Since their inception in 1964, their rigorous training techniques, attention to detail and pursuit of excellence has made the Red Arrows the iconic global British brand it is today. We caught up with them at home in Lincolnshire.
As an official sponsor to the team I recently had the pleasure of visiting them at their new home at RAF Waddington. I’m pleased to share the experience and some of the interesting things I learned from my behind the scenes vantage point.
I was joined by my guests:
Katherine Moloney – Department for Transport Ambassador. Director of Transair Flight Equipment
Sarah Nadia – Flyer Magazine & Pilot @the.flyingmum
Paul Biddles – Aviation Photographer, Wings Magazine @paulbiddles
Simon & Dominic Parr (competition winner)
Like you, I am used to seeing the team at their absolute best in the air or on the ground at airshows across the UK and internationally. This visit however caught the team in what is known as the ‘work-up’. A period of time between seasons where all the display pilots and support staff go through rigorous training ahead of a ‘test display’ that should grant them PDA, Public Display Authority.
Our day began at an ice cold RAF Scampton, the former home of the Red Arrows, where we were met with blue skies, sunshine and our host for the day, Team Manager, Squadron Leader Doug Smith.
Here we observed Red 6 & 7, AKA the Synchro Pair, practising a very specific part of their work up, arguably some of the crowd’s favourite manoeuvres, the ‘Boomerang’ and the ‘Heart’ shape.
Accompanying us were a videographer (everything is filmed, not for vanity but to aid continuous improvement) a ‘birdman’, a fire engine, Red 10 and team members of fellow sponsor, Breitling.
Red 10, Squadron Leader Graeme Muscat, is familiar to airshow fans as the commentator however his role extends well beyond this; specifically safety supervisor during the work up and at the airshows. He has a ‘direct line’ to Red 1 during all displays and in fact the power call the whole thing off if the weather or an emergency situation so dictates. There are clearly some other ‘perks’ to his role…
Practise makes perfect...
The synchro pair practised the heart 3 times which was quite a treat (as well as a fabulous selfie opportunity for my guests and me). Due to weather limitations this was the first practise of the heart and boomerang in 3 weeks…take a look and see how the outcomes changed in just a few minutes.
Back at RAF Waddington we were warmly welcomed to their new home. Historic pictures of the team hang proudly in the corridors and they appear to have settled in well. It was a privilege to be there and observe the de-brief between Flt Lt James Turner and Flt Lt Stu Roberts. Here’s what we learned…
- The relationship between Red 6 & 7, the Synchro lead and Synchro Two is a very special one.
- Red 6, Flt Lt James Turner selects his #2 from the 2nd or 3rd year pilots
- Both 6 & 7 are experienced Typhoon Pilots
- Red 6 is responsible for training Reds 6-9 or
- Reds 6-9 are affectionately called ‘Hanna’ after founding member Ray Hanna
- The debrief is not a time for praise!
- Both pilots are expected to watch, highlight and explain their own errors as the video of the practise is viewed. These are then discussed at length.
- The debrief is calm, factual and uses a lot of technical language!
My burning question was a very human one. “As I watch the display, especially manoeuvres like the Boomerang, my stomach is churning. I presume you are not terrified but how is this possible?”
”I have total trust in my team members. I have to to believe they will do what they have been trained to do. The job we do does not leave room for doubt and we all have to have faith in the inputs we make. During the training phase I very often have to accept a 'leap of faith moment'.Flt James Turner
My guests and I enjoyed time with the engineers learning about their vital contribution to a successful season as well as having the opportunity to chat to OC RAFAT, Adam Collins. I asked Adam about the number of Red Arrows pilots for 2023.
”For safety reasons we will be flying an 8 ship formation at air displays this season. This is due to the unplanned departure of 2 pilots from the team and the RAF last year, quick replacement of our team members is not possible without compromising safety of the team and spectators. Major flypasts will be flown with 9 aircraft.Wing Commander Adam Collins
It was a perfect day, an absolute joy and privilege to be part of. I was delighted to accept a wonderful gift from the team as a thank you for our sponsorship, it was also a good time to pass on some personalised luggage tags.