The Red Arrows: Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines
Major celebrations will be taking place across Great Britain this year to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Royal Air Force.
The centenary celebrations officially begin on 1st April, with events being held across the UK throughout the year. A service at Westminster Abbey, a parade and a fly-past in the capital on 10th July will be among the highlights of a packed calendar of events.
To help commemorate the momentous occasion, a number of new pilots have been signed up to the Red Arrows – the RAF’s spectacular display team. They have just completed a rigorous seven-month training period in readiness for the 2018 season.
The new members are keen to follow in the footsteps of the many intrepid and talented pilots who have been there before them, delighting the public with their awe-inspiring exhibition flying.
Formed in 1964 and flying the famous Gnat aircraft, the Red Arrows first performed in public on 6th May 1965 at RAF Little Rissington. In 1968, they established their famous trademark formation and launched the Diamond Nine, permanently increasing the number of planes to nine.
In 1980, the Gnat was replaced by the BAE Systems Hawk and in 1983, the Red Arrows moved to RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire (from their previous base at RAF Kemble) where they have remained ever since.
In 2015, the Arrows’ new Union flag-inspired design was unveiled. Its red, white and blue lines mark the importance of the team’s roles as UK ambassadors.
The Red Arrows’ work benefits more than 500 UK charities each year, with the RAF Aerobatic Team Trust donating money to worthy causes totalling thousands of pounds. Attending many displays and events every year, the pilots enjoy meeting the public.
Those magnificent men in their flying machines have welcomed three new squad members for 2018, including Squadron Leader Martin Pert, flying as Red 1. The 37-year-old is no stranger to the Red Arrows, having been a team pilot from 2012 to 2014.
He spent six months flying the Hawk TMk1 in 100 Squadron before being selected for the RAF Aerobatic Team. He is returning to the Arrows after a tour flying the Typhoon aircraft on the front line.
He is joined by two pilots making their Red Arrows debut – Flight Lieutenant Jon Bond, aged 33, flying as Red 2, and Flight Lieutenant David Stark, 35, flying as Red 3. Flt Lt Bond, who hails from Epping and is a former student of Loughborough University, joined the RAF in 2006. He has flown the Typhoon operationally. Born in Geneva, Flt Lt Stark moved to the UK with his family as a youngster and attended Nottingham High School. Joining the RAF in 2005, he has flown the Tornado GR4 operationally.
They join the six members of the 2017 display team, who are continuing in their role. They are Chris Lyndon-Smith, who has been with the Arrows for four years; Dan Lowes, a member for two years; synchro leader Si Taylor, now in his third year; synchro two Toby Keeley, a team member for two years; Matt Masters, now in his third year, and Mike Bowden, in his fourth year.
Squadron Leader Adam Collins, known as Red 10, is making his debut as team supervisor.
The Red Arrows’ support personnel keep the pilots airborne. The hard work of the team on the ground is as important as the dedication of those who fly the planes and the support team’s RAF training (and the pride they take in their work) keeps the Red Arrows functioning.
With sheer hard work and dedication, the teamwork in the air is reflected in the professionalism of the support staff on the ground, which is crucial to the Arrows’ continued success.
The support team is made up of the Supervisor – Red 10 – the team manager, the PR manager, an adjutant, two engineering officers and around 85 engineering technicians and support staff.
The Red Arrows has a tough recruitment process and in order to apply, the RAF pilots must meet strict criteria. They must have completed a front-line tour, with a minimum 1,500 flying hours. Their skills as a pilot must be assessed as “above average” before they are eligible.
Then, a shortlist is drawn up and those listed must complete a selection week, which includes a formal interview, a gruelling flying test and an assessment by their peers.
Three new pilots are chosen annually to replace three who have finished their tour. In order to become a team leader, the pilot must first have completed a three-year tour as a team pilot. The new team leader, Red 1, is appointed via a separate selection process.
It requires skill and commitment to fly a formation team, hence the strict criteria for applicants and the dedicated training for those who pass the recruitment process.
For members of the public marvelling at the seemingly effortless formation flying of the Red Arrows, it’s easy to forget how dangerous and how difficult it is to be part of the UK’s most famous squadron.
The very real dangers of being one of the RAF’s top pilots hit home last month, when a tragic accident occurred in Anglesey, Wales. Cpl Jonathan Bayliss, aged 41 (an RAF engineer) lost his life when his Red Arrows Hawk T1 jet aircraft crashed as the team took off from RAF Valley to fly back to their RAF Scampton base. Pilot Flt Lt Stark managed to eject from the plane and escaped serious injury.
Investigations are continuing into what caused the tragic accident – the first fatality involving the Red Arrows in seven years.
Fellow servicemen have paid tribute to Cpl Bayliss and have described how it had been his “schoolboy dream” to fly for the Red Arrows.
Sgt Will Allen, leader of the Red Arrows’ support engineers, described him as a motivational man who inspired everyone around him and could always lift people’s spirits. Cpl Bayliss, who was from Dartford in Kent, had been in the Royal Air Force since 2001.
He had worked at RAF Coningsby and RAF Coltishall, before joining the Red Arrows in January 2016 as a mechanical engineer. Having been on tours of the Middle East, Far East and mainland Europe, he was described as a skilled leader and ambassador for the RAF, whose qualities and attributes defined the Red Arrows.
Air Vice-Marshal Warren James, commander of 22 Group, said the tragic accident was a reminder of the risks of flying and of the commitment shared by the air and ground crews alike.
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