Lord of the flies
WHEN you’re a member of the Red Arrows one tiny mistake could end in tragedy.
So for a squadron leader like Martin Pert there’s extra pressure and responsibility, especially when the big boss, as the Queen is known, is watching.
His pinpoint voice commands initiate every move in their breathtaking displays. One stray instruction could send a Hawk jet spiralling into disaster in front of thousands of fans.
“We can’t crash in secret,” said Pert, 38, who stars in a revealing new documentary Red Arrows: Kings Of The Skies on Channel 5 every Wednesday.
He said: “We need eight miles of airspace and 6,000ft, so it’s difficult to hide.”
The public nature of the role of squadron leader “surprised” Pert when he took over a year ago. “You realise just how public it is,” said Pert. “We will be in training [at RAF Scampton] and in half an hour there will be photographers and fans at the gate. They will watch every move.”
He doesn’t feel any extra burden now he’s squadron leader after a spell previously at the Red Arrows as Red 2, 4 and 8 between 2012-14.
“There is a bit of latent pressure,” he said, “to get things right every time and with the precision and timing the public expect. It goes with the job and that goes with all military flying.
“But with me in the lead, there’s just that extra stress on my shoulders to make sure we’re in the right place at the right time at
READY TO FLY: Squadron Leader Pert and his display team line up on the runway
those high-profile events you’d expect to see us at, like Trooping the Colour, or the RAF 100 Flypast.”
Pert, who has two young children, was born in Scotland but grew up by Leavesden Aerodrome in Hertfordshire. He dreamt of being a Red Arrows pilot from the age of six after watching them fly near his home.
There’s a good reason, said “Red One”, as he’s now called, why voice commands are used. “Often people are surprised to find it’s all voice initiated. The guys who come to this team as experienced military pilots have only ever flown formation on seeing the other aircraft move, and they move in concert with that. Here we’re trying for this graceful, elegant display like we’re all welded together by voice command. As I’m making those commands, the guys are putting in different inputs at different times to make us look like it’s at the same time.”
He’s not even able to clear his throat and has to avoid coughs and colds. “There’s only one of me and no understudy. If I’m not fit to fly than the Red Arrows won’t fly.”
Red Arrows: Kings Of The Skies, Channel 5, Wednesday 9pm.