Air cadets tuned in to meet a high-flying guest at their latest parade night.
Former Red Arrows Team Manager Ruth Shackleton landed at 346 (Tynemouth) Squadron to give an inspiring talk to the cadets about her time in the RAF and with the world-famous aerobatic display team.
But the special meet and greet with the youngsters from not just Tynemouth but sister squadrons from across the Durham/Northumberland Wing was accomplished without Tyneside born Ruth leaving her home.
The retired Squadron Leader, who now works in the Crew Development Team for leisure airline Jet2.com, instead took part in a livestream hosted by 346 (Tynemouth) Squadron as air cadets across the UK adapt to the current coronavirus lockdown by holding ‘virtual parade nights.’
With all face-to-face air cadet activity currently on hold in the real world, the youth organisation has instead moved online so members can continue their training in everything from aircraft recognition to communication, leadership, music, and stem challenges.
And Ruth, who originally hails from South Shields and grew up in north Northumberland, chatted animatedly about her early life, including being the first female member of her school’s combined cadet force, going to work at the Jus Rol pastry factory in Berwick and then for Saudi Arabian Airlines as cabin crew, before deciding at the age of 24 to follow her heart and join the RAF as a Flight Operations Officer.
She said: “I always enjoy meeting air cadets and, given my North East roots, to be invited by 346 (Tynemouth) Squadron to chat to not just their cadets, but others from across the region was particularly special.
“It was sad that I couldn’t meet them in person, but I think it is fantastic that the RAF Air Cadets has initiated these virtual parade nights to not only keep the training and interest going but ensure everyone stays in touch at this difficult time.
“I hope that once the lockdown is over and life begins to get back to normal, I will be able to visit the cadets in person.”
Ruth revealed what it was like serving in the Falkland Islands where she experienced the thrill of a flight in an F3 Tornado at the speed of sound, as well as life on the frontline in Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq, where she came under Scud missile attack in the early stages of the second Gulf War.
Cadets heard that Ruth’s varied career also included postings to RAF Northolt where she was a Duty Operations Officer at 32 (The Royal Squadron), arranging VIP flights for the Royal family, and additionally about her two years in Naples as a NATO HQ Operations Officer.
During the 2012 London Olympics, she helped coordinate the Typhoon jets from RAF Coningsby that patrolled the skies.
But it was her three-year stint with the iconic Red Arrows that really grabbed the air cadets’ attention.
While choreographing and leading the Red Arrows spectacular aerial exploits is left to the Red 1 team leader, Ruth was responsible for ensuring everyone was in the right place at the right time every time.
It was, she declared, “a role like no other,” made all the more special by the fact it coincided with the Reds’ 50th anniversary year. “When I left school I never thought that one day I would be the team manager for the Reds,” Ruth admitted. “I can’t put into words how proud I was to be part of the most famous aerobatic team in the world. Until you’re on the team you don’t realise how significant it is.”
Now Ruth works in the civil aviation industry and was head of Terminal One at Manchester Airport before joining Jet2.
Cdt Matthew Adams, 13, said: “Everyone loves the Red Arrows, and it was great hearing about them first hand, what it’s like being in the RAF, and the career opportunities.
“Being a pilot is most people’s first choice, but Ruth told us that her arms were too short to be considered! But she went on to still have an amazing time in the RAF as an Operations Officer, travelled the world, and got to work alongside the Red Arrows.
“She didn’t know exactly what she wanted to do when she left school; she didn’t want to go to university and wasn’t particularly strong academically, but she said she is proof that if you have the will to succeed, you can, and that you should never give up and work hard.”
Fg Off Adam Whisson, Officer Commanding 346 (Tynemouth) Squadron, added: “This is a difficult time for everyone, so we are very grateful that Ruth Shackleton took the time to meet with us, albeit virtually. At a time when normal life has been postponed and with no idea when it will return, it gave our cadets a much-needed boost.
“She sets a fantastic example of how a passion for and career in aviation can evolve from being a cadet herself to reaching the top of her chosen profession.
“But she shows where dedication and hard work can get you, and for our cadets who are just taking their first steps into the adult world, she is a great role model.”