We are really proud at Icarus Originals to work with the Red Arrows, as one of their official licensees and so we thought it would be good to give a bit of insight into the origins of the team.
The Royal Air Force Red Arrows have a special place in the hearts of the British public and have delighted crowds around the UK and indeed around the world for decades. As famous as the ‘Reds’ are amongst aviation fans and the general public alike, less is known about their predecessors and how the Red Arrows came to be.
Early Years – Aerobatic Displays and the RAF
After World War 1, and a heightened public interest in aviation, there were a series of displays during the 1920s. These included a pageant in 1920 featuring a number of squadrons, and notably the 1925 ‘London Defended’ display. This event featured 32 Squadron flying specially-adapted Sopwith Snipes during a series of evening displays above the Wembley arena. The event entailed:
- Red painted aircraft with white lights fitted to the wings and tail to aid visibility.
- The firing of blank ammunition.
- The dropping of pyrotechnics into the arena coupled with explosions on the ground
Into the Jet Age
The post-war years were to see a plethora of unofficial and official display teams utilise a wide range of aircraft. The increasing sophistication of the available jets was to allow for a number of ‘firsts’, both in airmanship and technical innovation. Aircraft used in displays included:
- De Havilland Vampires
- Gloster Meteors
- Hawker Hunters
- English Electric Lightnings
- BAC Jet Provosts
- Folland Gnats
The first of what came to be the iconic smoke trails was utilised by No. 54 Squadron in the mid 1950s, whilst in 1956 No. 111 squadron became the official RAF team, flying Hawker Hunters. For the first time, these aircraft sported a special all-black paint scheme, becoming known as the ‘Black Arrows’.
The Black Arrows became the first of a number of teams with specific names and liveries that were to originate from various RAF commands. They achieved a world record in 1958 with a 22-ship formation performing a loop and barrel roll. The Black Arrows passed the mantle of display team to No. 92 Squadron, also flying Hunters, but now known as the Blue Diamonds.
The creation of the Red Arrows
During the early 1960s there were a number of display teams in addition to the Blue Diamonds, including the ‘Tigers’ and the ‘Firebirds’, both flying English Electric Lightnings. By 1964 the ‘Red Pelicans’, a team of six BAC Jet Provosts became the leading display team for the Royal Air Force. Even so, that same year yet another team emerged when No. 4 Flying Training School sent a team of five Folland Gnats to perform at Farnborough. This latter team would become known as the ‘Yellowjacks’.
RAF senior leadership became understandably concerned that a sizeable portion of their aircrew were spending more time practising for aerobatic displays, than for front line operational duties. Hence in 1964 it was decided to amalgamate all the teams into one official unit – The Royal Air Force Red Arrows.
A Final Word – Why the Red Arrows?
The name Red Arrows comes from an amalgamation of “Red” from the Red Pelicans, and the heritage of the Black Arrows. (If you’ve ever wondered why red was chosen as the team colour – aside from the name of course – then unsurprisingly it’s simply due to the higher visibility that colour confers to both aircrew and spectators. Also, it looks awesome!