During the 2015 display season an estimated 42 million people watched the RAF Red Arrows flying their routine.
On 17 December, having finished a day’s training, they took a break for Christmas. But not before the pilots – and the heads of the Reds’ engineering and administrative teams – made their traditional visit that evening to the City of London for the 39th “Boycie’s Annual Reception”.
Courtesy of David Boyce, a City man and long time Red Arrows devotee, each year the Reds meet the heads of Britain’s trading and financial community at the ancient Charterhouse.
It’s a well-attended social gathering where wealth-creation meets the highest expression of the military expertise that ensures the City enjoys the peace and stability to trade; and maybe also the ground in which the seeds of corporate sponsorship are sewn, potentially boosting the Reds’ ability to market their shows.
According to tradition Red 1 – currently Sqn Ldr David Montenegro – addressed the gathering, summarising the season’s achievements and looking ahead to the next.
Increasingly, it seems, the UK is deploying the Reds as one of its most powerful international marketing weapons, furthering its push to curry favour with growing economic powers like India.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on his early November state visit to the UK, was being entertained at 10 Downing Street, Modi was honoured with a flypast, the Reds streaming the Indian colours instead of the UK’s red, white and blue.
The Indian air force happens to be putting in a new order for 20 more of the Hawk trainers that the Reds fly, except they’ll be the latest marque rather than the nearly 40y-old machines the team use.
Montenegro, in an intriguing aside, told us how hard the team’s engineers had to work to get the dark green and saffron smoke colours of India’s flag right, because on the first trial run they were embarrassingly off-colour.
Next year in early November the Reds are booked to display – for the first time – at Zhuhai for China’s biennial air show, so they have plenty of time to get the mixture right for the red and yellow smoke that will salute this globally prized trading partner.
To be ready for the 2016 display season, however, the Reds have to go through their winter work-up period, which began in October at their Scampton, Lincolnshire base when the 2015 season ended. This prepares the team as a whole – including three new pilots – for the exacting routines designed to dazzle the watching crowds.
After their Christmas and New Year holiday the Reds return to Scampton for more hard work until March, wearing their normal RAF dark green flying suits. Then in April – under normal circumstances – they move to the more reliable weather at RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus to complete the work-up.
This year, however, Akrotiri is so busy supporting live RAF operations over Syria and Iraq that the Reds are going to use the Hellenic air force base at Tanagra, southern Greece. Here they begin practising the full, nine-ship routines they have been working up to. Every session is filmed for debrief.
If they get it right, by May they will be judged ready, and allowed to don their red flying overalls for the first time in the year. They are ready for a season that will include 90 displays in the UK and all over the world.
Plus the transit flying from Scampton to each display site. When it’s China, that takes some time.