Sky daredevils relish meeting people from different cultures

DUBAI — As the daredevils of the sky twist and turn at hundreds of miles an hour, you may wonder what it takes to be a member of the British Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team — the Red Arrows.

By Zoe Sinclair

Published: Wed 14 Nov 2007, 9:02 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 4:37 AM

After the nine red BAE Systems Hawk aircraft completed one of their daily displays this week at the 10th Dubai Airshow at the Airport Expo, the pilots came down to earth and spoke of their experiences.

There is serious competition among the talented few who have a chance to take one of the three places that come up each year.

Red 9, or squadron leader Martin "Higgy" Higgins, 35, won a place but his three-year tour will be up on December 18. He said the opportunity gave him the chance to tour the world and particularly enjoyed meeting new people from different backgrounds and cultures.

Higgy, born in Bristol, studied Aeronautics and Astronautics at Southampton University before joining the Royal Air Force and completing flying training. He flew on the Hawk aircraft before being selected to fly the Tornado F3 aircraft, a two-seat supersonic fighter, which took him to exercises in the USA, Canada and Belgium and in operations in Iraq.

But during his three years with the aerobatics team it isn't the stunts, such as the Big Vixen Roll and Cyclone, that he remembers but the sights he has seen. "My most memorable experience had to be flying over the acropolis," Higgy said.

"Normally that's so hard to do. We also flew past the Olympics. Just flying past landmarks all over the world."

The Red Arrows perform more than 80 displays through Europe each year between May and September. The Dubai Airshow forms part of a second regional tour's last six weeks, including 18 displays in 14 countries.

Higgy will return to flying the Tornado F3 as part of the frontline of air defence based in Scotland. "It's not sadness," he said of leaving the team. "It's been an amazing experience."

Wing Commander Dave Middleton also flies with the Red Arrows however his task is to vet the manoeuvres and make sure the pilots are flying safely. He described himself as "policeman" but said the pilots were of such a high standard that there was rarely any need to curb a "need for speed".

Middleton said pilots complete at least 10 years on the front line and amass 1,500 hours before they are even considered to make up the 30 selected to audition for those three elusive places. "They have to be devoted, dedicated, talented and must just love to fly," he said.

Then it's training three times a day for seven months in the Hawk aircraft before the tour begins.

"The plane is an absolute joy," Middleton said. "If you've ever ridden on a bus, imagine a BMW. It's the best job in the force. These pilots are the cream of the crop."

But while your heart may be in your mouth as you watch two planes speed head on towards each other before slipping past, Middleton said the planes are actually about 100 feet apart in fly-pasts.

The planes are about six to eight feet apart during formations with the leader and Red 6 coordinating.

Keep your eyes peeled for the Python, Carousel and the Palm Tree and Synchro Split — three stunts designed especially for the UAE crowd.

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