Inspirational 2018 Red Arrows season officially comes to an end

After 60 thrilling public displays, the Red Arrows’ 2018 season – which helped to celebrate the Royal Air Force’s centenary – officially comes to an end today.

Throughout the summer, the team has been a high-profile part of the RAF100 activities and special events across the United Kingdom and beyond.

This has included dynamic aerobatic displays and memorable flypasts – including forming the colourful finale to the huge aerial salute of more than 100 aircraft over central London in July.

Today marks the official end to the Red Arrows’ 54th campaign, with those pilots leaving the Lincolnshire-based team formally bid farewell.

The Red Arrows performing in 2018.
The Red Arrows performed 60 public displays in 2018. Image by: SAC Rose Buchanan 

The aircrew and support staff also hang up their famous red and blue flying suits respectively for another year, reverting to green coveralls – marking the switch from display season to training phase.

Wing Commander Andrew Keith, Officer Commanding, Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, said: “Every member of the Red Arrows is enormously proud to have contributed to the celebrations and commemorations of the RAF’s centenary.

“Of course, the most visible aspect of this role has been in our displays and flypasts in the air but, also, we have placed particular emphasis on playing a part in the many activities marking RAF100 on the ground this year.

“The Red Arrows’ pilots, engineers and support staff have been delighted to support numerous events promoting science, technology, engineering and maths – helping to inspire the next generation of RAF personnel.

“We look forward to building on the success of 2018, flying the flag and promoting the UK in 2019.”

Monaco was the venue for the final 2018 display.
Monaco was the venue for the final 2018 display. Image by: SAC Hannah Smoker

The Red Arrows’ latest season got underway at the end of May, in Wales. In total, 60 public displays have been carried out and each with the team’s trademark complement of nine, British-built Hawk jets.

Monaco was the final display venue a fortnight ago, where the Red Arrows supported UK industry exhibiting at a major yacht show.

Given the exceptional summer weather, 34 of these displays were full shows, which is the most dynamic, highest type flown by the team.

The season was also the first as Team Leader and Red 1 for Squadron Leader Martin Pert.

He returned to the Red Arrows, after flying on the frontline with the Typhoon jet, to lead the nine-aircraft display in the milestone year.

Sqn Ldr Pert said: “In this, the RAF’s 100th year, the great British public have once again taken the Red Arrows and all that they represent, to heart, as their own.

“Continuing our aims of providing a showcase that demonstrates the professionalism, ingenuity and precision of all of our Armed Forces, the Red Arrows have travelled the length and breadth of the UK in 2018.

Squadron Leader Martin Pert, Red 1, lead the nine-aircraft formation in 2018.
Squadron Leader Martin Pert, Red 1, led the nine-aircraft formation in 2018. Image by: SAC Rose Buchanan

“Conducting displays and countless flypasts, from Peterhead in northern Scotland to Falmouth in Cornwall, we hope that all corners of the country have had the chance to experience the dynamism and breath-taking formations that comprise our display.

“Key involvement at large-scale events such as Bournemouth Air Festival, Eastbourne Airborne and the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) have allowed us to take our message to a huge stage but it’s often the smaller display sites and ground engagement that we cherish – the opportunity to meet, talk and engage with those we hope to inspire.”

In addition to the 11 pilots, nine of whom fly in the display, the team is made-up of more than 100 highly-trained support staff, based at RAF Scampton.

They work tirelessly to ensure the Red Arrows’ Hawk jets are expertly maintained and every aspect of the team – which aims to showcase the excellence of the RAF and represent the UK at home and overseas – runs smoothly.

Sqn Ldr Pert said this team effort has been crucial to the success of the display season:

In my first year as the leader of the team, whilst 2018 could not have started any worse, it has been the tenacity, fortitude and sheer hard-work from all of our incredibly talented people that has impressed me the most and allowed us to return to nine-ship display flying for the season.

"This was never more finely demonstrated than the centenary flypast on July 10, where the Red Arrows were a high-profile part of RAF100 celebrations.

“The view of 94 aircraft ahead, unseen-before volumes of people observing across London and then the vivid red, white and blue smoke in the mirrors as we passed The Mall afforded me the most incredible vantage point, as we commemorated all those we represent – past, present and future.”

The Red Arrows also celebrated several other achievements in 2018, including winning the Steedman Display Sword at RIAT, which is awarded for best display by a UK participant.

In Jersey, the team was presented with the Bailiff’s Silver Medals at Government House, in honour of commitment to the island.

This is also the final day in the Red Arrows for four pilots.

Among them is Squadron Leader Mike Ling, who returned to the team to fly in the Red 3 position in 2018. The season was a record 10th with the Red Arrows.

Squadron Leader Mike Ling takes a selfie during an overseas tour.
Squadron Leader Mike Ling takes a selfie during an overseas tour. 

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 said: “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.

“There really are so many highlights to mention over 10 years but the standouts include displaying in New York Harbour as Red 3 in 2008, racing a jet against four-time Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton in his F1 car and meeting hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of brilliant supportive Red Arrows fans.”

Flight Lieutenant Si Taylor, Red 6 and the Synchro Leader in 2018, has completed three years with the team and will now move to commercial flying.

He said: “During 16 years in the Royal Air Force I’ve had some incredible experiences – on the frontline, on operations and exercises around world.

However, the three years with the Red Arrows rank as the best experience of my career.

“Working day-in, day-out with a tightknit team of exceptionally professional, talented and determined people has been a privilege. It’s such a pleasure to be part of an organisation that is unashamed about the high standards it demands, but will support you in every way to help you meet those standards.

“Naturally as a pilot when you join the team your mind turns to the substantial task of making the grade in flying terms. However, it’s in the public relations-parts of the job where I’ve had some of the best experiences. Chatting to people on the ground at airshows, doing presentations for schools, universities and charities have proved to be some of the most rewarding things I’ve done as a team member. “

Another of those leaving is Red 8, Flight Lieutenant Matt Masters.

The former Tornado pilot said: “Flying with the Red Arrows has definitely been the highlight of my Royal Air Force career, especially as it has been a unique time to spend three years in the team.

“In my first year, I was fortunate to tour to China.  In my second year, I was fortunate to tour to the Middle East and then, in my final year, I helped celebrate RAF100 by not only flying over London in July – where the reaction was overwhelming – but also to perform the centenary flypast at the end of each display.

The Red Arrows over London for the RAF100 flypast in July 2018.
The Red Arrows over London for the RAF100 flypast in July 2018.

“I will certainly miss flying with the team and being part of the RAF. I’ve met some amazing and inspirational people over the last 20 years but I look forward to a new adventure, moving to Fife in Scotland working as an airline pilot, improving my kitesurfing and reducing my golf handicap.”

Red 9 for 2018, Flight Lieutenant Mike Bowden, has spent four years with the team and said the period was a “genuine boyhood dream come true”.

He said: “The experience has been everything I could have ever wanted and more. It is a shame to have to leave but we all know that good things come to an end.

“The opportunities this job have offered me are virtually endless to talk about – from getting to meet the thousands of supporters on the ground at the various airshows to being able to put smiles on the faces of poorly children at Great Ormond Street Hospital close to Christmas time.

“One of my favourite roles in this job has been speaking to our younger generations.  I was inspired by the Red Arrows at a young age and it gave me the drive to chase it.

If I’ve managed to spark inspiration into just a single person, then I’d certainly feel a big part of my job was done.

"I will be back amongst the crowds at a show very soon and watching on with the fondest of memories just as I did back where my journey began.

Training for the 2019 season got underway almost as soon as the team got back from its last show in Monaco.

However, after today, the flying will pause for two weeks. This allows the Red Arrows’ engineers to carry out work on the aircraft and the team to re-set with new pilots.

The preparations and training will step up a gear when the team returns to flying in just over a fortnight.

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