Meet Captain Martinez, the Rafale’s demo pilot
How did you make it to Rafale demo pilot?
Every two years, the general staff get together and choose one of the patrol commanders (the highest-ranking officers in the French Air Force) to be demo pilot. The goal is to enlist a veteran pilot with a lot of experience, i.e. at least 700 flight hours on his log. That's why they look at pilots who are closer to the end of their careers than to the start. Five candidates were shortlisted to serve in 2016-2017, and I was finally selected to fly the Rafale's demos until end-2017.
What does your job involve these two years?
It's actually a four-year job: two years as demo pilot and two years coaching my replacement. My coach, Captain Planche, was the Rafale demo pilot before me: he taught me everything he knew and told me all about his experience during the training sessions. The first year starts with intense preparation. We plot out the air show routine with the coach. It takes 35 training sessions (two to three flights a week) to script and fine-tune the routine, and secure the safety committee's green-light. Then we travel around the world and walk the talk at air shows.
How do you script the routine?
The coach and I decide on the routine together. It can last up to 10 minutes. The goal is to show just about all the Rafale's capabilities in a limited time window. To do that, I have to fly very low and move through the maneuvers in very tight boundaries so the crowd can see everything the plane can do close-up – and from a safe distance: in Le Bourget, for example, we're near Charles de Gaulle airport. So the airspace is very restricted. There are planes coming in to land 2.5 km away – which isn't very far when you're flying a Rafale!
Is the routine always the same?
Yes, it's the same flight at every air show. Except if the weather's bad: then we have an alternate flight profile.
Why did you decide to apply for this position?
I'd spent several years on assignments abroad, flying the Mirage 2000 then the Rafale. I wanted to try something new. The Rafale's one of the crowning achievements of French industry. I was very excited about showing it to the public. It doesn't matter if they're trade visitors or enthusiasts: the plane's mind-blowing power, blistering roar and edgy flying wow everyone.
What's the difference between a pilot's job and a demo pilot's job?
The flying techniques are completely different. I'd never flown this way in my career before. If you want to fly demos and maneuvers, you're talking about learning an entirely new way of flying. That's why the coach has such an important role to play. You fly much closer to the ground, use much more of the plane's power, push the engines much harder. You have to be unbelievably focused and you need very sharp stress and fatigue management skills. I prepare very carefully before every flight, so I'm all there when the time comes.
What's the difference between the Rafale and other fighter jets?
The Rafale is an awesome plane. It's always great fun to fly. I'd even say it's the world's best plane! Its configuration and the quality of the equipment put it in a league by itself and it's fantastic to fly.