2018 leavers: Sqn Ldr Mike Ling bows out after record-breaking Red Arrows career

The longest-serving Red Arrows pilot has listed displaying in New York Harbour and racing a jet against a Formula One car among his team highlights.

Squadron Leader Mike Ling officially leaves the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team today – after completing 10 seasons across his flying career.

Brought up in Kent, Sqn Ldr Ling joined the RAF in 1998 and, operationally, flew the Tornado F3, helping to secure the skies of the UK and Falkland Islands.

Squadron Leader Mike Ling officially leaves the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team today – after completing 10 seasons with the Red Arrows.
Squadron Leader Mike Ling, who has completed 10 seasons with the Red Arrows. Image by: SAC Rose Buchanan.

After his first period with the Red Arrows as a display pilot – including as part of the Synchro Pair – he came back as Red 10 for six seasons. This is the team’s supervisor, who also provides a commentary at airshows and events on the ground.

Sqn Ldr Ling returned for 2018, in the latter stages of pre-season preparations, to fly as Red 3, standing-in for an injured colleague.

Amazingly, he has completed 2,585 Red Arrows sorties, flown 1,765 hours and 29 red Hawk jets, visited 46 countries by red jet and displayed or commentated 699 shows.

He is one of four pilots leaving the Red Arrows today.

Here are Sqn Ldr Ling’s reflections on his time with the team in his own words:

I have wanted to be a pilot in the Royal Air Force for as long as I can remember, hugely inspired by watching the Red Arrows display as a small child at the Biggin Hill Air Fair where I grew up.

To have now been a big part of the team for such a long period of time is the best thing I could have ever hoped for.

I joined the Royal Air Force aged 19 and as early as I was eligible (in terms of application criteria) I applied to join the Red Arrows, never once expecting to be successful at my first attempt. To my utter surprise, I was selected at the age of 28 and joined the team in 2007, ready for the 2008 season to fly as Red 3.

The Red Arrows over New York in 2008.
The Red Arrows over New York in 2008.

There really are so many highlights to mention over 10 years but the standouts in the air are:

·         Displaying in New York Harbour as Red 3 in 2008.

·         Displaying at my home town, Biggin Hill, as part of the Synchro Pair in 2009.

·         Flying over the Olympic opening ceremony as Red 9 for London 2012.

·         Arriving in China in 2016 as Red 10 after an epic 22-stop journey.

·         Flying over London in a formation of more than 100 aircraft as Red 3 for RAF100 in 2018.

·         Racing a jet against four-time Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton in his F1 car.

Squadron Leader Mike Ling, in the jet, flies above Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes in 2013.
Squadron Leader Mike Ling, in the jet, flies above Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes in 2013.

On the ground there have also been many highlights too:

·         Meeting hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of brilliant supportive Red Arrows fans.

·         Engaging with Red Arrows supporters through social media.

·         Being awarded the MBE by the Duke of Cambridge at Buckingham Palace in 2017.

Most pilots only get to be part of this special outfit for a three- year period. I have been incredibly fortunate to surpass that by a large margin, into double figures this year when I was honoured to have been invited back to the team to fly again as Red 3 in order to ensure a Red Arrows nine-ship was possible in the RAF centenary year.

Meeting young fans in India during the 2016 tour.
Meeting young fans in India during the 2016 tour.

It goes without saying that the flying over the last 10 years has been incredible but it is the people who have made it such a special experience. Of course, I have seen a lot of people come and go on the team but they have all been brilliant and utterly committed with one common goal, to demonstrate the best of the Royal Air Force and the best of British.

A big thank you to everyone that has supported me during my time in the team, especially to Nicola and Isla – I may actually get to spend a bit more time at home now! For now, it’s smoke off for me.

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