The "Red Arrows" are the current Royal Air Force aerobatic display team. The team consists of nine demonstration pilots who fly Hawk T Mk 1A aircraft supported by either a C-17 Globemaster or C-130 Hercules aircraft, which carries all of the spares and equipment to support in a detached operation, or a road train of coaches and articulated lorries that carry the support team and all of the equipment for the airshow.
All "Red Arrows" pilots use the call-signs "Red" followed by the number of their position in the team. A team pilot will normally complete a three year tour of duty before going onto 'new pastures'. Some return to the regular RAF, some may be promoted, and some leave the RAF for flying jobs in the airline industry. The Leader, however, must have been a team member in previous years, and is selected according to his/her merits to become the Red 1.
The team operates under the overall command of a Wing Commander, but the Leader has command for the day-to-day operation of the Team. Red #6 and #7 are called "the synchro pair", (the "Synchro's"), and, apart from flying in formation, they also aim to demonstrate what the Hawk is capable of in flight, by keeping the public's attention as the main formation prepares for the next maneuver.
Red 10 is the team manager. He does not fly an aircraft in the display, but instead provides the commentary to tell the public information about the pilots, the background of the "Red Arrows", what type of display the team is doing, and the names of the maneuvers being executed. The aircraft he pilots becomes a spare aircraft in case of a problem being encountered by any of the team pilots which would require them to change aircraft. If this were to occur, the traveling ground crew would then attempt to fix the defect while the display is being flown. Unlike most aerobatic teams, the "Red Arrows" do not have their formation numbers painted on their aircraft.
The technical personnel of the team consists of some 70 technicians who are commanded by a senior engineering officer who is supported by a junior engineering officer. The technical team consists of two separate parties; about two thirds remaining at the team's home base, and the remaining third who are the "Traveling Team". The "Base Party" is responsible for all repair tasks that are required when the team is at home. The "Traveling Team" is responsible for the day-to-day engineering tasks in support of the team while "on the road".
Nine personnel the traveling ground crew, called "The Flying Circus", (which includes a junior engineering officer who is in charge of the ground crew) fly in the rear seat of each aircraft. These back-seaters have the responsibility of cleaning their nominated Hawk aircraft, so it will always be ready to be photographed by the public. As well as the "Flying Circus", the rest of the team's ground crew will travel either in the Globemaster or Hercules support aircraft, or occasionally by road.
At the end of the display year, all of the Hawks are given a thorough scheduled servicing inspection to prepare them for the next display year.
Each pilot candidate for a position on the team is a volunteer and must be a current, fast-jet pilot in the RAF. (i.e. a pilot of Tornado or Harrier). The candidates must also have a category rating of 'excellent' in their annual report.
From all the applications for the current year, a number of pilots are selected to join with the current members of the team on the annual trip to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus. In Cyprus, they will fly in the rear seats of the Hawks during training flights, which enables the current pilots to form an opinion as to their suitability to become a member of the team. The team will then have a meeting at which the Boss (Red 1) will listen to their opinions and then they will select the most suitable pilots to join the team. The leader of the "Synchro Pair", who is #6, chooses the new #7. At the end of his time on the team, Red 6 is then replaced by Red 7.
Every year three pilots will leave and three new pilots will join the team. This may include the Leader, who is always an ex-member of a previous team. This depends on whether they can be released from their current appointment. New pilots will join the team in September and fly with it in the rear seat during the last displays of that season so that they gain some experience.
New team pilots begin by flying in small basic formations at high altitude in order to master the art of close formation flying. Once they have the feel of what is expected of them, the pilots learn it all again at lower altitude.
The Red Arrows do not have their Formation Numbers painted on their aircraft, unlike most aerobatic teams.
The Red Arrows perform three different types of shows depending on the weather conditions. These are: 1) a "Full" Show, 2) a "Rolling" Show or 3) a "Flat" Show.
For the full show, the lower limit of the clouds must be no lower than 1400 meters. If the weather limit is between 760 and 1400 meters, the "Red Arrows" perform rolls only - although the Leader will always be on the look out for a chance to put in a loop. If the weather limit is less than 760 meters, they perform a "flat show" which is basically a series of flypasts over the crowd in formation. At any time, the Leader has the option to change from one type of show to another because of the actual weather.
If one of the pilots is not well enough to fly, the rest of the pilots fly without him but if the Leader is not capable of flying, the show has to be cancelled.
During their displays the "Red Arrows" do not fly directly above the public. During their display, the synchronized pair are separated by 30 meters and when they are inverted this increases to 45 meters.
The levels of "G" experienced by the team members during a display are a maximum of +5G, (with the "Synchro's" experiencing a maximum of +8G). All of the pilots wear anti-G suits, to give them a degree of comfort when they experience these "G" loads.
When flying from one location to another, the team typically flies in a loose formation at approximately 300 meters in altitude.
The Hawk aircraft of the "Red Arrows" was designed by Hawker Siddeley (now British Aerospace - BAe), as both a basic trainer and weapons trainer aircraft. It is perhaps one of the most popular trainer aircraft in the world. The plane differs from the standard trainer by having a smoke system fitted. This smoke system is installed in a pod (similar to the Aden Gun pod) which is further divided internally into three tanks, each of which have pipes leading from them to allow fluids to be injected into the jet engine exhaust where they are vaporized. For the white smoke, the fluid in these tanks is plain diesel fuel (DERV). The red and blue colors are produced by the addition of a commercial dye which is mixed in with the diesel fuel.
The difference between the Mk 1 and the Mk 1A Hawk aircraft is that, as well as removal of the centre-line tank, which contains all smoke systems, and installing an Aden gun pod in its place, the Mk1A can also carry two AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, one under each wing.