Sheffield's Red Arrows pilots tell why it not about them - it's all about the Red Suit
One of the most difficult career paths to follow and attain in the Royal Air Force is that of a fast jet pilot. With stringent physical and mental checks, they are highly qualified, and highly trained.
And two Sheffield men have proved they have what it takes to be part of the elite nine-pilot squad.
Squadron Leader Steve Morris, aged 39, and Flight Lieutenant Damom Damo Green, 36, have all the qualities necessary to gain the coverted Red Flying Suit, and now fly in the world famous aerobatics team.When applying to become a Red Arrows pilot, even more stringent checks and tests ensue to find the best of the best.
Pilots must meet additional strict criteria to apply for selection. Applicants must have a minimum of 1,500 flying hours, which can take ten years to accrue, have completed a front line tour of duty, and be assessed as being above average in their flying role.
They also go through a process, involving interviews, flying tests and peer assessments.
Former Westfield pupil Steve studied Aerospace engineering at the University of Sheffield after studying for A levels at Norton College, and joined the RAF in 2002
He graduated as a Hawk pilot at RAF Valley, Anglesey, and became an instructor before going on to fly on the vertical take off Jump Jet Harrier Gr9, then the swing winged Tornado GR4.
This is Steve’s second tour of duty with the Red Arrows – he previously completed four years as a Red Arrows pilot between 2013-2017.
Damon, a former pupil at Aston School, read maths at Bath University, after which he took a gap year teaching maths and English in Tanzania and then joined the RAF in 2007.
He completed his fast jet training and joined 100 Squadron RAF’s Aggressor squadron, operating the Hawk jet.
In 2015 Damon converted to pilot the Euro fighter Typhoon and completed a tour of duty in the Falkland Islands.
Both pilots says they are pleased to get back to near normality after an unprecedented Covid-19 affected year.
Although The Red Arrows carried out fly-pasts and displays in Finland and Guernsey, with flypasts over London and Paris in 2020,with a combined tour of North America and Canada, they hadn’t displayed in the UK since August 2019 until June at the Midland Airshow.
Although the Red Arrows are considered the most famous team in the world, Steve and Damon can easily walk down any street in Sheffield or the UK and go unnoticed.
“We're really glad of it to be honest,” said Steve. “It’s not about the individual, it’s the team.
“You only do three years with the Red Arrows, but it’s really important to us that it's not the individual that's famous or recognised .
It’s the Red Flying suit and history behind that, the team has been in existence since 1964.
“It's the people who’ve worn the suit before, were effectively custodians of that Red Suit.
“We get this opportunity to represent The Royal Air Force, Ministry of Defence, and the greater UK around the world, and we feel hugely proud.”
One of the most memorable events both pilots took part in with the Red Arrows, was their tour of North America and Canada in August 2019
“Some of the displays were absolutely incredible, and doing flypasts with different display teams, the US Navy, US Air Force and also the Canadian Air Force’s Snowbirds as well.
“Some of the flypasts we did over there – over Niagara Falls and the Golden Gate Bridge – were absolutely incredible,” said Steve.
Both pilots agree that on such a tour, flying with, and observing other world class display teams gives everyone an opportunity to learn from each other, their techniques and practices.
“I got to fly with the Snowbirds at the Canadian international airshow,” said Damon.
“Some of the other guys got to fly with the Blue Angels at the New York airshow.
“It was a great cooperation between the Canadians and the Americans.”
When their three-year term with Red Arrows is completed, the pilots mainly return to other duties within the RAF, but that isn’t foremost in either of the pilots minds at the moment.
“You don’t want to think that far ahead, because you obviously don’t want to start looking at the future, and make this fly by,” said Damon.
“A lot of people will, from the Red Arrows go on to other roles in the military, return back to front line operations.
“Some people leave, just because it’s a natural progression of their careers.
I will be looking hopefully to go back to Euro Fighter Typhoon duties, my front line aircraft, but it is in a couple of years’ time so I don’t really give that too much thought.
“But I’ll be looking at, keep on flying in the military because absolutely a dream job to do.”
The Red Arrow pilots have vast experience in flying military aircraft of different kinds.
“My actual favourite aircraft is the Hawk to fly as a pilot, as it’s such a pilot's aircraft,” said Damon.
“At certain speeds, you can hear whistling over the canopy, you don't even need to look at your speed gauge to know what speed you're doing from that whistle,which is really good.
Steve added: “I was lucky enough to fly the Jump Jet Harrier, that was incredible. I really enjoyed flying that.
“Like Damo says, flying the Hawk as well, it’s 40 years old now, I think it’s a remarkable feat of engineering.
“It reflects very very well on British ingenuity, the jet was designed and entered service in the late 70s.
“It started flying with The Reds in the 1980, so the jet is older than the majority of us in the team.
“It’s still as reliable today as it was back then, the Rolls Royce engine it has is incredible.”
And away from the flying with the Red Arrows, what do they like to do?
Damon said: “I like to play a round of golf whenever I can, I used to play a lot of it as a kid, but since joining the military it’s gone down to half a dozen rounds a year.
“Just building that bond, that you can see in the air that we’re not just people going to work and doing a job, it’s actually as Steve said, it’s custodian of the Red Suit, a team dynamic.”
Although Steve doesn’t enjoy golf as much as Damon, he also plays when requested.
“I like to do crossfit, I do spinning, I’ve got a Peloton bike which has been incredible during lock down, it’s kept me sane, mounting biking and swimming.
“It’s as Damo said, it’s great when we can do stuff together as a team.
“I’m totally terrible at golf, but it’s quite nice to get out and about and have a round of golf with each other,” said Steve.
Steve and Damon are keen to make it the public aware of what the team does – along with the wider team which is more than just the pilots.
“It’s not just the nine pilots that make it work, it’s everybody here,” said Steve.
“You’re always keen to point that out, and also the service of the rest of the military.
“We’re representing the Air Force and the MOD, we’re representing them, we are not what it’s all about, so it’s all about giving that wider appreciation to the forces,” said Steve.