Pilots, engineers and support staff from the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team have returned home following the Red Arrows’ most-ambitious tour of North America. After covering in excess 22,000 miles and 74 days away, the team’s jets arrived at RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire yesterday, to be met by waiting families.
The 11-week tour of Canada and the United States was the biggest-ever in the Red Arrows’ 55-season history and spanned more than 25 cities – promoting United Kingdom interests and showcasing the best of British. During the history-making deployment, the Red Arrows engaged with tens of millions of people, through 21 displays, daily media activity and by completing 30 stunning flypasts over major landmarks or locations.
This included performances over Niagara Falls, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and New York’s Hudson River, with Manhattan’s skyscrapers lining the route.
The activity continued a longstanding, successful record of the Red Arrows supporting the GREAT Britain Campaign, helping to highlight opportunities across business, education and tourism.
Air Vice-Marshal Warren James, Air Officer Commanding Number 22 Group – the RAF group within which the Red Arrows sit – said: “It can’t be underestimated how challenging a schedule the Reds have followed in North America or how well they have been received in every town and city they have visited or flown over. It is testament to the professionalism and expertise of our engineers and ground crew who have meticulously kept these iconic aircraft serviced and fit to fly throughout their three-month tour. After such a gruelling schedule, I hope they all enjoy some well-earned leave and time with their families.”
The Red Arrows last performed in North America 11 years ago but the latest visit was the most extensive to-date – displaying coast-to-coast. This deployment was aimed at being an indication of the UK’s continuing commitment to enduring relationships, mutual prosperity and extensive security cooperation in the region. The tour helped to celebrate and enhance international trade and investment between the UK, Canada and the US, worth more than £208 billion in 2018.
However, the flying was only one part of the tour. More than 120 ground events were staged, ranging from school and university visits to business seminars, leadership presentations and science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) sessions, aimed at inspiring young people.
Antony Phillipson, HM Trade Commissioner for North America and British Consul General in New York, said: “Over the past three months, the Red Arrows participated in over 100 events across the US and Canada with breath-taking flypasts in some of the most iconic locations in both countries as well as their world-famous aerobatic displays. The Reds, and their fabulous support team the Blues, demonstrated once again that they are awesome ambassadors for the UK, and showcased all that is great about Britain. Their North American tour will live long in the memory and we can’t wait until we get a chance to see them here again.”
After completing a UK season, the tour got underway on August 5 and has taken the team to 19 US states. The Red Arrows flew further west than ever before, with performances in locations such as British Columbia and California.
Supporting the Red Arrows overseas has been many other Royal Air Force units, including crews operating Airbus A400M Atlas transport aircraft, which moved personnel and equipment.
Among the biggest events of the tour was the Great Pacific Airshow in Huntington Beach, south of Los Angeles, where up to three million people watched the team display.
Wing Commander Andrew Keith, Officer Commanding, Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, said: “From start-to-finish, the tour has exceeded all expectations – from the warm reception of the huge crowds at our displays and flypasts, to the packed programme of ground events. Thank you to every person who watched the team or played a role in making the tour such a success, whether they are from other parts of the Royal Air Force, overseas authorities on the transits and across Canada and the US, military counterparts, airshow organisers, the countless volunteers and colleagues in the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Trade. It takes a massive team effort to plan and then carry out such a far-reaching tour and the activity is a fantastic demonstration of the skills, talents and dedication of those involved.”
The team’s BAE Systems Hawk jets cannot refuel in the air and do not possess the range to make the transatlantic crossing in one sortie. This means the aircraft were flown via several stops to and from North America. The return journey took 10 days, starting in California. Battling weather and plunging temperatures as the jets headed east, it featured a number of locations – including Kangerlussuaq, Greenland – north of the Arctic Circle – before going on to Iceland. The final stop before reaching RAF Scampton was Stornoway.
Squadron Leader Martin Pert, Team Leader and Red 1, said: “It’s great to return home after one of the Red Arrows’ biggest and most high-profile overseas tours ever, representing both the Royal Air Force and the United Kingdom. The tour not only provided the chance to get magnificent images over iconic locations – which will long be remembered and shared – but the whole team revelled in the opportunity to meet and interact with a new audience and show them exactly what we’re capable of.”
For more information on the Red Arrows, follow @rafredarrows on Twitter, like the team’s Facebook page at RAF Red Arrows, view pictures on Instagram @rafredarrows or visit www.raf.mod.uk/reds