Red Arrows back in the sky

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The Independent Online

Eight Red Arrows pilots took to the skies today in their first public performance since the death of one of their team-mates in tribute to him, the squadron leader said.

The aerobatics display team adapted their formations after the loss of Flight Lieutenant Jon Egging, 33, from Rutland, who died when his aircraft came down near Bournemouth Airport in Dorset on August 20 after performing at an air show.

At Chatsworth Country Fair in Derbyshire today the remaining pilots wowed crowds with dazzling formations, which were all the more poignant without Flt Lt Egging, Squadron Leader Graeme Bagnall, better known as Red 10, said before the show.

"It's been a sad two weeks of course and without him in the formation there will be something missing," he said.

"However, this is our chance to honour him and pay our respects to him with our flying.

"We think he would have liked us to have gone on to do that, that's why it's so important for us to keep going."

Sqn Ldr Bagnall, who talked crowds through the display from his position on the ground in the grand arena at Chatsworth House, asked for a moment's silence as the Red Arrows carried out their diamond formation, which would usually be a perfect diamond with Flt Lt Egging as the ninth plane.

He said the piece was dedicated to their fallen comrade and said he could still see him flying in his usual position.

Crowds applauded furiously as the team carried out the Cupid formation - where the planes form a heart shape in smoke trail and another flies an arrow through it - which Sqn Ldr Bagnall dedicated to Flt Lt Egging's widow, Emma.

Against a backdrop of bright sunshine and warm winds, the team carried out their moves, including Whirlwind and Gypo Split, as well as using their trademark coloured smoke.

The entire crowd had their faces turned to the sky as the pilots pulled off their 20-minute routine perfectly, and deservedly received deafening cheers and applause at the end.

Adapting technically has not been a problem, Sqn Ldr Bagnall said, because the team allows for occasions when a pilot may be ill or an aircraft is unavailable, but the emotional adaptation has not been easy.

"It's difficult symbolically because we wish he was still with us, of course," he said.

"He was a lovely guy. Not only an extremely skilled aviator but, in fact, he'd wanted to be in the Red Arrows from as far back as he could remember.

"Once he started his flying training, it became clear quickly that he was full of potential and skill and after a tour with the Harrier Force he came to the Red Arrows and he was every part the man the team needed.

"Full of smiles, fun and good humour, he'll be sorely missed."

The Red Arrows were originally scheduled to fly past Chatsworth on Sunday as well, but the second performance has been cancelled.

The RAF temporarily grounded all 126 of its Hawk T1 training jets while preliminary investigations were carried out into what caused the crash that killed Flt Lt Egging.

The Red Arrows were given the all-clear to return to the skies last Thursday, from which point they were practising as a team of eight.

Sqn Ldr Bagnall also said it was important for morale to get back to flying fairly swiftly, despite their sadness at their team-mate's death.

He added: "It's been important to move quickly and of course there's no place more miserable than a Red Arrows crew when there's no flying going on."

The Duke of Devonshire, whose estate hosts the fair, said he was happy to again host the biggest event that happens to Chatsworth in the year, and the day was made even more poignant by the return of the Red Arrows.

He said: "Many of the crowd have come here especially I think to see them and it gives them a chance to pay their respects to a very brave, very professional team of men."

Earlier in the day the Red Arrows also displayed at the RAF Linton-on-Ouse Families Day.

They will not be displaying at the Duxford Air Show and the Northern Ireland International Air Show over the weekend of September 3 and 4, as they will be attending the funeral of Flt Lt Egging.