A little while ago, I was lucky enough to have a flight with the Red Arrows, and they have kindly given me permission to write about it.
Flying in a fast jet has been on my bucket list since I was a child. When I was told, aged 16, that my eyesight would not allow me to join the RAF, I thought that this would never happen, but that didn't stop me hoping that one day an opportunity might arise.
Fast forward a number of years, and finally I was offered the chance to fly in a jet and, what's more, it was going to be with the Reds.
On the morning of the flight, with excitement mounting, there was a flurry of kit issue, safety briefings and a medical. They were all a bit of a blur. Unknown to me, the team had secured permission for me to join them for their morning's training flight, I would be joining them for one of their early training flights during the preparation season. This was all I could think about during the team's pre-flight briefing.
Whilst I'm obviously familiar with flying in light aircraft, getting into a jet felt awfully alien to me - so many things to plug in and ensure are connected correctly. Having people to help plug me in was a novelty too, although I was relieved that they were there making sure I did the right things.
Before long we were off, and I found that I (and when I say I, of course I mean the thoroughly capable pilot, not me!) was forming up with a number of other aircraft.
I'd done some formation flying before, but not with this many aircraft, and obviously not to anywhere near this level. I recall thinking how close they looked at about the same time that there was a call on the radio, and suddenly they tightened up! It felt like I could reach out and touch the other aircraft. I got to observe a portion of their training for the upcoming season and then we broke off, so that I could get an appreciation of the handling characteristics of the Hawk.
Playing above the clouds we had a window to play with, and the really interesting thing for me was where there were similarities with the Cap, for example, it had nice light ailerons and felt like it was still quite a little aircraft. That said, I found the elevator much heavier and I had forgotten that it didn't have a symmetrical aerofoil section, so, whilst trying to fly inverted, I found a lot more forward stick was needed than I had ever appreciated.
I got to sit through the de-brief after the flight, and it was fascinating to get an idea of the detail of their reviews. This, combined with their preparation before each flight, explains how they fly with such precision.
It was a real privilege to get a glimpse into their world, and I wish them all the very best for their upcoming season.