Queen's Birthday Honours: Inspirational Northamptonshire pilot awarded MBE for services to aviation

Kirsty Murphy was the first female member of the Red Arrows and has worked tirelessly to raise the aspirations of young girls

By Jack Duggan
Friday, 11th June 2021, 10:30 pm

A Northamptonshire pilot who was the first female member of the Red Arrows and has inspired countless youngsters has been given an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List.

Kirsty Murphy spent 17 years in the Royal Air Force before joining The Blades aerobatic team at Sywell Aerodrome and becoming an aviation ambassador for the government.

The 43-year-old from Roade regularly visits schools and workplaces to talk about her career, which continued virtually during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Blades pilot Kirsty Murphy

"To get a medal as a civilian feels quite special as in the military there's a recognised path for being recognised but as a civilian you don't have that," she told the Chronicle & Echo.

Kirsty broke the glass ceiling for women in the Red Arrows when she joined in 2009 and went on to perform 136 public displays and 133 flypasts in 11 countries.

Her passion for raising the aspirations of young people started after making history with the iconic aerobatics team, with a noticeable increase in girls .

"At my first display I went in to the crowd to do some signing and I just got mobbed by these four girls," she recalled.

Kirsty Murphy talking during an Internation Women's Day event last year

"They appeared from nowhere and launched themselves on me and took photos.

"I knew it was a big thing but I realised then that it was more than just a media thing, it actually meant something to young girls."

Kirsty's father, Robbie Stewart, who also has an MBE, was in the RAF so she grew up in that environment and loved the camaraderie of squadrons and airbases.

But she soon realised as she did more public work that that is not the case for many children, especially girls, who would not even think about the possibility of becoming a pilot.

Kirsty Murphy while a flight lieutenant in the Royal Air Force

So Kirsty felt a responsibility to speak to young people about the opportunities in the armed forces and in aviation to broaden their horizons.

"I was lucky so if I can be a role model or raise young people's awareness that girls do these things then they can do them too," she said.

Kirsty's enthusiasm for inspiring others continued even after she left the RAF and joined The Blades, even appearing on Lorraine on ITV in 2018 to share her story.

But the work went to the next level in 2019 when Transport Secretary Grant Shapps invited her to be a voluntary aviation ambassador for the Department for Transport.

Kirsty said the official affiliation brought many more opportunities to work with charities and other organisations to be a mentor for young people.

Covid has had a devastating impact on aviation, and for her personally as she was asked to take a six-month sabbatical from her employer.

Nevertheless, Kirsty has continued with her outreach work over video calls which has allowed her to talk to more people and those from even further afield as she is not restricted by travel.

"What motivates me to do this is a fact I often tell people considering doing this sort of thing, that if a young person has four engagements with employers then they are 75 per cent less likely to be NEET (not in education, employment or training) after school," she said.

"For me, if I can be one of those four engagements for a child then they only need three more and that can literally change their life - that's what drives me to do it."