Departing pilots and engineers share Red Arrows career highlights
Pilots and engineers leaving the Red Arrows have spoken of their highlights with the team, including displaying around the world and supporting charities.
This week, Squadron Leader Steve Morris and Flight Lieutenants Stew Campbell and Joe Hourston carried out their final duties as Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team pilots. Each has come to the end of their posting to the Lincolnshire-based display team.
Squadron Leader Pete Searle, the team’s Senior Engineering Officer, and Flight Lieutenant Marcus Ramsden, Junior Engineering Officer, have also said goodbye after two seasons with the Red Arrows.
Their involvement with the team included a highly successful finale – a nine-week tour by the Red Arrows of the Asia-Pacific and Middle East regions supporting UK interests that concluded earlier this month.
Sqn Ldr Morris, who has completed four seasons with the Red Arrows, flew as Red 6 in 2016 and the Synchro Leader – one of the two pilots who perform the most dynamic elements of the aerobatic show.
He said: “My four years on the Red Arrows have undoubtedly been the most enjoyable and rewarding years of my Royal Air Force career to date.
“There are so many highlights and among them has to be the first time you wear the famous red flying suit, having successfully gained Public Display Authority. I will never forget the immense sense of achievement and responsibility I felt wearing it.
“Leading Gypo – the rear four aircraft in the formation – in my final year has been a real highlight and given me an immense sense of achievement.
“In addition, displaying in countries for a first time as a team is always special, for me that includes Kuwait, Estonia and most notable of all, China – due to the fact that it was also the first time the RAF had operated there in a major way.”
For Sqn Ldr Morris the most recent overseas deployment was the second major tour he has undertaken with the Red Arrows, following a previous one around the Middle East three years ago.
He said: “The tour in 2013 and in particular the display in Qatar will always stand out to me as one of my favourite display.”
The former Harrier and Tornado pilot, who is from Sheffield and joined the RAF in 2002, added: “Having the privilege of being involved with several charities, such as Great Ormond Street Hospital, the Jon Egging Trust and the Royal Air Forces Association also stands out as a special part of being a Red Arrows pilot.
“This is because of the huge amount of amazing work you are able to see being done by great people at these and many other good causes.”
After leaving the team, and following recent promotion, Sqn Ldr Morris is posted to RAF Valley, where he will be a Flight Commander on IV(R) Squadron and reasonable for training RAF pilots about to go to the frontline.
He said: “This will be a very different challenge but one that I am thoroughly looking forward to.”
Sqn Ldr Searle joined the team in late 2014 and, as Senior Engineering Officer, has been responsible for all of the engineering aspects of the Red Arrows. He has led dozens of technicians and other personnel, who are known as the Blues because of the colour of their distinctive coveralls.
He said: “After two years with the team my absolute highlight, and my biggest challenge of my RAF career, has been the Asia-Pacific and Middle East tour – from the planning, which started over 12 months ago, to the execution of trails and displays and the recovery of aircraft to ensure that they are ready for winter training 2017.
“For me, the overseas tour has been a sprint at the end of a very long marathon.”
Sqn Ldr Searle said the major global deployment also highlighted one of the Red Arrows’ key roles.
He said: “My biggest takeaway from the posting is the acknowledgment of the importance that the Red Arrows play in promoting the UK's interests abroad.
“The Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team is not simply an RAF asset for promotion – it is a demonstration of British excellence on a world stage.”
He added: “My biggest surprise has been the adoration of the Red Arrows from the public throughout the two display seasons I have been involved with – it is really humbling to think that I have been part of a team that brought happiness to so many people.”
Sqn Ldr Searle now moves to MoD Abbey Wood, where he joins the Defence Equipment & Support Airworthiness Team to fulfil an assurance role across multiple aircraft projects.
Also moving to Bristol is Flt Lt Marcus Ramsden, who leaves the team to work with Rolls-Royce as a RAF Engineering Officer representative, where he will look after the Adour engine used in the Hawk – the jet operated by the Red Arrows.
One of the most pressured, and rewarding, features of the Junior Engineering Officer role undertaken by Flt Lt Ramsden is that the individual is also Circus 1.
They fly in the backseat of Red 1’s jet on transit flights and are part of a small group of technicians responsible for servicing the aircraft away from base.
Flt Lt Ramsden, who joined the RAF in 2009, said: “My two years on the team have been amazing and fulfilled a lifelong dream to work with the Red Arrows.
“I have so many memories that will stay with me forever. Highlights have been flying over Her Majesty The Queen for her 90th Birthday, the final flypast with the Vulcan aircraft and being in the first RAF fast-jet to land in China.
“The aspect I will miss most are the people. The team of engineers who worked with me were incredible and I can only thank them for their efforts and support.
“The Blues are the unsung heroes that work tirelessly behind-the-scenes to enable the aircraft to fly and Squadron to function. Without them, nothing would be possible.”
During his time with the Red Arrows, Flt Lt Ramsden played a key role in promoting the importance of science, technology, engineering and maths – known as STEM – and was followed by thousands of people on Twitter, who were able to get a glimpse at what it takes to be an RAF engineer with the Red Arrows.
He said: “It's been an honour to have worked for the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, to be an ambassador for the UK and to inspire the next generation through STEM. I hope to share these experiences in my next posting."
The other two prominent team members leaving the Red Arrows this week are Flt Lt Campbell, who is Red 8, and Flt Lt Hourston, Red 9.
Joining the team three years ago, the two Scotsmen became the 150th and 151st Red Arrows pilots since the inaugural 1965 season.
They became well-known to the British public and airshow fans after a BBC documentary, called Inside The Bubble, followed training and preparations ahead of their first summer campaign, which was also a milestone anniversary – the Red Arrows’ 50th display season.
Flt Lt Campbell, who is from Peebles and joined the RAF in 2003, flew Tornados before becoming a Red Arrows pilot.
He said: “It has been an absolute privilege and honour to wear the red suit of the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team for the past three years.
“The team has an incredible heritage and to now be a part of that history is very special to me indeed.
“In particular, to be a team pilot during its 50th display season was incredible. A highlight for me that year was taking part in a flypast to mark the opening of the Commonwealth Games in my home nation, Scotland.
“Other stand-out memories include displaying to hundreds of thousands of people at the Bournemouth Air Festival every year. Seeing that many people on the seafront knowing most would be looking up at us was incredible and slightly nerve-racking the first time I caught a glimpse!
“During my three years on the team I have flown alongside Typhoons, an F35 Lightning II, the Vulcan and Hurricanes to name but a few but the best view in my cockpit mirrors has to be that of the mighty Spitfire. To fly in formation with such an iconic British fighter aircraft was incredibly moving and humbling.
“The biggest surprise to me during my tour was to see, from the inside, just how special the team is to so many members of the British public. The warmth of reception we receive in every corner of the UK has been amazing.
“However, on returning from our Asia-Pacific and Middle East tour, I can now confirm that this appreciation by the public is not just confined to the UK and that we have a truly global fan-base who supported us in every one of the 17 countries that we have stopped in.
“The Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team is truly a global British brand, held close by so many and one that I have been utterly privileged to represent over the past three years”.
Flt Lt Hourston, who joined the RAF in 2001 and flew the Tornado GR4 operationally, said the teamwork demonstrated by the Red Arrows is a key highlight of his posting with the Squadron.
He said: “The three seasons have been an incredible part of my career – combining very rewarding and challenging flying with the most amazing experiences outside of the cockpit, meeting inspirational people.
“Perhaps the biggest memory for anyone who has been lucky enough to play a part in the Red Arrows’ history is the teamwork and dedication, shown by every member of the Squadron, whether air or ground crew, to produce a world-leading display and show seen by millions of people every year.”
Training for the Red Arrows’ 2017 and 53rd season, with new members of the team, gets underway in the first week of January.