Winter training for the Red Arrows is well underway as the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team gradually prepares for its 2019 display season.
The training began during October and, since then, each element of the nine-jet formation has been carrying out its initial training and basic routines.
This uses a building block approach, which safely takes the team from flying with smaller groups of three or four aircraft, before moving on to more complex collections of between five and seven jets and then, finally, progressing to the full nine-ship in the New Year.
Depending on weather and other factors, each pilot can fly up to 15 times a week.
November was the first full month of winter training and was a particularly busy period for Reds 1-5, known as Enid, and the Synchro Pair – Reds 6 and 7.
When the weather allows, Enid have been conducting loops and rolls and, during less-favourable conditions, high-banked turns.
Those pilots new to the team this year are constantly trying to strive for the perfect positioning, either side of Red 1, the Team Leader, who is at the front of the Enid formation.
Having reached a stage where a three or four-ship was deemed safe, the pilots flew the same profiles with all five Enid aircraft. This was a significant milestone in the winter training timeline.
Synchro have made a lot of progress. Their focus, at the beginning of winter training, is on opposition passes.
With closing speeds of more than 700mph, these moves form some of the most dynamic parts of a Red Arrows display. The opposition passes in a display are flown at a minimum 100ft miss distance, or separation.
To gauge the distance, the Synchro Pair initially fly using the runway at RAF Scampton – the Red Arrows’ home base – as a distance guide. The runway is about 200ft-wide
When satisfied with that, it is Red 7’s job to move closer-in, down to a minimum of 100ft.
Red 6, Flight Lieutenant Toby Keeley, said: “It is an honour for me to be Synchro Leader this year – the flying is so dynamic, challenging and rewarding.
“I am happy with the progression we have made in November but we have a long way to go in the months to come.
“Weather is, of course, always a factor but particularly at this time of year. One day can be cold yet clear – allowing a full flying programme – and other days can see thick-fog or only limited training.
“It’s all about remaining focussed and working with our operations staff and engineers to maximise those opportunities, to gradually progress with the training.”
As part of their training, the Syncho add to the complexity of the manoeuvres. This includes working on moves such as Vice-Versa, which has a 300ft miss distance.
It involves Red 6 flying inverted, as they head towards one another. The pair will then change at the crossing point and Red 7 will fly inverted.
Reds 8 and 9 – among the most experienced pilots in the team – have also carried some initial sorties. They complete the rear section of the formation, Reds 6-9.
While traditionally not starting their own winter training until a short time after the others, Reds 8 and 9 have been assisting the new team pilots by sitting in on pre-sortie briefings and post-flight debriefs – adding crucial guidance and useful tips.
They have also spent some time in the back seat of the Hawk aircraft during sorties, allowing the new pilots to obtain instant feedback.
Flying for 2018 will finish on December 20, to allow a break for Christmas and the New Year period.
Pre-season training is likely to conclude in May, before the 2019 season begins.