The Red Arrows welcome the new pilots for 2017
Three new pilots have joined the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team for the Red Arrows’ 2017 season.
The aircrew bring with them years of frontline, operational fast-jet flying and instructional experience.
Flight Lieutenant Toby Keeley, Flight Lieutenant Dan Lowes and Flight Lieutenant Chris Lyndon-Smith have begun training with the Red Arrows.
They will be among the nine pilots who display the team’s famous jets across the United Kingdom and around the world in 2017.
Red Arrows pilots generally stay with the Squadron for three years and are selected following a gruelling process that involves flight tests, interviews and other exercises.
Based at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, the team uses BAE Systems’ Hawk T1 jet and is famous for its trademark Diamond Nine formation.
Flight Lieutenant Keeley, 34, who was raised in Eastbourne, said becoming part of the Red Arrows team is an opportunity he has been working towards since an early age.
He said: “Joining the Red Arrows has been a childhood ambition ever since I first watched them display at my home airshow. I am immensely proud to be selected for the team and am very much looking forward to earning the coveted red flying suit following the months of training to come.”
The Solent University graduate – who will fly as Red 2 this year – joined the Royal Air Force in 2003. After successfully graduating from advanced flying training at RAF Valley, he completed his tactical weapons training on the Hawk 115 aircraft at the NATO Flying Training School in Cold Lake, Canada.
He was then selected to fly the Tornado GR4 and was posted to 31 Squadron at RAF Marham. During his frontline tour, Flight Lieutenant Keeley completed two operational tours of duty in Afghanistan. He was posted to IV(R) Squadron at RAF Valley as a Qualified Flying Instructor (QFI) on the Hawk T2 before managing and flying in the first Hawk T2 pairs role demonstration team.
The former member of the Southampton University Air Squadron said: “In the short term I am looking forward to flying as a nine-ship for the first time thereafter earning the red flying suit and displaying as a Red Arrows pilot across the UK at airshows next summer.
“There are many aspects about the Red Arrows that inspired me to apply, however the precision formation aerobatic flying that the Reds perform is the pinnacle in terms of pure flying and for me, the best type of flying there is”.
To apply to join the Red Arrows, Royal Air Force pilots need to have at least 1,500 fast-jet flying hours, to have completed a frontline tour and be assessed as above average in their flying role. Once they have finished their three-year tour with the team, the pilots return to frontline, instructional or staff duties.
The squadron, which first displayed to the public in 1965, is renowned as one of the world’s premier aerobatic teams and has performed more than 4,800 times in 57 countries.
As the public face of the Royal Air Force, the Red Arrows assist with recruiting into the service, contribute to defence diplomacy and support wider national interests by representing the United Kingdom and its industry.
Flight Lieutenant Lowes said this constant pursuit of excellence and global reputation for the highest standards first attracted him to the idea of flying with the Red Arrows.
Born and raised in Hong Kong – attending Clearwater Bay and King George V School – he came to the UK at the age of 13.
He studied at Brooklands College and is a former member of 11(F) Squadron, Air Training Corps Squadron.
The 31-year-old, who joined the Royal Air Force in 2004, was selected to fly the Typhoon multi-role combat aircraft after graduation from tactical weapons training at RAF Valley.
He was posted to 6 Squadron at RAF Leuchars where he operated in the Quick Reaction Alert role, securing the skies of the UK. His frontline tours include deployment to the Falkland Islands as well as exercises in Malaysia and India.
Flight Lieutenant Lowes, who will fly as Red 3 in 2017, said: ““I’m looking forward to the training in the coming months. The skills and requirements are similar to what is expected in other fast-jet roles – just as we would work up to fly operationally, we will now be preparing and working hard for a busy and demanding display season in 2017.”
Typically winter training starts with small groups of three or four aircraft formations. Each pilot flies three sorties a day, five days a week, and the formations grow in aircraft number as training progresses.
These flights involve a thorough brief, debrief and discussion to ensure safety is paramount and the formations are precise. Winter training usually lasts until March or April, when the team usually moves overseas to a location with more predictable, settled weather to maximise flying hours and perfect the display. This is known as Exercise Springhawk.
During Springhawk the team is assessed by senior Royal Air Force officers, with the aim of gaining Public Display Authority. If this is awarded, the Squadron’s pilots change from green coveralls into their famous red flying suits and the ground crew are allowed to wear their royal blue display coveralls.
The season then officially begins and public performances by the Red Arrows are permitted.
Usually, the Red Arrows begin training for the forthcoming season almost as soon as the previous year has ended. However, a successful nine-week tour of the Asia-Pacific and Middle East regions – which took the team to China for the first time – has delayed the work-up until the New Year.
To support the continuity of the team, one of three aircrew joining the Red Arrows in 2017 is a returning member – having previously been a Squadron pilot.
Flight Lieutenant Chris Lyndon-Smith, 36, was educated in the West Midlands and Norfolk. He was born and raised in Africa before arriving in the UK at the age of 10. Following his elementary flying training with the RAF, he was selected to fly fast-jets.
He is returning to the Red Arrows having previously completed a successful tour from 2011 to 2013, after which he was posted to 100 Squadron where he flew as one of the aggressor pilots in air combat, close-air support and low level evasion roles. He also served as one of the deputy flight commanders and was one of the instructors on the Squadron.
Flight Lieutenant Lyndon-Smith, who will fly as Red 5, said: “I’ve always really enjoyed formation flying so clearly that really appealed to me. I was also very keen to help inspire young people to join the RAF and be able to demonstrate the excellence of the UK’s Armed Forces.
“Formation flying is a key skill for any RAF frontline pilot. This is evident in so many ways, for example air-to-air refuelling, tactical formation, or landing as a formation in bad weather. However, the Red Arrows allow pilots to fly manoeuvres in formation, which are never flown on the frontline.
“To have the opportunity to return to the team is incredible and I’m looking forward to challenge myself daily in the pure handling of the aircraft.
“I am very proud of what we do. I like to think that the Red Arrows represent the wider Armed Forces community, demonstrating teamwork, professionalism and hard work.”
The new recruits will succeed those pilots who finished their tours with the Red Arrows at the end of the 2016 season – Flight Lieutenant Steve Morris, Flight Lieutenant Stew Campbell and Flight Lieutenant Joe Hourston.
Other key appointments to the team are Squadron Leader Rich Bland – the Red Arrows’ Senior Engineering Officer, responsible for the technical and engineering operations of the Squadron.
And Flight Lieutenant Alicia Mason joins as Junior Engineering Officer, looking after all day-to-day engineering aspects of the Squadron and also flying in the rear seat of Red 1’s jet as Circus 1 – the small team of on-the-road technicians who service the jets when away from RAF Scampton.
It is expected the 2017 display season will get underway in May.
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