Red Arrows: colours in the sky

Red Arrows over Brighton
Painted by Philip Dunn

“This is a painting of the Red Arrows. They used to visit Brighton quite often. The first time I heard the Red Arrows, I was in my studio in Palmeira Square and I thought World War 3 had broken out. They came swooping in over the sea and just missed the Hotel Metropole.”

Comments about this page

  • I love the Red Arrows and I know what you mean. They never have displays here anymore. I last remember seeing a display here about just over 20 years ago. I remember watching them on a Hove beach near the King Alfred and one time I thought one was going to crash into a building. They swooped around us and disapeared for about five minutes and then came out of nowhere really low and the sound was LOUD. I’m sure they flew over part of the South Downs before returning to the beach.

    By Darren Fuge (09/09/2003)
  • I can remember very well when one of the Red Arrows did crash into the sea. I was standing on the upper promenade opposite the conference centre watching the display. Suddenly, out of nowhere, two or three jets came swooping down not far out over the sea, when one of them seemed to clip the top of a yacht’s mast. The jet then looked as if it was going to crash into the Palace Pier but it suddenly swooped up and crashed into the sea just the other side of the pier. I believe that the pilot was unharmed and thankfully so were the many spectators on the pier that day. After that I don’t remember ever seeing the Red Arrows coming back for another display. I wonder why!!

    By Keith Compton (19/02/2004)
  • Yes, the Red Arrows were really spectacular, I remember going to see them as a kid. The entire sea front would be packed out with everyone waiting to see them. One waited and waited and it felt as if they would never arrive and then they just ripped through the sky overhead out of nowhere and scared you to death. Brilliant! I was born and grew up in Brighton, and just looking over this excellent web site makes me realize how dull the place has become now compared to what it was like before even up until as late as the late 70s. There don’t seem to be any shows on any more which are family orientated. It’s a shame, there doesn’t appear to be anything much for children any more.

    By Jo (02/03/2005)
  • I was in a rubber dinghy aged only 7 with my stepfather, adjacent to the end of the West Pier approx 150 metres off shore. Two Red Arrows (I think) came down low over our dinghy. But the Red Arrow heading in a easterly direction hit a yacht’s mast moored on the east side of the West Pier. There was a big bang and my stepfather got rather scared and rowed for England back to shore, by which time the rescue helicopter was on its way to pull the pilot out of the ocean. It was a day I will never forget, it was so surreal and I’m glad the pilot lived to see his loved ones.

    By John Weatherley (06/03/2005)
  • I’ve lived in Brighton for just over 6 years and am sure that I’ve seen the Red Arrows fly over. It was a few years ago (I have no idea when). Perhaps they were on their way to the Shoreham airshow? I can’t even remember if they were letting off their smoke makers, I just remember feeling like it was a show just for me as they were so close you could almost touch them. Does anyone else remember this or am I imagining things?

    By Graham Silander (12/07/2005)
  • When I first got married at the old Registry Office in 1970, the Red Arrows did a fly past directly overhead – just as we all appeared at the entrance as newly weds. I obviously believed that they had done this especially for me!

    By Peter Beard (09/09/2005)
  • I was researching the Red Arrows crash in Brighton bay when I found this page. It was really interesting to read the comments by Keith Compton and John Weatherley, but have not been able to find the actual date of the incident or the name of the pilot. After the crash investigation was finished at Kemble Air Base, I was given a piece of the plane that crashed, and wanted to find out a bit about the history of the incident. Can anybody help?

    By Bob Shephard (31/07/2006)
  • For Bob Shephard, here is a weblink to a photo of the ejection. This page also lists the date as 17 May 1980:

    By Ryan Warmington (25/10/2006)
  • I was on the beach with my dad when Red Arrow number 9 crashed into the sea in 1979. At the time my brother was in the RAF and was based at Brize Norton where the Arrows were also based. He gave me the address and I wrote to the pilot and about a month later I got a letter back with a signed poster of the team and other goodies. The pilot’s name was Steve Johnson, he is now an airline pilot.

    By Wayne Wareham (03/09/2007)
  • I am a freelance journalist and have been looking on the internet for information on the Red Arrows. I was interested to find two different names for the pilot whose plane crashed into the sea in 1979. Wayne Wareham names him as Steve Johnson (and got a letter from him) and Bob Wehrle on the Akrotiri site names him as Flt. Lt. Chris Hirst – see his account below. Both Wayne’s story and Bob’s are reliable accounts … so who was the pilot?

    Akrotiri, History: Red Arrows crash bulletin board

    Reply #6 Bob Wehrle ( – Fri Jul 27 15:47:04 2007
    I was serving with the Red Arrows 2nd line based at Scampton when this happened, while not at the scene of the crash I was with the pilot when he got his tie from Martin Baker. What was interesting was the way they said that although he did not activate the ejection they thought that the seat had a vital part in saving his life! The pilot was Flt. Lt. Chris Hirst, he did not complete his tour and was replaced with another pilot whose name escapes me.

    By Elizabeth Frost (02/10/2007)
  • The pilot of the Red Arrow that crashed in Brighton, was Flt. Lt. Steve Johnson.

    By Wayne Wareham (05/10/2007)
  • Thanks for verifying that it was Flt. Lt. Steve Johnson. In my research I found this verified elsewhere and I gather that he is now a training Capt. with Virgin Atlantic.

    By Elizabeth Frost (10/10/2007)
  • Elizabeth, your facts are correct – except I did activate the ejector seat. It unfortuntely had been damaged and did not function correctly! I am still alive and flying with Oasis Hong Kong having spent nearly 18 years with Cathay Pacific as a Captain.

    By Chris Hirst (22/11/2007)
  • The pilots name was Steve Johnson as I got the chance to meet him.

    By Wayne (03/12/2007)
  • I just stumbled on this while doing some research. You are discussing two separate incidents. The pilot of the one at Brighton in 17th May 1980 was Sqn. Ldr. Stephen Johnson. The one involving Flt. Lt. Chris Hirst was on 21st March 1984 at RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus.
    Hope that clears it up.

    By Doug Attrell (11/12/2007)
  • The Brighton accident was Steve Johnson and Chris ‘Curly’ Hirst’s accident was in Cyprus when his Hawk ‘bounced’ along the runway.  I personally know both of the pilots as I am the Chairman of a group called the Friends of The Red Arrows who have been supporting the Red Arrows for the past 25 years.  I think I can recall that Chris was replaced on the team by Dom Reily who came off the Phantom FGR2 force.  Oh by the way, Steve took about 8 foot off the top of the yacht’s mast.

    By Tim Cheney (14/12/2007)
  • I must have got a bit mixed up somewhere. Thank you for sorting that one out, has anybody got any pictures of the crash?

    By Wayne Wareham (17/12/2007)
  • Nice to hear that Chris Hurst is in good health and still flying. Was a member of the travelling ground crew of RAFAT ’82’ to end of ’88’. Chris was one of the better guys however his crash was somewhat spectactular! Lucky to get away with that one Chris! I have seen many unfortunate incidents, was on crash revovery at Gutersloh (Harriers) ’78’ to ’82’ prior to joining the Reds. Still fond and great memories, best years of my life! Who would not enjoy a Hawk fighter as their everday working office.

    By 'Fitzy' Fitzgerald (11/04/2008)
  • Re Red Arrows crash at Brighton – yes the pilot was Steve Johnson and I was one of the three people that rescued him – we were members of the Shoreham Lifeboat Crew (on that day in a private boat). Apart from a minor graze to his head Steve was fine. We took him to the shore and with the then Team Manager, Ray Tilthorpe was checked over at Brighton Hospital and then returned to Biggin Hill to carry on flying with the team. Following the incident an invite was made for us to visit Kemble and I carried on meeting the team for several years at Manston often taking them out on the Ramsgate Lifeboat and mixing socialy with them. I am still in touch with Steve to this day and other team members – Steve also is a regular visitor to the RAFA Shoreham Airshow where he is a guest of mine and the organisers. I am Press Officer for the RAFA Shoreham Airshow. He currently flies as an airline Captain and lives near Cirencester. His son is currently under going flying training with the RAF as a Navy pilot. John Periam (RAFA Shoreham Airshow Press Officer)

    By John Periam (13/04/2008)
  • Not related to the Brighton crash, but I witnessed the 1984 incident at Akrotiri, Cyprus. How the pilot ever got out will remain a mystery and for those of us on the roof of the 100 Sqn line building, we were 100% certain that the pilot had gone down with his aircraft. It was only at lunch in the mess later that day that a rumour went around, started by the 84 Sqn groundcrew, that he had in fact got out safe and well. Of no real interest, those of us on the 100 Sqn target retrieval team used to occasionally watch the displays from the rough grass alongside the runway, with the Hawks flying just above us. On that particular morning we were not permitted onto the active field and guess where the Hawk hit the ground – adjacent to the area in which we used to park up. Chris Hirst wasn’t the only person with luck on his side that morning….

    By Neil Oakshott (16/07/2008)
  • There are more comments (eye-witness accounts) here:

    By Karl Haag (25/03/2009)
  • Nice to see the Red Arrows back in Brighton today (18/9/2009) opening the White Air Festival.

    By Keef Paul (18/09/2009)
  • i was on the pier that day watching the display when a pilot ejected. The plane came at us and it dipped over us and hit the water the other side, I just got a photo of the colours and the spash on my 110 camera. That day we were lucky as me and all my football team could easily have been killed

    By clive kelly (16/05/2010)
  • There was a lot of luck around that day. The bad was the eejit with the yacht who ignored the harbourmaster’s orders and the chance of a 8 inch deep wing tip hitting a 12inch wide mast. One of the bits of good luck was the direction that the ejector seat came out of the Hawk. The two seats in the Hawk are biased to the left and right to avoid hitting each other on ejection. When Steve Johnson ejected sideways the bias turned him skywards and not seawards as the other seat would have. The parachute just opened before he hit the water. Luck and great reactions from Steve.

    By Mike Matthews (09/09/2010)
  • Whilst many give opinions on this site, only those who have been in the same position can give genuine opinions. Luck played no part in what happened that day despite what others write, the idiot in the yacht to this day has never even apologised. No blame was ever put on my shoulders as no mistake was ever deemed to have been made. Nobody was hurt and the aircraft was ditched at sea - through training, not luck. Just for the record I have never worked for Virgin.

    By Steve Johnson (13/08/2011)
  • I really miss the Red Arrows coming to Brighton. My happiest and most exciting childhood memories are standing on the roof terrace in our old rented flat in Denmark Terrace and hearing the roar as the guys flew low over us. Also when they came and we were at the West Pier paddling pool. I still get the excitement and goosebumps when I hear and see the Red Arrows. Thanks to all the pilots and ground crew:0)

    By Sean Clark (17/08/2011)
  • Well said Steve, like you I can vividly recall that day and have often been asked about it from my perspective. I have tried to find if the video I took exists, but have failed in my attempts. It’s a pity as I captured it all, unlike the BBC crew next to me.

    By Hugh Philps (18/11/2011)
  • On 17 May 1980, I was one of the spectators watching that jet from the middle of the pier! It was coming straight at us, but then clipped the yacht’s mast at which point the aircraft immediately angled upwards and the pilot, Squadron Leader Steve Johnson I believe, ejected. Those of us on the pier stood aghast as the pilotless jet flew over the top of us and landed in the sea on the other side of the pier – sinking immediately. The impression I retain to this day is that without the pilot’s split second adjustments the spectators on the pier would have been hit and I might not be writing this. Thank you Steve. Me and my friends are in your debt.

    By Chris Sulley (06/09/2012)
  • In reference to a much earlier comment (2007) above about the crash at Akrotiri, Cyprus. I was working for TASF at the time and at the edge of the runway. Thought Chris was a gonner for sure. I remember well reviewing the video tape of the time and seeing Chris riding the wreckage. I’ve often wondered what became of that footage. Also a memorial of the crash was made for Chris from the control stick mounted on a wooden plinth. Labeled “The luckiest man alive”. I wonder if you still have it Chris.

    By Paul Ogborne (10/01/2017)
  • Good to hear that Chris Hirst survived and is alive and well and doing what he loves best, flying.

    By Erica Longdon (26/11/2019)

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