THE FLIGHTDECK • August 2019
To mark the BA centenary, the RAF’s aerobatic display team, the Red Arrows, performed a joint fly-past alongside a specially decorated BA Boeing 747 at last month’s Royal International Air Tattoo. Red Arrows lead pilot and Squadron Leader Martin Pert, Red 1, reveals what it’s like to lead a performance in the sky
What are the main challenges of flying in battle formation alongside a commercial airliner?
Although as military pilots we’re quite used to air-to-air refuelling or intercepts if we’re patrolling the skies, the actual difficulties are in getting close to the aircraft in a safe and timely fashion. The sheer size and unwieldiness of the 747, compared with our manoeuvrability and sprightliness, is something we pay close attention to in the planning stages.
The Red Arrows have flown many times with BA aircraft, including over London to mark the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. Why do you think there is a such a connection between the two?
We’re both national flag carriers, one commercial, the other military, both displaying red, white and blue around the globe, so there’s already a natural connection. Our ‘best of British’ psyche transcends both those worlds and is something both we and British Airways are proud to display wherever we go.
Do you have a favourite ‘move’ when flying and performing for large crowds?
To celebrate the Concorde anniversary this year we’re flying in a very long, graceful formation in the shape of the iconic aircraft. It’s fun for the guys to fly. They’re a long way from me as they’re formatting and, if they get it right, it really does simulate Concorde.
What has been the highlight of your professional career?
The fly-past for the opening of the Olympics in 2012. And flying down the Mall every year for the Queen, but especially at the end of the RAF centenary celebrations last year. There were 100 aircraft that flew down the Mall that day (pictured below), so to be in the RAF with the Red Arrows and the Queen watching was a big highlight.
What is the best aircraft you’ve ever flown?
The Harrier was a piece of iconic British engineering. The flexibility it afforded us – you could land on a boat, on a motorway, and take off vertically out of a small hide in the woods – was incredible. It’s a versatile but simple icon of British aviation.
Where’s the most exciting place you’ve travelled with the Red Arrows?
Displaying in Monaco for the British superyacht industry. It’s such a famous backdrop, one we’ve all seen from the Grand Prix – Prince Albert’s residence and the hills behind. Displaying over the water with all the superyachts was truly exciting.
Where has been your favourite UK destination to fly over?
It has to be London, particularly that transition from the lush green fields of the east to the dense urban landscapes. Over Walthamstow you make out the tall, red, ArcelorMittal Orbit. Two minutes later and you’re over the Walkie Talkie, Shard and London Eye. Buckingham Palace doesn’t stand out until you’re right on top of it – by the time you’ve seen it, it’s almost too late. The whole city really fizzes when the weather’s great. And I’m out in front, so I get the best view!
What do we not know about the Red Arrows?
Although the display is 30 minutes long, each aircraft carries only five minutes of white smoke, one minute of red and one minute of blue.
To find out more about the Red Arrows, click here