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Red Arrows: Festival of Flight, Biggin Hill

By KentOnline reporter

Saturday’s Biggin Hill Festival of Flight is a brand new event that revives the former long tradition of shows at Kent’s wartime airfield and marks a milestone for the Red Arrows.

The Red Arrows
The Red Arrows

Biggin Hill Festival of Flight won’t be just another air display for the Red Arrows.

This weekend’s skybourne spectacular represents a return to the place where it all started for the world-famous RAF Aerobatic Team, marking the anniversary of its 50th display season.

The Red Arrows’ first public appearance in the UK by the fledgling team was at the Biggin Hill International Air Fair in May 1965, flying the Hawker Siddeley Gnat, the lead-in jet trainer of the era. Since then, the team have performed around 5,000 displays around the world, and these days fly distinctive Hawk jets.

It will be an even more special homecoming for the Red Arrows supervisor, ‘Red 10’ Mike Ling, who was born and bred in Biggin Hill and first saw the Red Arrows display there as a small child. The dream to fly in the team took hold that day, and from then on Mike has never taken his eyes off the goal of reaching his current position.

Red Arrows pilot Mike Ling from Orpington. Picture: SAC Ben Stevenson/MOD
Red Arrows pilot Mike Ling from Orpington. Picture: SAC Ben Stevenson/MOD

“I went to the air show at Biggin Hill every year as a child, and I fell in love with all things aviation,” remembers Mike, 35, pictured left.

“It was a case of tunnel vision from the age of three or four to be a Red Arrows pilot. I never considered any other career.”

Determined Mike joined the Biggin Hill Squadron Training Corps as a young air cadet and, displaying talent and passion, was selected to complete a Royal Air Force Flying Scholarship. The next challenge was beating off competition to join the Royal Air Force.

“I turned 18 and put my application in the same day. Lots of people want to do the job, but many fall at the medical. But I had a lot of focus and knowledge of the Air Force. I knew that you feel a sense of purpose and belonging in the military, this is a career for life if you want it.”

Mike became a qualified flying instructor on the Tucano TMk1 aircraft, teaching basic fast-jet flying to future pilots. He then completed NATO Flying Training in Canada on the Hawk 115 aircraft and played an active part in the air defence of the UK and the Falkland Islands.

But his goal was the Red Arrows and it was still going to be a challenge.

“You need to have 1,500 hours of flying and be assessed as ‘above average’, which takes 10 to 12 years to achieve and then it’s a small window of opportunity. There are 35 applicants a year – only three are taken on,” explained Mike.

But that tunnel vision paid off, and Mike joined the team in 2008. In 2009 he was selected for the Synchro Pair, which he explains are ‘the two aircraft that peel off and fly towards each other doing manoeuvres’. After three years within the airborne team of nine pilots, he was promoted to Squadron Leader and became ‘Red 10’, whose primary duty is to act as supervisor on the ground for all practices and displays as well as coordinating the summer season.

He also provides display commentary, as he will this Saturday at Biggin Hill, and is lucky enough to fly most days, either air-testing jets, supervising from the cockpit, helping to teach the new pilots or taking the spare jet between display venues.

“Bringing a Red Arrow into Biggin Hill is the ultimate for me,” says Mike, whose family still live in the area and will be there to watch him in action. “It’s a lifelong ambition fulfilled.”

You’ll need to move quicker than a Red Arrow to grab a ticket to the Festival of Flight at Biggin Hill Airport.

Tickets have sold fast and there is a strict 15,000 limit. No tickets on the day. Visit www.bhfof.com or call the ticket hotline 01689 300005. Tickets cost £40 for a family of two adults and up to three children, £15 for adults and £7 for children. Under fives go free.

Gates open at noon on Saturday, June 14, and the event closes at 8pm.

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