A new Red Arrows leader has begun creating a nine-aircraft show to perform in the team’s 60th display season.
Squadron Leader Jon Bond takes over as Red 1 for the milestone 2024 diamond campaign.
He said: “It is with great honour and pride that I take up this position for the Red Arrows’ 60th display season. There is much to look forward to in 2024.
Most importantly, it is absolutely our intent to reset, rebuild and return to our trademark Diamond Nine formation – not seen since 2021.
“Our preparations for next year start in just a few days, with our aim to begin the historic season in May.”
To allow the nine-jet formation to be built, a further three, brand new, Red Arrows pilots are joining the team for the 2024 season.
As Red 1, Sqn Ldr Bond will coordinate their training, design and choreograph the aerobatic show and lead the formation.
Originally from Essex and a Loughborough University graduate, Sqn Ldr Bond joined the Royal Air Force in 2006 and flew the Typhoon aircraft operationally – providing Quick Reaction Alert to safeguard the skies above the UK.
To be Red 1, a pilot must have previously served as a team member.
During his previous tour with the Red Arrows, Sqn Ldr Bond was the Synchro Leader in 2020-21 – one of the two pilots who fly the most dynamic parts of the show.
More recently, he has been in a staff role as part of the RAF’s Display Headquarters, overseeing long-term planning requirements.
Sqn Ldr Bond said: “I was fortunate to have some incredible experiences during my first tour on the team.
“But nothing for me can simply recreate feeling the warmth of support and excitement from those of all ages and backgrounds who take the time to watch us, whether it be at an airshow, from a rooftop or just simply in the middle of a muddy field in torrential rain during a typically unpredictable UK summer.
“We cannot thank you enough for this unwavering support and myself and the team, both pilots and our support staff, known as the Blues, can’t wait for you to join us – sharing your images on our social media channels, or by meeting you at events throughout 2024.”
He succeeds Sqn Ldr Tom Bould, whose three-year term in the role concluded this week with the end of the highly-successful 2023 display season.
Sqn Ldr Bond said: “I’d like to pay tribute to my predecessor – Tom led the team brilliantly in-the-air under some testing times over the last three years and has built such solid foundations for the team going forward into 2024 and, for this, I am very grateful.”
The Red Arrows were formed in 1964, with the team’s first public appearance being staged a year later when 65 shows were performed during the summer.
Since then, some 5,000 displays have been carried out across consecutive seasons, in 57 countries – aiming to inspire those watching, showcase the Royal Air Force, aid recruitment to the Armed Forces and support a range of UK interests at home and overseas.
Sqn Ldr Bond said: “The coming season will celebrate the excellence, dedication and pride of all those who have worked for, supported or just simply enjoyed watching the Red Arrows over the last six decades.
“Indeed, I can remember first watching the team as a five-year-old little boy with my father at our local airfield and being just simply in awe of the world class precision, dynamic formation shapes and, of course, the iconic red, white and blue and to lead the team now is something that I could have only dreamt of back then.
“It’s now my task to inspire those watching us in 2024 – to ensure that this distinctiveness and quality is ever present, wherever you’re enjoying the show.
“Our 130-strong team of highly-skilled and dedicated engineers and support staff will almost single-handedly ensure we are ready to display our nine-ship once more.”
One of the new pilots arriving for 2024 is Flight Lieutenant Chris McCann, who will fly as Red 2 next season.
Born in Lancashire, he joined the Royal Air Force in 2005 and operated the Tornado GR4 on the frontline, serving on 617 and IX(B) Squadrons at RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Marham.
Flt Lt McCann has completed numerous operational deployments around the world, being awarded the Air Force Cross during his final tour.
He said: “I was lucky enough to fly once with the Red Arrows early in my RAF career.
“Experiencing first-hand the teamwork and the incredible flying they perform daily really inspired me to pursue joining the team.
It’s going to be fantastic working in a close-knit, highly-motivated team at RAF Waddington as we go through winter training.
“Looking further ahead to the 2024 season, it will be great to meet people at airshows and events and learn more about those organisations we support.”
Training for a new season gets underway shortly, at the team’s home base of RAF Waddington, in Lincolnshire.
A building block approach is used and pilots fly up to three times a day, with small formations of aircraft at first before more are added – increasing the complexity.
Flt Lt Dustin Wales, who is joining as Red 3 for 2024, said the training will require great focus.
He said: “When I learned I had got the role, there was an interesting mix of excitement and pride, along with a sudden realisation that the mountain I felt I was climbing during selection was indeed only the first small foothill on a now much larger climb facing me over the next eight months to prove I can actually do the job.”
Flt Lt Wales, who was born in Harare, Zimbabwe, before attending Derwentside College, County Durham, joined the Royal Air Force in 2009.
He flew the Typhoon operationally and comes to the team from 41 Test and Evaluation Squadron, working to help bring new capabilities to the aircraft.
He said: “I’m looking forward to getting out on to the display season in 2024 and experiencing that combination of hosting and meeting aviation fans, swiftly mixed with then having to perform to the highest standard at airshows.”
New pilots join the Red Arrows each year, succeeding those who finish their tour at the end of the season, and are selected following interviews, flying tests and other assessments.
Up to three brand new pilots can be trained each winter.
As a result, an eight-ship formation was flown in 2023, up from seven in 2022, in preparation to rebuild for the Diamond Nine next year.
Typically, pilots will spend three years with the team before returning to the frontline, instructional or staff duties.
To be in position to apply for the team, a candidate must have amassed approximately 1,500 fast-jet hours, have completed a frontline tour and be an exceptional pilot – graded as “above average” during their flying career.
Flying in the Red 5 position for the 2024 season will be another new member of the team – Flt Lt George Hobday.
Originally from southwest London, he described what aspect about the Red Arrows most inspired him to apply to join the team.
He said: “Initially, the pure flying challenge and the idea of joining something world-renowned was the catalyst but, increasingly, the opportunity to engage with people of all backgrounds and represent the RAF and UK – at home and abroad – was a big driver to apply for the team.”
The Durham University graduate and former Typhoon pilot said seeing this year’s team in action across recent weeks had been both “impressive and daunting in equal-parts” as he started to prepare for next season.
However, Flt Lt Hobday, who joined the Royal Air Force in 2014, said he was excited by the opportunities ahead.
He said: “Clearly the flying is going to be incredible, as is the chance to travel with the whole team – both air and ground crew.
“Having the privilege to hopefully inspire generations to come is also pretty special and very humbling.”
Plans for the 60th diamond season are underway, with requests for flypasts and displays being received by the RAF Ceremonial & Air Events Team, which coordinates and tasks the Red Arrows and other display assets.
Details of where the Red Arrows will perform during a new season are usually released before the spring.