RAF FAIRFORD in the Cotswolds rolled out the red carpet yesterday, Wednesday, at the Media Launch heralding this year’s Royal International Air Tattoo, with the entire RAF Red Arrows aerobatic display team touching down to give media guests a taster of the world’s greatest airshow.
This year’s Air Tattoo is hosting the official celebrations for the 50th display season of the world-famous aerobatic display team, and the Reds, who first formed at the Fairford Base in 1965, put on a spectacular ‘homecoming’.
They were greeted on touch-down by three former Red Arrows, including Sqn Ldr Henry Prince, one of the original Red Arrows pilots.
Sqn Ldr Prince, 80, from Norfolk was delighted to be able to attend the Launch and to meet his present-day counterparts on the display team.
He said: “The Red Arrows have kept up a good tradition and the current team have built upon it wonderfully.”
Also present were Red Arrows Gnat pilot Des Sheen, from Somerford Keynes, who flew as Red 8 in 1972 and 1975, and Red 6 (Synchro Pair leader) in 1975, and Ray Thilthorpe from South Cerney, Red 10 (team manager), from 1978 to 1982.
Sqn Ldr Jim Turner, who flies as Red 1, leader of the display team, said: “Fairford is one of 85 displays we’ll be doing in 11 countries this year, but the Air Tattoo is going to be a major focus of our 50th display season celebrations because, along with Little Rissington and Kemble, this is one of our spiritual homes.”
He added: “This is my last year with the Reds, but it’s going to be a very exciting season, including our first display in Estonia and a planned display in Beirut, and I’m delighted to be leading the team in this special anniversary year.”
The Reds were joined at the Media Launch by the RAF Tucano Display Team, their aircraft sporting a special ‘poppy’ livery to commemorate 100 years since the outbreak of World War One.
A Pegasus microlight was also present, brought in by Cpl Alan Robinson.
Alan learnt to fly after receiving a scholarship from the Royal International Air Tattoo Flying Scholarships for Disabled People (FSDP), sponsored by the RAF Charitable Trust.
He is now training to instruct others with disabilities, and will be joining an expedition in December, with seven other disabled pilots, to fly microlights to the South Pole.
Completing the event, the Italian winners of a trophy at last year’s airshow flew in to return their prize.
Maj Fabio de Michele and the crew of the Alenia C-27J called in to wish the event luck and to hand back the As The Crow Flies Trophy, awarded for the best flying demonstration, as judged by the Friends of the Royal International Air Tattoo (FRIAT). The crew flew in aboard an Italian Air Force Piaggio P180 Avanti light aircraft.
Maj de Michele said: “We really feel enthusiastic about the Air Tattoo: there’s a very special atmosphere here that we’ve experienced nowhere else. We were made to feel so welcome last year and we felt obliged to come back to give the FRIAT members in particular the recognition they deserve for their support.”
Tim Prince, CEO of the Air Tattoo, said: “I’m delighted that so many of our media friends have turned out to support the Launch. It’s been great that the Reds, the Tucano, the Trust’s FSDP scholar and our wonderful Italian friends have been able to come along, and everything bodes well for a fantastic Air Tattoo in July.”
Andy Armstrong, Chief Executive designate who will take over from Tim after this year’s event, added: “This is my first ever Media Launch, and it’s fantastic to be involved in such an important event in the run up to RIAT 2014.
I’ve been deeply impressed by the planning and execution that seems to go into everything connected with RIAT, and today’s event is no exception.”
CAPTION: former Red Arrow Sqn Ldr Henry Prince with current Red 7 Flt Lt Mark Lawson at today’s Media Launch for the Royal International Air Tattoo.
• The world’s greatest airshow, the Royal International Air Tattoo will take place on July 11,12 and 13 at RAF Fairford.
• Held in support of the RAF Charitable Trust, the Air Tattoo has raised over £2.5 million for the charity since it was formed in 2005: the money is used to give grants to promote the RAF, support its people past and present, and to encourage air-mindedness in young people.