All 11 Red Arrows display pilots are fast jet pilots from front line Royal Air Force squadrons.
Once they have finished their three-year tour with the team they will return to their Royal Air Force duties.
How did they become Red Arrows pilots?
RAF pilots must meet these criteria to apply for selection to the Red Arrows:
- Have a minimum of 1,500 flying hours
- Have completed a front line tour
- Be assessed as being above average in their flying role
A shortlist of nine applicants are examined during a thorough selection week, and are put through a gruelling flying test, formal interview and peer assessments.
Up to three new pilots are chosen each year to replace the three that have finished their tour. The Team Leader must have completed a three-year tour as a team pilot earlier in his career, and is appointed in a separate selection process.
It is the hard work of the team’s support personnel that keep the Red Arrows flying.
The teamwork shown by the pilots in the air is reflected in the dedication and professionalism of the support staff on the ground. The support team’s success results from their Royal Air Force training, the pride they take in their work, and their determination, motivation, and, very often, sheer hard work. Without them, the Red Arrows could not function.
This team is made up of a Team Manager, a Public Relations Manager, Aircrew Planning Officer, Operations Officer, Engineering Officers, an Adjutant and approximately 85 engineering technicians and other support staff.
The latter are known as ‘The Blues’ because they wear distinctive royal blue flying suits during the display season. The Blues represent nine out of the Royal Air Force’s broad range of more than 65 technical and non-technical trades. Every team member has undergone intensive training in their particular specialisation throughout their Royal Air Force career.
Ten aircraft engineering technicians and one photographer are chosen to form a team known as the Circus.
Circus members are each allocated to a specific pilot for the duration of the summer display season.
They fly in the passenger seat of the Hawk to and from display airfields and service the aircraft before and after every display. Once the display season is over, they return to their normal team duties.
The unique experience of flying regularly in a fast-jet means that these are some of the most sought-after engineering and technical jobs in the Royal Air Force.
Engineering - 'The Blues'
The Red Arrows 100 engineering technicians and engineering support staff are headed by a Senior Engineering Officer, who along with his management team of two Flight Lieutenants, a Warrant Officer and a Flight Sergeant, are responsible for ensuring that the correct number of aircraft are available for the pilots during both the display and training seasons, and that the aircraft undergo the appropriate servicing and maintenance. They are responsible for engineering standards and safety, and the welfare of the Red Arrows' engineering team.
Mechanical technicians make up two thirds of the Red Arrows’ engineering team and are responsible for the maintenance and rectification of the Team’s BAE Systems Hawk T1 aircraft. The mechanics look after the complete range of mechanical components and structure of the aircraft including the engines, gearboxes, flying controls, landing gear, hydraulics, air conditioning, anti-icing and fuel systems – everything from the smallest nut and bolt to the wings.
The Red Arrows have 14 avionics technicians who are responsible for all the electrical and avionics systems on the aircraft. They maintain equipment ranging from emergency compasses to complex engine control circuits, as well as introducing upgrades such as new radio systems and engine performance monitoring equipment.
The smallest of the Red Arrows’ three engineering trades, the weapons technicians are responsible for the maintenance and control of the explosive components and survival equipment fitted to the Hawk aircraft. The team work on the aircraft’s ejection seats, explosive canopies and fire suppression and emergency systems.
Responsibility for ensuring spare parts get to the Red Arrows wherever they are operating throughout the world falls upon the five-strong supply team. They also ensure that the team’s transport, whether it is an RAF Airbus A400M Atlas aircraft or an articulated lorry, are correctly loaded. All of the thousands of pieces of equipment that help the Red Arrows work smoothly – everything from nuts and bolts to aircraft engines – are purchased, stored, managed and distributed by the suppliers.
The Red Arrows have eight drivers who are responsible for a fleet of 18 vehicles, from 38-tonne trucks to Land Rovers. A vital part of the team, they ensure all the equipment and personnel reaches the right place as well as ensuring the aircraft are refuelled and replenished with the diesel needed for the smoke systems.
Survival Equipment Technicians
The team has three Survival Equipment Technicians who maintain all elements of the pilots’ safety kit. This specialist equipment includes helmets, anti-G trousers, life rafts, oxygen masks and parachutes.
Without one of the team’s photographers, the Red Arrows would not be able to display. There are three in the team. Their role is crucial for safety and training purposes and one of the three-strong section videos every manoeuvre of the display from the ground – both during winter training and the summer season. They also take still images for the team, capturing pictures of the jets in action around the world, in the air and on the ground.
Engineering Support Flight
Engineering Support Flight (ESF) is responsible for maintaining quality assurance, standards, support, records and training. The section has a mixture of regular and reserve personnel of various ranks. Support and training is pinnacle within the Red Arrows, ensuring safety and compliance in the air and on the ground, regardless of trade or rank.
Interested in joining the RAF?
Find out more about these and other unique and rewarding roles in the RAF:
The Red Arrows are famous for their vibrant vapour trails - often known as the smoke. They are a crucial element of the team's displays, primarily for flight safety. The vapour trails allow Red 1 to judge wind speed and direction, and allow the aircraft to locate each other in the second half of the show when different sections of the formation are frequently several miles apart. The vivid and colourful smoke trails also enhance the visual impact of the display when viewed from the ground. Well known manoeuvres such as the heart, rollbacks and carousel would just not be the same without it.
The Red Arrows have a dedicated Dye team who ensure the aircraft are replenished with the correct amount of diesel and dye. These engineers travel all over the country, working within tight timescales to ensure that when Red 1 makes the call it is "Smoke on, Go!"
During the winter season, two of the team are busy servicing all of the aircraft's smoke pods and throughout Exercise Springhawk, the Dye Team consolidate all their skills, working together to ensure they are ready for a busy display.
How the smoke is created
The basic vapour colour is white, produced by injecting diesel into the hot exhaust from the jet engine. This reaches temperatures of over 400 degrees Celsius and vaporises immediately. The blue and red colours are made by mixing dye with the diesel. The dye and diesel is stored in a specially-modified pod fitted to each of the aircraft. The pilot releases the liquid by pushing One of three buttons on the control column. During the display each aircraft can produce smoke for a maximum duration of seven minutes. This gives the pilot five minutes of white smoke, and one minute each of red and blue smoke. For this reason, a ‘smoke plot’ is worked out extremely carefully to ensure that no aircraft runs out of smoke before the end of the display.
Filling the pods
Replenishing the diesel/dye mixture is done in two separate operations. First, the pressure which has built up in the centreline pod is released. Then, diesel is fed into the correct valve at the front of the centreline pod from a diesel bowser. There are no indicators to show when the diesel section of the pod is full – a technician is stationed at the rear of the pod to watch carefully for white vapour emitting from the vent pipe. Once the vapour is seen, the call of “It’s Gone” is given and the technician in charge of the feeder pipe connected to the front of the pod turns the diesel supply off and shouts “White’s Off”.
Replenishing the coloured dye/diesel mix is supervised particularly carefully to ensure the right colour mix is fed into the correct section of the pod. The most crucial piece of equipment for the team’s work is the dye rig, which contains the dye/diesel mixture. Every display uses one barrel of red dye and one of blue dye, which are then topped up with diesel. The team always fill the two colours in the same order to prevent confusion; red then blue. One technician operates the flow buttons on the dye rig, one connects the pipe to the valve at the front of the pod and one checks for the level at the rear of the pod. The call goes out “Red On”, followed by “Pumping Red”, at which point the dye rig operator presses the button to start the replenishment process. Again, there is no dial or gauge to show when the pod is full, and so the technicians have developed their own method of ensuring that the coloured liquid does not overflow. The only way to tell how full the pod is to press your ear up against the back of the pod to hear when the valve begins to quietly ‘chatter’ - quite difficult on a noisy airfield! Again, the urgent call of “It’s gone” is followed by “Red Off” from both the dye rig operator and the pipe connector. The whole process is then repeated for the blue mixture.
As you can imagine, the job of replenishing the dye and diesel can be a messy one! The dye is not easily removed if it stains skin and clothing. In order to protect the technicians against spillage, the Dye team wear special protective silver overalls, thick gloves and goggles. Because of their protective qualities, the suits get extremely warm! Next time you watch the team replenishing diesel and dye on a hot summer’s day, spare a thought for the hardworking Dye team.
Since flying the first time in 1965, the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team has performed almost 4,900 times across the globe. The Red Arrows are lucky to have both a wonderful history and the support and interest of millions of well-wishers.
It was in 1964 when the Royal Air Force amalgamated its display teams into one, premier unit – the Red Arrows. The name was taken from the Black Arrows team and the colour scheme as a tribute to the Red Pelicans, while the aircraft chosen to be flown, the Gnat, had been used by the Yellowjacks.
In the first season of 1965, the team – flying seven aircraft in a display and based at RAF Fairford – performed 65 shows. A media event at RAF Little Rissington on May 6 was the team’s first official display, with the first public performance in the UK on May 15 at Biggin Hill Air Fair. The team permanently increased to nine display aircraft in 1968 and the Diamond Nine became the Red Arrows’ trademark formation.
The Gnat, which had flown 1,292 displays, was replaced by the BAE Systems Hawk, a modified version of the RAF’s fast jet and weapons trainer, for the 1980 season. Also that year, permission was given for the team to have the motto Eclat – meaning excellence.
RAF Scampton – the station famous for its role in the 1943 Dambusters raid – became the team’s new home in 1983, moving from RAF Kemble – its base since 1966. Apart from a period at RAF College Cranwell between 1995 and 2000, the Lincolnshire station has been the Red Arrows’ permanent home ever since.
During the team’s world tour of October 1995 to February 1996, the Red Arrows performed to nearly a million people in Sydney on Australia Day.
In 2002, the Red Arrows flew with a British Airways Concorde over London to mark Her Majesty The Queen’s Golden Jubilee.
A decade later, the Red Arrows performed another series of flypasts over the capital, for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony – seen by a global television audience in excess of one billion people – and the Athlete’s Parade.
The 4,500th Red Arrows display took place at the RAF Waddington International Air Show in July 2013 – in the team’s 49th season and the year concluded with a highly-successful tour of the Middle East.
In 2014, the 50th display season was marked as a major milestone with a series of celebrations throughout the year. The Red Arrows were the main feature and theme of the year’s airshows. There were also television and radio documentaries, magazines produced and even a high speed train named after the team.
A special, one-off, tailfin was revealed on the team to recognise the anniversary season, with the design incorporating both a Gnat and Hawk jet outline to reflect the two types of aircraft flown by the team in its history.
For the 2015 season, instead of returning to the traditional three-stripe tailfin livery used since the 1960s, a fresh new paint scheme was revealed on the jets during a live television broadcast from RAF Scampton. This Union flag-inspired design features flowing red, white and blue lines and emphasises the Red Arrows’ role as national ambassadors for the United Kingdom.
In September 2016, after a busy domestic season, the team embarked on its biggest overseas tour in a decade. The nine-week deployment to the Asia-Pacific and Middle East regions covered 20,000 miles. The tour took the Red Arrows to 17 countries – including visiting China for the first time in the Squadron’s history. It is estimated the team’s activities were seen by a global audience, in person or through media channels, of up to one billion people. The deployment contributed to the Government’s GREAT campaign, supporting UK interests across business, trade and education and promoting the best of British innovation, technology and creativity.
For 2018, the Red Arrows spearheaded celebrations marking the Royal Air Force's centenary - including providing the colourful finale to a flypast of more than 100 aircraft over central London in July of that year.
In 2019, the team carried out its largest-ever tour of North America, spanning 11 weeks, and performing for tens of millions of people.