Life in a day
Getting into the display ‘bubble’ with Red 4, Flight Lieutenant Matt Masters.
Matt joined the RAF in November 1998 and trained as a fast jet pilot, latterly posted to RAF Leuchars flying Tornado F3s. He has been a member of the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows since September 2015. This is his second season with the team of what would normally be a three-year posting.
“Having a show at our home station this year is very special and it will give me the opportunity to enjoy breakfast at home with my family and then take a ten-minute cycle ride into the base. The team’s day begins with a Met brief which will give us the likely weather conditions around Scampton. At the height of the season we could be giving up to three shows a day so briefings would then include the expected forecast at other airfields, diversions and display sites where we will be flying.
“During the winter we practice with intense thirty-minute sorties to train us to maintain the highest level of concentration for the length of the show. Build up to a display begins two hours prior to take-off and is a well-practised procedure to be sure that the whole team is in ‘the bubble’, of concentration and communication required to deliver the routine.
“Scampton is one of the shows which will definitely not require a transit or overnight stop. Many do though and our assigned engineers normally ride with us in the rear seat of the Hawk jets to the transit airport. In July we flew the ten Hawks into Newcastle Airport from where we gave shows at Sunderland and East Lothian. Red 10, Squadron Leader Mike Ling MBE, flies the spare aircraft and also provides the commentary for the show. Engineers and support staff had travelled ahead and are waiting for us to land. The engineers start the re-fuel and service of the jets while the team begin their brief and get into the zone of the two-hour build up.
“This two-hour build-up and wind-down for each display is crucial to maintain the focus and skill level of the team. I begin my routine half an hour before the team comes together, getting myself prepared mentally. It is like an athlete warming up and cooling down but our discipline is in the concentration and communication amongst the team. I will sit in a chair and use my hands to visualise the manoeuvres and my relation at any one time to the other jets. It is a zone of concentration to follow the choreography and command of the team leader.
“The routine is exceptionally well rehearsed but we are always looking at how we can improve our performance. The de-brief after the display is when we go through the key observations of safety, procedure and learning points for next time. You bring these to the front of your thoughts as you go into that routine for the next show. On a day with more than one display scheduled, the whole procedure will begin again to prepare for the next take-off.
“After our intensive training the adrenalin which the show generates amongst the viewing public is not felt by us; maybe some initial nerves for a high profile event such as London or Silverstone which attract global audiences, but at Scampton we will be about welcoming a military airshow back to our home county.
“Our take-off and landing will be visible to the crowd line at the show so there will be great viewing and photographic opportunities. There should also be chance for the public to come to meet myself and some of the other Red Arrows pilots on the ground at signing sessions in our PR tent. I did not fully appreciate until I joined team how many young fans follow the Red Arrows and I like to play my part to inspire the next generation. There have been more men in space than there have Red Arrows pilots so we are a unique cadre.
“Last year the team travelled to China to display there for the first time and to represent the United Kingdom. It has probably been the highlight and certainly the most challenging tour of my Red Arrows career so far. We made 22 stops in 17 countries, refuelling, training and resting over a three-week period in order to travel there. Being a Red Arrows pilot has certainly been a unique and special opportunity, flying to more countries, airfields and terrains than I could have imagined. Scampton Airshow will be our last of the displays this year for the domestic season and by mid-September we will have embarked on overseas engagements.
“When the display seasons are over, I relax by spending time with my family, cycling and playing sport. I am a keen DIYer and have an ambition to one day build my own home, but meanwhile I want to make the most of this privileged time in my career as one of the Red Arrows.”