The Red Arrows

FAQs

What is the purpose of the Red Arrows?

The official name of the Team is the ‘Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team’, commonly known as the ‘Red Arrows’. The Red Arrows are a small part of a large organisation; the Royal Air Force, much of which is engaged in operations overseas defending UK interests and making the world a safer place.

The Red Arrows are the public face of the Royal Air Force and are acknowledged as one of the world’s premier aerobatic teams. Within the UK, the Red Arrows exist to demonstrate the professional excellence of the Royal Air Force and promote recruitment to the Royal Air Force. The Red Arrows have inspired a significant number of people to join the Royal Air Force, both as officers and airmen in all trades, not just pilots!

The Team supports wider British interests overseas by contributing to Defence Diplomacy efforts and promoting British industry. The Hawk aircraft flown by the Team and most of its components are all British made. During international tours the Red Arrows demonstrate both British skill and British technology to millions of people.

The Red Arrows also help more than 500 UK charities every year - contributing many thousands of pounds to a wide variety of important causes.

When were the Red Arrows formed?

The Red Arrows began training in late 1964 to prepare for the 1965 Air Display Season. The squadron was officially constituted on 1 March 1965. The first official display was on 6 May 1965 at Royal Air Force Little Rissington in Gloucestershire. This was a special display to introduce the Team to the media. The first public display was on 9 May 1965 at Clermont Ferrand in France.

Where are the Red Arrows based?

The Team have been based at Royal Air Force Scampton in Lincolnshire since 2001. In the past they have also been based at Royal Air Force Fairford, Royal Air Force Kemble in Gloucestershire, and Royal Air Force College Cranwell in Lincolnshire.

What aircraft do the Red Arrows fly?

The Red Arrows have always flown whichever aircraft is in service as the Royal Air Force’s advanced fast jet trainer; currently the BAE SYSTEMS Hawk T1. From 1965 until 1979 the Red Arrows flew the Folland Gnat, the Hawk’s predecessor.

Why is the Team called the Red Arrows?

By 1965, Royal Air Force training aircraft were predominantly red in colour. The ‘arrows’ part of the title was in recognition of the Black Arrows, a very popular squadron aerobatic team in the late 50s and early 60s.

Is the Red Arrows' flying dangerous?

Red Arrows pilots are amongst the most highly qualified and experienced within the Royal Air Force, and safety is of paramount importance in all their activities. They have all been selected for their above average flying skills and are all proficient at formation flying before they are considered for selection to the Team. All pilots are subject to rigorous annual examination by the Royal Air Force Central Flying School, a standards organisation, and all pilots fly regular sorties in Hawk flight simulators to test emergency handling and procedures. The Red Arrows adhere strictly to military flying and engineering regulations, and every sortie flown by the Red Arrows is recorded by the Team’s safety cameraman for flight safety/debriefing purposes.

All pilots undergo a rigorous winter training programme. In the early part of the training season the pilots fly in small groups of four, five or six aircraft. As the months pass and they gain experience, the number of aircraft in the formation is gradually increased and the base height lowered. Usually by mid-January, British weather permitting, the Team will be practising with nine aircraft at display heights.

The maintenance of the Hawk aircraft is subject to extremely strict controls and set procedures, and all work carried out is thoroughly supervised and independently checked. Furthermore, the Hawk aircraft is designed with comprehensive backup systems which can be employed if the primary system ceases to function

How low do the aircraft fly?

With the exception of their arrival manoeuvre, the Red Arrows do not fly directly over the crowd. Manoeuvres in front of and parallel to the crowd can be flown down to 300 feet. The Synchro Pair are allowed down to 100 feet in straight and level flight in front of and parallel to the crowd line. Inverted flight by the Synchro pilots is not allowed below 150 feet above the ground.

How fast does the aircraft fly?

The Hawk T1 can reach speeds of 550 knots which is just over 600 miles per hour!

What is the purpose of the coloured smoke?

The ‘smoke’ produced during displays is actually vapour. The primary reason that the Team use visible vapour trails is that of flight safety. The trails allow the Team Leader to judge the wind speed and direction far more accurately than by any other means. They also allow the Team Leader and Synchro Leader to keep sight of each other when two, and often three sections are often several miles apart. The vapour trails also add impact to the display sequence when viewed by the audience on the ground.

How are the coloured vapour trails made?

The vapour trails begin life as diesel fuel, contained in an extra fuel tank bolted on the underside of the Hawk fuselage. At the rear of the aircraft, immediately above the jet exhaust pipe, there are three small tubes through which the pilot can pump small quantities of this diesel. When the diesel meets the extremely high temperatures found in the jet exhaust (over 500 degrees Celsius), the diesel immediately vaporises creating an intense white cloud. With separate switches on his control column, the pilot can add red or blue dye to the diesel and produce the other two colours. During a 30-minute sortie each aircraft can produce vapour for a maximum duration of seven minutes.

These vapour trails are essential for flight safety, allowing the Team Leader to judge wind speed and direction accurately, as well as allowing the Team Leader and Synchro Leader to keep sight of each other even when they are several miles apart. Trials have found no discernible hazard to health and the emissions are insignificant in terms of local pollutants.

How much ‘g’ do the Team pull during a display?

Gravity is measured in terms of the amount of acceleration that the force gives to an object on the earth. The Red Arrows’ main section uses up to 5 times the force of gravity (5’g’) in their manoeuvres but up to 7’g’ in the Vixen Break. The Synchro Pair use 7g quite frequently and can go up to 8’g’, the aircraft limit, if needed. At 8’g’ everything weighs 8 times its normal weight, arms, legs, bags under the eyes, and so on. Cameramen have to remember that the weight of their equipment increases with increasing ‘g’ and it can be difficult to keep the camera up to eye level. The heart sinks and blood tends to pool towards the legs and away from the brain. If insufficient blood reaches the eyes then the pilots gradually lose vision and this is known as 'blacking out'.

Why do the pilots wear anti-g suits?

The anti-‘g’ suit is an elasticised garment which fits tightly over the lower abdomen and legs and fastens with laces and zips. Attached to the suit is a hose-pipe which feeds pressurised air into a large number of tubes within the suit. When an aircraft pulls 'g', the pilot's blood is forced downwards away from the heart and towards the feet so starving the brain. All pilots learn how to control this by tensing the stomach muscles but it is a physically tiring procedure. If the pilot relaxed his stomach muscles under high ‘g’ conditions, all his blood would rapidly rush away from his brain and he would black-out. When the pilot is wearing an anti-g suit, pressurised air proportional to the g force rushes into the tubes and compresses the pilot’s abdomen and legs, thus saving the pilot considerable physical effort. Without the help of an anti-‘g’ suit the pilots would rapidly get tired and might even black out.

Can the Red Arrows perform their display in poor weather?

As long as the weather is in limits for a formation of nine aircraft, there are three types of display the Leader can fly: the Full Display; the Rolling Display; and the Flat Display. To carry out a full looping display the base of the cloud must be above 4,500 feet to avoid the aircraft entering the cloud at the top of a loop. If the cloud base is less than 4,500 ft but more than 2,500 ft the Team will perform the Rolling Display, substituting wing-overs and rolls for the loops. If the cloud base is less than 2,500 ft the Team will fly the Flat Display, which consists of a series of fly-pasts and steep turns. People often ask why two, three or four aircraft do not give a display when the weather is too bad for all nine. The answer is that the Team has practised a nine-aircraft display all winter. Any variations from that routine could be dangerous due to lack of planning and practice.

Do the pilots fly lower when the weather is bad?

No, the base height of the display is the same irrespective of the weather conditions. There are three types of display the Leader can fly depending on the weather conditions: the Full Display; the Rolling Display; and the Flat Display. However, due to optical and audio illusions, when the weather is bad people on the ground sometimes get the impression that the aircraft are flying lower than normal. Low cloud reflects the aircraft noise downwards and, by adding to the noise coming directly to your ears, makes the display seem noisier than usual. Similarly, a low cloud base acting as a near backdrop to the display, rather than the limitless blue sky, gives the visual impression that they are lower than normal.

What radio frequencies do the Team use?

We get a lot of enquiries asking for the Red Arrows’ air-to-air frequencies so that members of the public can listen in. Unfortunately, for safety reasons we are unable to publicly release this information. There have been instances in the past where individuals have transmitted on our frequencies during air displays, offering advice. The Team Leader can change his pilots to a new frequency at short notice if necessary but nonetheless such interruptions are obviously extremely dangerous, and illegal.

How many display pilots are there?

Since mid-1966 the team’s display has consisted of nine aircraft, and so there are nine display pilots, including the Team Leader.

Why are there sometimes ten Red Arrows flying?

Red 10 is a fully-qualified Hawk pilot of Squadron Leader rank who flies the 10th aircraft when the Red Arrows deploy to an airfield site away from base. This gives the Team a reserve aircraft at the display site. Also known as the Road Manager, Red 10’s main duties include display co-ordination and acting as the Team’s dedicated Ground Safety Officer during the display season. In constant radio contact with the Team Leader, he attends every display on the ground to fulfil his primary duty of ensuring that conditions are suitable. The Red Arrows will not display until he is certain that the crowd and the pilots are in a totally safe environment. Red 10 is also the Team Commentator and flies TV cameramen and photographers authorised by MOD to take air-to-air shots of the Red Arrows. It requires a highly skilled pilot to fly a cameraman: not only has he to position the camera aircraft in such a way as to provide the best possible platform for pictures, but he has to be able to follow the nine display aircraft safely and smoothly around all the complicated manoeuvres.

What qualifications are needed to join the Team as a pilot?

All Red Arrows’ display pilots are, and always have been, volunteers. Most will tell you that it is a job they had always wanted to do, sometimes from a very early age. Each year the Royal Air Force asks for volunteers from suitably qualified pilots. To be eligible, anyone considering applying must have completed at least one operational tour on a fast jet such as the Typhoon, Tornado, Harrier and Jaguar. Pilots must have been assessed in their annual reports as being above average in their operational role.

How are the pilots selected?

There are always far more volunteers than places available and so a paper pre-selection board reduces the number to a short list of about nine. These nine pilots are then attached to the Red Arrows for a week to undertake a flying test, meet the present Team, fly in the back seat of the Hawks during display practices, and be interviewed. Meeting the high flying standard is the first consideration. However, once this has been achieved, pilots are chosen on their personal qualities. It is vitally important that the nine display pilots not only trust each other’s skills but get on well together. The current pilots make the final choices at a closed meeting chaired by the Team Leader. Unsuccessful candidates can apply again, if they still meet the selection criteria, and they have not failed the flying test during previous applications. The whole process is very democratic and there is no other selection procedure like it in the Royal Air Force.

How long does each pilot stay with the Team?

Normally each of the display pilots stays with the Team for a three-year tour of duty. The reason for this is that by changing three pilots each year the experience level within the Team is optimised: three first year pilots; three second year pilots; and three in their final year. New pilots usually join in September so that they can fly in the back seats with Team for the last few displays of the season.

What happens to Red Arrows' pilots when they have finished their tour of duty with the Team?

Usually they go back to the "front-line" squadrons to resume their main-stream career. Some of the pilots reach a natural break in their Royal Air Force engagement as they leave the Red Arrows and opt to leave the Royal Air Force.

How is the Team Leader chosen?

The Team Leader (of Squadron Leader rank) will always have completed a three-year tour as a Red Arrows’ team pilot earlier in his career. The number of officers qualified for the position of Leader is, therefore, quite limited. The Royal Air Force Personnel Department will offer the job to the officer they feel is most suited to the wide variety of duties expected of the Team Leader. He has the opportunity to refuse the job if he wants: it is not on record whether or not anyone has refused the post!

How are the Synchro Pair pilots chosen?

The Synchro Leader (Red 6) is normally a third year pilot and he is allowed to choose his own Number 2.
Synchro 2 in 2012, Flight Lieutenant Lyndon-Smith, became Synchro Leader for 2013 and he selected Flight Lieutenant McMillan to become Synchro 2 from the first year display pilots in 2012.

What happens if one of the pilots is unable to fly?

If one of the pilots goes sick during the display season, or for any other reason is not able to fly, the Team is able to fly an eight-ship formation. There are no reserve pilots for safety reasons; one spare pilot could not possibly learn all nine positions to the standard required. The pilots always fly in the same position within the formation and it takes an intensive six-month training programme for each pilot to become thoroughly proficient at flying in his position. If the Team fly with one aircraft missing, the Team Leader will adjust the positions of the other pilots to achieve the most pleasing visual effect. Various ‘missing men’ formations are routinely practised during the winter training season.

What happens if the Leader is unable to fly?

If the Leader is unable to fly then the team cannot display. There is no reserve Leader for flying displays.

Why are there no reserve pilots?

The Team spends the six months from October through to April practising for the upcoming Display Season. The pilots always fly in the same position within the formation and it takes all those months for each pilot to become thoroughly proficient at flying in his own position.

Is it possible to contact former team members?

The team cannot give out addresses of private individuals as this would be an infringement of their privacy.

How do the Red Arrows decide where to give displays?

The team, and indeed all other Royal Air Force display assets, are not responsible for selecting events, this is the responsibility of the Royal Air Force Events Team.

How many requests are there every year for displays?

The number varies from year to year, but is generally in the region of 400 requests. There are always far more requests than available dates and for some of the most popular dates, for example the weekends in summer, there are usually several conflicting requests.

How do I request a Red Arrows display?

All bids must be made in writing before the end of September for the following summer. The Red Arrows’ display season generally begins in May and finishes in September each year, and the Team are unable to display outside this period.

There is a £20 administration charge for all military display applications.

If you would like to request a display by the Red Arrows click here for more details.

What about flypasts by the Red Arrows?

Flypasts, with very rare exceptions, are permitted only when The Red Arrows are already in transit close to where the flypast is required. They are not programmed to do any flypast that involves a considerable deviation from the planned route because this would incur extra fuel and aircraft operating costs.

Flypasts are always subject to cancellation at short notice for operational reasons such as weather conditions and Air Traffic Control restrictions.

There is a £20 administration charge for all military display applications.

If you would like to request a flypast from the Red Arrows then please click here for more details.

Are there any occasions where flypasts are not permitted?

We are not permitted to carry out flypast for weddings or funerals.

Where can I obtain Red Arrows souvenirs?

There are several licensed private companies where you can buy Red Arrows merchandise online.

Can I visit the Red Arrows at RAF Scampton?

We do not host public visits to the team, however a small number of visit certificates are issued each year to charities who auction them to raise money. These are only issued for visits during the winter months, contact is made with the named charity to ensure validity and each request is rigorously checked before being authorised.

Requests can be made by e-mailing RAFAT-HQPRO@mod.uk

Can I apply for a passenger flight with the Red Arrows?

No.

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