The pilot who has led the Red Arrows over three years has paid tribute to family, friends, followers and colleagues after his final team flight.
Squadron Leader Martin Part has flown for the last occasion as Red 1 with the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team – a role he describes as a “trip of a lifetime”.
His tour as Team Leader, which began with the 2018 season, has spanned a very high-profile, busy period involving the RAF’s centenary, the largest tour by the Red Arrows of North America in a generation and several flypasts to commemorate significant national events.
Reflecting on his time as Red 1, Sqn Ldr Pert said he believes the unit’s role is “as relevant, arguably more so, than ever” and spoke of world-class teamwork and the motivation gained from the public’s support of the Red Arrows.
He said: “I want to pay tribute to the incredible work that goes on behind-the-scenes here to keep the Red Arrows flying.
“Feats achieved by our engineering and support staff have single-handedly secured flying displays around the world, long before a pilot steps anywhere near an aircraft.
“I also want to thank my friends and, more importantly, family including my wife and children, who sacrificed seeing their Daddy for nearly 36 months as he engaged in his boyhood dream career.
“And finally, I am hugely appreciative of all the support from you, the public, during this trip of a lifetime.
“Your messages of strength, encouragement and tales of joy at what we do, is the drum beat of the Red Arrows. I just hope I’ve managed to give you as much insight as you’ve wanted into this special unit.”
The latest term with the Red Arrows is Sqn Ldr Pert’s second stint at the RAF Scampton-based unit, having been a team pilot between 2012 and 2014 and flying as Red 2, 4 and 8 respectively.
He was then a Typhoon flight commander, operating this powerful, multi-role combat aircraft, before returning to the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team as Red 1.
In this position, Sqn Ldr Pert has been responsible for all aspects of the display – creating a new, dynamic aerobatic show each season, running the training programme and leading the team’s nine-aircraft formation.
Among the biggest highlights of his time as Red 1 was an 11-week, award-winning tour of the United States and Canada – taking the team further west than ever before, completing displays coast-to-coast and staging more than 120 ground events.
Several of the significant moments over the last three years have been covered by two, back-to-back, television documentaries watched by millions of people.
They charted the highs and lows and the work of the team both at home and overseas.
Sqn Ldr Pert said: “It’s not been an effortless ride. Over my three years I’ve experienced the most daunting challenges including the loss of a dear friend to us all and of course the ravages of COVID measures.
“But those trials have made our successful achievements all the sweeter. I will never forget the views of 94 other aircraft ahead of us as we flew over London in my first year as leader, during the RAF100 celebrations of 2018.
“Nor will I ever overlook the privileged opportunity to lead this team across the Atlantic to the United States and Canada in 2019, flying over some of the world’s most iconic landmarks.
“The pictures of each are always iconic, but to be privileged enough to see The Mall with thousands of people, or the Golden Gate Bridge from only a few hundred feet, are moments I have never taken for granted.
“On the ground, just to see people smiling at what we do and how is enough to keep me inspired.”
Indeed, one of the key roles of the Red Arrows is to inspire people, showcasing the excellence of the Royal Air Force and representing the United Kingdom.
Many of the Red Arrows’ pilots and support staff first thought of a career in aviation and the military when they saw the team perform, years previously, as children.
Sqn Ldr Pert said he was once “one of those kids on the other side of the fence, looking on in awe at aeroplanes and the wonder of flight” and encouraged others to pursue their ambitions.
He said: “Tenacity, humility and open-mindedness have got me and my team where we are today and those values are free to anyone who wants them.
“As Team Leader, I set out to ensure I remained faithful to the core task of the Red Arrows, that of representing the very best of Great Britain and its Armed Forces.
I firmly believe the Red Arrows are as relevant, arguably more so, than ever and my reflection as a departing leader is that hopefully I’ve managed to imprint a little bit of my personal ethos and vigour along that journey.
“What has surprised me is just how broad-reaching this team can be, from talking about childhood memories of seeing the Red Arrows with a US Highway patrolman in California, to inspiring children to learn about aerodynamics in a school in Qatar – the Red Arrows’ appeal is truly boundless.”
Sqn Ldr Pert’s last flight as Red 1 was a practice display at RAF Scampton, finishing with a flypast over nearby Lincoln and a spectacular “Spag” break-to-land.
The sortie was part of a handover phase, allowing the incoming Team Leader – Sqn Ldr Tom Bould – to observe the specialist techniques and skills needed in the role.
Sqn Ldr Pert, who joined the RAF in 2000 and is also a former Harrier pilot, is now preparing for the next chapter of his career in the Service.
He said: “I am delighted to remain within the RAF for my onward career. I’m taking some time to develop myself, both professionally through military study courses and personally with a bit of welcome respite from flying, embracing all the opportunities the military presents such as adventurous training and sport.
“But, rest assured, I’ll be airborne again before long.”
For more information on the Red Arrows, follow @rafredarrows on Twitter, like the team’s Facebook page at RAF Red Arrows, view pictures on Instagram @rafredarrows or visit www.raf.mod.uk/reds