The Blades was a civilian aerobatic team based at Sywell Aerodrome in the UK, consisting of former members of the RAF Red Arrows. The team made their debut in 2006, flying four Extra 300LPs, quickly becoming the UK’s most prolific and best-known civilian aerobatic team, and they have occasionally performed further afield, including winning the Formation Aerobatic Championships in China in 2017.
The Blades also take paying passengers on experience flights, field an elite air race team, run an air race training academy, and have trained pilots from Malaysia’s national aerobatic team, Krisakti.
The team ended after the 2022 airshow season, citing the cost of living crisis and the degradation of the UK airshow industry, which they said made their business model unsustainable.
Country: United Kingdom
Home base: Sywell
Operator: 2Excel Aviation (Private)
Size: 5 aircraft (4 in display)
Extra 300LP (2006-present)
Gamebird GB1 (future)
“Going global” and Air Race involvement
The Blades announced their intention to “go global” in 2019, with plans to spend the “off-season” travelling to locations outside Europe, offering air displays and experience flights. In October and November 2019, they headed to the UAE to offer flights and participate in the Dubai Airshow to trial the new business model. At the same time, also announced that the team would transition to the Gamebird GB1 for the 2020 season, but this was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. At the end of the 2021 season, the Blades once again indicated the new Gamebirds would be introduced the following year, but this never came to fruition.
The development of 2Excel Aviation was also tied to the Air Race World Championship (and later, an offshoot organisation known simply as Air Race), which attempted in 2022 to revive the Red Bull Air Race format of pylon air racing. 2Excel had been involved in Red Bull’s race series in 2018 and 2019, when Ben Murphy competed in the Masterclass tier for the Blades Racing Team. He was the sport’s best performing rookie pilot in 2018, and finished fourth overall in 2019, flying a highly-modified Edge 540.
The Blades Racing Team was not only committed to racing in the revived Air Race competition, but 2Excel Aviation had also been contracted to provide training for new race pilots and maintain the aircraft used in the lower Aero/GP2 tier of the championship. It was expected that The Blades would take delivery of their Gamebird GB1s in early 2022, transferring ownership of their old Extra 300 fleet to the Air Race in time for the first race in mid-2022. Unfortunately, the Air Race later collapsed with no races having taken place, scuppering the plans of both companies.
The Blades’ display was a constant mix of formation, synchronised and solo aerobatics. The Blades specialised in synchronised stall turns and pushovers. Manoeuvres include:
- Falling Angels (four-ship split through stall turns and pushovers)
- Blades Break (four-ship opposition break)
- Spitfire Roll (four aircraft pitch up and roll individually)
- Crazy (three-ship formation with varying yaw while solo plane barrel rolls around)
- Hammerhead (four-ship stall turns)
- Vertical Break (four-ship downwards bomb burst)
- Beak-to-Beak Cross (two-ship opposition stall turns)
- Mirror Stall Split (two-ship stall turns in mirror formation)
- Double Knife Edge Dive (two-ship synchronised tumbles)
- Goose and Gatling (three vs. one opposition pass, then two barrel roll around remaining aircraft)