Red Arrows Limited Training Session
Red Arrows

Red Arrows: All You Need To Know About The RAF Aerobatic Team

The team was formed in 1964 and has performed thousands of displays since.

Red Arrows Limited Training Session

The Red Arrows, the aerobatic display team of the Royal Air Force, will remain in Lincolnshire when their current base closes in 2022.

The team will move the short distance from RAF Scampton to RAF Waddington, bringing a wealth of history with them.

Since their formation, the team has flown thousands of displays around the world.

Here is all you need to know about the Red Arrows.

When were the Red Arrows formed, and who are they?

The Red Arrows were formed in 1964, when the Royal Air Force merged all of its display teams into one.

The name was inspired by the RAF's Black Arrows and Red Pelicans, which were both RAF aerobatic teams before the Red Arrows were created.

Flying for the first time as the Red Arrows in 1965, the team originally used the Gnat aircraft, as a tribute to the Yellowjacks, another of the RAF's aerobatic teams which was part of the amalgamation.

During that first season, the team flew seven-aircraft displays, while being based at RAF Fairford.

The Red Arrows' first ever official display, an event held for the media, took place at RAF Little Rissington on 6 May 1965, followed by their first public performance on 15 May at Biggin Hill Air Fair.

In 1966, the aerobatic team moved to RAF Kemble - a base which would be their home for the next 17 years.

The team's displays increased to nine aircraft in 1968, leading to the 'Diamond Nine' becoming the Red Arrows' trademark formation.

In 1980, after 1,292 displays, the Red Arrows traded the Gnat aircraft in for the Hawk - a modified version of the RAF fast jet and weapons trainer aircraft.

This same year, the Red Arrows took on the motto 'eclat' - meaning excellence.

In 1983, the team left RAF Kemble to move to RAF Scampton, an air station famed for its part in the Dambusters raid of 1943.

The Lincolnshire site has been the home of the Red Arrows ever since, apart from five years spent at RAF Cranwell, between 1995 and 2000.

The Red Arrows will move to RAF Waddington in the next two years, due to the closure of RAF Scampton in 2022.

Red Arrows flypast over London on VE Day 75th anniversary 080520 CREDIT MOD.jpg
The Red Arrows marked VE Day 75 with a flypast over London (Picture: MOD).

What do the Red Arrows do?

At face-value, they perform a range of aerobatic feats for global audiences, leaving vapour trails of blue, white and red behind as they pierce the skies.

As well as their most recognisable shape, the 'Diamond Nine', the team also trains and develops multiple formations and manoeuvres.

The dye in their vapour is more than purely aesthetic - pilots use the vivid colours as a smoke signal to gauge wind movement and the location of their colleagues in the air.

As well as displays, the team performs flypasts to mark commemorative events and recognise landmark within the UK and military communities.

Memorable events such as the 2012 Olympics, VE Day 75 and royal celebrations have often featured the team.

When the Royal Air Force marked their centenary event, RAF100, with a flypast over Buckingham Palace in July 2018, the Red Arrows were among the aircraft which took part.

The aerobatic team flew the length of the Mall, leaving a trail of red, white and blue.

Outside of domestic occasions, displays overseas are often carried out as a sign of strong diplomatic and military relations between the UK and its allies.

In 2019, millions across North America watched the team on their 11-week tour across the continent

Spectators in more than 20 cities across the United States and Canada were treated to displays and flypasts by the team. 

Watch: Our full documentary as we joined the Red Arrows for their biggest-ever tour of North America, in 2019.

Who is part of the team?

The Red Arrows consists up of more than 100 team members, including pilots, engineers and support staff.

Eleven pilots make up the team, including the Officer Commanding and Reds 1 to 10, with nine aircraft flying in formation at once.

The Officer Commanding is responsible for the team, while Red 10 works as team supervisor, providing commentary and two-way radio contact with the Team Leader, Red 1, during displays.

All of the Red Arrows' pilots have come from frontline RAF squadrons with fast jet experience.

Elsewhere in the team, there are support personnel, which includes a team manager, public relations manager, aircrew planner, operations officer, engineering officers and an adjutant.

There are also engineering technicians, including mechanical technicals, avionics staff, weapons technicians, logistical staff in charge of sourcing spare parts for aircraft, mechanical transport staff, survival equipment technicians, photographers and Engineering Support Flight.

Eighty-five of the team's specialist engineers are known as 'The Blues' who wear distinct flying suits.

Also, 10 aircraft engineering technicians and one photographer are chosen to form 'The Circus', which flies in the passenger seat to and from displays.

Circus members are each allocated a pilot for the entire summer display season.

Those selected for the Circus are each allocated a piloted Hawk T1 fast-jet to service before and after each summer show.

Goose by Cpl Ash Keates
The team display the 'Goose' formation over Greece (Picture: RAF).

In November 2019, three new pilots joined the team ahead of the 2020 display season: Flight Lieutenant Will Cambridge, Flight Lieutenant Nick Critchell and Flight Lieutenant James Turner.

The trio joined the Red Arrows after four pilots stepped down, following a combined 17 display seasons of service.

The Red Arrows' Officer Commanding is former Tornado pilot, Wing Commander David Montenegro, who took charge of the 130-strong team last month.

He was previously served as a team pilot between 2009 and 2011.

Who can join the Red Arrows as a pilot?

All Red Arrows pilots have served operationally, many with a variety of aircraft, before selection.

As well as having completed at least one frontline tour, pilots must have flown at least 1,500 hours to meet the baseline criteria to be eligible to join the team.

Prospective pilots also must have been assessed as 'above average' in their role.

As many as three new pilots join the Red Arrows every year, replacing outgoing team members who have completed their three-year tour.

Nine shortlisted applicants go through selection flying tests, an interview and assessments.

Those who are successful are chosen to commence their three-year stint with the Red Arrows, before returning to regular duty.

The rotating pilot roster is led by the team leader, who has first-hand experience as a team pilot.

Cover image: RAF.