In the RAF Aerobatic Team (RAFAT), the Red Arrows pilots may be the stars the public recognises, but they didn’t join the RAF as stars.
Neither did the RAFAT engineers on whom the pilots depend for keeping their ageing Hawk T1s in fit shape for sharp flying. Nor the admin and logistics team that keeps them on the road.
Stars they all are, but most of the time it doesn’t feel like it. Most of the time it’s like, well, it’s like being in the RAF. The RAF’s what they joined, the RAF gave them the skills they bring to the team, and the RAF’s what they are.
Their lives are a combination of sustained hard work, a lot of time on the road, and a job that consists of taking carefully calculated risks without having accidents. When the accidents don’t happen, the team can get moments of intense job satisfaction. But getting on a high can be dangerous in a job like this, and they know it.
In 2011 the Reds lost two pilots in separate accidents within three months. The display season was shut down two weeks early and the team re-grouped at its RAF Scampton base for the most difficult winter of their lives. There was no guarantee that there would be a 2012 season, and even the possibility that the RAFAT would be retired as a luxury the Service couldn’t afford at a time of austerity.
In the Flight International Farnborough special issue (8 July,) we will tell the story of how the Red Arrows nearly died, how the team fought back from the massive blow to morale that the loss of two colleagues represented. You can read about the personal and the politics, about what this year – the 50th Display Season – means to the team and to the RAF, and what kind of future the RAFAT can expect from here onward.
Don’t miss it.