Video: Red Arrows celebrate their five decades in formation

Red Arrows at Lowestoft Air Festival in 2012. Picture: James Bass Red Arrows at Lowestoft Air Festival in 2012. Picture: James Bass

Monday, August 18, 2014
3:00 PM

They are a great British icon. Streaming red, white and blue across the skyline, the Red Arrows are a quintessential part of the summer skies.

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The Royal Air Force Red Arrows Display Team at RAF Fairford in 2013. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire.The Royal Air Force Red Arrows Display Team at RAF Fairford in 2013. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire.

They are the bill-toppers on national occasions, celebrations and air shows across the UK and the world, and numerous other landmark events.

Among those events, the Red Arrows have been regular guests at Cromer Carnival – where they will again appear on Wednesday – and have also been visitors to the Lowestoft Airshow and other aerial shows in East Anglia over the years.

Incredibly, the Reds are 50 this year and are marking the occasion in style with a new tail-plane to mark the anniversary.

As well as commemorating Royal occasions such as the Queen’s official birthday, the Red Arrows fly over the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, at shows in places such as RAF Waddington, RAF Fairford and the Farnborough International Airshow, Goodwood Festival of Speed, Isle of Man TT, and took part in D-Day 70th anniversary commemorations and the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games.

Red Arrows at Lowestoft Air Festival in 2012. Picture: Nick Butcher.Red Arrows at Lowestoft Air Festival in 2012. Picture: Nick Butcher.

They perform a sequence of spectacular, yet carefully choreographed, displays with names such as diamond roll, palm split, heart, vertical break, mirror pass and vixen rolls.

They are also just as likely to fly over local events and participate in smaller air shows, often en route to bigger events.

Many of the pilots who have occupied one of the nine seats in the world-famous display team over the years are familiar with the terrain over Norfolk, having flown Jaguar and Tornado and served at bases across the county including RAF Coltishall, before it closed in 2006, and more recently pilots from RAF Marham.

All nine Red Arrows display pilots on a three-year tour with the team are fast jet pilots from frontline RAF squadrons, and many have flown combat missions over Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years.

Wing Commander Neil Fraser is the current Officer Commanding and joined in January 2012 while Squadron Leader Jim Turner, 41, is Team Leader. He had previously flown Jaguar GR3A with 41(F) and 54(F) Squadron at RAF Coltishall including flying operational sorties over Northern Iraq, enforcing the ‘no-fly zones’. He was also the RAF’s Jaguar display pilot.

Flight Lieutenant Oliver Parr, 38, who is Red 4, flew Tornado GR4 with 31 Squadron at RAF Marham including tours of Iraq and Afghanistan while Red 5, Flight Lieutenant Steve Morris, 33, was with IX (B) Squadron at RAF Marham and involved in operations over Libya. Red 7, Flight Lieutenant Mark Lawson, 35, was also with IX (B) squadron and has flown missions over Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan.

To apply for selection to the Team, pilots must have a minimum of 1,500 flying hours, completed a frontline tour and be assessed as being above average in their flying role.

A shortlist of nine applicants is examined during a thorough selection week and put through a gruelling flying test, formal interview and peer assessments. Three new pilots are chosen each year to replace the three that have finished their tour.

It was in 1964 when the Royal Air Force amalgamated its display teams into one unit – the Red Arrows. The name was taken from the Black Arrows team and the colour scheme of 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 before increasing to nine display aircraft in 1968 with the Diamond Nine becoming 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.

RAF Scampton – the station famous for its role in the 1943 Dambusters raid – became the Team’s new home in 1983, after moving from RAF Kemble which had been 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.

In 2002, the Red Arrows flew with a British Airways Concorde over London to mark 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 and the 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony.

The 4,500th Red Arrows display took place at the RAF Waddington International Air Show in July 2013, in the Team’s 49th season.

That Team is made up of 120 people, including pilots, engineers and essential support staff and as well as ‘wowing’ the crowds, the Red Arrows also have a ‘corporate’ role which includes representing the RAF, supporting British industry, assisting in defence diplomacy, and aiding recruitment for the UK Armed Forces.

Being part of the Red Arrows is of course not without its risks and over the years there have been a number of accidents and pilots from the team have lost their lives, most recently in 2011 when two members of the team were killed in separate incidents.

While the main display season takes place in the summer, the Red Arrows is a year-round unit with preparations for the following season beginning in October with initial training as well as the aircraft undergoing a winter overhaul.

April and May sees the Team move to RAF Akrotiri, to perfect their display in the better weather of Cyprus and pilots hoping to get a place on the Team are assessed before those selected are awarded Public Display Authority and permission to display in front of the public. At that point the pilots, engineers and support staff are allowed to wear their red and blue flying suits.

During the main May to October display season, the Red Arrows will perform 75-85 displays and more than 100 flypasts at a variety of events. Often the Team will appear at two events a day, sometimes in different parts of the country.

Reds 1 to 5 form the front section of the Team’s formation, known as Enid, and Reds 6 to 9 make up the rear part, called Gypo. The first half of the Red Arrows’ display consists of synchronised, formation aerobatics, followed by a more dynamic second half.

There are three types of display the Team Leader can elect to fly – full, rolling or flat. To carry out a full, looping, display the base of the cloud must be above 5,500ft to avoid the aircraft entering the cloud at the top of the loop. If the cloud base is less than 5,500ft, but more than 2,500ft, the Team will perform the rolling display – substituting wing-overs and rolls for the loops - and when the cloud base is below 2,500ft, the Team will fly the flat display, consisting of a series of flypasts and steep turns.

And while anyone can request a display or flypast by the Team, competition to have the Red Arrows perform is intense with more than 800 requests each year.

The Red Arrows, however, have appeared at Cromer Carnival every year since 1981 as one of the highlights of the carnival day and are expected to fly in at 11am on Wednesday morning this year as the event marks its 45th anniversary.

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