Creative inspiration from Aerobatic Flying!

In this off-piste post, Group Managing Partner and Head of Invention David Nichols shares learning on creativity from his personal passion: acrobatic flying!

I have just climbed out of my plane having done a demonstration of elite aerobatics. I’ve been flying aerobatics for about 15 years and now fly for the British Team. The intense experience made me reflect on the lessons I’ve learnt about creativity from this stimulating, challenging and slightly crazy sport!

Quick explainer: Competitive Aerobatics

  • Each pilot has a sequence of 10-14 figures to fly within a prescribed 1km ‘box’ of airspace
  • Judges on the ground score each figure for accuracy. The more difficult the manoeuvre, the more points it’s worth
  • The challenge is to be as accurate as possible whilst accounting the wind and knowing where you are in 3 dimensions, all at 200mph!

1. Continual challenge keeps you inspired

You never finish learning aerobatics. There is always something more complex you can do and ways you can perfect your flying.  No one ever scores a perfect 10 for every manoeuvre.  The continual challenge that aerobatic flying presents is perhaps the most enjoyable part of it. Over the years I’ve graduated top to the highest level called ‘Unlimited’, which involved G-forces of up to +9g.  

Inspiration: Keep learning new things and taking on new challenges to ensure your creative juices keep flowing.

2. Preparation is everything

For every 10mins in the air, it takes 1-2hrs preparation on the ground – planning each manoeuvre, entry speed, height, visual cues and exit plan.  They say a competition flight – where each pilot is competing to fly the same manoeuvres more accurately than the next – is won on the ground, before you even take off. Its this intense level of preparation that allows you to express your creativity on the big day.

Inspiration: Whether it’s a presentation to the CEO or facilitating a workshop – prepare it down the last detail. The confidence you get will allow you to be creative and impactful when you take the stage

3. Focus deeply

Despite how it looks, flying upside down at 200mph and doing flicks & spins is not an adrenalin sport – it’s a mental game. Being focused, ‘in the zone’, managing stress and distractions are the key tools you need to compete at the highest level. Taking part in the World Advanced Aerobatic Championships in 2018 was a steep learning curve – not for the flying, but keeping focus over 10 days in which you are called upon to perform at your very best for 10mins at any time. 

Inspiration: Having the right mental focus is critical to performing well. This applies to workshops to, where we push people to turn off phones/laptops and focus on the task at hand.

4. Creativity within constraints

All pilots have to fly the same sequence. And they have to literally “think INSIDE the box”, by staying within the 1km ‘box’ of airspace (below). These constraints force you to find creative ways to counter wind drift, manage the g-forces and hit the right speeds to score well.  

Inspiration: the best creative briefs are tight, with a single minded objective, clear core target and key message. These constraints actually help creativity rather than limiting it.


Aerobatic flying is my personal passion and also have some great learning on how to be creative in my day job, reminding me of the need for challenge, preparation and a tight brief to inspire new thinking.

If you’re interested in seeing aerobatics in action, you can check out a video of a recent flight here. My next competition is The British Aerobatics OPEN Championship, 10-14th July, which will be livestreamed!