Yakovlevs Display Team


Hours Flown: 10,000+

Qualifications: CAA/EASA Examiner & ATPL. Display Evaluator

Position: Lead Pilot

Favourite Display: Liuzhou River Display China

Interests: Teaching SCUBA diving, Snow skiing and Skydiving

Jez Hopkinson FRAeS is the owner of the Yakovlevs Display Team and has lead the team for almost 25 years.  He  bought his first Yak 52 in 1994 and with a couple of  friends  founded the European Yak Club, which quickly grew to include hundreds of members from all over Europe.

He first set up the Yakovlevs display team  in 1998, after buying a second aircraft, a Yak 50.  The team now owns 10 Yaks with 8 flying at any one time. He says the Yakovlevs was a natural next step to take. Jez is also an CAA/EASA Examiner and has his own aerobatic flying school since 1995 and now he is very involved with the Air Display world on a formal basis, checking show pilots competency as part of his role as a Display Authorisation Evaluator.

When he is not busy examining or running the team, he likes to spend his free time skydiving, snow skiing and scuba diving, but his real passion is actually cooking, with a glass of good wine in his hand.  He has been known to dabble in Russian  wine making.

Jez sits as a member of GASCo, the General Aviation Safety Council, where he is also one of their Regional Safety Officers. He lectures on aviation safety, specialising in flight safety over water and helps run Ditching and Sea Survival Seminars at the RNLI centre in Poole. In November 2014,  he was bestowed the prestigious honour of a Fellowship with the Royal Aeronautical Society.


Hours Flown: 5,500+

Qualifications: ATPL, DAE, DA, AFDD and CRI

Position: Yak 2

Favourite Display: Bournemouth

Interests: Flying displays, flying instruction, cycling and classic cars.

Paul is a Search and Rescue Commander flying the AW189 for HM Coastguard. Previous to this he flew the Chinook Mk2, 3 and 4 for the Royal Air Force.

During his ten years on the Chinook Force, Paul completed seven tours of Afghanistan which provided some of the most challenging and rewarding operational flying one could hope for. From leading large scale formation insertion and extractions to singleton medical emergency response missions (MIRT).

Paul qualified as an instructor in 2010 and held many training positions, culminating in the Training Officer role on the Chinook Operational Conversion Flight. Paul qualified as an A2 instructor in 2014.

Paul displayed the Chinook Mk2 during the 2012 and 2013 display seasons before teaching, mentoring and supervising the 2014 display pilot. He has been a member of various air show flying control committees since 2016.

Alongside his career flying helicopters, Paul has always had a passion for flying ‘proper’ aeroplanes and particularly formation aerobatics. He enjoys flying classic tailwheel types, his favourite being the Yak 50. Paul joined the Yakovlevs team in 2018 and is a Class Rating Instructor, he teaches Yak 52 conversions, aerobatics and formation for the team.

In addition to display flying and instruction, Paul is a Display Authority Evaluator (DAE) and works for the CAA to ensure pilots are prepared and safe to go through the rigours of display flying. When not flying,  one of Pauls other passions is Russian gopak where he specialises in the Barynya, Kalinka, Yablochko, Trepak and Kozachok


Hours Flown: 10,000+

Qualifications: ATPL & DA

Position: All

Favourite Display: All of them

Interests: Flying, flying, more flying and being married to Debb and a father a to Grace and Olivia

Willy Hackett (real name Peter – he picked up his nick name during his RAF fighter pilot training days ) is a veteran combat, display and test pilot who is currently head of the RAF Rapid Capabilities Office Airborne Experimentation Unit and military head of flight test for the Tempest program.

Willy has been displaying with the team since its inception in 1998 and can fly in any formation position. Willy started flying gliders when he was just 11 years old and joined the Royal Air Force aged 18. Amongst many accolades earned during his time with the RAF, Willy was the Royal Air Force’s F3 Tornado display pilot in 1997 and 1998, earning him an MBE in the process. He has also flown F3s during the Gulf war and Bosnian conflict, and then spent three years flying the Harrier Jump Jet before being selected to join the Empire Test Pilot School (ETPS) at MOD Boscombe Down where he spent four years flying the Eurofighter Typhoon as a test pilot. He then moved to the USA for 9 years and was a test pilot on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.

Willy has flown over 250 types of aircraft from modern combat aircraft to World War I and II fighter aircraft, although states that the Yak 50 remains his favourite.

Willy met his wife Debb in December 1998 and married her in 2004 – the team performed a special display at their wedding. They have two beautiful daughters, Grace and Olivia. Willy and Debb are keen SCUBA divers and are both avid glider pilots and skiers. Apart from spending his free time with Debb, Grace and Olivia, Willy also enjoys singing Russian Folk songs.



Hours Flown: 10,000+

Qualifications: ATPL & DA

Position: Yak 2 and 4

Favourite Display: Shuttleworth

Interests: Chess, water sports and snow skiing

Azat Zaydullin (nicknamed Az) is a Captain on the Boeing 737-400/500 with Ukraine International Airlines. Az had always wanted to be a pilot, so in 1981 he joined the Soviet Air Force in the USSR. After his innitial officer training he was posted to the Ukraine as a pilot to fly the L-39 “Albatross” Jet Trainer Light Attack Aircraft, and later was posted on to the famous Mig 21 “Fishbed”.

He left the Soviet military in 1987 and became a civilian aerobatics instructor at Kiev in the Ukraine. Az flew competition aerobatics at all levels, and was the unlimited-level Aerobatics Champion of the Ukraine in 1994, 2001 and 2002, flying Sukhoi SU26 and 31.

He was a member of Ukraine Aerobatic Team from 1994 to 2002. The team came third in the World Air Games held in Turkey, in 1997. He joined Ukraine International Airlines as a first officer in 2003, flying the Boeing 737-200 and moved on to the 737-400/500, where he was promoted to Captain in 2006. He married his wife Ludmilla in 1997 and they have one son named Timur.

Azat started flying with the Yakovlevs in 2001, where he has now flown in more than 200 shows, and has also made more than 600 public appearances around the world. He normally flies at position Yak 4, but also covers the Yak 2 position.

Az has recently started to snow ski, and loves to perform Morris Dancing when he finds a spare moment at the team base in Somerset.


Hours Flown: 5,000+

Qualifications: ATPL & DA

Position: ALL

Favourite Display: Windermere

Interests: Flying, Skiing, Music and Photography

Jim Schofield is the Chief Pilot at Spitfires.com and a test pilot consultant.

Jim grew up on the air show circuit and was lucky enough to fly in the back of several warbirds with his father at air shows before legislation precluded such activities – highlights included flying to Italy in the back seat of a P-40 Kittyhawk.

Jim learned to fly on Super Cubs before he could drive. After several happy years on the University of Wales Air Squadron flying Bulldogs, Jim joined the Royal Air Force in 1996 where he trained on the Tucano and Hawk. After training he was posted to the Harrier and flew in desert, arctic and maritime environments. Jim flew over Iraq during the 2003 Gulf War in support of allied Special Forces, and was then selected to attend the Empire Test Pilots’ School (ETPS) in 2004 where he won the prestigious McKenna trophy for best pilot. On completion of the course he was posted to the Fast Jet Test Squadron at MOD Boscombe Down, where he was the project pilot for Harrier GR9 during its introduction to service.

Jim was selected to return to ETPS for an instructional tour as the chief fixed wing instructor. In 2011 Jim became the only non-US pilot flying the F-35 Lightning II during a tour as the UK’s test pilot at NAS Patuxent River, which culminated in testing F-35Bs from the USMC aircraft carrier USS WASP, by day and night. In 2013 Jim was posted back to the UK on promotion to Wing Commander in the role of F-35 requirements manager. Leaving the RAF in 2016 Jim flew the A320 for British Airways for 3 years, which he loved, but he couldn’t turn down the opportunity to fly Spitfires for a living in his current role.

He has over 5,000 hours on over 115 types and was the first pilot to fly 100 years of aircraft (SE5a to F-35). In his top three are the Yak 50, F-35 and Bucker Jungmeister. Jim has been flying with The Yakovlevs since 2005 and has performed in over 300 shows. He also flies for the Shuttleworth Collection and readily admits that none of this would be possible without the amazing Lucy, whom he married in 2001 after a whirlwind eight-year romance. They have two fantastic children.

Jim is also a keen guitar player although his enthusiasm is unmatched by his talent.


Hours Flown: 5,000+

Qualifications: PPL & DA

Position: Yak 3

Favourite Display: Aero India

Interests: Photography, classic cars and cycling

Dave Stobie started flying gliders at the age of 15 and undertook his first solo on a T21 at 16. The following year he gained his PPL before joining the RAF at the age of 19. After gaining his wings on the Hawk he was posted to the ‘sleepy hollow’ (as he describes it) of Linton-on-Ouse as an instructor on the Jet Provost. Progressing on to front line deployment he flew the mighty F4 Phantom FGR2 during the end of the cold war with 92(East India) Sqn at RAF Wildenrath in Germany. Dave returned to instructing after the closure of Wildenrath at Chivenor as a Tactical Weapons instructor; here he also displayed the Hawk for the ’95 season.

This was good preparation for his next tour on the Red Arrows, he says. On the Reds Dave was in the syncro pair for his second and third year, and was fortunate enough to go on tour to Asia and Australia, where the team displayed to 1.3 million people at Sydney Harbour. After the Reds, and with no F4 to go back to, Dave was posted to the Harrier where he spent four years both on the front line and as an instructor on the OCU.

In 2003 Dave was selected to attend the test pilots’ course with the prestigious Empire Test Pilot School (ETPS) at Boscombe Down, and on completion moved to the Fast Jet Test Squadron as a Harrier and Jaguar Project Pilot. After two years on the programme he was posted on an exchange to Eglin AFB in Florida to fly the F-16 and here he was involved with all manner of weapons integration testing onto all models of the F-16. Since returning to the UK in 2009 Dave has been an instructor at ETPS where he flies the Hawk, Alpha Jet and DA-42.

Dave has over 5000 flying hours and has a CPL, is an FI(A) and teaches aerobatics at the local flying club. He has previously competed in UK national aerobatic championships in his Christen Eagle. Dave also has a keen interest in photography, classic cars and cycling.


Hours Flown: 2,500+

Qualifications: ATPL, DA, FI, Aerobatics and Formation Instructor

Position: Yak 2

Favourite Display: Torbay

Interests: Dirt biking and fromager activities

Marc-Antoine (Marco) is the latest addition to the team line up. He caught the flying bug at an early age, starting his training aged just 15, before undertaking his first solo soon after his 16th birthday in a Robin HR200.

Marco joined the French Air Force in 2005 and became a pilot on the Alpha Jet before progressing to become an aerobatics and formation instructor on the Grob 120-A and TB-30 Epsilon. After seven years in the French Air Force, Marc entered the civilian market, gaining his Air Transport Pilot Licence as well as a civilian instructor rating and taking up a teaching position with Roger Janin Flying Club in Paris. Leaving France, Marco then joined Flight Training London at Elstree Aerodrome.

Marco is a keen trail biker and renowned Svoyi Koziri card player.


Hours flown: 4,000+

Qualifications: ATPL, CRI, Aerobatics Instructor, DA

Position: 2

Favourite Display: Wings & Wheels

Interests: Flying & keeping fit

Matt Kitson is a First Officer on the Boeing 747 400 with British Airways. He is also a Class Rating  Instructor CRI(A) and an Aerobatic Instructor specialising on the Yak-52 and Slingsby Firefly T67M.

Matt started his flying adventure in 2009, having previously been a Royal Marines Commando for 8 years, serving in Afghanistan. Matt is credited as being one of the youngest Royal Marine’s boxing champion at 18 years old in the super-heavy weight class. He later joined the Royal Navy as trainee officer aircrew before leaving to join Ryanair as a First Officer in 2014 flying the Boeing 737 800 NG aircraft before progressing to his current job as First Officer for British Airways on their B747 400 fleet in 2016. Outside of his airline career, Matt quickly developed a passion for aerobatics, joining the British Aerobatic Association’s competition circuit competing at sportman level, before becoming an aerobatics instructor,  teaching at RAF Boscombe Down on the T67M. Matt joined the team in 2017 and has already deployed with them to Zhengzhou China in 2018. He flies at position 2 and 2018 will be his first year flying with the team.

Father of two, he has a son  Callum aged 10 and  a daughter Piper aged 3, as well as a border Collie dog named Boeing…..!

When he’s not to be found in the cockpit of a Yak or spotted down the local gym he likes to spend his time competing in Russian dog grooming trials with his pet Caucasian Ovcharka named Vladimir.


Hours Flown: 10,000+

Qualifications: ATPL & DA

Position: Yak 2

Favourite Display: looking forward to flying Airshows in Europe, China and India

Interests: Flying Yaks

Etienne Verhellen is an ex Belgium Air force C-130 pilot now working for British Airways as a first Officer on the 747 fleet. He is a Flight Instructor FI(A) and an Aerobatic Instructor specialising on the Yak-52.

Etienne started ‘flying’ as a Reserve Officer (National service) in the Belgiun Parachute Regiment (completing 35 jumps). He then joined the Belgian Royal Air Force as a pilot on a Short Service Commission (SSC) flying the SIAI Marchetti SF-260M, the Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet AJ-1B and the C-130H Hercules. After his time in the Belgium Air Force, he flew as an Air Taxi pilot on a Piper PA-31 Navajo, did some glider towing and some flight instructing before joining European Air Transport as a ‘Freight Dog’initially flying the Convair CV-580 followed by 5 years as a skipper on the Boeing 727-100 and 200 Series for DHL.

In 2007 he joined British Airways flying the ‘Classic’ Boeing 747-100 and 200 Series, but moved on to the more modern and iconic Boeing 747-400 Jumbo Jet when the Classic fleet was retired.

He had the opportunity to take part to the first two Yak World Aerobatic Championships organised by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale – the first FAI Yak WAC was in 2008 in Novosibirsk, Siberia and the second in July 2009 in Rojunai, Lithuania.

Etienne is married to the very wonderful and beautiful Véronique who he met when he was still flying in the Air Force. They have two lovely teenage daughters, Saranne and Julyne. They all love flying in ‘Janie’, the family Yak-52. Saranne loves rolling, Julyne is really keen on ‘looping the loop’ while Véronique prefers going places with the Yak straight and level. Odile, the family dog occasionally flies as well …

When not flying the 747 or Yaks, Etienne treasures time he can spend with his family and friends in the Belgian countryside where he lives. He enjoys gardening, but has a real passion for building Russian Datchas for Datchniks friends.


Hours Flown: 10,000+

Qualifications: ATPL/TRE/IRE/FIE  & DA

Position: Yak 2

Favourite Display: None as yet… but guessing all of them!

Interests: Flying, Flight Training & Examining, travel, good food, growing old gracefully and …. oh yes more flying!

Dave Jones (known as ‘DJ’) has had an interest in all things aviation since he was small, having his first introduction to flying at the age of 13. He realised this was for him and after gaining more experience from the ATC he got his pilots license just after his 17th birthday…….Flying before he could even drive!

On leaving college he went into retail becoming a national management development manger for a well know high Street company…. but still wanted to fly commercially. He became a flying instructor ending up as Director of flight Operations /CFI at Bristol Flying Centre and teaching instructors to instruct, he became the UK’s CAA’s youngest Flying Instructor Examiner (FIE) at age 30.

He left instructing to get into Corporate Aviation – Fixed Wing Training Captain for Air Hanson  then onto Police Aviation Services as their Training Captain, during which time he served in the Caribbean working with the DEA/Law Enforcement teams on illegal immigration and anti drugs missions. On his return he attended the short course at the International Test Pilots School (ITPS) at Woodford.

His day job is Chief Pilot with a Corporate jet Operation, but still loves the thrill of “Real flying” in the Yaks and Stampe  and instructing and examining in his Bulldog. He is a Senior Examiner for the CAA and also a strong advocate of Flight Upset Training for corporate pilots and runs practical courses on it. Married to wonderful Linda who puts up with so much, he has two fantastic grown up daughters Amy and Alexandra (Alex).

In 2012 David was elected as an Upper Freeman in the Guild of Pilots and Navigators – GAPAN

Hobbies (apart from aviation) are skiing, military badge collecting and restoring  and playing antique Russian Balalaikas.


Hours Flown: 3,000+

Qualifications: ATPL/IR

Position: Yak 2 & 6

Favourite Display: All of them!

Interests: Flying, Golf, Cooking

Ashwin Thakare MRAeS “ASH” joined the team in 2022. He is a former Indian Air Force (IAF) fighter pilot of 23 years having flown mainly the MiG 27 and Hawk Mk 132 amassing over 3000 hrs flying.

After 12 years flying the MiG 27 he was posted  as a member of the Suryakiran Aerobatic Team of the IAF (equivalent to our Red Arrows). He was with the team for over six years flying both the Kiran Mk-II and the Hawk Mk-132 aircraft. During the  teams upgrade to the new Hawk Mk 132, Ash was the leader of the 6 aircraft display and later the deputy leader of the full 9 aircraft display as well as leader of the Synchro Pair. He has flown many other aircraft types including-  the F-16, Hawk T Mk-I, SU-30, MiG 21, Jaguar and HPT 32. He is a Qualified Flying Instructor, an Instrument Rating Examiner and served as the Chief Operations Officer of a frontline fighter base prior to his retirement from the IAF. He also holds a unique qualification of “Airborne banner flying”  with the MiG 27!

Ash was married in 2003 to Shama, an international Fashion Designer. They live in Malad a suburb of Mumbai India with their two children, a teenaged son, Aarav and young daughter Zara.

Ash is an avid sportsman, however tends to sticks to his Golf clubs now. He has a passion for cooking and trying out new recipes, but his real love is old style Soviet cooking where he specialises in  Tushenaia Kuritsa Pod Sousom iz Chernosliv, Okroshka and Botvinia .


Hours Flown: 10,000+

Qualifications: ATPL / DA

Position: Yak 2

Joining the team in Winter 2020, Mike flies at position #2 with Team Yakovlevs and separately leads Team Phoenix, the world’s only 2-ship display team flown by amputee pilots.

Mike’s background is that of a tactical C130 pilot with the RAF & the Belgian Air Force. He saw active service in the First Gulf War, Bosnia, Somalia and Rwanda.

For the last twenty five years Mike has been an airline pilot serving as an Airbus A330/A340  Aircraft Commander with Virgin Atlantic Airways. He is hoping to become the worlds first amputee Captain flying the Airbus A350.

Mike is also a part time A320 Type Rating instructor Examiner with Wizz Air…Europe’s new low cost carrier & the L3 Harris Airline Training Academy in London.

Mike lead ‘Bader’s Bus Company’ the UKs first disabled air display team which flew a successful UK air show season in 2019.


Hours Flown: 1,000+

Qualifications: PPL / DA

Position: Yak 2

Also joining the team in Winter 2020, Alan flies at position #2 with Team Yakovlevs and separately flies with Team Phoenix alongside Mike Wildeman, the world’s only 2-ship display team flown by amputee pilots. Alan is currently an engineer with the Royal Air Force  serving on the Sentry AWAC squadron at RAF Waddington. Alan is an above knee amputee & learnt to fly as part of the Douglas Bader Foundation sponsorship scheme.

Alan originally flew flex wing microlights with the Flying For Freedom programme.

He was selected to be the first amputee pilot to solo a Spitfire during a training programme with Boultbee Academy in Goodwood in 2016.

Alan was the number two pilot with ‘Bader’s  Bus Company’ in 2019.



Arturas Armonas is a Yak engineer specialist working with Horizon Aircraft Services, the Yakovlevs’ dedicated maintenance company.

Arturas hails from Lithuania. A passion for all matters aviation, which saw him building model kites and aircraft from an early age, Arturas commenced his engineering career in 1997 when working at an aero club just outside of Vilnius.

Specialising in Yak aircraft, both maintenance and restoration, Arturas relocated to the UK in 2004, finding employment at Russian Engineering at White Waltham Airfield before joining Horizon in January 2014.

Arturas is married to Maria and they have two young children, Lucas (6) and Elze (3). In addition to his model aircraft building, Arturas is a keen fisherman and accomplished guitar player, although his current favourite pastime is weaving tweed jackets out of material sourced from the Isle of Harris.



Nigel Cross is also a Yak engineer specialist working with Horizon Aircraft Services.

Gaining a PPL in 2008, Nigel first met team leader Jez when he conducted his PPL Skills Test, resulting in a first time pass and lasting friendship (we’re assured no monies exchanged hands). He enjoys working with the team and has is a mainstay for them when they travel on overseas deployments.

Nigel has three children Ben, Natasha and Emma. Hailing from a small village in picturesque Dorset, Nigel holds the distinction of being the county’s only official Borscht taster.