The Red Arrows (official name: Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team) are the official aerobatic team of the UK’s Royal Air Force. Flying nine BAE Hawk T.1As, they are considered to be one of the best aerobatic teams in the world. Former members of the Red Arrows have formed The Blades and advise the Saudi Hawks.
The Red Arrows were formed in 1964 as an amalgamation of the RAF’s many unofficial aerobatic teams. The colour red is said to be inspired by the Red Pelicans, the arrow symbol from the famed Black Arrows and the team’s aircraft, the Folland Gnat, from the Yellowjacks. The team initially flew seven aircraft from 1965, but the spare pilot flew an additional solo display when he was available to do so. The first public display of the Red Arrows was in France, with their debut UK display following at Biggin Hill one week later.
In 1968, the Red Arrows became a nine-ship team. The team undertook their first tour to North America in 1972. They then received their present fleet of Hawk T.1s in 1980. The team’s busiest season came in 1995-1996, when they followed their 1995 European season with a world tour through the winter, which lead straight into the 1996 European season. It was the largest tour ever undertaken by a military jet aerobatic team.
Today, the Red Arrows are based at RAF Scampton, although a new base is soon to be decided upon as Scampton is set to close by 2022. They continue to fly the Hawk T.1, which has been retired throughout the rest of the RAF. With no easy replacement, it is expected that the Red Arrows will continue to fly the Hawk T.1 until 2030.
The Red Arrows’ display is split into two halves. The first sees all nine aircraft flying loops, rolls and passes in various nine-ship formations. Many of these formations reflect historical anniversaries or topical events that year, for example Spitfire, Lancaster, Apollo and Concorde. The team’s signature formations are Big Battle and Short Diamond.
The aircraft then break into smaller groups for the second part of the show, which includes more dynamic manoeuvring by smaller groups of aircraft. Enid (Reds 1-5) typically perform formation aerobatics, while Gypo (Reds 6-9) perform more complex synchronised aerobatics, splits and opposition passes. Within Gypo is the synchro pair, who engage in further opposition manoeuvres.
Due to the frequent low cloud base in the UK, the Red Arrows have one of the most complete and entertaining flat shows of any aerobatic team. Coloured smoke is always used throughout the display, and the routine changes slightly each year. Favourite manoeuvres include:
- Big Battle Arrival (crowd rear arrival in Big Battle, loop and change to Diamond)
- Phoenix Bend (tight turn in Phoenix)
- Tornado (seven-ship turn past show centre with two aircraft barrel rolling around)
- Five-Four Split (nine-ship loop and split into two elements, which then descent and cross)
- Palm Split (seven-ship upwards bomb burst and simultaneous two-ship opposition break)
- Gypo Pass (two vs. two opposition pass and rolls)
- Goose (five vs. one opposition pass)
- Calypso (two aircraft roll into Mirror formation, then Calpyso, then both roll inverted)
- Carosel (one vs. one opposition 360 degree turns)
- Heart (three-ship heart and spear)
- Vertical break (seven-ship quarterclover and downwards bomb burst)
- Slalom (five-ship orbit in Line Astern, change to Reverse Battle, slalom change to Battle)
- Corkscrew (two aircraft roll inverted and two more barrel roll tightly around)
- Rollbacks (multiple rollbacks in five-ship formation)
- Gypo Break (four-ship synchronised rolls and opposition break)
- Vixen Break (seven-ship bomb burst)
- Spaghetti break (nine-ship downwards break to land)
- 26th March 1969: A pilot is killed when his jet hits trees during a practice display
- 16th December 1969: Two pilots eject following a warning of a fire from air traffic control; both pilots survive, although the warning was intended only for one aircraft
- 20th January 1971: Two Gnats collide during an opposition pass, killing four
- 17th May 1980: A jet clips a mast during an airshow at Brighton; the pilot ejects safely
- 21st March 1984: A Hawk hits the ground while practicing a loop in Cyprus; the pilot is injured but survives
- 31st August 1984: A Hawk crashes into the sea during a display at Sidmouth; the pilot is rescued
- 16th November 1987: Two Hawks collide during a training flight; both pilots eject, but one jet hits a house
- 22nd January 1988: A pilot dies while practicing the Rollbacks at Scampton
- 24th June 1988: A Hawk crashes and explodes during take off; the pilot ejects safely
- 17th October 1998: A pilot lands short of the runway at Cranwell and ejects safely
- 9th September 2003: A jet overruns the runway at Jersey Airport
- 23rd March 2010: Two Hawks collide during an opposition pass while practicing in Greece; one jet lands safely, the other crashes; the pilot ejects and sustains injuries
- 20th August 2011: A pilot dies when his jet crashes during arrival procedures at Bournemouth Airport
- 8th November 2011: A pilot dies when his ejection seat fires by mistake on the ground
- 20th March 2018: A jet crashes during an emergency landing exercise at RAF Valley; the pilot ejects, but his passenger, an engineer, is killed