Unique formation over Lincolnshire – RAF Red Arrows inaugurated their 60th display season

In a press release from 8th March 2024, the Royal Air Force announced that on that day, the Red Arrows Aerobatic Team had commenced its 60th diamond display season. On inauguration flight, the team was accompanied by two unique aircraft, Folland Gnat jet trainers.

The Gnat aeroplane was developed in the 1950s by the Folland Aircraft company and entered service with the Royal Air Force in 1959. Additionally, the Gnat was also the aircraft with which the RAF Red Arrows flew from 1965 – which also was their first season – until 1980, when it was replaced by a more modern training aircraft, Hawk T.1. Therefore, the presence of those vintage jets at RAF Waddington, the home base of the RAF Red Arrows, on such a special occasion for the aerobatic team being the RAF worldwide hallmark is no coincidence.

Although those two vintage jet trainers, currently being owned and operated by Heritage Aircraft Thrust, have never been a part of the RAF Red Arrows fleet, their liveries are associated with the team in some way. One of the Gnats, built in 1964, wears bright yellow colours of the Yellowjacks display team that flew that type of aircraft and was one of the immediate predecessors to the RAF Red Arrows. The other aeroplane, representing 1963-built version of the Gnat, wears the white-red paint scheme of No. 4 Flying Training School, with which the history of both aerobatic teams is quite closely related.

The Yellowjacks-painted Gnat joined the RAF Red Arrows’ formation of the Hawk jets for their flypast over Lincolnshire and the RAF Waddington station, where many distinguished guests and officials gathered to attend the Red Arrows’ special diamond season opening. Among them, there were former pilots and engineers of the RAF and the Red Arrows, including those from the Gnat era and original team members from 1965, as well as Air Cadets representing the future of the RAF.

The RAF Red Arrows and Folland Gnat of the Heritage Aircraft Thrust over Lincolnshire. Photo: Cpl Phil Dye / UK MOD © Crown copyright 2024

‘To bring together the past, present and potential future of the Red Arrows is the perfect way to launch our 60th season display calendar. The Red Arrows will perform a new, nine-aircraft show at locations across the UK this summer and the whole team of 140 people, both air and ground crew, are humbled by the countless individuals who have already got in touch to say how they can’t wait to see this diamond display. I know, from my own childhood experience at air shows, just how many people – of all ages and backgrounds – these events bring together and how important they are to communities. Generations of families, up and down the country, have enjoyed watching the Red Arrows display ever since the first public show in 1965 and this 60th season will remain faithful to our aims – to entertain, inform and inspire.’ – said Squadron Leader Jon Bond, who will lead the team as Red 1 for the first time this year.

Wing Commander Adam Collins, Officer Commanding of the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team who attended the ceremony, said – ‘The Gnat is synonymous with the earliest days of the Red Arrows and this wonderful chapter of British aviation. Reuniting the aircraft, at our home in Lincolnshire, with some of those who helped establish the team during the 1960s, as well as aviators of the future such as Holly, has been a great backdrop from which to launch our Diamond Season display dates. It’s through these forthcoming summer shows, colourful flypasts and engaging ground events that we hope to inspire even more generations.’

Among the guests that attended the RAF Red Arrows’ 2024 season opening was also daughter of well-known Squadron Leader Ray Hanna. He was a wingman in the RAF Red Arrows founding year, and then Leader and Red 1 in the team for four consecutive seasons between 1966 and 1969, which still is a record to this day. After retirement from service, he became one of the most recognizable warbird pilots in Europe.

‘For me, it has always been a point of great pride that my father led the team through those formative, critical years and established the foundations for its longevity.’ – said Sarah, Sqn/Ldr Ray Hanna’s daughter.

Folland Gnat of the HAT in No. 4 Flying Training School colours at RAF Waddington. Photo: Cpl Phil Dye / UK MOD © Crown copyright 2024

Another attendant of the event was Air Cadet Holly Rowley-White, a sergeant with No. 759 (Beccles) Squadron in Suffolk, who completed her first solo flight just five days after her 16th birthday in January this year.

‘The opportunity to join the Red Arrows for this 60th milestone at RAF Waddington is like all my dreams and wishes have come true. I feel so privileged to be part of this special celebration and historical moment. When I found out I was attending I did not stop screaming for an hour! One of my first recollections of watching the Red Arrows was in Great Yarmouth in 2018 when I was ten years old and I thought – ‘I could do that one day’. I aspire to be a fast-jet pilot in the RAF and a future Red Arrows pilot. It’s been amazing to meet the talented pilots and support staff, learn about the journey they have taken so far, what it takes to be the best and how proud they must feel to be part of the Red Arrows team for the 60th display season. Thank you to all of the Red Arrows team for giving me this opportunity – just wow!’ – said Air Cadet Holly Rowley-White.

The first public appearance of the RAF Red Arrows within the diamond campaign is scheduled for late May. The dates and UK locations where the Red Arrows will perform during their 2024 season were already published here, on the team’s website. The schedule includes dozens of events, like coastal Blackpool Airshow, the opening day of the Eastbourne International Air Show, as well as the Goodwood Festival of Speed and performance during the Armed Forces’ Day.

During this season, which will end in early October, the Red Arrows will also visit Canada within their Maple Hawk 2024 tour to attend in the Royal Canadian Air Force’s centennial celebrations and perform at four air shows which will be held in the country in late summer.

Special artwork carried by each of the RAF Red Arrows aircraft to celebrate the team’s diamond anniversary. Photo: Cpl Phil Dye / UK MOD © Crown copyright 2024

Cover photo: The RAF Red Arrows Hawk and the Heritage Aircraft Thrust Gnat over Lincolnshire. Photo: Cpl Phil Dye / UK MOD © Crown copyright 2024
All photos and quotations were used under the UK Ministry of Defence © Crown copyright Editorial License