Great British Drives: Red Arrows leader swaps his jet for a Land Rover tour of Lincolnshire

Red 1 poses with Red Arrows Land Rovers
'Red One', Squadron Leader Martin Pert, with the Red Arrows' Hawk jets and Land Rover Discoverys  Credit: SAC Rose Buchanan

Squadron Leader Martin Pert has never owned a sports car but he doesn’t really care. The man in charge of the Red Arrows aerobatic display team flies a 400mph jet every day and much prefers to get his thrills in the sky.

Red One, or “the Boss” to his fellow Arrows, splits his daily “drive” between a Land Rover Discovery and a Hawker Siddeley Hawk T1 trainer. The latter is powered by a Rolls-Royce turbofan producing 5,200lb of thrust and has helped a generation of RAF pilots to train for fast jets.

A Discovery does has one feature in common – it requires a regular top-up of diesel. The Hawk too carries 70-litres of derv in a specially modified pod underneath the fuselage. The fuel is mixed with dye and burnt off through the exhaust to produce the team’s distinctive red, white and blue display smoke.

“It’s much safer in the sky than on the road, without a shadow of a doubt,” says Pert, who can pull up to a debilitating 8G during a display and flies just 6ft from his colleagues’ wingtips. “The team have all flown frontline fast jets and build up the trust to fly so close to each other through long months of training.

“I think flying with the Reds makes us all better drivers, too. We have an awareness of where people are around us – I might not be able to see a car but there is an awareness of our surroundings.”

Pilot's eye view of a Red Arrows formation. The aircraft are only six feet apart at times Credit: Sqn Ldr Mike Ling

Pert admits he isn’t a “car man” as we set off from the team’s winter base at RAF Scampton, near Lincoln. “Some people imagine our pilots drive Aston Martins and Porsches but most of us have a family. I’m not sporty driver and prefer to soak up the scenery.”

Our first stop is the Dambusters Inn at Scampton – not for a pint but to marvel at the collection of Second World War memorabilia. Most relates to 617 Squadron, the RAF unit that carried out the famous raids on the Ruhr dams in Germany from here. Medals, uniforms and even an original Lancaster cockpit add to the atmosphere.

Pert, 37, was born in Scotland but grew up behind Leavesden Aerodrome, in Hertfordshire. He dreamt of being a Red Arrows pilot from the age of six after watching them display near his house. He later saw active service flying Typhoons.

Sqn Ldr Pert talks Jeremy Taylor through aerobatic manoeuvres  using model aircraft Credit: Cpl Ashley Keates/RAF

As we head off across the Lincolnshire countryside, Pert says low flying has given him a good knowledge of alternative driving routes. “They are the roads that don’t necessarily flash up first on a car satnav. I can see roads below me that are different ways to places I already know.

“A lot of our display flying is based on geographical features, wherever we perform. As leader I am looking for locations on the ground that can act as a turning point in a routine. The really galling thing is I can fly from Scampton to where I was born in Scotland in 40 minutes – it takes almost nine hours in a car.”

Pert flies three training sorties a day with the Arrows during the week, so days off are often spent cycling with his wife and young family. We are heading 45 miles south to one of their favourite locations, Rutland Water Park, which features 25 miles of riding paths.

Lincoln Cathedral sits atop a prominent escarpment that runs from the Humber Estuary to near Grantham. It was a prominent landmark for Second World War bomber crews returning from sorties over Germany - and performs the same function for the Red Arrows Credit: Travelpix Ltd

We skirt busy Lincoln on the ring road and drive past RAF Waddington, which is still one of the UK’s busiest bases for airborne intelligence. The military’s ‘eyes and ears’ in the sky, it was originally a training base during World War One and later operated the first Avro Lancasters in 1942.

“We are out of the flat Lincolnshire Wolds here and following one of the few ridge lines in the county,” says Pert. “The Lincoln Cliff is a very straight escarpment I can see clearly from the air. It runs from the Humber Estuary, down to near Grantham and is a brilliant landmark.”

The country route follows the Cliff Road, or A607, through the wonderfully named Boothby Graffoe and on to Navenby, which features a Bronze Age cemetery and was once a major staging post for the Romans on Ermine Street.

A crumbling pillbox at the former RAF Wellingore, one of myriad bomber airfields throughout Lincolnshire Credit: John Cairns/Alamy

Like Navenby, nearby Wellingore has a pretty village centre mostly built from local limestone. An RAF airfield operated here during the Second World War, flying Spitfires and Hurricanes. It was decommissioned in 1945 and now just a few crumbling buildings and pillboxes remain.

Further on, Leadenham has one of the finest polo fields in the country, while the Post Office and Teahouse has a tray of awards to its name. Try the toasted teacake with salted butter, or cakes from nearby Hambleton Bakery.

A gentle drive along the back roads to Rutland Water seems far removed from Pert’s day job, at the sharp end of the Red Arrows’ formation. “We are still an active unit, so everything is run with military timing and precision.

Normanton Church at Rutland Water stands as a memorial to the village that was submerged during the creation of the reservoir Credit: Alamy

“When we are in a display, I radio the instructions to the rest of the team with metronomic timing. It’s a bit like listening to the football scores on the radio – although every one of us knows what is coming next and is prepared.”

This summer the Red Arrows will perform around 70 displays and 60 fly-pasts. The Royal Air Force Aerobatic Display Team was formed in 1965 but is today as much about flying the flag for British industry abroad as entertaining the public on home soil.

Pulling on the famous red flying suit and wowing audiences around the world is a dream come true for Pert but doesn’t the latest Land Rover Discovery have any benefits over the Hawk T1?

“The Hawk is an old lady now, so it doesn’t have any of the screens and technology of the RAF’s latest jets. The Discovery definitely has a better sat nav but I know which one I have the most fun in.”

Full details on the celebrations to mark 100 years of the Royal Air Force at


Land Rover Discovery HSE TD6

PRICE £60,895

ENGINE 2,993cc, V6 diesel

POWER 258bhp

TOP SPEED 130mph

ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 8.1sec

FUEL ECONOMY 39.2mpg (EU Combined)

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Credit: Jessica Saunders