"Officially known as the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows is the aerobatic display team of the Royal Air Force"
Officially known as the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows is the aerobatic display team of the Royal Air Force. Today, the Red Arrows are based at RAF Scampton. The Red Arrows, however, were not the first RAF aerobatics team.
The glory days of RAF jet aerobatics display teams were in the 1950s and 1960s. There was a time during the mid 1960s that almost every Flying Training School had their own aerobatic display teams, until the Royal Air Force decided to disband all of them and form one single, permanent professional team, as so much time, effort and money were being spent on them.
As a result, the Red Pelicans flying six Jet Provost T Mk 4s became the first team to represent the Royal Air Force as one in 1964. That same year saw the formation of a team of five yellow Folland Gnat jet trainers, known as the Yellowjacks, at No 4 Flying Training School at Royal Air Force Valley in North Wales. This team was led by Flight Lieutenant Lee Jones who was posted to the Central Flying School (CFS) the following year to form the Red Arrows. The Red Arrows began at RAF Gloucestershire, which was then a satellite of CFS. There were, originally, seven display pilots and ten Gnat jet trainers. The name Red Arrows is a combination of the names of two earlier teams, the Black Arrows and the Red Pelicans.
On May 6, 1965, the Red Arrows held their first display in the UK at Little Rissington for a press day, and in their first season, the team had flown 65 displays in Britain, France, Italy, Holland, Belgium and Germany. The Red Arrows team was awarded the Britannia Trophy by the Royal Aero Club in recognition of their outstanding contribution to aviation.
Eventually, two spare pilots were established even though the team continued to fly only seven aircraft in most of their displays. The first time the Red Arrows flew with nine pilots was for the benefit of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh in July 1966. It wasn’t until 1968 that the Red Arrows officially increased in size to nine. There was nothing new in flying nine aircraft in a diamond-shaped formation, but the team’s perfectly symmetrical Diamond Nine rapidly became the representation of the peak of precision flying. It was soon registered as an official trademark.
The British Aerospace Hawk trainer arrived in the autumn of 1979 and the pilots converted from the Gnat. They worked up a display using the new aircraft for the 1980 display season. The Hawk has since taken the Red Arrows on tours all over the world. In 2006, the 4000th display flown using the Hawk was at Royal Air Force Leuchars’ Battle of Britain Airshow.
RAF Scampton became the CFS headquarters in 1983, and the Red Arrows moved there as well. Due to economic reasons, Scampton was closed in 1995; thus, the Red Arrows moved to RAF Cranwell, just twenty miles away from Scampton. However, since they still used the air space above Scampton, the emergency facilities and runway still had to be maintained, and they moved back there in December 21, 2000.
There are nine volunteer display pilots each year, each of them staying for a three-year tour of duty. Three pilots are changed every year. This means that there are always three pilots in their first year, three pilots in their second year and three pilots in their final year with the team. Aside from the nine pilots, the Road Manager, also known as ‘Red 10’, is a fully qualified Hawk pilot who flies the tenth aircraft whenever the team is away from the base. He is in-charge of various duties that include coordination of the display and acting as the team’s Ground Safety Officer. In addition, Red 10 flies TV cameramen and photographers for air-to-air photos of the Red Arrows. The group is also supported by an 85-member engineering team, known as “The Blues”.
To date, the Red Arrows has flown over 4000 displays throughout the world. They have become renowned and have acted as ambassadors for Great Britain, demonstrating capabilities of British equipment and expertise.
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