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!
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