Alderney Reunion for RAF Red PelicansTaken from a news clip Richard Mackenzie-Crooks was once one of a team of RAF pilots who thrilled crowds with their breath-taking skills. The Red Pelicans Aerobatic Team performed their spectacular rolls, loops, bomb bursts and splits at shows throughout the UK and in Europe in the late 1960s. They were the forerunners of the Red Arrows, now acclaimed as the world's greatest acrobatic team: "It raised the heartbeat at times, but I enjoyed every minute." said Richard, a Flight Lieutenant and No 3 in the four-man team. All four of them, John Robinson, Tony Davies, Rod Clayton and Richard, together with their team manager and reserve pilot John Davy, recently held a reunion on Alderney.
They all flew together in the Summer of 1969: "We had intended to celebrate a 50 - year get together in Jersey in 2019, but the pandemic stopped that and when I told them I couldn't get to Jersey they agreed to come here," explained Richard whose home is in La Vallee and who has lived on the Island with his wife Jo for the last 21 years.
"I picked them up at the airport and took them to the Braye Beach where we sat on the balcony enjoying the view and a couple of beers, then lunch and coffee and brandy," he said. "We had a lovely time - it was if we had not been apart - and I then gave them a quick tour around the island. John Davy has his own aircraft and comes here often, but the others had little idea about the German Occupation. There were quite impressed.
Richard always wanted to fly. His father was an orthopaedic surgeon to the RAF, his brother David, served as a doctor and his sister Elizabeth, was in Fighter Control. "I learned to fly at school on a RAF scholarship, he said. "I had a private pilot's licence before I could drive."
After getting his wings at RAF Cranwell, Richard completed his advanced training at RAF Valley on Anglesey before being posted to Aden. Then after a tour as an instructor, he was posted to the Central Flying School in the Cotswolds, teaching others to become instructors which is when he joined the Red Pelicans. "Their leader rang me up to say that they had an American who going to be in the team, but had to go back to America. Since I had been in another aerobatic team the previous season he asked me if I'd like to join." he said. Immaculate timing and cool nerves are needed for formation and aerobatic flying but Richard has vivid recollections of one occasion when he was far from confident.
The most important show staged by the Red Pelicans was at the Central flying School in front of the Queen, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen Mother and Prince Charles, have never been so nervous in my Iife," he recalled. "One manoeuvre I sometimes had trouble with was when we split and it was my job to join up again. I didn't always get it right, but I did that day - the 26th of June 1969 - a date I wi II never forget!"
After he retired from the RAF, Richard became a flying instructor in Saudi Arabia and Oman and then joined Aurigny in 1987, piloting Trislanders like the iconic red-nosed 'Joey' which had its own fan club, before the airline sold the entire fleet because of rising operating costs. "They were good aircraft and fun to fly," he said.
But he will never forgot those days more than half a century ago and the comrades who shared the thrills, the precision and the pride of the RAF Red Pelicans Aerobatic Team.
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