Pilot Bernard Charbonnel

Pilot Bernard Charbonnel

Exclusive: Fighter pilot turned aerobatic ace

Breitling #2 Pilot Bernard Charbonnel talks mental concentration with Megan Lambert, Abbotsford News.

By Megan Lambert.

The right hand man of the largest civilian aerobatic jet team in the world shook my hand and remembered my name the next day when we sat down to speak. I didn’t know he was a well-known pilot — I just thought he was a nice guy.

It turns out that he’s much more than that — flying in the Breitling Jet Team, Bernard ‘Charbo’ Charbonnel and his fellow pilots are given the VIP treatment with a team of mechanics, high-caliber performances around the world, and sleek Czech L-39 Albatros aircraft.

Changing hands in 2003, Breitling doesn’t just have a jet team, but has also expanded the brand to luxury watches. They are on display at the Airshow in the Breitling chalet, just beyond the jet and the branded Benz on display outside the tent.

On Saturday, the Breitling jets flew for the first time in Canada in creative formations — having seven jets to perform with, the team is able to pull off intricate moves in their performances. One move in particular, the Ocean Master Wave, looks like a rake went through the clouds. One jet follows the other at a slightly lower altitude, creating the wave effect. The move takes complete concentration, as following the next pilot at a close proximity can end in disaster.

But, the intense mental energy and gruelling hours of training didn’t stop Charbo from wanting to fly. When he was young, Charbonnel watched a TV series about fighter pilots called “Sky Fighters,” or “Les Chevaliers du Ciel.” He said the series inspired him to become a pilot.

“I flew solo first. I was 15 years old.” he said.

His advice is simple: Work hard and don’t give up. “Work a lot. Work work work. Trust, believe, and be motivated,” he said.

Charbonnel noted that he was originally in the French air force, flying as a fighter pilot. The Breitling website says that his specialty is ground attacks. Charbonnel says that even though the maneuvering is different, flying in an aerobatic team is similar to flying with other fighter pilots.

“It’s very important to fly with team spirit,” he said. “It’s like the squadron. This is my family.”

Regardless of the country, training for any position in the military can be grueling for both the body and mind. For Charbonnel, much of his performance comes down to mental control and stability.

“We have stress, but good stress.” he says. “When something disturbs you before flight, it’s very difficult for us to be concentrated. The point is to not think about that and concentrate on the flight.”

When asked whether he liked flying as a fighter or an aerobatic pilot more, he nodded his head and smiled. “I just like flying,” he said.

To see a full day of action, including the Breitling jets, get to the Airshow early for the last show on Sunday, August 9 at the Abbotsford International Airport.

If you’re hearing thundering around the airport, don’t worry. It’s not a storm.

Complete schedule for Sunday August 9th, video, stories, and more click here.

It’s the Abbotsford International Airshow. Off to an exciting start for its 53rd annual show, the airshow features new performers from jet teams around the world, a kids zone, aircraft displays, and games and activities for all ages.

On Saturday and Sunday, jets will weave their way through the sky with sharp turns, rapid spinning, and tricks — such as flying backwards.

The US Military jet F-22 Raptor will make an appearance at 2:55 p.m. Dark and sleek, the F-22 will visit from across the border and perform a fascinating aerial demonstration. The newest member of the US Air Force, the Raptor will roar over the Abbotsford Airport and show off its power for Canadian spectators.

There are hang-gliding and parachuting acts, from Dan Buchanan and the Canadian Forces Skyhawks Parachute team. With the delicacy and grace of dancers, the teams have maneuvered in the air seamlessly, with no room for errors.

Almost 1000 volunteers are parking cars, cooking food, and handling administrative duties to make the event possible.

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