Seventy years ago, more than 1,200 aircraft formed an assault on the coast of western Europe as part of Operation Overlord, the code name for the Battle of Normandy — also known as D-Day and commemorated in the U.K. on Monday by the spectacular aerobatics of the Royal Air Force's nine-jet Red Arrows display team.
British pilots flew Spitfires, Hurricanes, Dakota transport and other propeller-driven aircraft back then. In 1979, the Red Arrows, based at Royal Air Force Scampton, adopted the advanced British Aerospace Systems Hawk, which was originally built by Hawker Siddeley, the same manufacturer as the Hurricane, though the similarities essentially end there. The Hawk jet has a top speed of 638 mph; the Hurricane could only reach about 330 mph. This video, captured by Portsmouth resident Chris Fisher, shows two Red Arrows Hawks drawing a giant loop in the sky above the city. Credit: Chris Fisher
Several British air force aerobatic teams, including the Red Pelicans and the Yellowjacks, were combined in 1964 into one team and renamed the Red Arrows. Previous teams had flown DeHavilland Vampire aircraft, British Aerospace Lightnings, and Hawker Hunters. Their first jet aircraft was the tiny Folland Gnat trainer. This video, captured by Portsmouth resident Chris Fisher, shows two Red Arrows Hawks in outside loops, burning smoke oil to form a heart shape in the sky above the city. Credit: Instagram/alphafitch
Ten years ago, the Red Arrows were in danger of being grounded permanently due to U.K. Ministry of Defense budget cuts. Something similar happened last year to the U.S. Air Force's Thunderbirds display team and the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels, which were grounded as a result of the "sequester" government budget cuts. However, for the Red Arrows and the U.S. teams, good public relations overruled the belt-tightening. The Red Arrows got an annual commitment from the U.K. government last year to cover their $15 million in operating expenses, and both the Thunderbirds, whose expenses top $10 million a year, and the Blue Angels are back in the air on trimmed-back schedules. This video, captured by Portsmouth resident Luke Stratford, shows Red Arrows planes flying in formation at the D-Day commemoration and burning red, white and blue smoke, the colors of the British Union Jack flag. Credit: Instagram/lukestratford