The 1950s and 1960s were the heyday of Royal Air Force jet aerobatic display teams. By the mid-60s almost every Flying Training School, and several operational squadrons, had their own teams. So much time, effort and money was being expended on these non-established tasks that the Royal Air Force eventually decided to disband them all and form a single, full-time professional team. Thus, in 1964, the Red Pelicans flying six Jet Provost T Mk 4s became the first team to represent the Royal Air Force as a whole. In that same year a team of five yellow Folland Gnat jet trainers, known as the Yellowjacks, was formed at No 4 Flying Training School at Royal Air Force Valley in north Wales, led by Flight Lieutenant Lee Jones. The following year Jones was posted to the Central Flying School (CFS) to form the Red Arrows. The Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team (RAFAT), the formal name of the Red Arrows, began life at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, then a satellite of CFS. Initially there were seven display pilots and ten Gnat jet trainers. The name ‘Red Arrows’ was chosen to combine the appeal and expertise of two earlier teams, the famous Black Arrows and the Red Pelicans.
Red Arrows' first display season!
In their first season, 1965, the Red Arrows flew 65 displays in Britain, France, Italy, Holland, Belgium and Germany, and the Team was awarded the Britannia Trophy by the Royal Aero Club in recognition of its outstanding contribution to British prestige in the field of aviation. When the Royal Air Force decided to retain the Team for 1966, two spare pilots were established but the Team continued to fly just seven aircraft in most displays. The first display with 9 pilots was in July 1966 for the benefit of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. The practice of carrying spare pilots proved unsatisfactory because the display was so specialised that each position had its own demands. To be of any use at all, the spare pilots had to be capable of filling any position at very short notice. Thus, they required more training than any other member of the team and, as a result, became more skilled. Not surprisingly the spares became dissatisfied with their roles as reserves.
The Red Arrows flew nine aircraft in displays from time to time from mid-1966 onwards, but it was not until 1968 that the Team was officially increased in size to nine. Although there was nothing new in flying nine aircraft in a diamond-shaped formation, the Red Arrows’ perfectly symmetrical Diamond Nine quickly came to represent the peak of precision flying and it was eventually registered as an official trade mark.
The Hawk arrives...
The Red Arrows took delivery of the British Aerospace Hawk trainer in the autumn of 1979 and during that winter the pilots converted from the Gnat and worked up a display using the new aeroplane in time for the 1980 display season. Since being introduced into service with the Red Arrows, the Hawk has taken the Team on tours of eastern and western Europe, the USA and Canada, the Middle and Far East, Africa, the former Soviet Union and Australia. The 4000th display flown in the Hawk was at Royal Air Force Leuchars' Battle of Britain Airshow in September 2006.
Since the Team’s creation in 1965, the Red Arrows have flown over 4,000 displays in 52 countries. Today the Red Arrows are renowned throughout the world, acting as ambassadors for Great Britain when displaying overseas. They also support UK industry by demonstrating the capabilities of British equipment and expertise.