Cooch Memorial Lecture, Tuesday 12th November 2013 – “The Red Arrows ” by Mr Dudley Hooley, Director, Tangmere Military Aviation Museum.
Dudley introduced his talk by saying that he would cover a bit of the history of aerobatics in the RAF, then look at today’s Red Arrows.
History: Up to the early 30’s RAF aerobatics was generally performed at RAF Pageants with teams selected from frontline squadrons.
In 1932 43(F) Squadron, at the time the ‘best’ RAF squadron, went to the Henley Air Show flying three Hawker Fury aircraft. These were tied together with ribbon throughout the display i.e. from take-off, aerobatic routines then landing!! By 1936 No 1 Squadron flying the Hawker Fury Mk 11 also gained a reputation for aerobatics, giving displays throughout the United Kingdom. They also flew at the Zurich International Air Meeting in July 1937.
In 1954 111 Squadron flying Hawker Hunters formed a display team named the Black Arrows, who became the RAFs premier aerobatic demonstration team. This team became the first to fly a five-Hunter formation. In 1958 at the Society of British Aircraft Constructors’ show at Farnborough the Black Arrows executed a loop of 22 Hawker Hunter formation. This was a world record for the greatest number of aircraft looped in formation, and remains unbroken to this day. After the loop the Black Arrows performed the world’s first 16 aircraft barrel roll.
The Black Arrows remained the RAF’s premier team up to 1961 when the Blue Diamonds of No 92 Squadron continued their role, flying sixteen blue Hunters.
In the early years of the 1960s The Blue Diamonds of 92 Squadron, the Tigers of 74 Squadron and the Firebirds of 56 Squadron, equipped with the new English Electric Lightning, started flying. By the mid-60s almost every Flying Training School, and several operational squadrons, had their own teams.
In 1964, the Red Pelicans flying six Jet Provost T Mk 4s became the first team to represent the Royal Air Force. Also in 1964 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.
So much time, effort and money was being expended on these non-operational tasks that the Royal Air Force eventually decided to disband them all and form a single, full-time professional team. In 1965 the Central Flying School (CFS) formed the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team (RAFAT), the formal name of the Red Arrows. The name ‘Red Arrows’ was chosen to combine the appeal and expertise of two earlier teams, the famous Black Arrows and the Red Pelicans. The Red Arrows: Initially there were seven display pilots and ten Gnat jet trainers and in their first season the Red Arrows flew 65 displays. 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.
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 diamondshaped 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.
In 1979 the Red Arrows took delivery of the British Aerospace Hawk trainer and during that winter the pilots converted from the Gnat and worked up a display using the new Hawk for the 1980 display season. Since the Team’s creation in 1965, the Red Arrows have flown over 4,000 displays in 52 countries.
During displays, the aircraft do not fly directly over the crowd apart from entering the display area by flying over the crowd from behind; any manoeuvres in front of and parallel to the audience can be as low as 300 feet, the ‘synchro pair’ can go as low as 100 feet straight and level, or 150 feet when in inverted flight. To carry out a full looping display the cloud base must be above 4,500 feet to avoid the team entering the cloud while looping If the cloud base is less than 4,500 ft but more than 2,500 ft the Team will perform the Rolling Display, substituting wing-overs and rolls for the loops. If the cloud base is less than 2,500 ft the Team will fly the Flat Display, which consists of a series of fly-pasts and steep turns.
During an aerobatics display, Red Arrows pilots experience forces up to five times that of gravity (1g), and when performing the aerobatic manoeuvre ‘Vixen Break’, forces up to 7g can be reached, close to the 8g structural limit of the aircraft.
The Pilots: Pilots, all volunteers, must have completed one or more operational tours on a fast jet such as the Tornado, Harrier or Jaguar, have accumulated at least 1,500 flying hours and have been assessed as above average in their operational role to be eligible. Pilots stay with the Red Arrows for a three-year tour of duty. Three pilots are changed every year, such that there are always three first year pilots, three second year pilots, and three in their final year. In 2010 their first female display pilot Flt Lt Kirsty Moore joined the Red Arrows.
Each pilot always flies the same position in a formation. The pilots spend six months from October to April practicing for the display season. Pilots wear green flying suits during training, and are only allowed to wear their red flying suits when fully qualified.
The team undertake winter training in the UK then travel to Cyprus in the spring (to take advantage of the good weather) to work up to display standard and gain their Public Display Authority (PDA).
Ejection Seats and Accidents and Incidents: Dudley then covered the use of Ejection Seats, from the early ones that used a solid propellant charge to eject the seat, to the latest rocket powered seats that can be used when the aircraft is on the ground. He then discussed several accidents and incidents, some of which unfortunately resulted in fatalities, along with their likely causes.