Former Boston College Student takes flight with the Red Arrows
A ROYAL Air Force engineer from Boston, Lincolnshire, has completed two years flying with the Red Arrows as a member of a handpicked support team.
Sergeant Matt Barber flew across the United Kingdom and overseas in the backseat of one of the display team’s distinctive fast-jets.
The 37-year-old is an aircraft mechanical technician with the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team.
For 2020 and 2021, he was selected to be part of a group known as the Circus – the Red Arrows’ travelling support team.
These 10 highly-trained technicians are paired with a pilot for a busy season, flying with them on transit flights away from the display team’s home base and servicing the distinctive Hawk aircraft between sorties, as well as preparing the jets for performances.
Matt said: “Being a member of the Circus for two years has been an incredible experience and given me a first-hand view of the awesome teamwork involved across the Red Arrows.”
“One of the best parts has, of course, been while flying – the views looking out across from your jet, to your team members in the other aircraft, as they transit at low-level, while in precision formation.”
Before joining the RAF in 2003, Matt attended Boston Grammar School and Boston College.
During his career, he has worked on a variety of aircraft, including frontline, combat fast-jets such as the Typhoon.
Now, as a mechanical engineer with the Red Arrows, Matt is among those responsible for the maintenance and rectification of the team’s two-seat BAE Systems Hawks, looking after everything from flying controls and gearboxes to hydraulics and fuel systems.
Matt said: “My grandfather served in the Second World War for Bomber Command, which was an inspiration.”
“My main reason for joining the Royal Air Force was for the travel and getting paid for the privilege.”
“I studied engineering prior to joining which influenced my career path to become an aircraft engineer within the RAF.”
“Having now had the ultimate opportunity – to engineer and to fly with the Red Arrows across the globe – is a brilliant feeling and a career highlight.”
Usually, Circus members only hold the position for one season.
But, with so few displays flown last year due to the impact of the pandemic, the same small team chosen for 2020 remained in place for the most recent campaign to ensure adequate experience and continuity.
As with the Red Arrows’ aircrew, Circus members have individual numbers denoting which pilot they fly with.
For 2020-2021, Matt was Circus 9, being paired with Red 9 and accompanying his aircraft on transit flights – but not in displays – and ensuring the jet was serviced at each location when operating away from the Red Arrows’ home of RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire.
Members of the Circus receive specialist training to prepare them for their role, including completing medical tests and emergency sea drills.
Holding the rank of sergeant, Matt was the most senior non-commissioned member of the Circus – leading this small, specialist group and coordinating their training and welfare.
The 2021 season, which has recently concluded, involved the Red Arrows carrying out displays across the UK, as millions of people returned to live air shows and events.
There were high-profile, colourful flypasts too, including over London’s Wembley Stadium in July for the Euro 2020 final between England and Italy – when Matt happened to be onboard.
In addition, the Red Arrows promoted UK interests during displays further afield, in Estonia, Poland, Belgium and Malta.
The team also visited the United Arab Emirates to help celebrate the country’s 50th anniversary and supporting the UK’s participation in Expo 2020 Dubai.
Wherever the Red Arrows flew away from base, the Circus went with the aircraft.
For these international locations, this often meant multiple stops on-the-way to allow Matt and his team to refuel the aircraft, which don’t have the duration of big commercial airliners.
Matt said: “One of the best aspects of being part of the Circus for these two years has been overcoming the challenges presented by the pandemic, to ensure the aircraft were ready and the team was still able to perform on the biggest of occasions.”
“This hard work is even more rewarding when you see the reaction of those enjoying and watching the Red Arrows – it’s meant a huge amount to families and people of all ages to watch the team display at home and overseas.”
For more information on the Red Arrows, follow @rafredarrows on Twitter, like the team’s Facebook page at RAF Red Arrows, view pictures on Instagram @rafredarrows or visit www.raf.mod.uk/reds
Wording supplied by the RAF Red Arrows.