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VIP guests make for memorable virtual parade nights

Air cadets have had the chance to meet a host of high-flying VIPs from the comfort of their own homes as parade nights have gone online during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Like thousands of other cadets across the nation, the youngsters from 346 (Tynemouth) Squadron have been staying connected during the lockdown with virtual parade nights.

And alongside their regular lectures and training, the cadets have been joined by a number of special visitors from the world of flying and literature.

Former Red Arrows team manager Ruth Shackleton; her one-time colleague James McMillan, who was the leader of the world famous RAF aerobatic team’s synchro pair; Jet2 pilot Alasdair Ness; and best-selling author Terry Deary of Horrible Histories fame, have all used their time in isolation to give a series of inspiring talks to 346 (Tynemouth) Squadron’s cadets.

The livestreams were opened up to sister Squadrons across the Durham/Northumberland Wing, with up to 100 cadets each time enjoying the chance to not only hear about each guests’ area of expertise, but quiz them about their exciting careers.

Former Red Arrows Team Manager Ruth Shackleton chatted with cadets from 346 and across the Durham/Northumberland Wing about her time in the RAF and new career with Jet2

Ruth, who hails from the North East and now works in the Crew Development Team for leisure airline, is an old friend of 346 (Tynemouth) Squadron, having met cadets in 2014 when she brought the Red Arrows to Tyneside as part of the Great North Run weekend.

She charted her career from working at the Jus Rol pastry factory in Berwick-upon-Tweed to  first taking to the skies as cabin crew with Saudi Arabian Airlines, before at the age of 24 joining the RAF where she served in the Falkland Islands, as well as on the frontline in Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq.

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.

Ruth said of her virtual talk: “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.”

Former Red Arrow James McMillan, who led the aerobatic team’s synchro team

James McMillan, who now flies with the British-based Blades Aerobatic Display Team, originally found fame when he became the youngest qualified fast jet pilot in the Royal New Zealand Air Force at the age of just 20. He then joined the RAF where he flew the Harrier and served in Afghanistan, moved to the Red Arrows, and finished his career as Flight Commander at RAF Coningsby on the Typhoon.

Alasdair Ness, who is currently a First Officer on the Boeing 737 with Jet2, spoke about his lifelong love of planes and his route into the cockpit, which started as an engineer with British Airways before putting himself through pilot training.

Alasdair Ness chatted with cadets about his route from aviation engineering to being a Jet2 pilot

Terry Deary, who lives in County Durham, enthralled the cadets with his path from acting into writing, and peppered his talk with amusing anecdotes and lesser known horrible historical facts.

Fg Off Adam Whisson, Officer Commanding 346 (Tynemouth) Squadron, said: “The virtual parade nights have been helping keep our cadets focussed and given then something other than school work and the lockdown to think about.

“This has been a difficult time for everyone and it’s been great that we have been able to break-up our activity nights with these virtual interviews. They have been very warmly received by everyone and we are very grateful that Ruth, James, Alasdair and Terry took the time to meet with us, albeit virtually.

“At a time when normal life has been postponed for so many of us, it has given our cadets a much-needed boost.

“The cadets have adapted very well to the new way of working, and I think many of them have grown in confidence as they have tackled new challenges and activities.”