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Where are the Red Arrows based? Why the home of the RAF jets moved from Scampton to Waddington

The Red Arrows are a fixture of British summer and whenever there is a big national event – like royal weddings – they delight the crowds with their stunning air shows.

Officially known as the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, they are based at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire. However, they were not always based there, having moved several times over the years.

What is the history of the Red Arrows?

The Red Arrows were not the first RAF aerobatics team. As far back as 1920, an RAF pageant was held at Hendon with teams from frontline biplane squadrons.

Over the years, there were other display teams, but in 1956 the official RAF team was provided by No 111 Squadron, with the aircraft having an all-black finish.

After one demonstration in France, they were referred to as “Les Fleches Noires,” and from then on, they were known as the Black Arrows.

In 1964, all the RAF display teams were amalgamated and the new team was named “red” because the planes had been painted red to make them more visible in the sky, and therefore safer. The “arrows” was a homage to the Black Arrows.

By the beginning of 2023, the team’s 59th season, the Red Arrows have flown almost 5,000 displays in 57 countries.

 The badge of the Red Arrows shows the aircraft in their trademark diamond nine formation. Their motto, Éclat, is French for “brilliance” or “excellence”.

The RAF Red Arrows display team perform over the sea at the Bournemouth Air Festival in Dorset. Picture date: Sunday September 3, 2023. PA Photo. Photo credit should read: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire
The Red Arrows performing over the sea at Bournemouth Air Festival in Dorset (Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA)

To be selected for the Red Arrows, RAF pilots must:

  • Have a minimum of 1,500 flying hours
  • Have completed a frontline, operational tour
  • Be assessed as being above average in their flying role

All Red Arrows display pilots are fast-jet pilots, having previously flown with frontline Royal Air Force squadrons.

The RAF says: “Once they have finished their tour with the team, which is usually three years – they will return to operational, training, staff duties or other roles in the Royal Air Force.”

The Red Arrows have performed flypasts for the likes of the Coronation and the late Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022.

Why did they move to RAF Waddington?

Initially, the Red Arrows were based at RAF Little Rissington in Gloucestershire, then the Central Flying School (CFS). In 1966, they moved to RAF Kemble, now Cotswold Airport.

There was another move in 1983 to RAF Scampton, in Lincolnshire, when the latter became the CFS headquarters.

In 1996 Scampton was temporarily closed, so the Red Arrows moved to RAF Cranwell, 20 miles away, but still used the airspace over Scampton.

However, in July 2018, the Ministry of Defence announced that Scampton, once also home to the 617 Dambusters Squadron, would shut as part of a cost-cutting drive and be sold, with all units relocated elsewhere.

The station was closed on 31 March, 2023.

The Home Office has said it will use the site to house asylum seekers, arguing it will save money and provide suitable accommodation.

On 13 October 2022, the Red Arrows moved to their new base at RAF Waddington.

Where can I see the Red Arrows?

They were on display today at the Great North Run in Newcastle today (Sunday 10 September).

Other dates in the diary include:

  • 14 Sept 2023: Guernsey Air Display; Jersey International Airshow
  • 16 Sept 2023: IWM Duxford Battle of Britain Airshow
  • 17 Sept 2023: IWM Duxford Battle of Britain Airshow
  • 23 Sept 2023: Malta International Airshow
  • 24 Sept 2023: Malta International Airshow

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