My wife and got back from Oregon on Monday the 23 of September, Tuesday the 24th was my date with the Red Arrows. As I drove out to the event on Tuesday morning the sky was a delightful blue and filled with fluffy white clouds, perfect for welcoming the Reds. Next thing I knew I was being issued my high visibility vest and being escorted with some other media onto the ramp at Landmark Aviation. A camera crew from ITV (the UK channel who produced a recent documentary Red Arrows: Kings of the Sky) were also on hand recording a follow up to the first series. While waiting for the Red Arrows to arrive I got the chance to chat with Sophie Hancox a member of the Red Arrows maintenance team called the Blues. My wife had spoken with Sophie in Oregon.
And then suddenly a shout from the ramp “they are here” and fast approaching the eastern end of the runway were three Red Hawk T1 jets. I have goose bumps on my legs as I write this sentence. Due to poor weather on their way up from Seattle the team had broken up in four sections comprising three jets each. First to land was the land was the section led by the leader of the Red Arrows Squadron leader Martin Pert better known as Red 1.
The jets grew from small red machines that slowly got closer and closer as they taxied into the ramp at Landmark Aviation. My senses were overloaded with the whine of jet engines and the boundless joy of seeing the Red Arrows only a few meters away from me. They were no longer images on computer screen or video from a documentary, but rather the real deal in metal and flesh come to life in front of my eyes. The group of us on the ramp watched two sections of Reds come in before we adjourned to Hanger 5 to get a different vantage point to watch the rest of the team arrive. I love the pageantry of the ground crew in action, marshalling the planes into perfect alignment with one another, then the whine of the jet engines die out as they are turned off and the anonymous helmeted pilots emerge from their cockpits and become mere mortals once again.
Soon the hanger was filled with Red Arrow pilots, dignitaries and me. I was trying to take in the moment and record the event with my camera. Next thing I knew I was talking to Red 1 himself, Squadron Leader Martin Pert. I’m pinching myself and trying to remain calm and professional. We chatted for a few minutes about the flight up from Seattle and the frustration of having to cancel the demonstration on Sunday in McMinnville. No aerobatic team wants to cancel a show but safety is foremost in the minds of these pilots both for themselves and the spectators on the ground. I thanked Red 1 for his time and for making the journey all the way to Vancouver.
I then introduced myself to Red 3 Mike Bowden who turned out to be a supercar enthusiast. I thought he had the coolest job in the world but the added perks to go with the job made me just a tad envious. Thanks to the Reds tie up with Aston Martin Red 3 has driven numerous Aston Martins. Mike is also friends with Malcolm Barber the owner of Bonhams auction House who has his own rather tasty car collection. Mike has driven two hypercars I am desperately trying to get to drive namely the LaFerrari and the McLaren P1. Mike had the rare pleasure of being loaned a McLaren P1 for a day. Mike is also a Formula 1 fan. He told me about the Red Arrows flying over the British Grand Prix at Silverstone this year. Later the team was flown into the circuit by helicopter while the race was under way. That blew Mike away, good to know even Red Arrows are normal people. I told Mike about taking a Ferrari 488 spider to the Blackbird Airpark and my visit to Edwards Air Force Base. I even showed him a picture I took of the Ferrari 488 spider in front the 2 Blackbirds at the Blackbird Airpark. Pinch me.
It was then time for welcoming speeches for the British High Commissioner, and other dignitaries. I walked up to listen to the speeches with Red 3 beside me and ended up having Red 1 standing next to me on the other side. Who knows I might get a second or two in the new Red Arrows documentary. After the speeches a Red Arrow Hawk 1 was wheeled into the hanger. I took some pictures then wandered over to another group that contained Red 2 Damo Green who is in his first season with the team. I had watched the documentary Red Arrows: Kings of the Sky to get some background on the pilots. Damo had mentioned that he and his wife had a vision board on his fridge and he had written his goal was to become a Red Arrow. I thought I was being clever when I asked him what he now had on his vision board. Turns out Damo has been teased about this with on the squadron, the team members who were around us all started laughing and Sophie Hancox who I met earlier on the ramp asked me to ask Damo again about his vision board while she filmed the moment. I was a bit mortified, but it was all in good natured ribbing. Turns out the vision board was actually Damo’s wife’s idea. While not necessarily on the vision board Damo would quite like an Aston Martin DB9 for his 40th birthday. The event was comparing to a close so rather boldly I asked Damo if he would take a picture of me standing in front of the Hawk that had been brought into the hanger. Another pinch me moment as I was having my photo taken by Red 2 while standing in front of a Red Arrows Hawk T1 jet.
I was on a cloud as I drove back home. Only one thing remained was the Red Arrows flypast over Vancouver Harbour at 5pm on Thursday the 26th of September. Along with my wife Kelly we borrowed the rooftop patio of a downtown Penthouse to get our final taste of the Reds Arrow action. For ten minutes the Reds flew formations over my hometown of Vancouver. I was shaking with excitement, trying to get some good shots and to drink in the moment which may well never happen again. It was a privilege to meet the Red Arrows, truly the thrill of a lifetime. I want to thank Claire Wallace the Media Officer at the UK Consulate in Vancouver for the opportunity to fulfill a boyhood fantasy.