At the end of September 1997 I received a personal letter from Air Vice-Marshal Mike Lyne, CB, AFC and two bars, DL, MRAeS, RAF Retired, asking if he could bring some friends to see the Red Arrows. The letter dropped into my In-Tray because the Red Arrows pilots were all away on block leave. How could I, a mere retired squadron leader, refuse such a request from a former Commandant of the RAF College at Cranwell (August 1963 until December 1964). Here is the unedited text of part of that letter, which he gave me permission to publish verbatim:
"I took command of 54 Squadron in October 1946, having relinquished the rank of Wing Commander with the coming of peace. My first jet solo flight was on 20 September 1946 in a Vampire of 247 Squadron, just before I was appointed CO of 54 Squadron. On 24 and 25 April 1947 I flew two secret formation aerobatic sorties with two of my squadron colleagues, Flight Lieutenant C I Colquhoun and Pilot Officer I W Wood. These wholly illegal flights then continued regularly until 10 June when I confessed what we’d been doing to the Station Commander, Wing Commander C D North Lewis, DSO, DFC. To my surprise, he demanded to see a display and then, after a quick series of phone calls to higher authority, the Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command flew in, in his own Meteor, and ordered us to display for him.
"After watching us, all sins were forgiven! A formal display programme was organised and our first legal display in public was at Blackpool on 2 July 1947. On 6 July, when I had the grand total of 23 flying hours on the Vampire, we gave the world’s first jet formation aerobatic display at an international air show whilst we were in Brussels. The reception we got was excellent. Sometime after midnight, when I was worse the wear for alcohol, the British Air Attaché persuaded me to lead a mid-morning flypast at low level over Liège. This dangerous flight was made after the very minimum of flight planning and briefing, and with absolutely no permission from my superiors. After we had done it, I had a few minutes disquiet when, looking down at the ground for landmarks I could recognise, I couldn’t remember which of the many roads led back to Brussels Airport. Anyone who did such a thing these days would be instantly court-martialled - and quite rightly!"
On 6 October 1997, the exact 50th anniversary of his formation display at Brussels, Air Marshal Lyne visited the Red Arrows HQ. On the day of his visit the Red Arrows were still on end-of-season block leave so it fell to me to host the visit on my own with one of the Team's ground crew. Air Marshal Lyne was not at all put out: he simply wanted to show his friends what he considered to be the result of his pioneering displays 50 years earlier and I learned later that he actually chose the day for his visit when he knew the Team would be away.
When he arrived at Cranwell that day he was in good spirits and very proud to show off the Red Arrows’ aircraft to his guests. I found him to be a quiet, dignified and unassuming man. He told me that he was greatly disappointed that the RAF was giving little recognition to the 50th anniversary of his historic flight and I told him that one of the things that frustrated me most in my job as Red Arrows' PRO was persuading the RAF to make the most of 'good news' stories'.
Just before leaving at the end of his visit, the Air Marshal asked me if he could sit in the cockpit of one of the Red Arrows Hawks because he had never had an opportunity to do that. I took some pictures of him in a Hawk cockpit and then left him alone with his thoughts whilst I talked to his guests. He said that he was content for me to use my images of him and his story as I saw fit. I could happily have talked to the air marshal and his guests for hours but they were expected over the road at College Hall for lunch with the Commandant.
Very sadly, just a few weeks after his visit, Air Marshal Lyne died of cancer but not before he received copies of the photographs I had taken of him in and around the Red Arrows. I learned later that he and his family and close friends knew he had only days to live when he came to Cranwell. He had used the excuse of bringing some friends to see the Red Arrows so that he could, for the last time, visit the RAF College. As if such a distinguished officer needed any excuse!