Best of British

Posted on: 2nd Aug 2016

What do you get when Red Bull Air Race pilots Nigel Lamb and Ben Murphy come face-to-face with the famed Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team – the Red Arrows? You get the very best of the British pilots together in one hangar.

The road to the third consecutive Red Bull Air Race stop at Ascot, United Kingdom on 13–14 August took a special turn for Britain's top racing pilots, Nigel Lamb and Ben Murphy, as they visited the Royal Air Force base at Scampton, Lincolnshire, to get together – and fly – with the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team known as the Red Arrows. Quite simply, it was a meeting of the best of the best. For Murphy, who is a new member of the Red Bull Air Race Challenger Class this year, it was also a homecoming. Born and raised in the British Midlands, Murphy is a decorated former RAF pilot who served as Commanding Officer and Team Leader of the Red Arrows. Master Class pilot Lamb, meanwhile, is also a former military pilot who flew jets and helicopters with the Air Force of his native Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) before eventually relocating to Oxfordshire. He and his Breitling Racing Team have logged nearly nine seasons competing in the Red Bull Air Race, capturing the World Championship for Great Britain in 2014.

The pilots compared notes on the teamwork and dedication required to be the best of the best on a global stage, and they discussed the differences between the Hawk T1 jets flown by the Red Arrows in their iconic precision displays and the raceplanes that will wow Ascot again this August with low-altitude flying through 25-metre pylons.There was also chance for the highly-skilled technicians from the Red Arrows to take a closer look at the raceplanes and discuss the engineering excellence underpinning the operations of both the RAF team and the Red Bull Air Race.

Then it was time to start the engines, with the Red Arrows taking Lamb up in a Hawk (top speed Mach 1.2) during an existing, scheduled training flight. Murphy and Lamb each then gave Montenegro a taste of the high-G action they endure in a race, where pilots pull breathtaking forces that that they must limit to 10Gs by the rules. Nigel Reflects on the momentous day spent with the Reds; 

Operating with the Red Arrows was a tremendous privilege and highlighted two significant things for me:


1. Teamwork is crucial to the success of any team, especially in aviation. The Red Arrows operation is phenomenal in that there are so many elements to ‘Teamwork' which goes into a polished display performed by 9 fast jets . . numerous ‘cogs’ which have the potential to mesh incorrectly; it’s not all just about the nine pilots  . . there are the administrators, the Engineers and all those who play a vital part behind the scenes. Next time you watch the Red Arrows, try to imagine all the elements that went into making it possible to have nine jets turn the smoke on at the right time and in the right place and then fly an immaculate display!


2. In my 3+ decades flying in a formation aerobatic team and as an air race pilot, I have learned that, by far, one of our greatest risks lies in the execution of a photo sortie. There are many things that can throw danger in your face! The sorties we did with the Red Arrows highlighted the fact that when you fly in close proximity to other aircraft which are flown by experts who have thoroughly briefed a practical plan, you can achieve exceptional results without any additional risk. Thanks especially to Red 1 ‘Monty’ Montenegro for leading the four-ship and also for getting all nine in the right place for the last picture. Having ex-leader Ben Murphy so involved was crucial in that his knowledge of the RFAT operation and how that could mix with ours made the planning, briefing and execution almost a ‘walk in the park’! Certainly, it made my day exceptionally easy!!


What a great few days flying with the RAFAT!!