The highlight of any airshow season is seeing the amazing aerial displays of the RAF’s Red Arrows. Recognised all over the world for their first class complex and daring displays, they are arguably the highest profile pilots the RAF has to offer. Since 1964 the Red Arrows have been entertaining crowds all over the world, but whilst they are the most famous RAF display team, they weren’t the first.
In 1925 for the British Empire Exhibition, seven years after the foundation of the RAF, planes from No. 32 Squadron flew a series of night time displays. Flying in Sopwith Snipe Biplanes, the display consisted of the planes conducting mock dogfights and heavily featured pyrotechnics and explosions. In order for the crowd to be able to see the planes, they were painted red and had white lights attached to the wings. Through the 1930s, squadrons developed their own display teams as part of the Empire Air Day scheme, and competition was fierce between pilots over who could carry out the most daring displays. The Second World War put a pause on displays, but when it finished a new technology would revolutionise RAF displays; the jet engine.
1947 saw No. 72 and 54 Squadrons fly De Havilland Vampires as part of their display teams, with 54 Squadron being the first display team in the RAF to use smoke trails as part of their display. Later the Hawker Hunter would be adopted by some display teams, and in 1956 No. 111 Squadron display team was selected to be the official display team of the RAF. Debuting in France in all black Hawker Hunters, they became known as the Black Arrows. Over the next decade, other display teams such as the Yellowjacks, Red Pelicans and Blue Diamonds would all feature as prominent display teams, flying a number of different aircraft, up until 1964. In 1964 it was decided that individual squadrons were dedicating too much time preparing for displays and not enough time preparing for operational flying. It was decided that the display teams would be amalgamated into one team, which became the Red Arrows.
Since 1964, the Red Arrows have played an important role in the RAF. Not only do they highlight the skills of the RAF pilot, but they also help to continue the tradition of display flying that has existed in the RAF since its foundation. They also play an important role in representing the UK on the global stage. Last year saw the Red Arrows travel to China for the first time as part of a tour they took around Asia, highlighting not only the pilots’ skills, but also the quality of the jets that they fly.