Flying with the Red Arrows by Jamie Hunter

The Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows, represents the very public face of the RAF and serves to demonstrate the professionalism and excellence of the Service and promote recruitment. It also plays a vital role representing the UK around the world. Everyone has heard of the Red Arrows. When you watch one of their displays it is always polished, always executed with precision, and always very, very impressive.


Even before a display season ends, the team is preparing for the next season. Through winter and into spring the close-knit team of flying and support staff operate to a gruelling schedule flying up to four times a day. It's not just about the pilots; the team is a squadron of 100 people who strive to represent the best that the RAF has to offer.


Since mid-1966 there have been nine Red Arrows display pilots each year, including the team leader. Each year three new pilots join the elite nine, but to be eligible to apply for the team they must have completed at least one operational tour on a front-line fast jet and have logged a minimum of 1,500 flying hours. Pilots must also have been assessed in their annual reports as being above average in their operational role as the usual three-year tour as a Red Arrows pilot is both physically and mentally challenging. For the pilots, it is some of the most exhilarating and skilful flying they will ever experience.


The team leader and Officer Commanding is currently Wing Commander Jas Hawker (Red 1), who clearly has one of the most sought-after, but demanding jobs in the world. The role of the formation leader is absolutely critical to the display and Wg Cdr Hawker is responsible for accurate positioning and precise timing throughout the complex routine. Red 1 leads the whole formation of nine aircraft for the first half of the display, with a split at the halfway point into two groups. Red 1 continues to lead the front section (known as Enid), whilst the rear formation (known as Gypo) is led by Red 6, the leader of the famous Syncro Pair that perform death-defying crossovers in front of the crowd. The second half of the display contains manoeuvres, which are much more dynamic, with the aim being to keep something happening in front of the crowd at all times.

To help keep the team in the public eye, I am one of two specialist aviation photographers allowed to fly with the team on display practice sorties. Before flying with the team itself, first-time fliers get an essential check-out flight with a spare aircraft in the team. This is usually with the road manager and commentator pilot, known as Red 10, to make sure one can cope with the harsh environment that is the back seat of one of the nine team Hawks during the display. It is an onslaught of 30 minutes of gruelling aerobatic flying and they are looking to make sure you don't black out with the G-forces or get airsick. The other big no-no is touching the control stick. The Hawk trainer jets that the Red Arrows use are all two-seaters and have a linked stick in the back you really cannot afford to knock the stick in the back as you are flying extremely close!



Jamie Hunter Jamie conducted basic flying training with the RAF and then completed his Private Pilot's Licence, however, he is no longer a pilot and always flies as a passenger in his work as a photographer. Jamie uses the Nikon D3 usually teamed with the 24-70mm lens. His company, Aviacom Ltd, provides photographic services for the aviation industry.

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Last Modified: Friday, 16 August 2013