Red Arrows: Behind the tour

It has been over a decade since the Royal Air Force Red Arrows crossed the pond to visit North America – a fact that has undoubtedly contributed to the massive buzz surrounding the team’s current tour, that’s ran since Aug. 7 through until Oct. 8.

The Red Arrows flew with the Snowbirds during the Canadian International Air Show in Toronto. Sgt Ashley Keates Photo
The Red Arrows flew with the Snowbirds during the Canadian International Air Show in Toronto. Sgt Ashley Keates Photo
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At the beginning of August, the squad made the long journey across the Atlantic – making stops in Scotland, Iceland and Greenland – before touching down in Halifax to kick off their North American Tour. Since the moment they arrived, aviation enthusiasts and publications have riddled social media with a flurry of Red Arrows pictures and videos. Even the mainstream media has been caught up in the frenzy, with several members of the team invited onto talk shows and newscasts throughout both Canada and the United States.

“This tour, more than any before, has such a high-profile online presence,” said Doug Smith, Red Arrows’ squadron leader and team manager. “We have a sizable PR Team to take photos of the flying activity and ground engagement and deliver what is expected of us on media channels, especially social media.”

The purpose of the tour is to promote the U.K.’s business interests, enhance the relationship between the US/Canada and the UK, foster interest in STEM activities with young people and entertain spectators at airshows and flypasts with visually appealing displays Smith told Skies.

With four scheduled Canadian stops, along with 17 American destinations, the Arrows have had a full plate of both public engagements and business summits. Sgt Ashley Keates Photo
With four scheduled Canadian stops, along with 17 American destinations, the Arrows have had a full plate of both public engagements and business summits. Sgt Ashley Keates Photo

“It’s very much a government-led initiative and I would suggest it’s probably been in the planning for three or four years, but the actual fine-tuning of the engagement started about eight months ago,” he explained.

That fine-tuning involved Smith and two others from the Red Arrows – Andy Morton, the team’s public relations manager, and logistics expert Paul Llewellin – making trips to potential tour stops and scouting which locations would be ideal for completing the tour’s mission. This included finding hotels, contacting local fixed-base operators (FBOs) and securing prospective ground appearances for the team. The potential for business engagement was a crucial factor when it came to selecting tour stops and the team was guided by local UK Consulate staff throughout the North American continent.

“One of the most important things for us is delivery of STEM-related topics — science, technology engineering and math — and it’s trying to get the youngsters of the U.S. and Canada to have that spark of inspiration about the possibility of entering into careers within [STEM],” said Smith. “We’ve completed many STEM engagements thus far and indeed have many more planned within the tour.”

Along with public engagement, Smith and his crew also had to investigate the potential for business relationships that could involve the Red Arrows brand.

With such a large number of stops, not every city scheduled on the tour will get to witness the team's full display due to the logistics of the trip - but each one will glimpse the Arrows' gleaming red Hawk T1s overhead. Sgt Ashley Keates Photo
With such a large number of stops, not every city scheduled on the tour will get to witness the team’s full display due to the logistics of the trip – but each one will glimpse the Arrows’ gleaming red Hawk T1s overhead. Sgt Ashley Keates Photo

“A good example of that would be in St. Louis, we had a roundtable event with business leaders to discuss leadership and business opportunities” said Smith. “We also had a business breakfast where the local consulate office invited key contacts from the local area, using the presence of the team as facilitators through developing discussions.”

With four scheduled Canadian stops, along with 17 American destinations, the Arrows have had a full plate of both public engagements and business summits – but those are secondary to the true reason the Red Arrows’ tour has generated so much noise on social media.

That distinction goes to the team’s famed flying displays. The team’s tight formation flying, daring manoeuvres and distinct red, white and blue smoke trails have captured the interest of a continent that hasn’t seen the Arrows since 2008.

Though there are a large number of stops, not every city scheduled on the tour will get to witness the team’s full display due to the logistics of the trip – but each one will glimpse the Arrows’ gleaming red Hawk T1s overhead.

“There’s a mixture of different aerial activity that we’re conducting out here. We have the full display at airshows like Toronto — the Canadian International Air Show — where the public will get to see the full range of aerobatic manoeuvres,” said Smith. “[The tour] is quite spectacular, however, for some of the business engagements, we perform an enhanced flypast; that is a series of four or five, separate flypasts in different formations. It’s not just a single flypast, they get a little bit more – it’s similar to the first half of a display. Then, thirdly, we perform a standard flypast that will be a single pass . . .  at the Washington Nationals’ MLB stadium, we performed a single flypast at the beginning of the game and it  looked fantastic and was warmly received by the spectators.”

All of this extensive work that went into making the tour a reality has resulted in a heightened sense of excitement throughout North American aviation circles. Sgt Ashley Keates Photo
All of this extensive work that went into making the tour a reality has resulted in a heightened sense of excitement throughout North American aviation circles. Sgt Ashley Keates Photo
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Due to such an extensive tour and busy flight schedule, Smith told Skies that pre-arranging logistical necessities was a crucial step for Morton, Llewellin and himself on their scouting trip.

“We covered 12 locations within a five-week period,” he said. “It’s arriving at airfields, it’s seeing who the fixed-base operator is on the airfields for the handling agents to discuss what our needs are in terms of engineering — the jets’ fuel, diesel for the smoke delivery system, oxygen, nitrogen — all the standard things that the jets require.”

Though the Red Arrows work with many FBOs and airport staff during the tour, the personnel needed to keep operations running smoothly is extensive.

“The team required to deliver the tour is 107 strong,” said Smith. “That includes quite a sizable engineering footprint – [including] logistics and aircraft movement personnel.”

Team members are transported on an Airbus A400M Atlas.

Team members are transported on an Airbus A400M Atlas. Eric Dumigan Photo
Team members are transported on an Airbus A400M Atlas. Eric Dumigan Photo

“To move so many personnel around North America – we have 26 different stops in 10-and-a-half weeks – is quite a logistical feat” Smith emphasized. “We are fortunate to be supported by the Airbus A400M Atlas aircraft which has ferried the team around the route thus far and has done an absolutely sterling job in supporting us. It moves packets of engineering freight forward and then returns to collect the rear team to move them into the next location, so it’s effectively completing shuttle runs across the U.S. and Canada.”

All of this extensive work that went into making the tour a reality has resulted in a heightened sense of excitement throughout North American aviation circles. The appreciation for the team and their aircraft can be seen across social media, where hundreds of pictures have been posted by fans that are either seeing the squad for the first time or enjoying a display they haven’t had a chance to watch in over a decade. According to Smith, the feeling is mutual.

“For the team – that’s the pilots, the engineers, and all the support staff – we are really excited to be here and to showcase our expertise in front of the U.S. and Canadian audiences,” he said. “Everywhere we’ve been so far, the audiences have been wonderful, very hospitable and have given us such a warm welcome.”

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