Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team
The Red Arrows in 2011
|Active||1965 – present|
|Branch||Royal Air Force|
|Role||Aerobatic flight display team|
91 Support members
|Motto||Éclat (English: Excellence)|
|Colours||Red and White|
|Team Leader/Red 1||Sqn Ldr Jim Turner|
|Display Manager||Sqn Ldr Mike Ling|
|Red Arrows Squadron Badge|
The Red Arrows, officially known as the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, is the aerobatics display team of the Royal Air Force based at RAF Scampton. The team was formed in late 1964 as an all-RAF team, replacing a number of unofficial teams that had been sponsored by RAF commands.
The Red Arrows badge shows the aircraft in their trademark diamond nine formation, with the motto Éclat, a French word meaning "brilliance" or "excellence".
Initially, they were equipped with seven Folland Gnat trainers inherited from the RAF Yellowjacks display team. This aircraft was chosen because it was less expensive to operate than front-line fighters. In their first season, they flew at 65 shows across Europe. In 1966, the team was increased to nine members, enabling them to develop their Diamond Nine formation. In late 1979, they switched to the BAE Hawk trainer. The Red Arrows have performed over 4,000 displays worldwide in 52 countries.
The Red Arrows were not the first RAF aerobatics team. An RAF pageant was held at Hendon in 1920 with teams from front-line biplane squadrons. In 1938, three Gloster Gladiators flew with their wing-tips tied together. Formation aerobatics largely stopped during the Second World War.
In 1947, the first jet team of three de Havilland Vampires came from RAF Odiham Fighter Wing. Various teams flew the Vampire, and in 1950, No. 72 Squadron was flying a team of seven. No. 54 Squadron became the first RAF jet formation team to use smoke trails. Vampires were replaced by Gloster Meteors, No. 66 Squadron developing a formation team of six aircraft.
The official RAF team was provided by No. 111 Squadron in 1956, and for the first time the aircraft had a special colour scheme, which was an all-black finish. After a demonstration in France, they were hailed as "Les Fleches Noires" and from then on known as the Black Arrows. This team became the first team to fly a five-Hunter formation. In 1958 the Black Arrows performed a loop and barrel roll of 22 Hunters; a world record for the greatest number of aircraft looped in formation. The Black Arrows were the premier team until 1961, when the Blue Diamonds (No. 92 Squadron) continued their role, flying sixteen blue Hunters.
In 1960, the Tigers (No. 74 Squadron) were re-equipped with the supersonic English Electric Lightning and performed wing-overs and rolls with nine aircraft in tight formation. They sometimes gave co-ordinated displays with the Blue Diamonds.
Yet another aerobatics team was formed by No. 56 Squadron, the Firebirds, with nine red and silver Lightnings. In 1964, the Red Pelicans, flying six BAC Jet Provost T Mk 4s, assumed the role of the RAF's leading display team. In that same year, a team of five yellow Gnat trainers from No 4 Flying Training School displayed at the Farnborough Airshow. This team became known as the Yellowjacks after Flight Lieutenant Lee Jones's call sign, "Yellowjack".
In 1964, all the RAF display teams were amalgamated, as it was feared pilots were spending too much time practising formation aerobatics rather than operational training. The new team name took the word red from the fact that the Yellowjacks' planes had been painted red (for safety reasons, as it was a far clearer and more visible colour in the sky) and arrows after the Black Arrows; the official version, however, is that the red was a tribute to the Red Pelicans. Another reason for the change to red was that responsibility for the team moved from Fighter Command to the Central Flying School, whose main colour was red.
The Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team (RAFAT), the formal name of the Red Arrows, began life at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, then a satellite of the Central Flying School (CFS). When RAF Scampton became the CFS Headquarters in 1983, the Red Arrows moved there. As an economy measure, Scampton closed in 1995, so the Red Arrows moved just twenty miles to RAF Cranwell; however, as they still used the air space above Scampton, the emergency facilities and runways had to be maintained. Since 21 December 2000, the Red Arrows have been based again at RAF Scampton, near Lincoln.
The first team, led by Squadron Leader Lee Jones, had seven display pilots and flew the Folland Gnat T1 jet trainer. The first display in the UK was on 6 May 1965 at Little Rissington for a press day. At the subsequent National Air Day display, three days later, at Clermont Ferrand in France, one French journalist described the team as "Les Fleches Rouges", confirming the name "The Red Arrows". By the end of their first season, the Red Arrows had displayed 65 times in Britain, France, Italy, Holland, Germany and Belgium and were awarded the Britannia Trophy by the Royal Aero Club for their contribution to aviation.
In 1968, the then Team Leader (Sqn Ldr Ray Hanna) expanded the team from seven to nine jets, as he wanted to expand the team's capabilities and the permutations of formation patterns. It was during this season that the 'Diamond Nine' pattern was formed and it has remained the team's trademark pattern ever since. Ray Hanna served as Red Leader for three consecutive years until 1968 and was recalled to supersede Squadron Leader Timothy Nelson for the 1969 display season, a record four seasons as Leader which still stands to this day. For his considerable achievements of airmanship with the team, Ray Hanna was awarded a bar to his existing Air Force Cross (AFC).
After displaying 1,292 times in the Folland Gnat, the Red Arrows took delivery of the BAe Hawk in the winter of 1979. Since being introduced into service with the Red Arrows, the Hawk has performed with the Red Arrows in fifty countries.
In July 2004 there was speculation in the British media that the Red Arrows would be disbanded, after a defence spending review, due to running costs of between £5 million and £6 million. The Arrows were not disbanded and their expense has been justified through their public relations benefit of helping to develop business in the defence industry and promoting recruitment for the RAF. According to the BBC, it is highly unlikely that the Red Arrows will be disbanded, as they are a considerable attraction throughout the world. This was reiterated by Prime Minister, David Cameron, on 20 February 2013. when he guaranteed the estimated £9m per annum costs while visiting India to discuss a possible sale of Hawk aircraft to be used by India's military aerobatics team, the Surya Kiran.
With the planned closure of RAF Scampton, the future home of the Red Arrows became uncertain. On 20 May 2008 months of speculation was ended when it was revealed that the Ministry of Defence were moving the Red Arrows to nearby RAF Waddington. However, in December 2011, those plans were put under review. The Ministry of Defence confirmed in June 2012 that the Red Arrows would remain at RAF Scampton until at least the end of the decade. Scampton's runway will be resurfaced as a result.
Since 1966, there have been nine display pilots each year, all volunteers. Pilots must have completed one or more operational tours on a fast jet such as the Tornado, Harrier or Jaguar, have accumulated at least 1,500 flying hours and have been assessed as above average in their operational role to be eligible. Even then, there are more than ten applicants for each place on the team. Pilots stay with the Red Arrows for a three-year tour of duty. Three pilots are changed every year, such that there are always three first year pilots, three second year pilots, and three in their final year.
The Reds have no reserve pilots, as a spare pilot would not perform often enough to fly to the standard required. If one of the pilots is not able to fly, the team flies an eight-plane formation. However, if the Team Leader, 'Red 1', is unable to fly then the team does not display at all. Each pilot always flies the same position in a formation. The pilots spend six months from October to April practising for the display season. Pilots wear green flying suits during training, and are only allowed to wear their red flying suits when fully qualified.
During an aerobatics display, Red Arrows pilots experience forces up to five times that of gravity (1g), and when performing the aerobatic manoeuvre 'Vixen Break', forces up to 7g can be reached, close to the 8g structural limit of the aircraft.
As well as the nine pilots, 'Red 10', also known as the Road Manager, is a fully qualified Hawk pilot who flies the tenth aircraft when the Red Arrows are away from base. This means the team have a reserve aircraft at the display site. Red 10's duties include co-ordination of the display and acting as the team's Ground Safety Officer. Red 10 also flies TV cameramen and photographers for air-to-air pictures of the Red Arrows. The engineering team that supports the Red Arrows is known as "The Blues" and consists of 85 members.
On 13 May 2009, it was announced that the Red Arrows would include their first female display pilot. Flt Lt Kirsty Moore joined for the 2010 season alongside fellow newcomer Flt Lt Ben Plank. Wing Commander Jas Hawker concluded his three-year tour of duty as 'The Boss' and was replaced by 2009 Red Six, Squadron Leader Ben Murphy. Flt Lt Moore is not the first female to apply to become a Red Arrow, but is the first to be taken forward to the intense selection. She joined the RAF in 1998 and has been an instructor on the Hawk aircraft at RAF Valley. She flies the Tornado aircraft at RAF Marham. Flt Lt Plank is based at RAF Cottesmore.
The team for the 2011 season was announced on 13 September 2010 and subsequently undertook winter training in preparation for the 2011 display season. The team departed the UK on Friday 18 March 2011 and travelled to Cyprus to undertake Exercise SPRINGHAWK at RAF Akrotiri. The first 9-ship practice was flown on the first day of training in Cyprus on Monday 21 March 2011. The team remained in Cyprus until the end of May whilst they took advantage of the good weather on offer to work up to display standard. The team gained their Public Display Authority (PDA) on 20 May 2011, just two days before their first planned public display in Crete.
On 13 September 2011, the team for 2012 was announced. The team received its PDA on 22 May 2012, having taken part in the Armed Forces Muster for Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee at Windsor Castle three days earlier.
The team use the same two-seat training aircraft used for advanced pilot training, at first the Hawker Siddeley Gnat which was replaced in 1979 by the BAE Hawk T1. The Hawks are modified with an uprated engine and a modification to enable smoke to be generated, diesel is mixed with a coloured dye and ejected into the jet exhaust to produce either red, white or blue smoke.
The first display by the Red Arrows was at RAF Little Rissington on 6 May 1965. The display was to introduce the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team to the media. However, the first public display was on 9 May 1965 in France, at the French National Air Day in Clermont-Ferrand. The first public display in the UK was on 15 May 1965 at the Biggin Hill International Air Fair. The first display with nine aircraft was on 8 July 1966 at RAF Little Rissington.
The first display in Germany was at RAF Laarbruch on 6 August 1965. The Red Arrows performed in Germany a further 170 times before formation aerobatics were banned in Germany following the Ramstein airshow disaster in 1988.
During displays, the aircraft do not fly directly over the crowd apart from entering the display area by flying over the crowd from behind; any manoeuvres in front of and parallel to the audience can be as low as 300 feet, the 'synchro pair' can go as low as 100 feet straight and level, or 150 feet when in inverted flight. To carry out a full looping display the cloud base must be above 4,500 feet to avoid the team entering the cloud while looping If the cloud base is less than 4,500 ft but more than 2,500 ft the Team will perform the Rolling Display, substituting wing-overs and rolls for the loops. If the cloud base is less than 2,500 ft the Team will fly the Flat Display, which consists of a series of fly-pasts and steep turns.
The greatest number of displays flown in any year was in 1995, when the Red Arrows performed 136 times. The smallest number of displays in one year was in 1975, after the 1973 oil crisis limited their appearances. At a charity auction in 2008, a British woman paid £1.5 million to fly with them.
By the end of the 2009 season, the Red Arrows had performed a total of 4,269 displays in 53 countries. The 4,000th display was at RAF Leuchars during the Battle of Britain Airshow in September 2006.
Following the accidents during the 2011 season, the Red Arrows retained Red 8 and moved the original Red 10 to the Red 5 position to enable them to continue displaying with nine aircraft. In March 2012, the MOD announced that the Red Arrows will fly aerobatic displays with seven aircraft during the 2012 display season as Flt Lt Kirsty Stewart has moved into a ground based role with the team. It is believed this is due to the emotional stress she had been suffering over the loss of her two Red Arrows colleagues the previous year. As a consequence of this, Red 8 will also drop out of the display team to enable an odd number of aircraft to perform and thus maintain formation symmetry. However, the team will carry out official flypasts with nine aircraft by utilising Red 8 as well as ex-Red Arrow display pilot and current Red 10 Mike Ling. It is believed that the Red Arrows will return to a full aerobatic formation of nine aircraft in 2013.
In 1977, a charge of £200 was introduced by the MOD for a Red Arrows display. By 2000, the charge had risen to £2,000 (including VAT and insurance). In 2011 the team manager quoted the charge as £9,000.
On a transit flight (getting to or from a display location) the team may fly at the relatively low altitude of 1,000 feet (300 m). This avoids the complication of moving though the cloud base in formation, and also avoids much controlled air space. Jets are more efficient at higher altitude, so longer flights are made at 35,000 to 42,000 feet (11,000 to 13,000 m). On transit flights, the formation can include spare planes. Sometimes a C-130 Hercules accompanies them, carrying spare parts.
As the fuel tank capacity of the Hawk sets a limit to flight distance, very long transits between display sites may need landings on the way to refuel. For example, a visit to Canada needed 6 refuelling stops (in Scotland and Iceland and Greenland and Newfoundland).
The smoke trails left by the team are made by releasing diesel into the exhaust; this oxidises straight away, leaving a white smoke trail. Dyes can be added to produce the red and blue colour. The diesel is stored in the pod on the underside of the plane; it houses three tanks: one 50-imperial-gallon (230 L) tank of pure diesel and two 10-imperial-gallon (45 L) tanks of blue- and red-dyed diesel. The smoke system uses 10-imperial-gallon (45 L) per minute; therefore each plane can trail smoke for a total of seven minutes – 5 minutes of white smoke, 1-minute of blue and 1-minute of red.
Incidents and accidents
|26 March 1969||A Gnat hit trees while joining formation during a practice at RAF Kemble||Flt Lt Jerry Bowler (no ejection) killed.|||
|16 December 1969||Two Gnats crashed, one at Kemble and the other in a field new Chelworth||The pilots both ejected safely although a fire warning from air traffic was intended for only one of the aircraft.|||
|1969||A Gnat crashed short of the RAF Fairford runway.|||
|20 January 1971||Two Gnats collided during the cross-over manoeuvre, over the runway at Kemble||four fatalities|||
|17 May 1980||A Hawk hit a yacht mast at an air show in Brighton, Sussex||The pilot ejected safely.|||
|24 March 1984||A Hawk hit the ground at RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus, while practising a loop.||The pilot was ejected from the plane by the force of the impact and suffered serious injuries.|||
|1986||A Hawk rammed into the back of another on a runway.|
|1987||A Hawk crashed into a house in the neighbouring village of Welton, Lincolnshire while practising.||Nobody was killed and both pilots ejected safely.|||
|24 June 1988||A Hawk crashed whilst attempting to take off, and the fuel tanks exploded.||The pilot ejected safely.|||
|1988||Flt Lt Neil MacLachlan died practising a "roll back" at RAF Scampton.|||
|17 October 1998||Flt Lt R. Edwards landed short of the runway after a practice run at the Red Arrows then home base, RAF Cranwell, and ejected safely at low altitude.|||
|9 September 2003||A Hawk overshot the runway while landing at Jersey Airport in advance of an air display.||The pilot ran the jet into a gravel pile and little damage was sustained.|||
|2007||The wingtip of a Hawk hit the tail of another during a practice flight near RAF Scampton.|||
|23 March 2010||Two Hawks were involved in a mid-air collision.||The synchro pair were practising one of their manoeuvres when the two aircraft collided. One pilot landed his plane safely, but the other (Flt Lt Mike Ling) ejected and suffered a dislocated shoulder. The incident took place during pre-season training in Crete.|||
|20 August 2011||A Hawk aircraft crashed into a field near Throop Mill, one mile from Bournemouth Airport following a display at the Bournemouth Air Festival.||Flt Lt Jon Egging, pilot of Red 4 (XX179), died in the accident. The investigation into the incident determined that Flt Lt Egging was incapacitated due to g-effects until very shortly before impact.|||
|8 November 2011||Pilot Flt Lt Sean Cunningham, was ejected from his aircraft while it was on the ground at RAF Scampton and subsequently died from his injuries.||He was shot 200 feet into the air and received fatal injuries when his parachute failed to open. Coroner Stuart Fisher told a pre-inquest hearing he will examine whether an overtightened “shackle nut” disabled the chute.|||
|Wikinews has related news: Red Arrows pilot killed at 2011 Bournemouth air display|
In 1985, Database Software released a flight simulator called Red Arrows, made in cooperation with the flight team. In the simulator, stunts have to be performed while flying in formation. It was available for the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Acorn Electron, BBC Micro and Atari.
The Blades display team
A number of former Red Arrows pilots established their own civilian aerobatic display team, known as "The Blades'. The team fly Extra EA-300 aircraft and hold the world record for formation looping.
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- RAF Red Arrows – Hawk Aircraft
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- Flt Lt Cunningham
- "Red Arrows pilot dies after incident at RAF Scampton". BBC. 8 November 2011. Retrieved 8 November 2011.
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- "About". The Blades. 2012. Retrieved 15 June 2012.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Red Arrows.|
- Official website
- The Red Arrows Twitter Page
- The 2008 Red Arrows display sequence
- BBC Archive Video from Go with Noakes in 1976 at RAF Kemble
- Event data as RDF