The RAF Red Arrows: Inside the Bubble can be summed up in this line from the program: “Nine fast jets, six feet apart, going at about 400 miles an hour, can be a tense situation.”
So is watching The RAF Red Arrows: Inside the Bubble, an intense and mesmerizing thrill ride of a behind-the-scenes look at “the best of the very best” pilots in Britain: the Royal Air Force Aerobatic team, better known as the Red Arrows, “the public face of the RAF” and a representative of “the UK at events all over the globe.”
Since the 120-person team of pilots, engineers, operations specialists, and other ground crew was formed in 1964, the Red Arrows have performed more than 4700 displays in 56 countries. The secrets of these “flying ambassadors” had never been revealed until 2014, the year of their 50th display season.
Each year (and especially that year) everything depends on the daredevil pilots “passing their PDA” — the Public Display Authority that grants the Red Arrows the right to perform in public. Earning the PDA also allows the pilots (the Reds) and engineers (the Blues, “the best tech team in aerobatics”) the privilege of wearing the respective and coveted red and blue suits of the Red Arrows.
And it is the nine pilots’ six-month training program for the 2014 PDA that is the focus of The RAF Red Arrows: Inside the Bubble.
Narrated by Academy Award®-winning actor Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything), this hour-long documentary takes us “inside the bubble” to reveal what’s required in order “to become part of the greatest flying team on the planet.” It is some of the most nerve-racking, heart-stopping, exhilarating, real-life stuff you could ever watch.
Most of the program centers on the two newest recruits: Flight Lieutenants Stewart Campbell and Joe Hourston, elite pilots for the RAF in Afghanistan, who made the cut from the previous year’s short list of Red Arrows candidates and now “face the most grueling six months of their lives.”
The other seven pilots have flown for the Red Arrows before, but they have to prove they still have what it takes to fly in the 2014 display. The boss, Squadron Leader Jim Turner, states matter-of-factly:
“If you’ve got a pilot that isn’t performing in the air, there is no place for him. They will be removed.”
Throughout four months of training at Royal Air Force Scampton in Lincolnshire and two months at RAF Akrotiri in Cyrpus, the Red Arrows do maneuvers such as “roll backs” and fly in formations such as the “Palm Split,” “Diamond,” and “Twister” for their training sorties.
And during hundreds of debriefings, every training sortie — not the least of which are the “three 9-ship training flights a day, 5 days a week” that can be scheduled during the three weeks leading up to the PDA exam — “is examined in forensic detail before and after flying.”
While speed is an integral part of the aerobatics, there is no mention of the pilots feeling “the need, the need for speed.” Safety, though, is cited often, as it is imperative — from a pilot being forced to execute the “loser strategy,” to an engineer reviewing anything and everything that could compromise a plane’s systems and alter its aerodynamics.
One dramatic scene in The RAF Red Arrows: Inside the Bubble gives viewers an inside-the-cockpit look at a pilot as he’s maneuvering during a formation, and learn what happens to him physically as a result of the G-force and what he must do to prevent blacking out.
The most impressive scene shows those magnificent men in their flying machines soaring and splitting and twisting for Air Vice-Marshal Mike Lloyd, the Air Officer in command of the Red Arrows, who will either pass or fail them for the 2014 PDA.
Their “boyhood dreams and professional pride are on the line… Hundreds of hours of training now hang on the next 40 minutes… 24 maneuvers, they must ace them all… [and be] inch-perfect at 400 miles per hour.”
There’s much more besides this in the must-watch The RAF Red Arrows: Inside the Bubble, including segments featuring the ground crew, the pilots on the short list for next year’s team of Red Arrows, and “the Circus.”
Wholly absorbing from start to finish, The RAF Red Arrows: Inside the Bubble, begins airing on the following public TV stations starting this month. Check your local listings or contact the station that serves your area for broadcast details. If your station isn’t listed and you’d like to watch the program, contact your station or American Public Television to request it.