On may 13th Members got a taste of what it is like to go on a cruise
as Chris Roberts gave a talk based on one he gives to fare paying
cruise passengers. It was, of course, professionally presented in
Chris’s inimitable and entertaining style with excellent ‘Powerpoint’
Chris started with some brief historical background beginning with
Leonardo’s flawed designs for flying machines and the Wright brothers
who successfully flew their light, stiff, airframe in December 1903.
Ten years later Pyotr Nestrov accomplished the first loop near Kiev in
a Nieuport IV monoplane. He was jailed for risking government property
but was released, promoted and decorated. In August 1914 Pyotr
destroyed an enemy aircraft in flight, for the first time, by ramming;
he fell out and was killed. The first RAF Aerial Pageant was in July 1920 where RAF Central Flying
School (CFS) Sopwith Snipes performed. By 1934 the Aerial Pageants had
become Empire Air Days and Gloster Gauntlets were performing aerobatics
There were sixty Empire Air Days in 1939 but the war intervened
until 1947 when the jet age had started with 54 Squadron Vampires as
pioneers. In 1952 there were 38 RAF teams: 15 with Meteors, 20 with
Vampires, 2 with Chipmunks and 1 with Prentices.
1957 brought 111 Squadron’s ‘Black Arrows’ Hunters
with their 22 aircraft loop. In 1961 92 Squadron’s ‘Blue Diamonds’ took
over, also with Hunters. The Lightning F1 came on the scene with 74
Squadron’s ‘Tigers’. This led to large turning circles which was not a
good display of skill but the Lightning’s fire and noise was
impressive. In 1964 the CFS team Jet Provosts, the Red Pelicans, (the
Pelican is CFS emblem) showed plenty of skill but not much spectacle.
When the Folland Gnat came on the scene formation
aerobatics in it were banned by the A&AEE. However, Lee Jones, ex
111 Squadron, set up an illegal photographic session with loops for a
Bristol Engines photographer. Jones, who had the ear of the Air
Marshals, showed them the photos and soon a local team of five Gnats,
the Yellow Jacks, led by Jones, was flying at RAF Valley. At the 1964
Farnborough show both the Yellow Jacks and the Red Pelicans performed.
Next year the Red Arrows Gnat team was formed as the first professional
full-time RAF aerobatic team. The primary purpose of the Red Arrows was
to be recruiting. In 2014 the 50th season was celebrated and 2015 was
the 36th anniversary of the introduction of the Hawk.
Turning to his own career Chris said that in 1965,
at 19, he became a qualified jet pilot and moved on to fly Hunters. He
volunteered to become a CFS instructor and in 1971 joined the Red
Arrows, a year marked by a mid-air collision which killed four pilots
who were buried at Little Rissington. There have been nine fatalities
in the history of the Red Arrows. The remaining seven Gnats completed
the season but for 1972 there were once again nine aircraft in the team
for a tour of USA and Canada; ‘Exercise Longbow‘. The northern crossing
would be made from Kemble to Washington DC via Stornoway, Keflavik,
Frobisher, Baffin and Goose Bay.
The Gnat was very small and carried little fuel so
the slipper tanks were fitted and, because the magnetic compass would
be unreliable in northern latitudes, a Vulcan would accompany the Gnats
for navigation. As range was limited a second Vulcan flew ahead to
report on weather conditions to be sure that the head winds were not
too strong. A Hercules carried the support crews and starters for the
Gnats. The USAF would provide search and rescue services using the CIA
‘skyhook’ system where a Hercules would hook a wire suspended from a
balloon attached to the downed pilot in his dinghy and drag him up to
safety! This was necessary because a quick rescue was essential as sea
temperatures would be very low.
Turning to the techniques of formation aerobatics
Chris said it was primarily a station keeping task where most pilots
formated on the leader, not his neighbour. This is not an easy task,
whilst also checking his position left-right, fore-aft, up-down etc. It
is a bit easier with smoke operating as that gives ‘tramlines’ in the
sky. Perspective affects the view of the formation as seen by public on
the ground so the formation has to be adjusted to maintain the correct
appearance of, say, a diamond.
Displays are filmed for later analysis
to see who was out of position so corrections can be made. Aircraft on
the outside of the formation suffer from the yaw effect due to
ailerons, known as ‘dishing’, making it necessary to fly with crossed
controls. Precise and careful planning is necessary with a display
datum established in relation to the prevailing wind; W-E in the UK.
The trickiest and most risky part of a display is rejoining where eight
aircraft have to home on the leader after, say, a ‘bomb-burst’. Each
pilot must carefully fly his own profile as he may be blind to
other aircraft also homing on the leader.
Chris opted out after two seasons partly because he
was having trouble concentrating due to the fact that he had got too
used to formation aerobatics and his mind tended to wander.
The basic principle of formation aerobatics are, said Chris:
1. Impress the professionals.
2. Entertain the public.
3. Frighten nobody.