As soon as this weeks challenge was announced as “Close” I already had a photograph in my mind’s eye. It had to be a photograph of the Red Arrows, officially known as the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team. The team was formed in late 1964 as an all-RAF team, replacing a number of unofficial teams that had been sponsored by RAF commands. The Red Arrows badge shows the aircraft in their trademark diamond nine formation, with the motto Éclat, a French word meaning “brilliance” or “excellence”.
Initially, they were equipped with seven Folland Gnat trainers inherited from the RAF Yellowjacks display team. This aircraft was chosen because it was less expensive to operate than front-line fighters. In their first season, they flew at 65 shows across Europe. In 1966, the team was increased to nine members, enabling them to develop their Diamond Nine formation. In late 1979, they switched to the BAE Hawk trainer. The Red Arrows have performed over 4,000 displays worldwide in 53 countries.
The first team, led by Squadron Leader Lee Jones, had seven display pilots and flew the Folland Gnat T1 jet trainer. The first display in the UK was on 6 May 1965 at Little Rissington for a press day. At the subsequent National Air Day display, three days later, at Clermont Ferrand in France, one French journalist described the team as “Les Fleches Rouges“, confirming the name “The Red Arrows”. By the end of their first season, the Red Arrows had displayed 65 times in Britain, France, Italy, Holland, Germany and Belgium and were awarded the Britannia Trophy by the Royal Aero Club for their contribution to aviation.
In 1968, the then Team Leader (Sqn Ldr Ray Hanna) expanded the team from seven to nine jets, as he wanted to expand the team’s capabilities and the permutations of formation patterns. It was during this season that the ‘Diamond Nine’ pattern was formed and it has remained the team’s trademark pattern ever since. Ray Hanna served as Red Leader for three consecutive years until 1968 and was recalled to supersede Squadron Leader Timothy Nelson for the 1969 display season, a record four seasons as Leader which still stands to this day. For his considerable achievements of airmanship with the team, Ray Hanna was awarded a bar to his existing Air Force Cross (AFC).
After displaying 1,292 times in the Folland Gnat, the Red Arrows took delivery of the BAe Hawk in the winter of 1979. Since being introduced into service with the Red Arrows, the Hawk has performed with the Red Arrows in fifty countries. In July 2004 there was speculation in the British media that the Red Arrows would be disbanded, after a defence spending review. The Arrows were not disbanded and their expense has been justified through their public relations benefit and promoting recruitment for the RAF. According to the BBC, it is highly unlikely that the Red Arrows will be disbanded, as they are a considerable attraction throughout the world.
The team use the same two-seat training aircraft used for advanced pilot training, at first the Hawker Siddeley Gnat which was replaced in 1979 by the BAE Hawk T1. The Hawks are modified with an uprated engine and a modification to enable smoke to be generated, diesel is mixed with a coloured dye and ejected into the jet exhaust to produce either red, white or blue smoke.
For further information about the Red arrows visit their official website
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