Last month we travelled to Compton Abbas Airfield in Dorset to meet two pilots who have raised thousands for the Royal British Legion.
Jason Davidson and Simon Shackell flew in specially to tell us all about a remarkable challenge they took on in May.
To mark the 80th anniversary of the Dambusters Raid, they undertook a commemorative flight to recognise the technical skills, ingenuity and courage of those who conducted the legendary air operation.
And in doing so, they have already raised over £3,000 for the Royal British Legion!
Watch below as we meet Jason and Simon, who tell us about the challenge and why they chose to raise funds for the RBL.
We were delighted to gift Jason and Simon a 2023 Royal British Legion Poppy® Silver Proof £5 each as well as the FINAL 2023 Poppy® Silver Masterpiece Coin to be struck to honour their achievements and thank them for their fundraising efforts…
Watch the interview and gifting in full below or read on to find out more about Jason and Simon’s story…
Jason and Simon’s Story
Both Simon and Jason have a close connection to the military – Jason served in the Parachute Regiment for over 22 years and his twin brother was also in the RAF. Simon’s father was a navigator in the RAF during National Service.
They took on the challenge as they were inspired by the bravery and skill that the 617 Squadron showed. Simon said that the idea was to “champion the engineering aspect” as well as the airmanship. “It really struck home how difficult that would have been, and how dangerous. The airmanship was what blew me away”, Jason said.
On 16th May 2023, the 80th anniversary of the Dambusters Raid, Jason and Simon began their challenge – departing from the RAF St Athan airfield site on a mission to pass over 8 locations:
- Chesil Beach, Dorset – testing location for the “bouncing bomb”
- Reculver Bay, Kent – testing location for the “bouncing bomb”
- East Kirkby Aviation Heritage Centre, Lincolnshire – a unique living museum to the Dambusters and home of ‘Just Jane’.
- Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire – home of the Dambusters Memorial
- RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire – the wartime base of the 617 Squadron and location where the Raid was launched
- Derwent Dam, Sheffield – a location closely resembling the Möhne Dam where the Dambusters practiced for the Raid.
- Nant-y-Gro Dam, Rhayader – the site where Barnes Wallis successfully demonstrated the concept of the depth charge mine.
- Penarth, Glamorgan – the site of Wing Commander Guy Gibson’s memorial and his wartime home.
Jason and Simon conducted each flight using only maps, stopwatches and compasses to navigate as the Dambusters did.
The 2023 Official RBL Poppy® Coin Range
For nearly 20 years, The Westminster Collection has released coins in support of the Royal British Legion – and collectors have raised over £1.25 million for the RBL.
The 2023 coin range is available to order now but with stock selling fast, you’ll need to act today to secure your tribute…
Today we are excited to announce the brand new Red Arrows commemorative. It’s the FIRST EVER Collector’s Ingot to be officially licensed and approved by the Red Arrows and features a stunning full-colour photograph of the Red Arrows in their famous Enid formation – taken by aviation photographer James Biggadike.
In the build up to this exciting release and the 2017 Red Arrows display season Flight Lieutenant Emmet Cox, a.k.a. Red 9, gave us an exclusive interview telling us what it’s really like to be part of the world renowned Red Arrows. I revealed part one of the interview in my last blog (If you missed the first half of the interview you can read it here >>). Now, in part 2, Red 9 tells us just how hard it is to be a Red Arrows pilot…
How long does it take to prepare the display and train to public display level?
“It is a year-round job. We take a couple of weeks off after the season finishes and then it’s straight back into it. Typically, we incorporate the new pilots in small formations of three aircraft from September and, as experience grows, we add more to make it a five then a seven-aircraft formation and eventually the full nine, which normally happens late February/early March. Once the nine are together, we spend most of March and April in Greece to put the ‘polish’ on the show and take advantage of the good weather. So you can see it takes well over half the year to get the display to a standard that we are happy to show to the public.”
“Each person has their own way of preparing”
What happens if one pilot is unable to take part in the display? Do you have reserve pilots?
“We have no reserves in the Red Arrows. The positions are too specialised and it would be next to impossible for one individual to remember and perform to the level required for all the different positions. We do, however, rehearse ‘loser plots’ where minor shape or smoke alterations are carried out to cater for a missing aircraft.”
Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do before each display?
“The way we prepare for a sortie is very procedural, starting with a time check and then a briefing in a certain format. Each person is different and has their own way of preparing, such as mentally rehearsing, visualising the upcoming show or carrying points forward from the previous show.”
“The flying is incredible”
What’s the best thing about being a Red Arrow?
“The flying is incredible and there are few other places in the world where you have the opportunity to perform the aircraft in such a manner. The people are also what makes the job; to work alongside such a talented, focused group, whether it is the aircrew, engineers or support staff it makes it a thoroughly enjoyable experience.”
How does the Hawk T1 compare to other fast jets you’ve flown?
“The Hawk T1 is often referred to as the sports car of the RAF’s fast-jet inventory, its small size and simple avionics make it a real pilot’s aircraft. Compared to something like the Tornado GR4 there are few similarities – the Tornado is far bigger, carries more fuel, has more complex avionics and is more focused on weapons employment. Its stick and controls are heavier, the cockpit itself is far bigger and it is surprisingly quiet inside.”
“To put the red suit on for the first time…is a very special moment”
What has been your proudest moment as a Red Arrow?
“To put the red suit on for the first time after being awarded Public Display Authority is a very special moment. You are only a custodian of the red suit for a short time and when you put it on you realise the history and responsibility that comes with it – to represent not only the RAF and the armed forces but the UK as a whole, I could only imagine it feels similar to representing your nation in a sport.”
If you are as excited as I am to see the 2017 Red Arrows display make sure to catch them at an air show this summer. Their full display schedule can be found here >>
Let us know in the comments if you’ve already seen them this year!
Today, the Red Arrows have been granted Public Display Authority for the 2017 air display season and we can’t wait to see what they have in store for us this year!
In the run up to the season we wanted to find out all things Red Arrows from the team themselves and Flight Lieutenant Emmet Cox, aka. Red 9, was only too happy to give us an exclusive interview. Currently in his third year on the team, Red 9, has told us how to become a Red Arrows pilot and what it’s really like to be part of the world renowned Red Arrows…
What qualities/skills does a Red Arrow pilot have that are different to a regular RAF fast jet pilot?
“The Red Arrows look for the same qualities as the Royal Air Force when first selecting their pilots; motivated, reliable individuals who are team players, trustworthy with good hand-eye coordination. All Red Arrows pilots have previously been fast jet pilots on the frontline and to be eligible for selection they require 1,500 hours of fast-jet flying experience, as well as being assessed as above average in their flying role. A good degree of self criticalness and the ability to think on your feet is essential.”
“it is definitely nothing like Top Gun”
Are there (in your opinion) any common misconceptions that come with being a Red Arrows air display pilot?
“Well it is definitely nothing like Top Gun, and it is far from glamorous at times. But we do have the opportunities to get involved with some terrific organisations and events that as a frontline fast jet pilot would never come your way. Another common assumption is that we rely on some piece of technology or autopilot to maintain the shapes we fly, but all that is used is a bit of hand and eye coordination and a lot of practice.”
Do you have any nicknames that you call each other (when not using each other’s numbers)?
“Yes, most of us have some sort of nickname, most have been picked up along the way through training in the RAF and our time on frontline Squadrons. Largely they are unimaginative, just put the letter Y on the end of anyone’s surname and you won’t be far off. There is definitely no one named Maverick, Hollywood or Goose!”
“the difference between a well flown and a poorly flown manoeuvre is tiny”
Which is the most physically demanding or scariest part of the display to perform?
“For new team pilots, it is definitely the Rollbacks. This is the last manoeuvre learnt in winter training and is the most dynamic, the difference between a well flown and a poorly flown manoeuvre is tiny. As you progress in the team you move position and some of the manoeuvres flown in the second half of the show by the Synchro Pair and the rear part of the formation are very demanding and can involve high amounts of G forces.”
How many times do you perform the display during the year?
“It varies from year-to-year but about 80 shows is normal. In addition, we also do numerous flypasts while transiting from one location to another and some dedicated flypast sorties like that for Her Majesty The Queen’s Birthday celebrations or the rugby world cup final. Occasionally, after the UK season has finished, we conduct a tour further afield to places like the Middle East, Asia or the Americas to represent the country. This could make the total number of displays go well in to the hundreds.”
How long do you think the Hawk T1 will continue as your display aircraft and are there any plans towards its replacement?
“The Hawk T1 is in service with the Red Arrows for the foreseeable future. The Hawk T1’s nimble and manoeuvrable, yet forgiving, handling characteristics made it perfect in its original role of training new fast-jet pilots. These qualities, along with its high reliability, also make it great for our displays.”
“representing the very best of British values”
Why do you think the Red Arrows are so important as the face of the RAF and as a representative of the UK abroad?
“We take our role as ambassadors very seriously. The nature of what we do make us an effective soft diplomacy tool, both on the ground and in the air. We have a far reach and have the ability to effectively place the national flag overhead in any location all the while representing the very best of British values.”
As you can tell the Red Arrow pilots hold a lot of responsibility both as the face of the RAF and as ambassadors for the UK.
If you are interested…
Today you can be one of just 2,017 collectors to own the Official Red Arrows 2017 1oz Silver Proof Medal