Performing a Red Arrows display is physically and mentally demanding and requires absolute concentration from the 9 pilot team to ensure each others’ safety and the safety of the public.

During a display we reach speeds of up to 600mph, with the Synchro Pair closing in on each other at 850mph in a series of formation and opposition manoeuvres. This means that the pilots are constantly looking out for each other to position correctly and safely. The need to look out for other potential aircraft in addition would pose too great an increased safety hazard.

Getting 9 aircraft back together into formation after they have performed a split or break requires a lot of geographical positioning and, at the speeds we fly, a lot of airspace.

It is because of this that we must establish a Temporary Airspace Restriction or RA(T), which for our displays has a radius of 6nm, extending from ground level to 8000ft. The timing of this RA(T) begins 5 minutes before our scheduled display start time and lasts for 35 minutes.

Red Arrows on NATS radar screen

Red Arrows on NATS radar screen

It is worth mentioning that this entire ‘cylinder’ of airspace is used at various stages throughout our display and it should be assumed that there could be one of our aircraft at the extremities of our RA(T) at any point.

This means that all aircraft operating in the immediate area must stay clear and not enter this piece of airspace, for the safety of the team, the public and themselves.

During a display all manoeuvres, turns and breaks are actioned on Red 1’s UHF radio calls that take into account a range of elements such as weather and terrain.

Image credit: Red 10

In addition to this we also listen in to an ATC agency on a VHF frequency, which provides us with a Traffic Service. A more experienced member of the team, called the ‘Nav’ will interact and coordinate with the ATC agency throughout the display, allowing us to identify any potential infringements to our RA(T).

In the unfortunate event of an infringement the workload of the pilots, particularly those with additional responsibility, increases rapidly. Not only are we flying our precision display, making radio calls and ensuring safe separation between each other, but we must now also mentally plot and track the likely position of the infringer.

Red 1 has to decide very quickly whether it is safe to continue or whether to abort the display.

It is worth noting of course, that becoming suddenly aware of, and monitoring an infringement situation becomes a safety consideration in itself, as our attention is now required to focus on an additional and unplanned element.

The last few years have seen a number of infringements with varying degrees of severity and outcome. In some cases the display had to be cancelled or cut short – any delay due to infringement affects our fuel available to display.

Cancelling a display comes as a huge disappointment to the public who have paid to see us, the airshow organisers who have worked hard to provide an enjoyable event and to the entire Red Arrows team.

To try and avoid this happening, we make a point of informing local airfields of the NOTAM (Notice To Airmen) detailing our RA(T) prior to our display, to ensure that as many airspace users as possible are aware that we will be operating in the area.

We must all follow the correct procedures in order to ensure a safe and enjoyable flying environment for everyone – and I hope I have helped reassure you just how strictly we adhere to them.

We’re looking forward to an exciting season and hope to see you at one of our displays soon!

Image credit: Lloyd Horgan

More information:

  • The Aeronautical Information Service (AIS) website, run jointly by NATS and the CAA, provides all definitive and legal information surrounding airspace and any restrictions that are in place, which should be used for effective pre-flight planning and should be the first port of call for pilots
  • The AIS information line also provides this information for those without internet access: 0500 354802 or +44(0)20 8750 3939
  • Each RA(T) is granted through a legal process with the CAA and the Department for Transport and infringement of a RA(T) could lead to prosecution, the consequences of which can be severe

Did you know… before using the BAE Systems Hawk, the Red Arrows used to fly the Folland Gnat. You can see both aircraft types at various airshows across the UK this summer.


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Very informative. Thank you. I am in awe of the coolheadedness of the team and now that I am more aware of the potential hazzards, even more so.
Looking forward to seeing you all at RIAT



Peter Hargreaves

A very long overdue safety measure. Pleased to see this.



Tom McNulty

Actually, the RA(T) extends up from SURFACE to 8,000 feet, not from ground level as stated in your article.


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