Shropshire RAF engineer flying high with the Red Arrows

Royal Air Force engineer Chester Norton has completed a season flying with the Red Arrows as a member of a handpicked support team.

Chester Norton
Chester Norton

The Senior Aircraftsman Technician from Shropshire flew across the United Kingdom and overseas in the back seat of one of the display team’s distinctive fast-jets.

The 31-year-old, originally from Westbury, near Shrewsbury, is an aircraft mechanical technician, currently with the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team.

For 2020, he was selected to be part of a group known as the Circus – a small number of engineers who form the Red Arrows’ travelling support team during the summer months.

They are paired with a pilot for a season, flying with them on transit flights away from the display team’s home base and servicing the aircraft in between sorties, as well as preparing the jets for performances.

Chester Norton keeps the Red Arrows flying

Chester said: “It never crossed my mind that one day I would be selected for the Red Arrows’ Circus team – I feel extremely lucky to have had the opportunity as so very few do.

“In my view, it has got to be the best job for an engineer in the Royal Air Force or even in the country.”

The engineer attended Westbury C of E Primary School and Mary Webb Secondary School and then studied at Shrewsbury Sixth Form College.

He joined the RAF in 2009 and during his career has worked on large transport aircraft, such as the Hercules, as well as combat jets, including the Typhoon, before his latest posting with the Red Arrows began three years ago.

Chester said: “Seeing the helicopters from RAF Shawbury flying over my home as a child drew my attention to the Royal Air Force.

The Red Arrows in flight

“I had an interest in engineering and felt that working on aircraft in the RAF would be the best place to follow that ambition.

“Looking back, I don’t think I would have ever thought then that I would have been able to pursue my career to the point where I didn’t just get the opportunity to work for the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, but to actually fly in a Red Arrows jet and in such a crucial role.”

During his posting with the Red Arrows, Chester had the opportunity to travel across the UK, mainland Europe and beyond, for both public displays by the team and for pre-season training.

This included an 11-week deployment to North America in 2019, when the team carried out its largest-ever visit to Canada and the United States. He was selected for the Circus this year. As with the aircrew, the team members have individual numbers – denoting which pilot they fly with.

For 2020 Chester was Circus 3, being paired with Red 3 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.

The Red Arrows

Although the impact of Covid-19 saw far fewer airshows and public events this year, the season still involved the Red Arrows carrying out high-profile flypasts over London, Edinburgh, Belfast and Paris as well as shows in Finland.

Members of the Circus receive specialist training to prepare them for their role ahead of the season, including completing medical tests and emergency sea drills.

Chester said: “I really enjoyed Circus training – including getting dropped in the water as part of the sea survival training in Plymouth, which was one of the important elements of the season’s preparations.

“I’ve never done anything like flying in a Red Arrows jet before, though my hobby is racing motorcycles which may have a few similar feelings in terms of adrenaline, precision and engineering excellence.”

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