The Red Arrows have been wowing audiences around the world for over 50 years. The Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, to give them their Sunday name, have become a British institution and are rightly recognised for their stunning acrobatic displays that have become the epitome of skill, showmanship, precision and flair in high-speed flight. So what makes them so special? What gives the team behind the stunts the reputation they have earned?
It’s no accident that the Red Arrows have become the best aerial aerobatic team in the world. It also takes more than just the 9 pilots in the Hawk T1 jets to make them the close-knit unit they have become. Ever since their first display in the mid 60s, the Red Arrows have grown in both reputation and size. RAFAT now consists of over 100 people in total; the 100+ ‘Blues’ support the 9 ‘Reds’. It’s this team of pilots, engineers and essential ground support staff, all with essential frontline experience, that make the Red Arrows what they are. Every member of the team is of prime importance. Whilst the pilots are the primary focus and certainly get the accolades, they wouldn’t get able to fly without the team behind them. Any failing in any one of those roles will affect the whole team. When you realise that the role each member plays in the team can literally affect the life of another team member, it’s easy to understand their commitment to the cause.
Everyone will have a definition of what makes a team a success. Is it leadership? Trust? Empowerment? The list goes on but is there a definitive answer? Hard to say. It’s certainly true to say that a team that succeeds will have far fewer team issues than one that performs less well. The Red Arrows succeed in every department. To be a pilot with the Red Arrows is much more than just being good at flying a plane upside down. All pilots must have gone through officer selection at RAF Cranwell and, naturally, flight school; accumulating a minimum of 1,500 hours of fast jet flying with at least one operational tour of duty under their flight suits. All potential candidates, whatever their role, are invited to attend a week of tests, interviews and, somewhat unusually, socialising. As much as the team works together, it’s important that they get along socially. New members are vetted by the current team. You may be the best pilot or engineer that the world has ever seen, but if your personality doesn’t fit with the rest of the team you won’t make it any further. They strongly believe in having the right person in the right role, so that person needs to fit in. They work together and mess together, wherever possible. They also ensure that all of the ground crew and support team are all part of any social events they get invited to. It might sound like a small factor, but that’s the makings of a ‘team’.
The fact that the Red Arrows have been so successful year after year is testament to their team principles. The faces may change every year but their success continues unabated. As existing members leave, new ones appear to take their place with little or no disruption to the unit as a whole. This team spirit could be captured not only by the ethos of the unit, but of the wider organisation. The Royal Air Force itself, the over-arching military structure that they have all signed up for, shares their aims, values and history. Being part of something bigger surely helps to inspire the Red Arrows onto greatness every single year.
This superb photo is courtesy of Mike Boss Photography. Thanks Mike.