From RAF Air Cadets to Red Arrows: Sywell Aerodrome pilot hopes to inspire next generation

Mike Ling shares his story to help cadets for their 80th anniversary

By Jack Duggan
Thursday, 22nd April 2021, 5:21 pm
Updated Thursday, 22nd April 2021, 5:22 pm

A pilot based at Sywell Aerodrome is supporting the RAF Air Cadets on its 80th anniversary by sharing how his involvement with the youth group set the foundations for his career.

Mike Ling's interest in aviation started when he saw a Red Arrows display at Biggin Hill Air Fair when he was just three years old.

His grandfather, an RAF veteran, later suggested he join the air cadets, which led to a 21-year career in the air force, including flying a Red Arrow.

Mike Ling went from the RAF Air Cadets (right) to flying Tornados (bottom left) and in the Red Arrows in the RAF. Photos: RAF and Getty Images

“I signed up to 2427 Biggin Hill Squadron at the age of 13," he said.

"I was an aviation geek even back then, so I loved all of it – discovering the principles of flight, map reading, aircraft recognition.

"I didn't know it then but learning all of that as a teenager gave me a really good bedrock for going on to become a professional pilot.”

Set up in 1941, the Combined Cadet Force and Air Training Corps are collectively known as the RAF Air Cadets.

The groups provide youngsters aged 13 and above with opportunities for adventure, training and skills including learning to fly a glider.

Mike left the air cadets on May 27, 1998 and joined the RAF four days later.

Since then, he has enjoyed a varied career, from flying training and becoming an instructor in his early 20s, to serving as a frontline Tornado pilot.

He flew with the Red Arrows for 10 years, becoming the aerobatic display team’s longest serving team member, before retiring to join the Blades Aerobatic Team at Sywell.

Mike added: “I gained a huge amount from joining the cadets and have endless great memories from captaining the victorious pentathlon team, to my first flight in a Chipmunk.

"As an AEF pilot flying the Grob Tutor in 2011, taking a cadet flying for the first time was one of the most rewarding things I've done.

"Knowing how special it was for me at that age and being able to be the person delivering that special moment was really rewarding.

"Even in my current role with The Blades, sharing that flying experience with someone who is doing it for the first time is just magical.”

Mike hopes his story inspires others to get behind the Air Cadets as they team up with the RAF Benevolent Fund to launch an ambitious fundraising campaign.

For the anniversary, the two organisations have launched their 80 Miles in 80 Days challenge, a joint event to raise £80,000.

Participants can complete their 80 miles between June 1 and August 19, with funds raised split between the Fund and the RAF Air Cadets' general purposes fund. To find out more, visit