Red vs. Blue? Britain’s Red Arrows land in Seattle for aerobatics of a different color


Seattle’s Museum of Flight may have put a Blue Angels jet on a pedestal, but today it rolled out the red carpet for a military aerobatic team of a different color: the Red Arrows of Britain’s Royal Air Force.

“They’re the best,” said Stephen Williams, a visitor from Horsham in southern England who was among the roughly 300 spectators and VIPs who turned out this morning to watch the Red Arrows arrive. “Your Blue Angels … they’re OK.”

Red wasn’t the only color in the Arrows’ quiver: As they made their photo-op rounds over downtown Seattle and Boeing Field, the pilots’ BAE Hawk T1 trainer jets released contrails of red, white and blue — the hues of the Union Jack as well as the Stars and Stripes.

Today’s one-day stopover was mostly aimed at showing the colors and refueling the planes, between last weekend’s performance at the Oregon International Air Show in McMinnville and a series of events starting Tuesday in Vancouver, B.C., which is the next stop in the Red Arrows’ grueling two-month North America tour.

The schedule for the Red Arrows’ first-ever visit to Seattle included a meetup with students at Raisbeck Aviation High School and a chance to check out one of the Boeing-built P-8A Poseidon patrol planes that will join the RAF’s fleet.

British consul general Andrew Whittaker told GeekWire that the aerial tour serves as a manifestation of the “special relationship” between Britain and the United States, and also provides opportunities to inspire the next generation when it comes to science, technology, engineering and math.

“The chance for kids to meet a pilot, to meet an engineer, to hear their story — it’s absolutely fantastic,” Whittaker said.

Red, white and blue contrails stream behind the Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows as they fly over Seattle. (RAF Photo)

Crowned with clouds, Mount Rainier provides a backdrop for the Red Arrows’ photo op. (RAF Photo)

Red Arrow jets streak over the Museum of Flight (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Red Arrow taxi

One by one, the Red Arrow jets make their way to the Museum of Flight. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Red Arrow jets

Red Arrow jets line up for display. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Royal Air Force pilots spend three years on the Red Arrow team. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Jet checkout

Engineers give one of the Red Arrows’ jet a once-over after landing. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

So who’s better, the Blue Angels or the Red Arrows? Whittaker couldn’t resist getting in a dig at the Yanks.

“They’re different planes, they do different styles of flying,” he said. “Obviously I think the Reds are a little bit better — but you know, the Blues are catching up.”

Flight Lt. Gregor Ogston, who’s finishing up the first year of his three-year tour of duty with the Red Arrows, said the Blues and the Reds get along just fine. There have been occasions during the current tour when the Red Arrows have flown with the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels and the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds — and that’s given them a chance to share their experiences on the air-show circuit.

The big difference is that the U.S. military’s aerobatic teams fly F/A-18 Hornets and F-16 Fighting Falcons, which are “much larger, front-line aircraft,” Ogston said.

“Our jet was built as a training aircraft, so that brings with it some challenges,” he told GeekWire. “But it also allows us to do some things slightly differently to them. Particularly, we can keep our show quite small and centered in front of the crowd.”

One thing’s for sure: The kids who came out on a rainy day to see the Red Arrows didn’t go away disappointed.

“The kids love seeing the jets,” West Seattle resident Erin Steinman, who brought her 6-year-old and 2-year-old to the museum, told GeekWire. “It’s what they talk about all the time.”

Five-year-old Max Chester of Mercer Island came to today’s welcoming ceremonies with his grandmother and got a chance to give a high-five to one of the Red Arrow pilots on the receiving line. Afterward, he gave the most diplomatic answer possible to the “Red or Blue” question.

“I think I like them both,” he said with a grin.

Credit for the aerial video of the Red Arrows in action over Seattle and near Mount Rainier: Sgt. Ashley Keates and Squadron Leader Adam Collins of the Royal Air Force. The finished video, including on-the-ground interviews and footage, was produced by GeekWire’s Kevin Lisota.

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