UK's British Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team fly China's skies for first time

Updated 2016-10-26 11:18:50 Global Times

On Monday members of the British Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, known as the Red Arrows, stopped in Shanghai on their way to attend their first-ever display at Airshow China in Zhuhai as part of their Asia-Pacific and Middle East Tour 2016.

Formed in 1964, the Red Arrows have performed in 56 countries and completed more than 4,800 performances as UK ambassadors for excellence, representing the speed, agility and precision of the Royal Air Force. China will be their 57th country.

The team permanently increased to nine display aircraft in 1968, with the Diamond Nine becoming the Red Arrows' trademark formation, showcasing British engineering, teamwork and creativity. All nine display pilots are from frontline Royal Air Force squadrons with a minimum of 1,500 flying hours and frontline experience.

Each year three new pilots are chosen by the British Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team for the Red Arrows and examined during a thorough selection week. They are then put through a grueling flying test, formal interview and peer assessments.

There are also 120 support staff known as "the Blues" because of the distinctive flying suits they wear during the display season. They are engineers, photographers, suppliers, administrators and drivers, representing the variety of trades of the Royal Air Force. Every team member has undergone intensive training.

"I am delighted to welcome the Red Arrows to China. The team is renowned for excellence, its impressive displays and world-leading skills represent the best of British innovation," the British Ambassador to China, Dame Barbara Woodward, said in the press release. "The Red Arrows demonstrate the engineering excellence and skills that are hallmarks of both the Royal Air Force and British industry."

Golden era

It took three and a half weeks to arrive in Shanghai, a long and a large tour that started in the UK, then the Middle East, then India, Singapore, across Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, through Vietnam and then, finally, China.

"Shanghai is the critically main part of our journey here. We want to build strong relationships with our key partners in China, particularly, the People's Liberation Army Air Force," said Air Vice-Marshal Andrew Turner.

"On the back of President Xi's visit to the United Kingdom last year, where he announced the golden era of Sino-UK relations, this era is what we've been trying to build; a strong, deep, reliable, lasting relationship with businesses and academia across the two countries so we can find ways to understand each other better, learn from each other and develop capabilities together," said Turner.

Wing Commander Martin Higgins, Officer Commanding of the Red Arrows, said each member of the Red Arrows is excited by the prospect of the team visiting and performing in China for the first time. The visit showcases the strong links between the UK and China.

"We're honored to have been invited to perform at Airshow China in Zhuhai and I hope the many thousands of people attending the event will enjoy the Red Arrows' precision flying, aerobatics and demonstration of the best of British in the air and on the ground," said Higgins.

Keeping conscious

Squadron Leader Mike Ling, the supervisor of the team, told the Global Times that the Red Arrows will put on a 24-minute display at the Zhuhai air show. The first seven minutes will see all nine aircraft together in close formation where they fly at around 750 kilometers per hour with each jet only 2 meters apart. They will then split into smaller formations of between two and seven aircrafts for a more dynamic, visual spectacle.

"There is always something happening for the crowd. Be it two aircrafts fly toward each other with closing speeds around 1,500 kilometers per hour, down 100 feet to 30 meters above the ground, and 24 minutes of close formation and dynamic acrobatics," Ling said.

To achieve this performance level, the Red Arrows train five months every year, three times a day, five days a week during the winter months at their UK base. They then go to the Mediterranean for six weeks to use the good Mediterranean weather to polish their performance.

Physically, however, this intensive training can take a toll on a pilot's body. "The aircraft can pull 8G (eight times the force of gravity). So everything in your body weighs eight times more than normal. At 8G your heart will drop three to four centimeters in your body because it is eight times heavier. All the blood in your head wants to go to your feet. It's quite a hard work to try to stop blanking out and keep your consciousness," Ling said.

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