jet, I must have it in my life. It’s absolutely fantastic to fly, that’s the only way to describe it. As long as you don’t exceed its aerodynamic limits, it’s a truly good-natured aircraft.

You often fly Alpha Jets as a pair with Philipp Haidbauer. Is it a case of ‘better together’?

SD: We are united by the virtually unconditional trust we have placed in each other for years. We have known each other since the military, and we know each other’s abilities precisely. In many cases, we don’t need words to communicate. We work out most of it in the briefing. I perform the solo while Philipp leads the formation display. That’s our selling point – you hardly ever see two jets in a display, civil or military.

How do Alpha Jets handle in a big formation with other aircraft? There are some big differences to consider.

SD: That’s true, so the briefing and the training are critically important. For example, how will we incorporate a wingover for the B-25 without sustaining a ‘drop’? We always remind ourselves not to fall below 160 knots under any circumstances. In this way, we avoid having to use flaps, which produce uplift. This can cause a lot of upheaval, especially because the speed will increase again immediately. Generally speaking, though, the aircraft work well together. When you fly the number two Alpha Jet as I do, a number of tricky issues come into play. First, I fly formation in the B-25, then the Lightning, and finally in the other Alpha Jet – three different aeroplanes with different visual markings and positions, so there’s a lot to keep in mind.

You fly a great many displays for the Flying Bulls every year. What are your personal highlights to date?

SD: Definitely AirPower, the biggest air show in Europe, and one with a home crowd. It’s great to show so many spectators what we can do. Every air show has its plus points, though. Highline179 really sticks in my mind, especially for the mental challenge of flying the two Alpha Jets under the bridge.

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I wanted to fly jets since I was a kid. 

Stefan Doblhammer
Stefan Doblhammer
Military & Alpha Jet pilot
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