Red Arrows In Trouble As Team Faces A Pilot Shortage

Red Arrows
File photo of the Red Arrows in flight. (Photo: Royal Air Force)

RAF is investigating claims of toxic culture and misconduct among the team members.

The Red Arrows, the Royal Air Force’s aerobatic team, have seen two pilots leave this year, with one being sacked after an alleged affair and another having resigned over the team’s “toxic culture”. Members of the team, according to The Sun, are said to “hate each other” in what is considered the worst morale crisis since the Red Arrows were created in 1964.

Because of the ongoing drama, the Red Arrows this year are flying with a seven-ship formation, instead of the usual nine aircraft. This also means that many maneuvers for the complete formation had to be cancelled from this year flight displays. In the meanwhile, replacements for the two pilots that left the team are being trained and should be ready for the 2023 airshow season.

Sources also say that, in order to present a full nine-ship formation for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee flypast, the Red Arrows had to draft unspecified emergency reserves. According to The Telegraph, the reserves were chosen among the team’s supervisor Red 10, the commanding officer and the second-in-command executive officer. In fact, while they don’t undergo the same training of the nine display pilots, they are capable of joining the ranks of the formation to perform flypasts.

But let’s see what happened with the pilots. According to the reports, while the Red Arrows were in the middle of their pre-season training in Croatia and Greece in April, Red 3, Squadron Leader Nick Critchell, confronted the team leader Red 1, Squadron Leader Tom Bould, about the “toxic culture” during these training deployments. Sqn Ldr Critchell is said to have resigned in disgust, while the RAF officially said he left “for personal reasons to embark on a different career opportunity”.

Just a few days later, Flight Lieutenant Will Cambridge was suspended after another pilot complained about an alleged affair with a female colleague, which some sources say was a junior trainee pilot. An investigation was reportedly launched to verify whether the rumored affair was real and if the pilot’s conduct broke the rules.

It is possible that Flt Lt Cambridge was the same pilot that was sent home in May while the Red Arrows were in Greece. At the time, newspapers quickly reported that the pilot was sent home to be investigated about being drunk and for “suspected inappropriate behavior”, while a RAF spokesperson said that he “has been temporarily withdrawn and has returned to the UK for personal reasons”.

File photo of the Red Arrows in the full nine-ship formation. (Photo: Royal Air Force)

A RAF spokesman released a statement to The Telegraph: “The RAF has a zero-tolerance approach to unacceptable behaviour, and allegations will be thoroughly investigated to ensure the highest standards are upheld. We will not be commenting further on the individual circumstances of these moves, which have been made without prejudice and are a result of both personal and professional reasons. We will however take action wherever wrongdoing is proven.”

Another pilot left the team in January, when Red 8, Flt Lt Damon Green, left the Red Arrows for personal and family reasons, according to the statement. Because of this, in order to maintain the nine-ship formation, Sqn Ldr Jon Bond had to return for the 2022 display season and fill the place of Flt Lt Green, after completing his four years with the Red Arrows just few months earlier.

Despite all that drama, the RAF confirmed that only two pilots moved to other roles, away from the Red Arrows, for personal reasons. As a matter of fact, none of the pilots we mentioned are reported as part of the team on the RAF website, including Flt Lt Cambridge which was only considered suspended and not out of the team.

A former pilot was also mentioned by the Daily Mail expressing his thoughts about the situation: “This is a disaster for the RAF. The Red Arrows are their public face and the public love them, but they have no idea what is going on behind the scenes. There is something really rotten in this team. It should be the highlight of pilots’ careers to fly for the Red Arrows but they have lost three this year. The hierarchy has to ask itself why? There are good people there who are trying to fix it but it is an unhappy place.”

About Stefano D'Urso
Stefano D'Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he's also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.