After 13 years, PLAAF Red Eagle aerobatic team to make first international appearance

One of China’s secondary aerobatic teams, Red Eagle, is finally due to make its first trip aborad, with a tour to Laos this month.

The Chinese Ministry of Defence announced that the team will visit Laos from the 13th-20th January 2024, joining the Lao People’s Army’s 75th anniversary celebrations – albeit specific dates and locations for their displays were not confirmed. It will be the first time that the team has left China.

Red Eagle has been taking an ever larger role in Chinese aishows over the last few years. Formed in 2011, the team spent a decade being almost entirely confined to China’s far northeast, mostly flying at military open days at or near to their home base. In 2022, the team performed at China’s main aviation showcase – Airshow China in Zhuhai, southeast China – for the first time. It was the largest and most important airshow appearance in their history. Later, in 2023, Red Eagle performed at the PLAAF’s largest airshow since the pandemic, held in Changchun.

The decision to dispatch the team abroad for the first time suggests a growing recognition of their talent within the Chinese Ministry of Defence as the team is given an ever-larger role in the world stage.

The team flies eight Chinese-designed and build Nanchang JL-8s (known outside China as the Hongdu K-8 Karakorum), the pilots all being flight instructors from the PLA Air Force University based at Jinzhou in northeast China. The JL-8/K-8 is a popular jet among military aerobatic teams, used not only by Red Eagle, but also by Egypt’s Silver Stars and Pakistan’s Sherdils.

The People’s Liberation Army Air Force currently has three aerobatic teams: Red Eagle with its eight JL-8s, August 1st with six J-10s and the little-known Sky Wing, a team of variable size flying the Nanchang CJ-6. Of these, August 1st is by far the oldest, and is considered to be China’s primary aerobatic team. Until now, it is the only one of the trio that has been deployed to represent the nation abroad.