Now you see them…

Pilot - - REGULARS -

The news that the Red Ar­rows wouldn’t be fly­ing an aer­o­batic dis­play at this year’s Farn­bor­ough In­ter­na­tional Air­show set the Twit­ter­sphere ablaze, and var­i­ous avi­a­tion fo­rums into melt­down. “What — ex­actly — is the point of the Royal Air Force aer­o­batic team,” thun­dered many an an­guished spot­ter, “if they don’t do aer­o­bat­ics at the UK’S premier air­show?” As is of­ten the case, how­ever, although this may seem a sim­ple enough ques­tion, the an­swer is much more com­pli­cated.

Firstly, although the Reds did dis­play at Farn­bor­ough in both 2012 and 2014, they flew a mod­i­fied programme to en­sure it fit­ted into the ‘Farn­bor­ough arena’. Fur­ther­more, although the Bre­itling Jet Team dis­played in 2012, it’s been a long time since any of the other ma­jor jet dis­play teams (such as the Frecce Tri­col­ori or Pa­trouille de France) ap­peared there.

The bot­tom line is that, even though this de­ci­sion is prob­a­bly partly linked to the Shore­ham tragedy, the world has moved on, both philo­soph­i­cally and also phys­i­cally.

I was born and raised in Cam­ber­ley, and I can as­sure you that the area around Farn­bor­ough air­field has changed be­yond all recog­ni­tion over the last fifty years, and also that the pop­u­la­tion den­sity has risen ex­po­nen­tially. Should any­thing hap­pen, the op­por­tu­ni­ties for a safe off-air­field ar­rival are very lim­ited and, by def­i­ni­tion, a dis­play by a team of fast jets has an el­e­ment of dan­ger.

When sev­eral air­craft are fly­ing aer­o­bat­ics in close for­ma­tion — or ap­proach­ing each other with a clos­ing speed of around 750mph, there is clearly some risk in­volved. In­deed, although fast jet ac­ci­dents are in­fre­quent they do still oc­cur. The Reds have lost two pi­lots and two Hawks in three sep­a­rate in­ci­dents since 2010 while, in just one week last month, the USAF Thun­der­birds, USN Blue An­gels, the Rus­sian Knights and the Pa­trouille de Suisse all lost air­craft. The Hunter dis­as­ter — and to a lesser ex­tent the Gnat crash at Car­fest — will have fo­cussed the at­ten­tion of the RAF and CAA in much the same way that the spec­tre of Ram­stein still haunts Ger­man air­show or­gan­is­ers. On that ter­ri­ble day of 28 Au­gust 1988, 75 peo­ple died when a dis­play by the Frecce Tri­col­ori went hor­ri­bly wrong. After this tragedy air­shows were com­pletely banned in West Ger­many for sev­eral years, and even after the ban was lifted, very strict rules gov­ern­ing air dis­plays re­main in force. I remember be­ing at Friedrichs­hafen for AERO about ten years ago and rapidly be­com­ing dis­en­chanted with what was be­ing passed off as an air­show. Frankly, it was rub­bish.

This is no re­flec­tion on the dis­play pi­lots, it’s just that the crowd line was so far dis­placed from the crowd and the min­i­mum altitude set so high that the en­tire show was ac­tu­ally a bit of a non-event. Then I sensed a fris­son of ex­cite­ment rip­ple through the crowd and heard ea­ger mur­mur­ings of “Die Luft­waffe F-4?” “Ja, die Luft­waffe F-4!” Well, I thought, this might be worth see­ing. I doubt he’ll do a dis­play, but surely any fighter pi­lot worth his G-suit will at least do a de­cent run-and­break, and maybe tap the burn­ers around the cor­ner.

The Phan­tom ap­peared in the dis­tance on a very long fi­nal, flew a solid air­liner-style fully sta­bilised ap­proach straight down a three-de­gree glides­lope — and landed. Im­pres­sive, it wasn’t — but then it re­ally is a very dif­fer­ent world these days.

When the DH110 pro­to­type broke up dur­ing the 1952 SBAC show, John Derry and Tony Richards — along with 29 spec­ta­tors — were killed. Fly­ing ob­vi­ously ceased while a fleet of am­bu­lances at­tended to the in­jured, dead and dy­ing but, once the run­way was cleared of wreck­age, Neville Duke took off in his Hunter and the show con­tin­ued. He ac­tu­ally dropped a sonic boom over the crowd, and was uni­ver­sally lauded for do­ing so. That would never hap­pen to­day; the show would be in­stantly stopped and al­most cer­tainly can­celled.

At Good­wood on 24 June for the Fes­ti­val of Speed, I greatly en­joyed watch­ing the Red Ar­rows dis­play with all their grace, pre­ci­sion and power — and then I re-read a state­ment that I’d re­ceived from the team’s PR man­ager while re­search­ing the facts of the mat­ter for this PTT.

Con­trary to what you may have heard, the Reds will be fly­ing at Farn­bor­ough. The state­ment con­firmed that ‘the Red Ar­rows will be fly­ing at the Farn­bor­ough In­ter­na­tional Air­show and en­gag­ing with both adults and young peo­ple on all three days that are open to the gen­eral pub­lic. How­ever, the high speed and dy­namic na­ture of the tra­di­tional Red Ar­rows’ dis­play is no longer ap­pro­pri­ate due to the large amounts of lo­cal hous­ing, busi­ness ar­eas and ma­jor trans­port links un­der­neath the planned dis­play area. In ad­di­tion to the Red Ar­rows’ fly­past with the new F-35 Light­ning II air­craft on 11 July, fur­ther Red Ar­rows’ fly­pasts in dif­fer­ent for­ma­tions are now planned for 15, 16 and 17 July. These ad­di­tional fly­pasts, to­gether with more ex­cit­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for the pub­lic to en­gage with the Red Ar­rows team on the ground, and other RAF air and ground dis­plays, will en­sure the air­show re­mains a truly ex­cit­ing, in­spi­ra­tional and en­ter­tain­ing fam­ily event. For the re­main­der of the dis­play sea­son the Red Ar­rows are look­ing for­ward to dis­play­ing as usual at mul­ti­ple events all over the UK and abroad.’

On re­flec­tion, I think that the RAF has got this one right. See them at the right venue, and the Reds will con­tinue to put on a show that is as thrilling and dy­namic as it ever was. But it does have to be the right venue.

The area around Farn­bor­ough air­field has changed... On re­flec­tion, I think that the RAF has got this one right

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