Life-long dream realised for Lincolnshire’s newest Typhoon display pilot

Lincolnshire’s newest Typhoon Display Pilot Flight Lieutenant Mark Long has lots to look forward to this coming display season as training is ramped up at RAF Coningsby.

Mark was born in Bury St Edmunds and grew up in Essex. He attended Newport Free Grammar School and then Saffron Walden County High School for A-levels.

Mark was introduced to flying with frequent visits to both Duxford and Mildenhall Airshows, and always aspired to join the RAF.

Flt Lt Mark Long has joined the display team at RAF Coningsby. Photo: SAC Jack Welson

Flt Lt Mark Long has joined the display team at RAF Coningsby. Photo: SAC Jack Welson

Without his parents’ knowledge, on his 17th birthday Mark walked into Cambridge Armed Forces Careers Office and professed his ambition to fly fast jets in the Royal Air Force. Four months later he was awarded a RAF Bursary to study Economics.

Whilst studying at the University of Warwick, Mark learnt to fly the Bulldog and Grob Tutor on the University of Birmingham Air Squadron.

Mark graduated from Initial Officer Training in 2003 and was subsequently sent to RAF Linton on Ouse to fly the Tucano.

He was awarded his ‘wings’ in 2004 and began his Advanced Flying Training (AFT) on the Hawk in 2005. Mark was selected to remain on 208(R) Squadron to take on the role of an Instructor.

On completion of his instructional tour, Mark was role disposed to the Harrier GR7/9 and was posted to 1(F) Sqn, RAF Cottesmore.

During his time on the Harrier, Mark achieved Combat Ready status and participated in a number of major exercises. He was also the last RAF Harrier pilot qualified to conduct operations off an aircraft carrier.

Typhoon at sunset. Photo: RAF Coningsby

Typhoon at sunset. Photo: RAF Coningsby

In 2012 Mark joined the Typhoon Force, and was assigned to 11 Squadron at RAF Coningsby, where he revalidated his Combat Ready qualifications.

Mark has deployed on Air Policing duties in the Baltic States, in addition to holding QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) duties in the UK and South Atlantic.

It was back to instructional duties in 2014, with a posting to 29(R) Squadron. His primary role is to teach the student pilots how to operate the Typhoon, ensuring the trained and ready to join a Typhoon frontline squadron.

Additional to his instructional duties, Mark contributes to RAF Coningsby’s primary task of defending UK sovereign airspace.

Mark lives in Lincolnshire, with his wife Beth and his two daughters. In his spare time Mark enjoys spending time with his family, cooking, playing all racket sports, golf and getting out on his motorbikes.

He regularly rides at Cadwell Park, striving to achieve respectable lap times on his Track Bikes.

He said being chosen to be a display pilot “is a true privilege.”

“To display a Front Line jet is a life-long ambition realised, especially considering I joined the RAF as a result of being inspired by air displays from the Harrier, Lightning, Red Arrows etc (I was six years old at the time.)

“I get to really appreciate the performance of the Typhoon. It is epic. On the ground I am surrounded by a motivated hugely supportive team and Squadron, and that makes the whole job so satisfying.

“Who would have thought it would be so difficult to get good weather in a Lincolnshire winter! So it has been a slow start but now is ramping up nicely, and the feedback from people (especially my mentor Jonny Dowen) is very encouraging.

“The display itself is 7:30min of pure concentration, aiming to achieve perfection each time. I am learning a great deal, every practice has new elements (wind, cloud etc) that subtlety effect how the sequence is flown.

“Time away from my family is going to be tough. Thankfully my wife offers me so much support, and understands some of the external pressures.

“Duxford (May 28/29) is going to be a big event for me, as I grew up five miles away from the airfield so it is effectively my local air show. It will also have the entire contingent of the extended Long family present!

“Each venue offers something new; I am really looking forward to meeting as many people as possible at each event.

“The season is going to race by, and I really want them to be involved so we can share the experience, although the air show ice cream van will be more appealing to my daughters than watching daddy display again!”