The Red Arrows

The world-famous Red Arrows will be the headline act at the Llandudno Air Show. Onlookers will be the first to see the Hawk jets’ new Union Jack tailfin design, which was unveiled last month to celebrate the Red Arrows’ 50th display season. Complete with flowing red, white and blue lines, the design emphasises the team’s important role as a global ambassador for the United Kingdom and Royal Air Force.

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 to date performed over 4,500 displays in 55 countries worldwide.

Pilots

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 Typhoon, 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.[8] Pilots stay with the Red Arrows for a three-year tour of duty. Three pilots are changed every year, such that there are normally three first year pilots, three second year pilots, and three in their final year. The Team Leader also spends three years with the team. The ‘Boss’, as he is known to the rest of the team, is always a pilot who has previously completed a three year tour with the Red Arrows, often (although not always) including a season as the leader of the Synchro Pair.

During the second half of each display the Red Arrows split into two sections. Reds 1 to 5 are known as ‘Enid’ (named after Enid Blyton, author of the Famous Five books) and Reds 6 to 9 are known as ‘Gypo’ (the nickname of one of the team’s pilots back in the Sixties). Enid continue to perform close formation aerobatics while Gypo perform more dynamic manoeuvres. Red 6 (Syncro Leader) and Red 7 (Synchro 2) make up the Synchro Pair and they perform a series of opposition passes during this second half. At the end of each season, one of that year’s new pilots will be chosen to be Red 7 for the following season, with that year’s Red 7 taking over as Red 6.

The Reds have no reserve pilots, as a spare pilot would not perform often enough to fly to the standard required, nor would they be able to learn the intricacies of each position in the formation. 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 the formation during a season. 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 once they are awarded their Public Display Authority (PDA) at the end of winter training.

The new pilots joining the team will spend their first season flying at the front of the formation near the Team Leader. As their experience and proficiency improves they will move to positions further back in the formation in their second and third seasons. Pilots who start on the left of the formation will stay on that side for the duration of their three year tour with the team and pilots on the right side will stay on the right. The exception to this are Reds 6 and 7 (the Synchro Pair) who fly in the ‘stem’ of the formation – the two positions behind the Team Leader.

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’, who is the Team Supervisor, 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 all practices and displays and acting as the team’s Ground Safety Officer. Red 10 often flies TV cameramen and photographers for air-to-air pictures of the Red Arrows and also provides the commentary for all of the team’s displays.
Red Arrows at Southport Airshow in 2009

On 13 May 2009, it was announced that the Red Arrows would include their first female display pilot. Flt Lt Kirsty Moore (née Stewart) 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 was not the first female to apply to become a Red Arrow, but was the first to be taken forward to the intense final selection process. She joined the RAF in 1998 and was a Qualified Flying Instructor on the Hawk aircraft at RAF Valley. Prior to joining the team she flew the Tornado GR4 at RAF Marham. Flt Lt Plank previously flew the Harrier GR9 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.

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