“Take it as red that we are back in business”
THE Red Arrows took to the skies over Chatsworth in their first public performance since the tragic death of one of their team-mates.
In a touching display, the RAF’s aerobatics team adapted their formations to fly with eight Hawk planes following the loss of 33-year-old Flight Lieutenant Jon Egging in a crash at the Bournemouth Air Festival.
At the Chatsworth Country Fair, the remaining pilots wowed the crowds with dazzling formations, creating trails of coloured smoke over the grand arena at the Derbyshire estate.
The Red Arrows were originally scheduled to fly past Chatsworth tomorrow as well, but the second performance has been cancelled.
The audience was talked through the performance by Squadron Leader Graeme Bagnall, who asked for a moment’s silence as the Red Arrows carried out their diamond formation - which would usually feature Flt Lt Egging completing a perfect shape with the ninth plane.
He said it was important for the team to continue in Jon’s memory.
“It’s been a sad two weeks and without him in the formation there will be something missing,” he said.
“However, this is our chance to honour him and pay our respects to him with our flying.
“We think he would have liked us to have gone on to do that, that’s why it’s so important for us to keep going.”
He said the piece was dedicated to their fallen comrade and said he could still see him flying in his usual position.
Crowds applauded furiously as the team carried out the Cupid formation - where the planes form a heart shape in smoke trail and another flies an arrow through it - which Sqn Ldr Bagnall dedicated to Flt Lt Egging’s widow, Emma.
Against a backdrop of bright sunshine and warm winds, the team carried out their moves, including Whirlwind and Gypo Split, as well as using their trademark coloured smoke.
The entire crowd had their faces turned to the sky as the pilots pulled off their 20-minute routine perfectly, and deservedly received deafening cheers and applause at the end.
Adapting technically has not been a problem, Sqn Ldr Bagnall said, because the team allows for occasions when a pilot may be ill or an aircraft is unavailable, but the emotional adaptation has not been easy.
“It’s difficult symbolically because we wish he was still with us, of course,” he said.
“He was a lovely guy. Not only an extremely skilled aviator but, in fact, he’d wanted to be in the Red Arrows from as far back as he could remember.
“Once he started his flying training, it became clear quickly that he was full of potential and skill and after a tour with the Harrier Force he came to the Red Arrows and he was every part the man the team needed.
“Full of smiles, fun and good humour, he’ll be sorely missed.”
The RAF temporarily grounded all 126 of its Hawk T1 training jets while preliminary investigations were carried out into what caused the crash that killed Flt Lt Egging.
The Red Arrows were given the all-clear to return to the skies last Thursday, from which point they were practising as a team of eight.