On 23rd January 2023, The Blades Aerobatic Display Team officially announced that, by decision of the team’s parent company 2Excell Aviation, 2022 was regrettably the last full season for the group.
The Blades team have been a very important part of 2Excel Aviation since its beginnings. The company was founded in 2005, while the team made its debut just one year later, being its only consistent entity for the next seventeen years.
However, the world events that took place over the few recent years resulted in the challenges faced by the global economy, the deepening crisis and the prolonged hit to disposable incomes. And all of this have a huge impact on aviation. In this case, one of the clearly observable – for every aviation enthusiast – consequences of the aforementioned factors is the significant decrease in the number of aviation events organised around the world.
In turn, the decreased number of air shows posed a real challenge for aerobatic groups such as The Blades, for which air shows are a chance not only to display, but also to showcase their sponsors to the public being a guarantee of income allowing to continue their activities. Finally, that led the authorities of 2Excel Aviation to make the very difficult decision on the future of The Blades Aerobatic Team.
According to the statement published on the team´s social media channels, the board of 2Excell Aviation had concluded that in the current situation, the aerobatic group presents an unsustainable business model. Therefore, out of concern for the welfare of the company and its employees, decision to take actions regarding redeployment of financial and personnel resources elsewhere within the company’s services. Regrettably, in practice, that means nothing else but the end of nearly seventeen-year history of The Blades Aerobatic Team.
Nevertheless, in recognition of The Blades – both pilots who are not only good at aerobatics but, as former military pilots, are experienced in flying high-speed jets; and members of the support staff with desirable skills – the authorities of 2Excell Aviation hope to entrust them with other tasks within the business activities of the still growing company.
‘The Blades will live on in spirit – our legacy to the air show world – and in the collective memory of our highly valued sponsors, our supporters, and the legions of people who’ve both watched the Team from the ground and those who have taken flight on our Unforgettable Experience days to enjoy close formation aerobatics or become part of the Blades Flight Club.´ – said Andy Offer, co-founder and director of the 2Excell Aviation company and co-founder of The Blades.
´During the 17 flying seasons the Blades delivered, millions of people saw the team display and thousands have ridden onboard our aircraft. We owe a great debt of gratitude to every one of them. But, most importantly, we must pay tribute to the pilots who have flown with the team and to the ground staff who supported them over the years – especially to those who delivered the final season in 2022 with The Blades’ traditional professionalism and flair. They will be missed.´ – he added and emphasized that: ´It’s been our greatest pleasure to entertain everyone and to provide once-in-a-lifetime experiences. As one of the original Blades’ pilots, I had the privilege to lead the Team for several years. The concept emerged from the many requests I had during my time in the Red Arrows to take members of the public flying. That was impossible due to the restrictions on flying civilians in military jets. But it made us realise there was potential to provide the experience of a lifetime by taking paying passengers aloft for close formation aerobatics.´
The Blades Aerobatic Team, which home airfield was Sywell Aerodrome in Northamptonshire, was the only full-time civilian aerobatic group in the UK, although having military background. The group was established in 2005 by aforementioned Andy Offer, former leader of the famous RAF Red Arrows Aerobatic Team, and Chris Norton, Wing Commander of the Royal Air Force. The team included a total of eight pilots, with five of them as regular display performers, all having served in the Royal Air Force and flew in the Red Arrows before.
The group flew five aircraft from the popular Extra family. Four two-seat Extra 330LPs were the core of the team and performed the group elements of the show. Occasionally they were also used to fly with passengers at corporate flying events. The single-seat Extra 330SC was flown by the team’s soloist. Initially, the aircraft of The Blades Aerobatic Team wore orange and black colours. Over time, the livery was changed to light blue and black, before eventually returning to the orange and black as the base colours of the paint scheme in 2013.
The Blades Aerobatic Team made their debut in 2006, performing a display at an event organised by British football star David Beckham, prior to the 18th FIFA World Cup held later that year in Germany. Since then, every year the team had participated in many air shows throughout the UK and visited many other European countries.
In addition, The Blades have marked many special events with their acrobatics, such as celebrations of the 80th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II at Balmoral Castle, the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix, or Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival.
Interesting, and worth mentioning, is also the fact that The Blades Aerobatic Team holds the world record for the number of 26 consecutive loops performed in formation. Surprisingly, for the record breaking attempt a passenger was taken on board of the aeroplane piloted by Myles Garland. That passenger was blind bank manager Mike Newman, who at the beginning of the stunt, personally controlled the Extra for a while. Then, Garland took over the controls and piloted the aeroplane for the rest of the trial.
The Blades were also helping the Royal Air Force Association supporting RAF service personnel. Since 2016, one of The Blades’ pilots, Ben Murphy, a former of the Red Arrows, had also competed in Red Bull Air Race. Initially he flew in the Challenger class, until 2018 when he was promoted to Master class of that world-famous air racing series.
All photos: The Blades show during Sanicole International Airshow 2017 and Sanicole Sunset 2017. Information from The Blades media kit and The Blades social media were used.