As the iconic RAF Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows prepare for their first full summer season of UK Air Shows since pre-Covid times, Flight Lieutenant James Turner, (Red 7), talks to Motorfinity about his career so far and hands out a little advice about life in the RAF.
Thank you for taking time out to speak to us as you prepare for the Summer Tour of UK Air Shows. Can you tell us about your background leading up to becoming Red 7?
I joined the RAF back in 2006, and I soon found that flying fast jets was what I particularly enjoyed. Having done my fast-flying training and officer training, I believed that the Red Arrows was good to aim for – I never dreamt that it would happen, but I applied and, in 2019, my dream came true. By the end of 2019, I had joined the team and, in 2020, I embarked on my first display season.
Maybe 2020 was not the best time for this?
Everything was normal to begin with in 2019, but dramatically slowed down as Coronavirus struck in 2020. The team did manage to complete the North American Tour – the biggest tour we have accomplished starting in Canada and going from East to West, coast to coast across the USA flying over all the major landmarks. With 3 new pilots including myself, I played a small part in this, but it was great to take part in some displays on the west side including Los Angeles and with the ground-based interaction representing my country in this Anglo-American venture. It was a huge success and one that the team constantly talked about!
Is there any defining moment for you in your Red 7 history so far?
Flying over London is always an awesome experience starting over the countryside, coming out over the Thames, and flying over more and more built-up areas, taking in the O2 Arena and, of course, Buckingham Palace. There is not a lot of opportunity to look out over the landscape as we are concentrating on the lead aircraft and our positioning, but it is incredibly impressive to be part of fly overs for Her Majesty The Queen.
Which tour has been the most memorable to date?
My first ever display, in Finland, is the most memorable for me. There were very few displays in 2020 and lining up facing the crowd was a brilliant start to my display era. Getting into the aircraft on a lovely day – it was a great success.
Weather conditions must make a huge difference to you and your team?
We are always happy when the winds are very light, and the sky is a clear blue. Nevertheless, we do train in the UK, so we’re quite used to pretty poor weather conditions!
Can you give us a little information from a pilot’s viewpoint from the cockpit?
It’s a pretty intense 22 minutes. There is little time for anything other than keeping to display-lines, following data and mostly concentrating on the boss- Red 1 – always looking out at a certain point. Red 6 and 7 do split off in the second half of the display and then there is much more of a view. It can vary enormously in one season from the fields over the Midlands Air Festival to the skyscrapers and seaside of Abu Dhabi.
Spending blocks of time together and taking part in intense training, there must be considerable camaraderie amongst team members?
Each year, there are 2 or 3 new pilots who have all gone through a weeklong selection process – a big part of which is about getting on with other members of the team. Being in the Red Arrows team can mean long hours, stressful situations, and not always very good conditions – it’s tiring. In the summer months, we spend more time with the team than with our families so it’s pretty vital that we all get on well sharing accommodation and eating meals together as well as training and performing together.
How much time do you spend away from family?
As a member of the RAF, you could expect to be away for 4-6 months, but as a Red Arrows’ pilot you are away for smaller chunks of time – albeit more frequently - so we get to go home to our families.
We hear that you are moving base. Is this imminent?
We have been based at RAF Scampton since 1983, apart from five years between 1995 and 2000 when they were stationed at RAF College Cranwell, but we will be moving to RAF Waddington at the end of this year. We will be catching up with airshow venues missed because of Covid 19 in this season’s UK Tour. We are all looking forward to it. Red 2 and Red 3 are both new to the team and so it’s the first tour for them. It’s great to feel we are getting back to normal. After that, probably towards the end of this year, we will be moving to RAF Waddington.
How long does a pilot stay in the Red Arrows?
Normally, service is 3 years but because of Covid-19, my time with the Red Arrows will probably be extended to 4 years so that I have that same level of experience.
What’s next for you?
Tough question! I simply want to enjoy this period and then we’ll see where my RAF career path takes me.
Absolutely the right answer! What a massive achievement – you must feel incredibly proud. Having spent this time with the Red Arrows, I am sure you will keep the relationships built here with connections made for life. Will you be an honorary member for life?
Exactly! And the RAF as a whole has this same ethos. It’s an honour to be part of the team and the history. Walking through all the pictures in our building at RAF Scampton, looking right back to the beginning, we all want to make this period the best. The Red Arrows were founded in 1964 and every year there are get-togethers where team leaders share their stories – some things are very similar, some have changed. It’s all about working together. We can always share expertise with each other – previous team members will always advise on difficult manouevres. There’s always a chance to pop in.
Do you have any words of wisdom for young pilots just starting out?
Volunteer! There are so many opportunities to do things you enjoy whether it be sports, flying, learning new languages – just get stuck into it! The RAF is a brilliant place to learn new skills and take part in so many different activities that you enjoy.
Motorfinity wishes to say a massive thank you to Flight Lieutenant James Turner for his time in giving this interview and many thanks to the RAF for facilitating this. We are all looking forward to news of the Summer UK Tour and hope to catch Red 7 and his colleagues in action soon!
MoD/Crown Copyright 2022 (images)