Red Arrows History

Red Arrows Gnat

The Red Arrows are formed in 1965. Since in RAF at this time several aerobatic teams existed, a decision to create only one aerobatic team which will have to present the abilities of RAF aircraft had been made. It was decided that this team will fly on red-painted Gnat airplanes. The chief of the Central Flying School by that time, Captain Bird Wilson, gives the name of the new team - the Red Arrows. "Red" comes from the color of the planes and "Arrows" - from the name of the first official aerobatic team of RAF - "Black Arrows". For the commander of this team is appointed the ex-Black Arrows member, Fl. Lt. Lee Jones. The team itself is under the direct command of Central Air School. At the beginning the Red Arrows had seven demonstrative Folland Gnat aircraft and one convoying Argosy cargo plane for the ground staff. When the Team started in 1965 there were seven aircraft in the main Formation. Fl Lt Eric Tilsley - who was a spare pilot for the Team, (Red 8), flew a solo display to complement the Main Formation. The team is based at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire.

The first demonstration of the Red Arrows is on May 6th, 1965, in Kemble airbase. The demonstration aims to present to the media the new RAF team. The first demonstration in public is in France on May 9th the same year during the national day of the French Air Force in Clermont Ferrand. The first demonstration in front of the English public is on May 15th, 1965, during the International Aero Fair in Biggin Hill. Untill the end of their first year as a team, the Red Arrows perform 65 air demonstrations in the United Kingdom, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and West Germany.

The team was equipped with a smoke system  releasing three colours: red, white and blue. The white smoke was produced by vaporising normal diesel fuel, (DERV), in the jet exhaust, the red and blue were produced by mixing a commercial dye with diesel fuel, and injecting the mixture into the jet exhaust. Changes were made to allow the use of buttons on the throttle and control column to control the smoke system.

The initial colour scheme for the Red Arrow Gnats was all-over Post Office Red, with roundels in six positions, an angled fin flash and a CFS crest on a white disc above. Later changes were made to this basic colour scheme.

In 1966 the CFS crest was moved from the fin to the bottom the cockpit and its position on the fin was taken by a Union Jack. For 1967 the fin was painted in red, white and blue vertical stripes - aligned with the fin leading edge, with the Union Jack in the white stripe. For 1968 the next change was to add a white 'lightning stripe', which ran from just behind the nose (landing) light to meet up with the engine intake. In the middle of the lightning strip, the CFS crest was positioned in a white shield. (His view of the CFS crest, together with the normal view he had of the ejection seat headbox of the aircraft he was formatting on, were used by the pilot as reference points to make sure he was in the correct position).

For 1966, leadership of the Red Arrows passed to his Number 3, New Zealander Ray Hanna, newly promoted to Squadron Leader. Ray was to leave the Team after the 1968 season, but due to difficulties with the new leader for 1969, he came back as a leader for one more year in 1969.

As RAF Fairford was chosen to become the home of the Aerospatiale/British Aerospace Concorde for its British developing flying, the Team had to move. The place chosen for them to go to was the RAF's Number 5 Maintenance Unit, (5MU), at RAF Kemble, also in Gloucestershire.

For the 1968 display season the Red Arrows added two more aircraft to become a nine-ship formation. There was a change to the basic color scheme. A white 'lightning' flash was added to the nose of the aircraft, with a smaller Central Flying School badge on a white background, below the cockpit. The whole fin was finished in red, white and blue stripes, with a Union Jack flag in the centre of the white stripe. The CFS badge was used, in conjunction with the alignment of the ejector seats heads, by the pilots for station keeping during the formation flying.

In 1969 the Red Arrows were permanently established as a standard RAF squadron and became the official aerobatic team in the RAF.

In March 1969, during a practice, Fl Lt Jerry Bowler flying XR573 was flown into some trees that surrounded RAF Kemble. Bowler who was flying solo hit the ground during a routine join up with another aircraft during a practice pairs manoeuvre.

On 13 June 1969, the Commandant of the Central Flying School, crashed XP501, one of Gnats the Team had as a red painted spare aircraft which did not have a smoke system fitted (called a Tinship by the Team).

In December 1969, during the training sessions for a new display year, not all aircraft were available, due to the Winter Servicing Programme, the Team was flying with half of the formation. Fl Lt Jack Rust (Red 8), had experienced a fire warning on his aircraft XR995. This was noticed by a new pilot, just beginning his Arrows career, who made a radio call that the aircraft was on fire. Fl Lt Richard Duckett, (Red 4), in XR992 misunderstood that it was his aircraft which was on fire, and he was told to eject. So both aircraft were lost on that day, but neither pilot was injured and they both soon returned to flying duties. Crashing year 1969, isn't it?

In 1970 the convoying plane of the Red Arrows becomes C-130 Hercules. Later in November, Squadron Leader Dennis Hazell, experienced an engine failure when the Team were doing the Twinkle Roll in practice over Kemble. Dennis ejected when he found the runway blocked by two Gnats from RAF Valley as he attempted a 'Dead-Stick' landing. He suffered a broken bone in his thigh and had to be replaced as Leader by Squadron Leader Bill Loverseed.

In January 1971, The Synchro Pair, (The Solo's), somehow collided over RAF Kemble, and four Team Pilots were lost. The Synchro Pair were FL Lt Euan Perraux, (Red 6), and Fl Lt Johnnie Haddock, (Red 7). In the rear seats were two of the new pilots to the Team for that year, Fl Lt Colin Armstrong and Fl Lt John Lewis. These pilots are buried in Saint Peter's Church, the village church of Little Rissington, Gloucestershire, together with the Team's first loss, Fl Lt Jerry Bowler.

In 1972 The Red Arrows did visit for the first time Canada and the USA, Expo 72 at Washington. President Nixon was in the crowd of about half a million.

The same year, for the first time in its history the team postpones an airshow, in Belgium, because of non-arriving cargo plane which transports the ground staff.

Since 1976 the pilots of fighters have received the chance to fly in the team. Untill then only instructors could be members of the team.

In 1978 the team lost another pilot - as well as an ex-leader of the team when XR981 crashed during a practice at Kemble. Fl Lt Steve Noble had as a passenger Wing Commander Dennis Hazell, the former Leader of the Arrows, who himself had ejected from XR994 in 1970.

On 22 May 1979, Commander Ernie Jones ejected from Tinship, (Non Smoker A/C), XP539 at RAF Leeming. Ernie was a pilot on the Team, as Red 7, in 1967.

As the Folland Gnat used by the team was a two-seat trainer aircraft, each pilot had a nominated member of the Groundcrew, (and the Junior Engineering Officer), to fly with them. Having the Groundcrew fly in the Gnats meant that when the Team arrived at a new airfield, the Turn Round Servicing could be started and the aircraft could be refuelled straight away. There were representative members of each Trade required to service the Gnat A/C in the Flying Circus. Refuelling was the 'Open Line' process, and the time to refuel Team aircraft took longer than normal Gnat A/C, as the rear fuel group of fuel tanks, (No 2 Port and Starboard), had been isolated from the fuel system to make the White Smoke System - which was normal Diesel Fuel (DERV), injected into the jet exhaust of the Gnat's Bristol Orpheus 101 engine and vaporised by the heat of the exhaust. The operation of the White Smoke System was controlled by a switch on the Throttle - the switch had been the UHF Aerial Selector. Team A/C was rewired so that the Upper Aerial was permanently selected. The normal duration of the White Smoke System was around 3.5 minutes.

The Coloured Smoke System consisted of, basically, two Stainless Steel tanks, one on each side, inside the rear fuselage and electrically operated valves, controlled by buttons on the control column, and the necessary pipes. The Red colour was selected by the Press -To-Transmit button and the Blue colour by the Press-To-Mute button of the control column. On Red Arrows A/C Normal radio calls were made using the Press-To-Transmit button on the throttle only. A pair of coloured lights on each side of the Instrument Panel Shroud, showed when the cocks were open. The capacity of the Coloured Smoke was around 3 gallons of each of the dye-mixture of red and blue colours - (or six gallons of one colour), which was also injected into the jet exhaust and vaporised. Each tank held sufficient for only some 40 seconds.

The name of each pilot - and his "Flying Circus", back-seat airman, (or the Engineer Officer), was painted on the right hand side of their Gnat, just below the windscreen.

The colour scheme was to remain with the Team until nearly the end of the Gnat days, and apart from numbering the A/C position on the Nose Landing Gear main door, a change was made to show that the Team were part of the Royal Air Force, and not some civilian operator. This sign appeared beneath the cockpit, on both sides, and simply said "Royal Air Force".

In 1980 the Red Arrows received their present aircraft - Bae Hawk. In that year, during the search of appropriate place for training in spring, they moved on Cyprus Island because untill that time the atmosphere conditions in Albion did not allow the flights to be held regularly. This becomes regular practice to this day.

On May 17, 1980 Squadron Leader Steve R. JOHNSON crashed into the sea off Brighton after colliding with a yacht's mast which had ignored a sailing ban during the display. Johnson ejected safely (photo).

In the spring of 1983 the team moved on its present base in Scampton.

In 1993 the Red Arrows perform their first show in the United States.

1995 is the year most burdened with demonstrations for the team. The Red Arrows perform 136 demonstrations all around the world because in 1995 and 1996 they have tours in the Far and the Near East, Africa and Australia.

In 1998 the team suffers two accidents, fortunately without any casualties. The first happens on July 13 during training flights in Brize Norton airbase. The team flies in formations by three. After picking up the undercarriage in about 30 meters height, the air collector of Red 6 sucks in a pigeon. This causes a stop in the normal functioning of the engine but the pilot keep his head cool and lands the plane "on its belly" on the landing-strip. The plane receives no damages except of the smoke generator which is placed on its bottom. Another accident happens on October 17 during training flights in Cranwell airbase. When approaching the landing-strip Red 2 loses control of the plane and crashes in the grass near the strip. The pilot ejects successfully. The cause for this accident is not announced and the pilot is replaced by another.

On 12 January 2007, two Red Arrows planes have been involved in a mid-air collision during a training exercise over Lincolnshire. The tip of one plane touched the tail of another during a flight over their base at RAF Scampton near Lincoln. Seven aircraft were flying at the time, and an investigation has concluded that one of the pilots carried out an incorrect maneuver. No-one was injured at the collision.

On 23 March 2010 the Synchro Pair planes #6 and #7 collided in mid-air, causing the crash of #6. They collided when practicing the opposing maneuver in which Red 6 and Red 7 were flying against each other and crossed their courses. The cause of the crash is definitely a pilot’s mistake. The pilots were Red 6 Flt Lt Mike Ling, who ejected safely from 300m altitude and suffered a dislocated shoulder, head and arm cuts, and the Red 7 Flt Lt Dave Montenegro, who landed its Hawk with broken tail and fin. The incident happened during practice flight in preparation for 2010 show season at Hellenic Air Force Base in Kastelli, Crete. Red Arrows were in Crete for the team's winter training.

Red Arrows Gnat Red Arrows Gnat Red Arrows Gnat over team next aircraft the Hawk May 17, 1980 incident Red Arrows Hawk Red Arrows Hawk in 50th display season livery

Aerobatic Teams