Monday, 16 November 2009

Skill …

There are old pilots and there are bold pilots. There are, however, no old bold pilots.




Kirsty Moore, Flight Lieutenant, Royal Air Force, aged 32, has a masters degree in aeronautical engineering, and flies Tornado GR4's in tactical air combat as a day job.

The ultimate woman driver, she has added another string to her bow. As the first woman to break the male monopoly of the 45-year-old squad of aerobatic aces known as the Red Arrows.

FltLt Kirsty Moore

She really does not want to be the centre of attraction wherever the Red Arrows land for the next three years, but that is a forlorn hope. She will certainly attract hordes of press photographers, as she did when she was 'introduced' to the world on Armistice Day, but she is capable of taking it in her stride. She knows she made the team through merit, and that is what counts!

Man or woman, it is a remarkable achievement to join the Red Arrows. The RAF's fast jet pilots are the cream of British aviation talent; each year between 30 and 40 pilots apply to join the Reds, and this year only two were chosen. Kirsty is not the first woman to apply, but she is the first to make it through an arduous selection process that microscopically examines attitude, compatibility, presentability and flying skill. It is clear that the other Reds treat Kirsty not as an honorary man, but as a woman fighter pilot.

She says her strawberry-blonde hair looks a lurid shade of orange when she stands next to a bright red aircraft (oh dear, what happens when she qualifies to wear the red suit as well?). In the mess they tease her for having ginger hair, an allegation she rejects. Said one of her teammates, "She is ginger and has the temper to prove it."

"I used to be fairly feisty, but I'm much more mellow now," Moore counters. "In fact, I tie my hair back most of the time because I wear a helmet to fly or ride the bike, so there's not much else you can do with it."


Smoke, ON!


In the mid-nineties I had the good fortune to meet, on several occasions, 'Red-10' the 'Road Manager' of the team of that time. Inevitably the conversation always veered around to the 'how', 'when', 'why' and 'where' of the day-to-day running of the team (his job) and the retelling of some events that were not for general public consumption. I shall obviously not disclose any of those stories, but here are some 'insider' tips about the aerobatic team for the next time you are lucky enough to see them.

  • During displays, the aircraft do not fly directly over the crowd; any manoeuvres in front of and parallel to the audience can be as low as 300 feet. The 'synchro pair' can go as low as 100 feet straight and level, or 150 feet when in inverted flight.

  • According to the 'Road Manager' the greatest asset in the Red's arsenal of aerobatic tricks is the public's eye. We apparently only get a two-dimensional view of their performance and always assume they are closer to each other than they actually are!

  • The smoke trails left by the team are made by releasing diesel into the exhaust; this oxidises straight away, leaving a white smoke trail. Dyes can be added to produce the red and blue colour. If the diesel doesn't oxidise and descends to ground level still in liquid or vapour form it causes a lot of damage to the clothes of the spectators. You have been warned!

  • The 'Road Manager' considers himself to be the hardest working member of the team. I would have been surprised if he hadn't claimed that privilege! He flies the 'spare', precedes the team to the display area, lands, taxis to the holding area, and then sprints to the microphone to introduce the team who are, by now, barrelling in from a totally unexpected direction, designed to confuse him. He provides the commentary during the display, calling attention to some of the more spectacular manoeuvres, and getting his revenge on the team members by adding little comments like, "Come on eight and nine, they're leaving you behind!". At the end of the display he then has to sprint to his aircraft and put his foot down to get ahead of the team whilst they are en-route to their next venue, land, and do it all over again.

I wish Kirsty Moore and the rest of the team the very best of good fortune during their tour of duty, 2009 to 2012, which coincidentally culminate in displays at the London Olympics.

I would like to leave you with a short video of a guy whom I consider to be probably the best pilot in the world.

All because of this little incident ...



Later ...



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Here's a toast to your health.

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