I’ve always loved the Reds and other national aerobatic teams. A vivid childhood memory of mine is from a sun-kissed International Air Tattoo one year when I saw several of them together for the first time.
I remember being far more captivated by their vivid coloured smoke – the red, white and blue of the French, the yellow and red of the Spanish, the green, white and red of the Italians, the white and red of the Polish – than a lot of the identikit aircraft also on view.
My interest in the teams has continued since. I suppose it’s no surprise that I’m currently writing a guide to the world’s display teams for a forthcoming issue of Air Forces Monthly magazine – the first such feature in a British aviation title since the late ’90s.
In today’s world, it’s easy to decry the public money spent on aerobatic teams as a waste. And, being honest, if there ever was a straight choice between (say) a vital life-saving service and an aerobatic team, I’d obviously plump for the former.
But my view is that there shouldn’t need to be such a choice.
I personally think of a national aerobatic team as a public service. As with other things that seem to fall under the threat of being axed, like libraries, a national display team’s impact can only really be measured by what would be lost if you took it away.
So, what exactly would be lost if they were to disappear? The stock answers anywhere in the world are always their recruitment and ambassadorial values. That’s true enough. But I think there’s a deeper and far less obvious thing that would be lost.
A Guardian art critic in this blog compared the Red Arrows to art. Metropolitan art critique pomposity this might appear to be, but on thinking about it this view has merit.
An aerobatic team is a very visual thing: the formation shapes, the precision of the manoeuvres, the delicate patterns of smoke, the choreography, the skills of the artists (pilots) who are involved. In these terms aerobatic teams are 3D piece of theatre.
In our cynical world, there is in my view something to be valued in the fact that everyone can be part of such a thing. While you might need to be interested in a certain genre of art, film or music to really get it (for example I like the French electronic group Air – I’m sure many don’t!). But you don’t need to be an aviation nut to be captivated by the theatre of an aerobatic team and the skill and spectacle they provide.
There’s something about aerobatic teams that appeals to the senses. Simply, they fire hearts and minds.
Sure, that’s difficult to quantify on a spread sheet. But I reckon that’s a public service worth valuing all the same.