The Reds' Year
Each display pilot flies with the Red Arrows for three years, ensuring that expertise is passed on from year to year. On completion of their three-year tour of duty, pilots return to their primary Royal Air Force role with front line or instructional squadrons. Therefore each year, three new pilots join the Team and, with the exception of Red 1, all other pilots change the position they fly within the formation.
Training begins at Royal Air Force Scampton as soon as the last display of the season is completed. To mark the transition, all members of the squadron revert to wearing green flying suits and overalls. The process begins with small formations of three or four aircraft as the new pilots learn flying references and formation shapes, and each pilot flies three times a day, five days a week. Each sortie is briefed thoroughly before it is flown and is recorded on video from the ground. After the pilots have landed, the sortie is debriefed in minute detail using the video footage. Slowly and safely, the display sequence is developed by the Team. The Red Arrows will not generally fly together as a formation of nine aircraft until February, five months after training first begins.
Winter training is hard work for the whole squadron. The Red Arrows’ fleet of 13 Hawk aircraft is given an extensive overhaul by the engineers during this period. Each aircraft takes between 4 and 16 weeks to complete. The aircraft are dismantled, inspected and tested to make sure that any hidden faults are repaired. This work must run to a tight schedule so that winter pilot training is not disrupted and the aircraft are prepared in time for the summer display season. During the winter months the engineers must also have enough aircraft available for the pilots to carry out their training schedule. Preparation of the aircraft begins each day at 0630hrs, when the first technicians arrive. A night shift works into the early hours of the morning to make sure that there are sufficient aircraft to carry out the following day’s flying schedule.
Public Display Authority
In order to put the final polish on the display, the Red Arrows swaps the sometimes unreliable weather of Lincolnshire for the guaranteed clear blue skies of Royal Air Force Akrotiri in Cyprus. The training season ends in May when the Red Arrows’ Commander-in-Chief makes an assessment of their safety and professionalism. If he is content, then he will award Public Display Authority, which is the Team’s formal authority to display in public. The Red Arrows are now allowed to wear their prestigious red and blue flying suits for the first time. They are truly now Red Arrows, but with a hectic display season ahead of them, the hard work continues for pilots and support personnel alike.