RAF Scampton & The Red Arrows

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29th May 2009


Over a slightly boozy lunch just over a year ago with Sqn Ldr Lyn Crawley – a good friend for a number of years – there was a chance remark that Lyn was going to the Red Arrows reunion dinner in a couple of weeks. Lyn is an ex team manager of the Red Arrows and despite the slight alcoholic haze, a cunning plan formed in the old Bazire brain that is always looking for an opportunity for a group visit. That chance remark resulted in a long process of email exchanges, letter writing and telephone calls to the current team manager Sqn Ldr Jon Trott as well as a flying recce visit to RAF Scampton the ‘Reds’ home base back in February to discuss a possible programme.

All of the above culminated in not only the biggest but probably the best group visit to date. Friday the 29th May was scheduled as an in season practice day (ISP) for the team and the day that the North Weald Flying Group and friends had been invited to fly in and join them. A small drama due to display time changes threw a spanner in the works for the planned programme the previous afternoon, but that was quickly overcome. Amazingly the TAFs were very good, which was just as well given the planning and liaising required with Scampton and Waddington’s ATC units to get our 10 aircraft in between 10.00 and 10.15 local.

The plan was for all the aircraft to be prepped and ready for a quick final brief with the latest from Scampton at just after 08.30 which was the earliest I could get the Archer in from High Cross. With the slight morning mist rapidly clearing and blue sky above it was ‘VB’s’ wheels on the ground at 08.32 in time for a quick ‘splash and dash’ from John who was already waiting with the bowser running. A quick brief for the crews of the runway in use and joining procedure and we were mounting up with the slower ‘FA’ and guest Beagle Pup G-IPUP away first. Two aircraft were to depart from Andrewsfield after a quick confirmation phone call.

Take off from 02, and then low level under the Stansted CTA and then north up the Luton/Stansted gap. A call to a just opening Farnborough radar, whose controller you could almost see sitting down with a cup of coffee, plugging in his headset, turning on the screen and radio expecting a quiet morning then being deluged with aircraft routing to Scampton calling for services prompted the response, ‘What on earth is going on at Scampton today?’ Julian Mitchell in FG obligingly offered to pick him up but this was declined due to controller workload!


Once north of Royston we chose various heights in the clear air, routing up through or over the Wittering and Cottesmore MATZ towards Newark upon Trent our turning point. The Cottesmore controller obviously thought a war was starting with so many radar returns heading his way and sounded a little stressed to say the least, declining all services apart from aircraft in the MATZ itself.

Over to Waddington Zone and a descent towards the old airfield at Swinderby which was to be our turning point for a right base join for R04 at Scampton, and then onto Scampton Tower. G-GEEP the slippery Robin with Gordon Horscraft at the controls was on finals as VB approached from right base. Parking on our pre arranged dispersal was impressive with two Tornado F3s of 111 Sqn on the line and the RA’s Hawks lined up in the distance. We were met by Sqn Ldr Jon Trott and watched as the other aircraft arrived in quick succession with only FC having to make a go around due to separation. At one point the line of five landing lights stacked on the final approach looked like Heathrow. A quick bit of DIY marshaling and all ten aircraft were in on time as well as being in a very impressive and tidy straight line next to the Tornados. Thanks guys.

Due to numbers, the group which amounted to 29 was split into two teams. The second half of the team went off to visit engineering and had a very informative tour as well as the chance to sit in one of the Hawks. To keep the team flying requires enormous team effort and dedication from the ground crews. Several of the team aircraft are the originals and are now over 30 years old.

The ‘Reds’ took their seats in the briefing room and we all listened intently as the Officer Commanding the RA’s, Wing Comm Jas Hawker (Red1) briefed the team on the display sortie and raised points from the previous display. From a pilot’s view this was a great insight into just how thorough each and every display brief is made. Nothing is left to chance and even encompassed the procedures and calls to follow if one of the aircraft suffered a technical problem or failure causing it to pull out during the display sequence.


It was then down to the grass area in front of the hangers which was to be the actual ‘datum point’ around which the display in based to watch the team walk out to the aircraft. The Red Arrows display sequence starts from the moment the team are in their seats. Engines are started in sequence from Red1’s call and the taxi out to the runway is super smooth and perfectly coordinated. The two Tornado crews were riding back seat in four of the Hawks. We watched the perfect formation take off and then the full display routine right in front of us which only re affirms that this is undoubtedly the best jet aerobatic team in the world. The amazing repertoire of manoeuvres with nine aircraft is staggering and the transition from one formation to the other smooth and seamless.

The syncro pairs head-to-head cross overs never fail to impress and even one of the Tornado pilots expressed huge admiration for the pilot’s stunning accuracy afterwards.

After watching the final break and streamed landing, our second team then sat in on the debrief which again was a fantastic insight into the continual quest for total perfection. Wing Co. Hawker even explained the formation terms that would be used to help us understand the debrief – which was very helpful. Every display is videotaped and listening to the team members being hyper critical of themselves and each other for being what must amount to no more than a meter or two out of position was extremely enlightening. Watching the display it would really have been impossible to see; even in super slow motion and freeze frame it was only just visible to the untrained eye. It was then out to the aircraft for a couple of group photographs with the team by one of the aircraft.


After that, lunch was taken in the briefing room with even the team members pulling out packed lunches or waiting a delivery from the local ‘chippie’! This was a great opportunity to find out more about the individuals, their aircraft and what life is actually like as a ‘Red Arrow’ It was all totally informal with the group mingling and chatting with the team as well as the Tornado crews for almost an hour. Almost surreal in a way, these guys in their red flying suits who are at the absolute pinnacle of military aviation dug into pasta in Tupperware boxes, or chips out of paper as they chatted away, being very gracious in answering the many questions with great enthusiasm. This, despite probably having answered them a hundred times before. It’s easy to see how not only outstanding flying skill is required to be a team member, but also outstanding personal communication and PR skills.

After lunch as we were heading towards the RAF Scampton Museum the two Treble One Tornados departed for their home base of Leuchars in Scotland. It was clearly a case of showing the Reds ‘Anything you can do…….’ as they thundered down the runway with full afterburners blazing, lifted off to no more than 30 feet, gear up, speed building, straight down the runway and pull into a vertical zoom climb disappearing into the high cloud above with the ground still shaking below; totally orgasmic!!! As the Tornados faded into the distance, the RAF’s newest aircraft, the super high tech radar platform/intelligence gatherer the Sentinel R1 came in for circuits. Not a bad display really.


We were given a very informative and knowledgeable tour of the RAF Scampton museum by Corporal Dave Wright who provided details of the amazing history of what is probably the most famous bomber station in the RAF. It is packed with pictures, artefacts, models and even a Lightning nose and one of the early Tornados. However as we have our own trip to the Dams in Germany coming up I must mention that this was the home of 617 Sqn ‘The Dambusters’ commanded by Wing Commander Guy Gibson who was awarded the VC after the raid. The incredible successful night time attacks on the Mohne and Eder dams were carried out at 60 ft over water and delivered the ‘bouncing bombs’ with such devastating effect, breaching two of the largest dams in Germany and releasing millions of tons of water into the industrial heartland. There was an awful price to pay in terms of casualties, seven of the nineteen Lancasters and their crews failed to return and on the ground some two thousand people in the path of the water torrents died.

As the crews from the North Weald Flying Group lounged around on the grass in the sunshine next to the original 617Sqn hanger, it was easy to imagine the Lancasters sitting with their heavy bulbous loads in the early evening light. The nervous young crews in their fur lined flying jackets and boots in that very same position, waiting for the ‘off’ on that warm night in May 1943, many of whom would meet violent deaths just hours later. It was tempting to steal a line from Guy Gibson (Richard Todd) in the famous film and walk over and say ‘OK chaps my watch says it’s time to go’.

Well, after we watched the Red Arrows taxi out and again make an impeccable take off for a display at Shannon, it was time for us get going. We said our goodbyes and mounted up for the return to North Weald and the end to a rather perfect day. Great flying conditions there and back, and a unique experience not to be forgotten.

I would like to express my sincere thanks to Wing Comm Hawker for allowing us the visit, the team themselves for their patience and time, Steve Payne who coordinated everything from the ATC side as well as all the RAF personnel involved who made us so welcome at Scampton and for giving us such a fantastic day. Special mention must go to Sqn Ldr Jon Trott the Team Manager who has been extremely helpful, efficient and understanding as well as absolutely instrumental in helping me put this trip together. He has displayed great patience in dealing with my numerous emails, phone calls and questions and was the perfect host on the day, not only as our guide but driving us around in the minibus personally. I must not forget Lyn Crawley without whom this visit would never have happened. Nigh on impossible to follow this one I feel.

A collection from the group members raised £670 for the RAF Benevolent Fund and was sent to Wing Comm Hawker together with a thank you letter.

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North Weald Flying Group operate out of the Squadron at North Weald Airfield.

The airfield is 10 miles south of Stansted and can be seen from the M11. Follow signs from the A414 and on entrance to the field, follow the perimeter track all the way around the field until you arrive at the distinctive Squadron building.

email: paul@nwfg.co.uk
phone: 01992522090