black arrows

This famous aerobatic display team were named by a French journalist at the Paris Airshow in 1957 at which they appeared. Presumably therefore they were originally known as Les Flèches Noires.

These are the BLACK ARROWS giving their display over RAF Marham in Norfolk for the annual Battle of Britain Open Day held in September. My cousin David was serving in the RAF as Education Officer at the base. The Black Arrows were disbanded shortly afterwards in 1960, having had a life of less than 5 years. They were the predecessors of the Red Arrows, but the display was rather different.For a start there were more planes, 9 as a basis, but this could be expanded to 16; 22 planes flew a loop in formation at the 1958 Farnborough Airshow, a feat that remains unrepeated anywhere. The planes they flew were not trainers as now but Hawker Hunters, the state-of-the-art fighters of the day. The Folland Gnats which the Red Arrows flew from the beginning were simply produced subsonic trainer aircraft. Since 1979 they have flown British Aerospace Hawk trainers.

The Hunters were extremely powerful (and noisy) planes. Loops and vertical climbs were nothing to them. As you can see the vapour trails they left were white; it had not then occurred to anyone that the red white and blue as used by the Red Arrows would be a colourful effect. It was only in 1958 that they were first equipped with the steam generators that left a trail.

Fleches Noires

When the Red Arrows were formed in 1965 as the sole RAF aerobatic display team it was led by a former Black Arrows member. Roger Topp was the first leader of the Black Arrows, the aerobatic display team of 111 Squadron based at RAF Wattisham in Suffolk. Today Roger Topp lives in Norwich from where, aged 90, he has recently been reunited with a Hunter he used to fly. This plane, now once more named Blackjack, was for many years painted in Russian camouflage, disguised as a MIG fighter and used for target practice. It has now been restored as a static exhibit by a team from Wattisham to the black livery of the Black Arrows. Wattisham is now a helicopter base and operated by the British Army.

The Hawker Hunter was the most successful of the second generation of British jet fighters. It was a delight to handle and economical to maintain. Introduced to the RAF in 1954 it is still being flown by civilian operators nearly 60 years later. It was designed under the auspices of Sydney Camm, whose most famous aircraft was the Hawker Hurricane which bore the brunt of the Luftwaffe attacks of the 1940 Battle of Britain.




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