RAF Past Aerobatic Display Teams Overview
Aerobatic flying is seen as a basic requirement for all military pilots, as it gave a pilot more confidence in his own flying abilities. When he progressed to be part of a team, he learned about trust in both his leader and the other team members.
At the first RAF Pageant, held at Hendon in 1920, the old First World War aircraft were being seen as becoming 'old-hat', and they were gradually being overtaken by the (then) modern, fast aircraft, that were flying in even closer formations than had been seen before. At the first pageant some of the best formation flying to be seen was the Sopwith Snipes of the Central Flying School, (CFS). These pageants continued until 1938, when, with the build up to the Second World War, the last displays were completed by biplanes.
The last RAF aerobatic teams to fly biplanes are with Hawker Fury, Gauntlet and Gladiator aircraft. In 1938 three Gladiator aircraft of No. 87 Squadron were the last aerobatic team in the RAF before World War II.
After the Second World War, jet powered aircraft began to be seen, when three De Havilland Vampires, led by Sqn Ldr M. Lyne, gave displays.
Later No. 54 squadron forms a team from six De Havilland Vampire aircraft and later with Hawker Hunter F 1 aircrafts, led by Sqn Ldr RW Oxspring, and No. 72 Sqn flew seven Vampire aircraft. In 1950 the 54 Sqn's aircraft were the first jets in Britain to be fitted with a white Smoke System. No. 600 Sqn had a team of six Gloster Meteors and 64 Sqn had a team of five Meteors.
The Vampires were followed by the Gloster Meteor, and in 1950 the first formal naming of aerobatic teams in the Royal Air Force began.
An instructor from the Central Flying School, Flight Lieutenant Caryl R Gordon, led a team of four Gloster Meteor T7 (The Meteorites) aircraft as the Central Flying School's official team during the 1952 and 1953 seasons. The Meteorites were the first RAF display team to be given a name; until that time display teams were known only by their squadron numbers. The Meteorites aircraft retained their standard bare metal (silver) colours; towards the end of the season they gained high visibility yellow anti-collision training markings. The Meteorites disbanded at the end of the 1953 season.
In 1955 54 Sqn flew the Hunter F 1 and were named 'The Black Knights' in 1956.
In 1956, 43 Sqn were 'The Fighting Cocks', flying Hunter F 1.
In 1957, the CFS had 'The Sparrows', flying, first of all, Hunting piston engined Provosts led by Fl Lt J. Kingsbury, before they converted onto the Jet Provost Trainer (T) Mark (Mk) 1 led by Fl Lt N. Griffin.
In 1955 No. 111 Squadron forms an unofficial team from four Meteor F8 aircraft. In 1956 they move on Hawker Hunter F6 and became the official RAF aerobatic team. In the same year the four aircraft are specially painted in black. They receive the name Black Arrows. Next year Black Arrows increase their number, first of all to seven aircraft and then to nine aircraft under the leadership of Sqn Ldr RL Topp. In 1958 the Black Arrows increased to sixteen aircraft, and, during the Farnborough Airshow they loop a formation of 22 Hunter aircraft twice, to open their display, before the six outside aircraft break off the formation. This twenty-two aircraft loop remains a record up to the present day.
In 1959, CFS had 'The Redskins', flying two Jet Provost T Mk 1.
In 1961 No. 92 Sqn, the Blue Diamonds, (initially named 'The Falcons'), became the official aerobatic team of RAF. Under their leader, Sqn Ldr RWP Mercer they flew 16 blue-painted Hunter aircraft and during their display they split into two formations of 7 and 9 aircraft.
In 1962 the official aerobatic team of RAF became The Tigers from No. 74 Squadron. They were equipped with nine English Electric Lightning F. 1A aircraft and are the first team in the world to uses aircraft capable of reaching Mach 2 (twice as the speed of sound).
In 1963 the official aerobatic team of RAF were the Firebirds, of No. 56 Sqn. which also fly nine English Electric Lightning F. 1A aircraft but they are in a natural metal finish, with red spines, fins, wing and tail plane leading edges. In 1963, because of the escalating costs of these fighter aircraft, this is the last RAF team to use fighter aircraft.
In 1960, CFS had formed 'The Pelicans', flying, first of all, the Jet Provost (JP), T Mk 3 and before they moved on to the more powerful JP T Mk 4. In 1962 from the Central Flying School based in Kemble Airbase is formed a Red Pelicans aerobatic display team, flying on four standard paint Jet Provost T Mk4, equipped with white smoke generators. The team is successor of the CFS team The Pelicans formed in 1960. At the next year the planes received bright red color scheme and extended to six. In this formation the Red Pelicans performed abroad in Belgium and France. In 1964 the team becomes an RAF official aerobatic team replacing the Firebirds and performing at the airshows in Belgium, France, Netherlands and Norway. At the end of 1964 season the Red Pelicans performed together with Yellowjacks. In 1965 after the creation of the Red Arrows, the team planes is reduced to four and the smoke sustem is removed. Red Pelicans are disbanded in 1973.
In 1960, No. 4 Flying Training School, (FTS), at RAF Valley, 'The Yellowjacks' began flying from five yellow-painted Folland Gnat T Mk 1 under leader Fl Lt Lee Jones, who was ex-Black Arrows member. The Yellowjacks exists till 1965.
In 1967, CFS had 'The Skylarks' with the De Havilland Chipmunk T Mk10 from Little Rissington airbase. The aircrafts are in standard training colours with "Skylark" badge at the tail and a green lightning flash added to the fuselage sides. The team's remarkable performances are at Silverstone Grand Prix and in Germany. The Skylarks aerobatic team is disbanded in 1971.
In 1967, CFS (Helicopters), had 'The Tomahawks, flying the Sioux HT 2's, and in 1974 they had 'The Gazelles' - flying the Gazelle HT 3.
The other Flying Training units also had their own Display Teams.
In 1965 the College of Air Warfare, based at RAF Manby, formed a Jet Provost team named The Magistrates. The team was renamed following the end of the 1967 season. From 1968 this team became The Macaws - from the first letters of the Unit, MAnby College of Air Warfare (also the Macaw is a kind of parrot). In 1969 the team receives a now color scheme in white, red and grey with parrot painted at the nose. The Macaws visited also foreign countries like Germany and France in 1973, but unfortunately this was the last year for the team.
No 2 FTS had 'The Vipers' (JP T Mk 4), 'The Blue Chips', (Chipmunk), and 'The Bulldogs', flying the Scottish Aviation Bulldog.
In 1968 from the Royal Air Force College at Cranwell is formed Cranwell Poachers, flying on four Jet Provost T.4, as in 1965 from this College is formed another Jet Provost team. In 1969 the team receives special color markings. In 1971 the Cranwell Poachers remove the Cranwell from the name and became just The Poachers. In same year they moved to Jet Provost T.5 aircrafts. The Poachers existed until 1976 while they were disbanded as an economy measure. The Poachers was the last RAF Jet Provost aerobatic display team.
In 1963 No1 Flying Training School based in Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire is formed another aerobatic team - the Linton Gin, flying on Jet Provost T.4. The history of both teams from No1 FTS is very interlaced and incomplete, so it's hard to tell the exact history of The Blades and Linton Gin. Linton Gin team exist until 1969. The Blades aerobatic display team is formed in 1963 from No1 Flying Training School at Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire. The team flies on four Jet Provost T.4 aircrafts and on T.5 from 1970, both painted in standard white-red colors. In 1973 the Blades change the name and became the Linton Blades and added a blue color paited at the top of the fuselage and on the tail, but at the end of the year the team is disbanded.
No 3 FTS had the 'Gemini Pair' (JP T Mk 5) and 'The Swords', (JP T Mk 5).Special Thanks to Brian Goodfellow - Red Arrows 1967 to 1977 Airframe Technician, for a help to increase this page.