The Red Arrows return to the skies of Kaivopuisto
It was early afternoon on Saturday the 26th of September, 1970. A crowd of thousands had gathered to the shores of Kaivopuisto, waiting in anticipation. Suddenly, nine bright-red jet fighters in a tight diamond formation – the Red Arrows, led by Squadron Leader Dennis Hazell. The performance of one of the most skilled aerobatic teams in the World included precise formations and breathtaking solo performances by Ian Dick and Richard Duckett, almost touching the treetops of the Harakka Island. As the Ilmailu-magazine put it, the show was a huge propaganda performance for all aviation.
The performance of the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, founded in 1965, was a huge risk for the hosting party, Helsingin Ilmailuyhdistys (Helsinki Aviation Association). In addition to the typical weather risk of all air shows, the visit of a high-profile Western military group just hundreds of kilometers off the Soviet border was by no means obvious.
However, fortunately everything went just as planned. Tbe Hawker-Siddley Gnat jet trainers arrived from Gaydon to the Helsinki Airport, via Aalborg, accompanied with a huge Hercules support aircraft on Friday night, 25.9. The schedule was tight. Straight after the Kaivopuisto show the Team flew to Turku, where they gave another performance later the same night. A third performance was given the following day at Tampere, from where the visitors returned to their home base, again via Denmark.
The 1970 show was not the last time the Red Arrows were seen in the Capital Area, however. The Team visited Helsinki again in 1977 and 1984, participating in the great Helsinki Air Shows. By the time of the 1984 Air Show, the Gnat jet trainers had been replaced with the new BAE Systems Hawk advanced jet trainers. Since then, the Red Arrows have performed in Lappeenranta in 1999, and in Kauhava in 2006.
Also four Hawker Hunters of the 93. Squadron RAF performed in Kaivopuisto already in 1957.
History of the Red Arrows
The origins of the Royal Air Force aerobatic performances goes back to the 1920’s. Up until the 1960’s, individual Squadrons of the RAF formed their own display teams. Famous teams included the “Black Arrows” of the No. 111 Squadron RAF, the “Tigers” of the 74. Squadron, the “Blue Diamonds” of the 92. Squadron, the “Firebirds” of the 56. Squadron, the Yellowjacks of the No. 4 Flying Training School and the “Red Pelicans” of the Central Flying School.
In 1964, the various display teams were amalgamated under the Central Flying School. The new Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team became known as the “Red Arrows”, in honor of the Black Arrows and the Red Pelicans. The Team received Gnat jet trainers, previously operated by the Yellowjacks team in 1964. The aircraft were painted red, which was the signal color of the Central Flying School aircraft. The original home base of the Red Arrows was in RAF Fairford, although the team moved to Keble already in 1966.
During the first display season in 1965, the Red Arrows, consisting of seven Gnat trainers, gave a total of 65 performances in Britain and abroad. The number of aircraft increased permanently to nine in 1968, and the Diamond Nine became the signature formation. In 1980, the Gnats were replaced with BAE Hawk advanced jet trainers – which are also operated, among others, by the Finnish Air Force.
Nowadays the Red Arrows have performed almost 5000 times in over 50 years, in 57 countries around the Globe. The home base of the Red Arrows is in Scampton, Lincolnshire. The pilots are chosen amongst experienced front-line Typhoon and Tornado pilots, and they serve In the Team usually for a term of three years. In 2017, the commander of the Red Arrows is Wing Commander Martin Higgins, and the nine-aircraft formation is led by Squadron Leader David Montenegro (Red 1).