We all take pride of ownership in Britain’s bravest of brave, the Red Arrows, from the pilots, mostly combat service veterans, to support crew, who play such an invaluable role behind the scenes, to skilled BAE Systems workers who craft the small, but precise, combat capable Hawk T1s.
Here on the Fylde coast, where the team often stays between displays in the North West, there is a sense we have lost one of our own with the death of Ft Lt Jon Egging, 33, (below) whose plane came down at the end of Bournemouth Air Show.
Earlier this month a bird strike forced the emergency landing of one of the jets after Blackpool Air Show – having caused intake damage to pilot Ben Plank’s Red Seven.
The Red Arrows have become the resort’s adopted sons and daughters since attending the RAF shows and later Blackpool’s annual Air Show.
Even after the icons of aerobatics were pictured flying over the Statue of Liberty the aces high admitted they would rather fly over Blackpool Tower – such is the buzz they got back from the crowds below.
As closeknit on ground as they are in air, they seldom stray far from fellow team members, staying mostly at the Grand Hotel in St Annes, and occasionally the De Vere in Blackpool, lounging around in distinctive jump suits, taking time out to chat to fellow guests, and visitors, alike.
Some years ago the team brought Blackpool virtually to a standstill by doing a “meet and greet” at Princess Parade. They also turned heads at Morrisons during a scramble for sarnies during a break between displays – disappointing shoppers by not steering trolleys in formation.
Away from Top Gun-style aerobatics, they take time out for a spot of promotion, so long as it’s in keeping with the best of British ethos, or to support charities, and boost morale, visiting retired airmen at Richard Peck House, St Annes.
An air show simply isn’t an air show without the Red Arrows cutting a dash through the skies, colours blazing in the slip stream, reaching far beyond the seafront, over the terraced streets, and suburbs, scorching across the Fylde’s flatlands , causing locals to halt in their tracks to catch a glimpse of the elusive Hawks.
Locals lobbied to keep the Red Arrows amid rumours of their scrapping. And the concern felt when a bird strike caused the emergency landing of Red Seven was palpable. It’s become unthinkable these daredevils who dice with danger, and delight those watching, should ever fall to earth.
For one group of Blackpool teenagers, chasing dreams of an RAF career, based at the UK’s oldest civil airfield, the loss is particularly poignant, for every Red Arrow pilot in recent years has started out in the Air Training Corps. While plane spotters line airport perimeter fences to glimpse the squadron taxi, take off or land, in strict formation, and others watch from the sand hills, the best vantage point for the air show, the cadets of 177 (Blackpool Airport) Squadron Air Training Corps have the privilege of meeting the crew on a more equal footing.
Time was cadets were permitted to go airside, the no-go zone for most of us, nearest the aircraft. Flt Lt Andrew Nickson, commanding officer for the resort ATC squadron, explains: “We get to know them because we are based here at the airport, and when we used to go airside, we’d lend the Red Arrows our mini bus to help them get about.
“Nothing is ever too much trouble for the Red Arrows. They are ambassadors not just for Britain but for the ATC, because, in recent years, every pilot has been a former ATC cadet, which speaks volumes about their commitment from an early age. There’s a real sense of sadness about the death of Ft Lt Egging. He’s seen as one of our own.”
Cadets were subdued when they met at the airport this week – in spite of several having just returned from heroics of their own, an humanitarian mission to Ghana.
Mark Atkins, 18, explains: “Being part of the Red Arrows is the one job every cadet wants to do – and another British icon to be proud of.”
Liam Boden, 16, adds: “The Red Arrows inspired a lot of us to join air cadets and the RAF.
“James Brook, 14, mourns the loss “of a highly skilled individual - he will always be remembered”.
Alex Thacker, 14, says: “The Red Arrows are an inspiration to many, especially a cadet. They fill the skies with colour and hearts with pride. It is a real tragedy to have lost such an icon.”
Robert Rodham, 14, concludes: “The Red Arrows always brightened my day.
“The first Airfix kit I made when I was six was a Red Arrow. They have always had a magic that sums up what flying is about, making people fall in love with it.”