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Female Red Arrow is cleared for take-off

Kirsty Moore is first woman to join RAF Aerobatic Team

When Kirsty Moore decided she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her father, an RAF squadron leader, the force did not think women should be allowed anywhere near fast jets.

Yesterday, at RAF Scampton – the very spot from where the legendary Dambusters took off in 1943 – Flight Lieutenant Moore, 32, took her place as the first woman in the famous Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team – the Red Arrows.

"I knew I wanted to join the RAF but didn't know what I would do. When they said they would allow girls [to fly jets] it was almost as if the solution was on a golden platter in front of me," she said.

Flight Lieutenant Moore, or Red 3 (her position in the famous Diamond Nine formation), says that being the first female on the elite team – which is expected to perform at the 2012 Olympics – was simply a "fluke". She modestly overlooks the fact that, of 619 fast jet pilots in the air force, only 11 are women.

"For me the real excitement is being a Red Arrow, the girl thing is a bit of an aside. I have been female all my life."

Currently in winter training before the season starts in May, she added: "The first time Planky (fellow new recruit Flight Lieutenant Ben Plank) and I got out of the planes we both had such grins on our faces. Every time I fly and look out the window at the red jet it dawns on me 'My god, I am in the Red Arrows.'"

She was six when her father, Squadron Leader Robbie Stewart, first took her to see the Red Arrows.

Today her parents have only to step out of their front door south of Lincoln to watch their daughter flying from the nearby base. "They phone me afterwards and are now my greatest critics," she joked.

Flight Lieutenant Moore, who earned the nickname Tigger in officer training because of her enthusiasm and energy, first flew in the University of London cadet air squadron while studying aeronautical engineering at Imperial College.

"I had wanted to do it since I was 13 but it was only then I knew I could actually do it. It was like lighting a flame underneath and setting me off on my way."

Joining the RAF in 1998, she gained her wings three years later and went on to instruct on the Hawk, the same agile jet the Arrows use in their displays. Moving on to fly the Tornado GR4, she completed two Iraq tours. "We had long flying hours but we were there for the guys on the ground who were having a much worse time. To be able to help them gave you the most amazing sense of job satisfaction."

The only time anyone reacted to the female voice from the cockpit, she said, was an American who wished her a happy Valentine's Day.

In four years of marriage to fellow RAF pilot Nicky Moore, the couple have always had to live apart, and for the next three summers she will be flying most weekends. Last year the team performed at more than 90 shows, putting in 3,100 flying hours.

"It is going to be really tough but he didn't want to stop me. You have to make the best of it. I guess he will see a lot of air shows."

The team of 100, which includes seven women among its 91 ground crew and support staff, say they are thrilled to have a female pilot.

"It's brilliant. Hopefully she will encourage more women to join the Air Force," said technician SAC (Senior Aircraftman) Natalie Keeber.

And, as a woman, she has not escaped the usual banter from her fellow pilots, who helped select her out of dozens of applicants for the three-year post. "I get ribbed more about the colour of my hair," said the redhead. "The guys laugh that there is more fresh fruit in the crew room and that it is tidier than it used to be."

"She gets her fair share of banter," explained Flight Lieutenant Plank, adding as he pointed to his slightly receding hairline: "Unfortunately, she gives it back."