Blades pilot on dizzying displays and trailblazing at Eastbourne’s Airbourne 2018

The Blades at Airbourne
The Blades at Airbourne

The Herald spoke to a Blades pilot about pulling off stomach-churning manoeuvres and being the first ever female Red Arrow ahead of take off this afternoon (Friday).

Kirsty Murphy is Blade 3 in The Blades Aerobatic Team – a clutch of among the best pilots in the world flying four Extra EA-300s, aircrafts designed for the most adventurous stunts in the skies.

The Blades team

The Blades team

Mostly made up of former Red Arrows, the display has been coming to Airbourne for eight years now, and this is Kirsty’s third as part of the team.

She said, “I’m very excited, the weather today is gorgeous. I love flying over Eastbourne, it’s one of my favourite shows.”

See also: Eastbourne’s Airbourne 2018 takes off
The Blades is made up of a highly-experienced crew including Andy Evans, James McMillan, Ben Murphy and Gerald Cooper as well as Chris Norton OBE and Andy Offer OBE.

Having been a pilot in the air force for 17 years, Kirsty has flown a tornado and was part of the Red Arrows in 2010 and 2011. With them, she flew a total of 136 public displays and 133 flypasts in 11 different countries.

To date she is the Red Arrows’ only ever woman pilot. “No other female has joined since I have been in it,” she said, “There’s not so many out there because it’s quite a big commitment. But it was an absolute honour, male or female. I’m lucky.”

What can we expect from The Blades this weekend?

“We have a combination of close formation and smooth, gentle stuff – loops and barrel rolls. Then we step it up a bit into pairs and do crosses that look like we are going to hit each other head on.”

One extreme manoeuvre they pull off is a Lomcovak – which is apparently Russian for ‘hangover’ – where they perform gravity-defying gyroscopic movements in formation.

That one apparently lives up to its name, and took her some time to get her head around. Kirsty said, “When I first learned to do it my brain didn’t know quite what was happening, and passengers have no idea what’s just happened.

“But the more you do it your brain just gets used to it and is almost in slow motion. Now I don’t feel sick at all but when I first learned and was doing one after another – I did!”

Besides air shows, The Blades are a registered airline and take regular people for a spin in the winter months.

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Kirsty, who’s from Lincolnshire, said, “I really enjoy that part of the job and it takes it to a new level, taking people that have never flown before.

“The noises and comments they make when in a loop upside down – people scream wildly, some can’t stop laughing, some shake their arms in the air.”

This weekend they can also be spotted back on earth in the Western Lawns where they are running a competition for people to win a flight with them, with proceeds going to the RAF Benevolent Fund.

The Blades will be taking to the skies at about 4pm this afternoon and will be back on Saturday and Sunday (August 18-19).

All you need to know about Airbourne