A display season filled with high-profile flypasts, spectacular shows and huge crowds has come to an end for the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team.
The Red Arrows’ busy summer of performances has just concluded, with the final public appearance of 2023 being at Avord Airshow in France at the weekend.
The event was also the last display for three pilots, who are bidding farewell to the Red Arrows after completing their tours with the team.
This includes Red 1, Squadron Leader Tom Bould, who’s been Team Leader for three years.
He said: “The role was incredible – I have worked with the most humble and professional people who have kept achieving and remained focussed on our shared goal of inspiring those watching – whatever their location, age or background.
“The most enjoyable element was observing the whole team – air and ground crew – work together to achieve some remarkable displays and capture iconic images that will last a lifetime.”
Squadron Leader Bould joined the Royal Air Force in 2005 and was educated at Woodhouse Grove School in West Yorkshire.
As Team Leader, he has been responsible for all aspects of the display, from running the training programme and choreographing the show to leading the aircraft from the front of the formation.
The former frontline Typhoon pilot said his time as Red 1 has included many highlights in-the-air.
He said: “Displaying for the G7 summit in Cornwall, in front of an audience of global leaders, in my first week as Team Leader during the 2021 season, is particularly memorable.
“Another moment that was extremely enjoyable was our flypast over the Giza Pyramids in Egypt last year.
“Plus, our collaborations with other teams, such as the Patrouille de France above Paris last month, or mixed formations with big airliners including an Airbus A380 or Boeing 777 – showcasing the Royal Air Force and UK on a world stage – are other personal highlights.
“However, my favourite flypast was the one over London for the Coronation this year for His Majesty The King, with tens of millions of people watching.”
The 2023 season began in May, with the Red Arrows performing more than 60 times since then at packed events, from seaside airshows and family-focussed festivals to Armed Forces’ Day and premier sporting occasions such as the Formula One British Grand Prix and Great North Run.
Squadron Leader Bould said: “It’s been an extremely successful display season, beginning the rebuild to a nine-ship formation for next year and with the team being as busy and in-demand as ever.
The foundation to all of this has been the undimmed interest and enthusiasm for airshows and big public events, which bring communities together.
“They are important cornerstones for any region and allow people to be inspired not just through aviation but by those serving in our armed forces.
“My message for those people inspired by these brilliant events is to follow their dreams and believe in themselves.
“We are a team of ordinary people who have achieved some extraordinary things and we have done this by working together and being part of a team.”
Up to three brand new pilots join the Red Arrows each year, having served on frontline squadrons, and succeed those who finish their tour at the end of the season.
Typically, they will spend about three years with the team before returning to operational, instructional or staff duties
Also saying goodbye to the Red Arrows after the 2023 season is Red 6, Squadron Leader James Turner.
This year was his fourth with the team, with the impact of the pandemic leading to the standard length of tour being extended.
Originally from Hertfordshire, Squadron Leader Turner was educated at Newport Grammar School, Essex, and Hills Road Sixth Form College, Cambridge.
He said: “I joined the Red Arrows just as Covid was starting, so my first year was pretty unusual and we only flew three public displays in total.
“But I still remember my first display in front of the public, in Finland, and we crewed-into the aircraft looking directly at the big crowd.
“I could feel the nerves with everyone looking at us, but as soon as we started the jets and got airborne then all the training kicked in and I could concentrate on enjoying the show.”
Squadron Leader Turner, who flew the Typhoon operationally, said being part of the Red Arrows has “been the best job”.
He said: “It’s incredibly humbling meeting so many different individuals – from enthusiastic families at airshows or children and their amazing healthcare professionals during a visit to Great Ormond Street Hospital in London to royalty overseas and famous faces, such as Tom Cruise.
“You never take for granted these opportunities, particularly when you meet young people such as cadets, who want to know more about the RAF, flying or would just like to get a photograph with the team.”
The 2023 season saw Squadron Leader Turner take on the role of Synchro Leader – one of two pilots who perform some of the most dynamic and crowd-favourite parts of the show, such as the Heart shape.
He said: “Fulfilling my childhood dream has been a truly rewarding experience. The chance to soar through the skies in those iconic red jets, performing breath-taking aerobatic manoeuvres in a bid to inspire others, is something very special.
“As I move on, I’ll undoubtedly miss the incredible people I’ve met, the diverse places I’ve visited, and the countless opportunities I’ve had to showcase our skills to the world.
“The memories created will stay with me forever.”
Leaving after five seasons is Flight Lieutenant David Simmonds.
Flying as Red 8 in 2023, the Ipswich-born pilot said he has an abundance of memories from his time with the team.
He said: “For me, this tour has been punctuated by a series of highs and lows right from the start.
“From the elation of being selected for the team and starting the flying training to the lowest of lows – breaking my leg [playing sport] and sitting out the remainder of my first year.
“Despite this, I think being part of the Red Arrows does bring out the best in people and with a positive mental attitude I still got involved in a tour to North America – soloing a jet across the Atlantic – and saw some truly amazing sights from the air.
“Although my second year was blighted by Covid, we still did important, poignant flypasts, such as over London for the VE Day commemoration – with people waving from their gardens as no-one was allowed out.
“The capital was quiet with no traffic and the flypast surreal with no cheering crowds below. It was broadcast to the world, however, and the impact we had was felt across the country.”
A crucial objective of the Red Arrows is supporting and promotion UK interests around the world, having display in 57 countries since 1965.
Flight Lieutenant Simmonds, who has flown the RAF’s Tornado GR4 operationally and the United State Marine Corps’ Harrier, on an exchange post, said this international role was a highlight of his time with the team.
He said: “When you join the RAF, you are told you will see the world. On the Red Arrows this is most definitely true.
“We went to multiple countries I had never been to before and did some spectacular flypasts of some of the globe’s most iconic buildings and locations.
“Personal highlights were a flypast of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa on the wing of an Airbus A380 airliner and over the Pyramids – truly a once in a lifetime moment I will never forget.”
He added: “There have also been some truly special royal occasions, including a flypast for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee and then for the Coronation of His Majesty The King – two events I’ll be telling the grand children about for years to come.”
Flight Lieutenant Simmonds said a particular focus for the Red Arrows continues to be to inspire people, particularly children, and showcase what teamwork can achieve.
He said: “When I was young, I used to go to airshows and wonder at the fast-jets roaring across the sky. I feel incredibly lucky to have achieved my goal of doing just that and meeting lots of similar young-minded people starting to formulate their dreams.
“I hope I have helped to inspire the next generation of future aviators with the engagements I have been lucky enough to carry out during my five years as a Red Arrows pilot.”
Flight Lieutenant Simmonds said he was excited to continue flying in the next chapter of his RAF career.
He said: “What’s next for me? I’ll be staying with the Red Arrows and will become the team’s QFI (Qualified Flying Instructor).
“Although no longer in a red suit, again I feel lucky to be able to pass on some of the skills I have developed display flying to the next generation of Red Arrows pilots over the next few years.”
Following the conclusion of the 2023 display season, there is now a period of handover between this year’s pilots and the next cohort, who will be announced shortly.
It is also a busy time for the team’s 130-strong ground crew of engineers and support staff based at RAF Waddington, who begin preparations for winter training and planning for 2024.