A winter date with the Red Arrows
Welcome to this latest edition of Aerodrome and our regular delve into the fascinating world of aeroplanes and the historic aviation scene in the UK. As this will be our last edition before Christmas, we have been saving something a little bit special for your festive enjoyment – we will be heading down to RAF Scampton, to bring you an exclusive report from an early season visit we made to the home of the world famous Red Arrows. With 2018 marking the centenary of the Royal Air Force, the Red Arrows were going to be even busier than usual in providing their flying tribute to this significant anniversary and even though they were well into their winter training programme, their media and communications teams were hosting a special event for some of their licensee partners, businesses who had already been working hard to produce the multitude of RAF 100 branded products which would be tempting us all throughout this centenary year. I was offered the opportunity to be the Hornby Hobbies representative for the day and trying to disguise my excitement as best as I could, leaving a suitable, reflective pause before giving my answer, I graciously accepted the invitation, knowing that I was already looking at one of the highlights of my RAF centenary year. As you would expect, I was also thinking of our Aerodrome readers and intended to document my visit and allow you all to share in this unexpected early season aviation treat. Join me as I head to the home of the Red Arrows and the opportunity to spend some time with the pilots who would be thrilling millions of spectators during the centenary year of the Royal Air Force.
The pride of Britain
We were lucky enough to have some unseasonably good January weather for our visit to RAF Scampton
In the previous edition of Aerodrome, we featured a trio of display performances from this year’s Royal International Air Tattoo, which marked the French contribution to RAF 100 and brought some real Gallic flair to the flying programme. Setting the aviation bar particularly high, there really is only one way to follow that – by bringing you more flying style, flamboyance and professionalism, but this time with a quintessentially British flavour. As one of the world’s premier aerobatic display teams, the Red Arrows are not only a highlight act on any display programme in which they are scheduled to appear, but also a huge source of pride for the entire nation, as they continue to serve as airborne ambassadors for Britain the world over. As such, the distinctive British Aerospace Hawk T.1 trainers which have been used by the team since 1979 are now amongst the most famous aeroplanes in the history of British aviation and would be required to play a significant role in the centenary commemorations of the Royal Air Force during 2018. With a busy display schedule ahead of them, most aviation enthusiasts would not be enjoying their first sight of the team until the Airshow season gets underway, however, the Red Arrows will have already completed many months of intensive training by that point, work which begins in the depths of a British winter. On a cold, but bright January morning, I was given the opportunity to visit RAF Scampton for an exclusive licensee event day, where we would be afforded access to the aircraft and pilots of the Red Arrows, as they continued their winter training work up towards achieving their 2018 Public Display Authority. The Aerodrome team are pleased to bring this overview of what proved to be a very memorable day.
The reason for this early season visit was to allow companies with existing product licences to have a day getting close to the Red Arrows and to hopefully obtain some interesting placement shots
Heading for RAF Scampton in the middle of January was something I really didn’t think I would ever be doing. As Britain was enduring a period of extremely wintery weather at the time, surely this special event would only comprise of a tour of the Red Arrows facilities and if we were really lucky, perhaps the chance to meet members of the 2018 team. Even though they were already well into their winter training schedule, I was certainly not expecting to see any flying activities during my visit. On the journey down, there definitely appeared to be a break in the weather, but even so, wouldn’t this be a little too early in the year for the team to be formation flying? Arriving early and sitting in the car park waiting for my base escort, it did not take long for me to receive my answer, in classic Red Arrows style – performing under clear blue Lincolnshire skies, the Synchro Pair were going through their early season paces and immediately raised my excitement levels to fever pitch. The day itself had been arranged to allow businesses who work with the Red Arrows from a product licencing perspective, to experience a behind the scenes look at a normal working day at RAF Scampton and obtain some unique Red Arrows related content in support of their continuing working relationship. With safety being of paramount consideration, the first duty of the day was for the visiting group to be briefed on the coming day’s activities in the Red Arrows crew room, which was made all the more surreal by the fact that not only were we surrounded by all manner of fascinating historic Red Arrows memorabilia, but we were also joined by Squadron Leader Adam Collins, the new ‘Red 10’ Squadron Supervisor for the 2018 display season – what an early season treat.
Hallowed aviation ground. For most of us, this was the first time we had ever been allowed into the inner sanctum of the famous Red Arrows and there were plenty of sights to engage our fascination. This board included details of the current team, along with previous leaders of this illustrious group
Break, Break, Go! Another practice sortie completed, so it is back to the crew room for debrief and perhaps a quick cup of tea
Even the taking of refreshment is done with style when you are a member of the Red Arrows – make sure your cup is in the right slot though
Throughout the briefing, the sound of aircraft displaying above the airfield outside was proving to be a major distraction for the excited visitors and as soon as we were offered the opportunity to do so, we were led out to a designated viewing area to watch the main formation of seven aircraft recover to the airfield and taxy back to their dispersal positions. Supported by their ground crews, the team members climbed out of their famous Hawks and made their way back to the crew room, for a full debrief of their latest sortie, as they continue perfecting their display routine for the coming year. Walking past us in their flying suits and distinctive Red Arrows helmets, most of the pilots took the time to say hello to our group and left us all wondering if it was possible for a human being to be any cooler than these guys were. That being said, this is a serious business and with the recent bad weather adversely affecting their flying opportunities, there really was no time to waste - the Best of the Best work extremely hard to maintain the standards of this famous team.
You have to wear green, before you can earn red
Back on base. The Red Arrows which had just taken part in one of the first seven ship formations of the year, head for the debrief room, to discuss their performance
As if it were not special enough being present at RAF Scampton during a Red Arrows practice day, our hosts were more than happy to answer any of our questions relating to the team’s activities, the answers to which provided a fascinating insight into their winter training schedule – this period of intensive work for the team is something most enthusiasts probably never actually consider. One of the most striking features of the team’s flying attire on the day was the fact that they were all wearing normal green RAF flying suits and not in their trademark red suits we are all so familiar with. It appears that wearing the distinctive red flying suits throughout the display season is much more symbolic than originally meets the eye. The pilots are only allowed to wear the red suits once the team have been granted their Public Display Authority and as we quickly came to understand during the day, there will be many months of green suit flying before this is achieved. Apparently, this a little team superstition which has been continued by successive Red Arrows groups over the years. Indeed, despite my initial misconception that this was perhaps a little early in the year for practice display sorties, the Red Arrows actually begin their winter training programme at the end of October and gradually work up to flying three sorties each day, Monday to Friday, weather permitting.
Clearly, the weather will always have a significant impact on the winter training programme of Red Arrows, particularly as this schedule covers all the months where Britain traditionally suffers its worst period of weather and it is inevitable that flight operations will suffer disruption as a result. This is where the team’s home airfield at Scampton offers a significant flight operations benefit, by allowing the team a certain degree of flexibility when planning practice sorties. As the team do not share the airfield with any other flying unit and the skies around Scampton are subject to strict flying restrictions, they can often take advantage of even the smallest improvements in weather conditions, ensuring they maximise any available opportunities for flying time – this famous old airfield is completely focused around Red Arrows operations. This is a crucial benefit, as the team will be required to fly around 150 practice sorties before they are in a position to attempt to gain their coveted Public Display Authorisation.
Although the pilot’s minds were firmly focused on the job at hand, for the enthusiast, there were iconic Red Arrows images to be found everywhere
Team leader Squadron Leader Martin Pert heads for the briefing room, with yet another practice sortie to discuss – he does look quite happy!
These pilots really are the best of the best and they will already be discussing their thoughts on how the latest sortie went, before the team meet in the briefing room
The first flights in any winter training schedule will usually consist of multiple sorties by relatively small formations of aircraft, with others gradually joining the formation until the trademark nine Hawks are flying just feet apart from one another. The dynamic Synchro Pair, who perform the thrilling opposition manoeuvres during a Red Arrows display will mount numerous sorties on their own, before joining the main formation much later in the schedule, as they work hard to perfect this dynamic and extremely demanding routine. All this flying ensures that on a good day, the skies above Scampton can be rather busy with little red aeroplanes, with the sight of the RAF’s most famous jets perfecting their displays several times each day. All this intensive training is required despite the fact that these airmen are amongst the most proficient of their craft anywhere in the world and usually, only a small number of new team members will be added to any Red Arrows line up in preparation for a forthcoming display season. There is always a significant level of team continuity with the Red Arrows, a feature which is necessary to maintain the high standards demanded by the world’s premier aerobatic team. On the day of our visit in mid-January, the team’s flying activities had been disrupted by bad weather earlier in the month, so the fine conditions which prevailed on the day resulted in a full flying schedule involving all nine jets. When the Synchro Pair were flying, the other pilots were either in debrief, or preparing for their next formation sortie. When the Synchro Pair landed and headed for their own debrief, the main formation pilots headed out to their aircraft and embarked on their latest practice flight. During the day, we were lucky enough to see manoeuvres flown by seven jets in formation and were told that this was only the third or fourth time that this many aircraft had flown together in 2018.
Maintaining a proud tradition
Preparing for another sortie. The break in the winter weather allowed the team to have a full day of flying, which meant the pilots were in for an extremely busy day
The winter training schedule at Scampton continued until the end of February, with the team flying every day, as long as the weather permitted, by which time, they will be ready to fly their first nine-ship formation practices, a significant development in their preparations for the coming display season. This will also usually signify a significant change of venue for the team, as they head out to Greece in April, for a further period of intensive training, where the Mediterranean climate is more conducive to uninterrupted flying operations and even more intensive period of practice sorties. Before the Red Arrows can return to Scampton, their winter training schedule will have culminated with the award of their Public Display Authority and the green light on their latest display season. When they arrive back in the UK, the Red Arrows will be ready to thrill the world with their iconic display routine, which comprises graceful formation manoeuvres, dynamic opposition passes and thrilling breaks. They will be extremely busy in the months which follow, particularly as they will be the headline act in this centenary year of the Royal Air Force.
Our January visit to RAF Scampton proved to be a real early season bonus, made all the more enjoyable by the fact that it all took place under unseasonably clear Lincolnshire skies. In a day crammed full of highlights, perhaps the most memorable feature was the opportunity to sit in the hallowed aviation ground of the Red Arrows debrief room, whilst the team evaluated the practice display we had all just enjoyed. This was something I never thought I would be lucky enough to experience in person and as an aviation enthusiast of many years standing, certainly rank this as possibly the most memorable twenty minutes of my life. Throughout their winter training schedule, each individual sortie flown by the team is filmed from the ground by an experienced member of the support team, allowing the leader to hold an evaluation session after each flight, where he and the team assess every aspect of the sortie from the perspective of each team member. We were warned beforehand that the pilot’s comments can sometimes be rather critical, as each team member will shout out any formation positioning inaccuracies they see, as they review each individual manoeuvre. Terms such as ‘Off it, late, short, long and safety’ are shouted out whilst they watch the film, with each member later given the opportunity to offer a more robust observation of the sortie towards the end of the debrief. Interestingly, whilst in the debrief room, each member of the team is simply referred to by their positioning number in the formation, but once they emerge from the meeting, it is back to their usual nicknames. No matter how critical they were of their own performance, it certainly looked impressive from the ground.
Something I thought I would never be lucky enough to see, the inside of the Red Arrows debrief room, particularly as it was being used by the team to discuss their latest practice sortie
Squadron Leader Pert leads the team through the debrief, whilst their unexpected guests sit very quietly at the back of the room
A model sortie. Despite the pressures of the day, team members were only too happy to oblige with a few Red Arrows product placement shots
The Red Arrows headed into this important centenary year of the Royal Air Force by welcoming some new faces to their line-up, whilst retaining the core of the team from 2017. The new Team Leader ‘Red 1’ for 2018 was Squadron Leader Martin Pert, who is a former team member and brings a wealth of display flying experience to the position, having previously flown in positions 2, 4 and 8 with the Reds. He welcomed two new pilots to the team this year, Flight Lieutenant Jon Bond and Flight Lieutenant David Stark, both of whom successfully negotiated one of the most rigorous selection processes in world aviation to be able to proudly call themselves Red Arrows pilots They would take positions 2 and 3 respectively. Tragically, Flt Lt Stark was involved in a serious incident at RAF Valley later in the year and his place would eventually be taken in the team by former Red Arrows pilot Sqn Ldr Mike Ling, the man who previously served as Red 10 for six seasons. My visit to Scampton came before the tragic incident at RAF Valley in March and on behalf of the entire Hornby Hobbies team, I would like to extend our deepest sympathy and sincere condolences to all those who were affected, as well as to the entire Red Arrows family.
New faces in this famous team for 2018
Squadron Leader Martin Pert would be leading the Red Arrows during the significant centenary year of the Royal Air Force, which will not be a bad entry on his glittering aviation CV
As the new Red 10 for the 2018 season, Squadron Leader Adam Collins would be very much in the Red Arrows spotlight during this important year for the Royal Air Force
For the 2018 season, there was also another significant new face joining the team, as Squadron Leader Adam Collins became the new ‘Red 10’,the demanding role of the team’s high profile Supervisor. Adam was destined to become arguably the most recognised personality in British aviation during the coming year and would certainly be the most visible and approachable member of the Red Arrows team, particularly as his role include providing the popular commentary at displays all over the country. Although Adam has never previously flown as a member of the Red Arrows, he has a wealth of Hawk experience under his belt, having previously commanded RAF No.100 Squadron in the exciting role of providing Aggressor support for Royal Air Force fast jet and helicopter squadrons. Adam also spent an exciting three years on exchange with the Royal Australian Air Force, where he was fortunate enough to fly the mighty General Dynamics F-111C strike fighter, before it was withdrawn from service.
For anyone with even the slightest interest in aviation, the opportunity to spend a day in the company of the Red Arrows is something most would jump at and would give you significant bragging rights the next time you had friends round for dinner. For someone who has seen the team perform at hundreds of shows over the years, including when they were still using the Gnat trainer in their displays, this day proved to be something of a dream come true and a day which will live long in my memory. The media team who hosted the visit were absolutely magnificent, ensuring this was a safe, yet truly memorable occasion, as well as assisting us all in obtain the pictures and interview opportunities we were all hoping for at the start of the day. We would like to sincerely thank everyone involved for making this such a fantastic occasion.
The unusual sight of two additional Hawk trainers joining the Red Arrows team, or was this just a case of Corgi wishful thinking?
An iconic shot of the famous Red Arrows, as the team continued their winter preparations for the 2018 display season – what a fantastic day
As the Red Arrows look forward to their historic 55th display season in 2019, it has recently been announced that the team will embark on a high profile nine week tour of North America from August next year. With their usual style, they will showcase the professionalism of today’s modern Royal Air Force and undoubtedly earn the team a new army of admirers in the process, whilst at the same time, helping secure significant future overseas investment for British companies. The appearance of their famous red Hawk trainers at events across Canada and the US will highlight the effectiveness of this superb aircraft, which has been in Royal Air Force service since 1976 and the mount of the Red Arrows since their 1980 display season. Flying the flag for Britain, the Red Arrows are a team we can all be proud of, truly the Best of British.
I am afraid that is all we have for you in this latest edition of Aerodrome, however, we will be back in two weeks’ time with the Review Edition of our blog. As this will be the final edition of our blog before Christmas, may I please take this opportunity to wish everyone a very Happy Christmas from all of us at Hornby Hobbies. We would like to thank you for your support throughout 2018 and we look forward to bringing you more aviation goodness in 2019.
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