Since the mid-1960s, the Royal Air Force Red Arrows have been the United Kingdom’s premier aerobatic display team. Under the RAF banner, the squadron has visited 57 countries and flown nearly 5,000 display shows.
In 2019, as part of their 55th-anniversary celebrations, the Red Arrows made their long-awaited return to North America. Following three days of position flying across the North Atlantic, the team arrived in Halifax on August 7th. After performing in New York, Chicago, Toronto, and Dallas, the team transitioned over to the West Coast.
With receptions planned in the Pacific Northwest, AirlineReporter was invited to the Red Arrows Arrival Event in Vancouver, BC. I was fortunate to be in town during their visit and eagerly accepted the invitation.
Before getting into the meat of the post, yes I do actually have some Red Arrows swag to give away. For a chance to win, keep reading and some swag could be on your way! Now, a quick history lesson.
Origins and Background of the Red Arrows
In 1964, the Royal Air Force found itself managing several different display teams. In an effort to unify aerobatic flying under one division, the RAF made the decision to amalgamate their squadrons into one premier unit. Taking their name from the Black Arrows, livery from the Red Pelicans, and aircraft from the YellowJackets, the Red Arrows took to the skies. Boasting a fleet of seven Folland “Gnats”, the team flew their first show in 1965. Based out of RAF-Fairford, the team performed 65 displays during their first season. A few years later, after adding two additional “Gnats” to the fleet, the Red Arrows debuted their iconic diamond formation.
As the Red Arrows’ popularity grew, the RAF began searching for a long-term aircraft better suited to display flying. With no suitable aircraft in production at the time, the RAF began discussions with Hawker Siddeley about a clean-sheet design. The aircraft which would ultimately become the BAe Hawk T1 took to the skies in 1974. By 1979, the Arrows were ready to retire the Folland Gnat and switch over to the more maneuverable Hawk.
Since visiting the United States in 1993, the Red Arrows have taken on more of an ambassadorial role. Following a successful tour of Africa, Asia, and Australia in 1995/96, the team returned to the UK with new fans and a global following. After visiting China and the Middle East in 2016, the Red Arrows began planning their return to North America two years later in 2018.
After moving north through Oregon and Washington, the Red Arrows crossed the border back into Canada on September 24th. Having encountered cloudy weather in Portland and Seattle, enthusiasts in Vancouver were hoping for clear skies and sunshine for the duration of their visit. For once, the weather cooperated. After a slight sprinkle, the clouds parted and the sun came out. Everything was falling into place.
With activities scheduled throughout the week, the British High Commissioner flew in from Ottawa to speak at the event. While the focus was on the display team, trans-Atlantic trade and post-secondary education were being celebrated as well. In addition to the aerobatic displays, the Red Arrows were planning to visit local universities to promote careers in STEM.
On the morning of the event, I left my apartment at 9:30 and headed out to the airport. With a potential interview lined up, I made sure that my phone was fully charged. Having forgotten to press “record” during a previous interview, I was keen to move on and evaluate my skills. Armed with a digital camera, my trusty notebook, and a cup of McCafe coffee, I arrived at YVR’s VIP terminal at 11 am.
With the team not due to arrive until 11:45, I had some extra time to prepare interview questions and connect with other reporters. Half an hour before the team was due to arrive, we assembled near the hangar. As a member of the media, I was given the chance to capture the team’s arrival from the ramp!
After putting on our high-visibility jackets, we were brought out onto the ramp. This was possibly the coolest part of the entire day! I’d never been this close to an active runway before. Once again I was torn between experiencing the departures live or capturing them on my camera.
While I knew my job was to capture the Red Arrows’ arrival, I couldn’t help but snap a few photos of YVR’s mid-day traffic! While the Queen and Super Jumbo would’ve been nice, there was enough diversity to hold our attention. The best catch was C-FGDX, an Air Canada 787-9 Dreamliner (as seen below) which departed off runway 26L for Beijing.
Just after a United 737 took off for San Francisco, I spotted three sets of lights. Flying in a reduced 1-2 triangle formation, the first group flared for arrival. As they touched down on Runway 26L, the clicking from our cameras overshadowed the noise from the single Rolls-Royce MK 151. Over the next 45 minutes, the remaining nine aircraft touched down and parked in front of the hangar.
Food and Red Arrows Swag
Once all the aircraft were parked with their engines turned off, I turned my attention to the food and drink available in the hangar. As a fan of British food and beer, I wouldn’t be disappointed. To start things off, I went for a glass of Innis and Gunn’s Mangoes on the Run India Pale Ale. In my opinion, this IPA from the Scottish Craft Brewery wouldn’t have felt out of place in a local tap house. As I searched for an appropriate food pairing, I stumbled across a plate full of Tandoori chicken skewers. After putting a few on a plate, I added a couple of other delicacies and found a table where I could consume my lunch.
On the table, I noticed an assortment of trinkets and Red Arrows swag. While finishing off my beer, I flicked through one of the booklets. Covering everything from the pilots to the aerobatic maneuvers, the booklet seemed like a great item to pass on to other “AvGeeks”. Before leaving, I made a mental note to pick up seconds of all the swag items so I could create a Red Arrows giveaway package. If you’ve made it this far, don’t worry, all will be revealed in the next few lines!
After finishing off my lunch, and tracking down the dessert table, it was time for a few speeches. First up was Nicole Davison, the British Consul-General (Vancouver, representing British Columbia, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories). In addition to welcoming the Red Arrows to Vancouver, she highlighted the additional events that would be occurring in the region. With flybys planned in Victoria and Vancouver, the Red Arrows would also be premiering their documentary at the local science museum. At the end of Davison’s speech, she welcomed Susan Le Jeune d’Allegeershecque, the British High Commissioner to Canada. In addition to welcoming the team, the High Commissioner spoke about the role the Red Arrows play as British Ambassadors and the volume of trade between Britain and Canada.
Closing out the formal speeches was Wing Commander Andrew Keith. Nearing the end of his second term with the Red Arrows, Keith has been with the RAF since 2001. Between 2009 and 2017, he spent time in the Middle East, served as Squadron leader of 83 Expeditionary Air Wing, and served as the Weapons and Tactics Commander for XIII Squadron. As he addressed the assembled guests, Keith spoke about the future development of human capital in aviation and the importance of promoting STEM in local universities.
Red Arrows Wrap up
Following Andrew’s speech, all of the honored guests, pilots, and media members assembled in front of Red 1 for a group photo. With the formalities wrapped up, it was time for my interview with Squadron Leader Steve Morris (which you can see in a future post). Without giving away too much, Morris proved to be a great find. With his 17 years of experience in the RAF, he had many experiences to share. After thanking him, and the event organizer, it was time to head out. I’d had an amazing experience, and I left the event looking forward to the upcoming flyby.
In the next post, I’ll have Steve Morris’s interviews and my photos from the flyby in Vancouver. If you happened to miss the Red Arrows in your hometown, here’s a teaser from the Vancouver flypast!
How to Win the Red Arrows Swag
Alright, the moment you’ve been waiting for! If you’d like to win this Red Arrows Prize Package comment below with your favorite airshow memory or experience. Only one comment per person. At 5:00 pm on Monday November 18, 2019 (Seattle time), I will shut down the comments and use a random number generator to choose from the eligible comments. Good luck!
- Paper Airplane Template
- Remove Before Flight tag
- 2 x Red Arrows Pins
Thank you to everyone who commented and read the story, we have ourselves a winner!
Let me introduce you to Bill Johnson!
Bill is a former dispatcher for Midwest Airlines who has the distinction of flying on every modern-day Boeing aircraft, save only the 787 Dreamliner! A true “AvGeek”, Bill’s favorite aircraft is the 747 and his favorite airline, currently in service is Delta Airlines!
If you’d like to connect with him to learn more about his history in aviation and his current day-to-day life in Wisconsin, we’ve included the link to his Facebook Account!
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So sad I was out of town when they were in Seattle but would love come swag
Wish they had come to Atlanta. Oh well, next time.
I am not very experienced with airshows, but every summer, the Blue Angels visit Seattle and put on a terrific show.
Gonna have to check them out at some point, I’ve heard great things! The Snowbirds are the best we have in Canada but I doubt they compare to the Blue Angels!
At Aldergrove I watched in awe as a Vulcan put on an amazing aerial display.
A master pilot was at the controls of that beautiful aircraft.
2010 Airshow in SeaFair as this was the culmination of a 18th birthday gift to my son after a week long visits to various FAA facilities, towers, Boeing sites, BFI, SeaTac and Payne Field along with several aviation museums in the area…. it was THE perfect exclamation point… and we were there from Oklahoma!
Ok…slightly envious now. That sounds like the best “AvGeek” Birthday ever! Not airshow related, but for my 10th birthday, I took a seaplane trip with my dad to Victoria. By far my most memorable Birthday!
Sorry, Paine Field… sheesh!
I bet that was a trip you’ll always remember… forgot we also did a float plane tour of Seattle during our visit… lasted less than an hour, but my son did get to ride the co-pilot seat. 🙂
Totally! That trip also included one of the strangest sensations I’ve had while flying; that moment after you touchdown when the floats start to dig in and the plane tips back into the water. Completely routine, but I doubt I’d ever get used to it!
My Dad took me to an airshow when I was little. It was pretty exciting to see the stunts they did.
I wish they had come to Florida!! I saw them many years ago when they came to Cape Town, South Africa and did their customary 9 wide run from over Table Mountain – spectacular stuff!!!!
Saw them at Farnborough three years ago. Truly spectacular. The do a different show than the Blue Angles and Thunderbirds, but it was very impressive. So many planes in the sky at one time. Plus, I got to talk with some of the ground support staff.
One of the biggest things I took away from my interview with Steve Morris (RED 5) was that most of the men and women involved with the Red Arrows have some prior combat experience. It never really crossed my mind that the pilots and support staff had done anything other than aerobatics.
My favourite air show memory clearly is Berlin’s ILA, when I had a chance to visit an A 380 (Emirates) complete with a full tour of both decks and a glimpse into the cockpit.
In it for the swag (surprise, surprise…) alone for those pins… am an avid collector.
Used to go down to Pease AFB in NH and watch them practice the day before. Backroad to end of runway was. The best spot!
My favorite air show memory has to be at Travis AFB when I got to see the USAF Thunderbirds up close, but also the flybys of the old C-5 Galaxy, a U-2 and a minimum airspeed pass with vertical afterburner push of a SR-71!
Have they stopped displaying the SR-71? To be completely honest, I don’t follow the military and airshow side of Aviation as closely as I should. I’d love to see a BlackBird in Flight if they’re still going!
Having worked at YYZ for the past 13 years, the Canadian International Air Show at the end of August/beginning of September has always been a treat as the aircraft parked around Pearson and were accessible airside.
My favourite memory occurred one morning during that time of year. It was 2011, wonderfully clear and sunny day. At the time, I was working out of the infield complex and was walking to work from the parking lot.
I heard it first. Low rumble in the distance. I whipped my head around towards the sound and look up to see the CF-18 Demo plane scream over my head in a low pass buzz around the control tower. I think they got another two or three passes before he entered the pattern and landed that morning. Best airshow memory to date.
I was a kid in the 80’s and we went to the air show at what was Carswell AFB in Ft Worth at the time. Ten percent chance of rain turned into a nearby tornado. Everyone had to seek shelter in the hangars! Chalks did nothing for the smaller aircraft that day!
I’m pretty sure I said, “favorite Air Show experience”…Just Kidding. Honestly, I can only imagine what that must’ve been like! Thanks for sharing your story Joshua!
Couple of years ago a business trip coincided with the Seattle air show. What an amazing day it was!
My favorite airshow memory was from around 25 years ago, I was at the Fort Lauderdale Air & Sea show, watching the show from the beach. Seeing the Blue Angels fly over the beach, was pretty awesome!