THE RAF'S RED ARROWS team has a set of standard operating procedures (SOPS) based on decades of experience.

All display sites are surveyed by the Red Arrows and categorised A, B, or C. Category A is ideal, B involves some overflight of built-up areas, and C is unacceptable because of urban surroundings. The Farnborough site is designated category C. The team's minimum height is 300ft (90m) above ground level and, for the "synchronised pair", it reduces to 150ft inverted or 100ft upright. The aircraft do not have radar altimeters and, as team manager Mike Williams observes, pressure altimeters have their limitations while manoeuvring at very low level; so height is judged by eye. Safety depends on looking out.

Runs over the crowd must be at a minimum 1,000ft, with the aircraft diverging or climbing. Over-crowd runs, says UK Civil Aviation Authority head of general aviation Alan Daley, will be stopped altogether when the European Joint Aviation display rules come into force. That date has not been set.

The essence of the Arrows' display safety is practice. During the annual work-up period, the "synchro pair", for example, fly their manoeuvres three times a day every day, giving a total of some 300 runs before the display season starts. Every display and practice is video-recorded and analysed "frame by frame" in the debriefing, says Williams.

Air-show organisers who attempt to impose different SOPs or heights on the Red Arrows will be refused a display because changing the routine could be dangerous, according to Williams.

Source: Flight International