The Biggin Hill Battle of Britain Open Day 15 September 1996

Air Show cover signed leaders of the Red Arrows - Patrouille De France and the Freece Tricolori Display Teams

RAF official commemorative cover for the 1996 Biggin Hill Battle of Britain Open Day.

The cover artwork by Tony Theobald shows the Red Arrows, La Patrouille de France, Freece Tricolori and the Spitfires of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight with the RAF crest in the centre.

The cover bears 1st class definitive stamp and BFPS 2539 postmark for the 56th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain Biggin Hill Open Day 15 September 1996. The cover has been flown in Spitfire MkVb AB910 of the BBMF by Squadron Leader Paul Day AFC.

This cover is hand signed by Squadron Leader John Rands RAF Leader of the Red Arrows RAF Aerobatic Display Team, Lieutenant Colonel Pier Luigi Fiore leader of the Freece Tricolori Italian Air Force Display Team and Major Paul Perie leader of the Patrouille de France French Air Force Display Team.

Official special numbered and certified on reverse - only 120 produced.

Red Arrows

Since the first aerial pageant at Hendon in 1920, formation aerobatics have been held in high regard by the Royal Air Force. In the barnstorming days before the Second World War no air display would be complete without the sight of two or more biplanes flying in close proximity, often tied together. With the dawn of the jet age, piston engine aircraft were replaced by the faster and more dramatic of the new front-line jet fighters.

The first RAF jet team was formed in 1947 and consisted of three Vampires from the Odiham Wing in Hampshire. By 1950 72 Squadron was flying a team of seven Vampires and 54 Squadron, with their five aircraft, were the first to use smoke. This was achieved by injecting diesel into the jet pipe where the high temperature turned it to white smoke. Rivalry between the RAF fighter squadrons was high and it became the trend for each to form its own team. When 54 Squadron re-equipped with the Hawker Hunter in 1955 they put together a four ship team know as the Black Knights. In 1956, 111 Squadron (Tremblers or Treble One) became the official RAF display team with their five gloss black Hunters. After displaying in France they were applauded as Les Fleches Noires and they soon became know throughout the Continent as the Black Arrows.

Two of those original aircraft remained in service until 1995, being used for groundcrew training at RAF Scampton. The RAF sold one to The Royal Jordanian Historic Aircraft Flight and the other to a private buyer in South Africa. In 1957 The Black Arrows were increased to nine aircraft.  These were supplemented in 1958 by an additional 13 aircraft from other squadrons in order to perform a 22 aircraft loop and barrel roll at the Farnborough Air Show. This is the greatest number of  aircraft ever looped in formation and remains a world record to this day.

The Tigers, of 74 Squadron, became the official RAF display team in 1962 with nine Mach 2 Lightnings. At that time 92 Squadron, with the Blue Diamonds, and 56 Squadron, with The Firebirds, could also be seen on the display circuit. In 1964 six Jet Provosts of The Central Flying School (CFS) became the official RAF team, known as The Red Pelicans.

The RAF were soon to realize that training aircraft were a much cheaper option to operate than the Lightning. The Squadrons, afterall, seemed to be spending more time at airshows and less time flying operational sorties. The Red Pelicans were not without their rivals and in that same year a five ship of yellow Gnats, known as The Yellow jacks, were formed at RAF Valley in North Wales by Flight Lieutenant Lee Jones. The Folland Gnat was the RAFs advanced jet trainer and its speed and agility made it the perfect machine for formation aerobatics. The following year Jones formed the official RAF display team with a seven ship of red Gnats and called them The Red Arrows.

Initially The Red Arrows were based at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire which was operated by CFS. The team was equipped with a total of ten Gnats although they continued to display seven until 1968. Each had its own three colour smoke generation system and a distinctive red, white and blue colours scheme. In that first year The Red Arrows performed 65 displays in  the UK, Italy, The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. At the end of that year they were awarded the Britannia Trophy by the Royal Aero Club in recognition of their outstanding contribution to British prestige in the field or aviation. Initially The Red Arrows employed a spare pilot, but soon found this practice to be unsatisfactory. The display routine is a complex one and any reserve pilot would be required to learn all the skills of his colleagues. Since he would rarely be called upon to fly in a display it would be difficult to keep him current and in time he would become frustrated. In the nineteen sixties much of the Central Flying School were located at airfields around the Cotswolds in the heart of England. It was there that the Team remained, moving from Fairford to Kemble, near Cirencester.

RAF Scampton, in Lincolnshire, became the Headquarters of CFS, and in 1983 The Red Arrows were relocated there. With the end of the Cold war, Scampton fell victim to defence cuts and the airfield closed at the end of 1995. In February 1996, after returning from tours of Africa, Australia and the Far East the Team settled into their new home at RAF Cranwell, where they share the airfield with the Bulldogs, Dominies and Jetstreams of CFS.

Although the public have always known them as the The Red Arrows their official name is The Royal Air force Aerobatic Team (RAFAT). This is the title that appears on the Squadrons crest together with the diamond nine and the motto Eclat, with means brilliance. When the team was first formed the original badge depicted seven red Gnats in Vulcan formation superimposed over the RAF roundel. Since 1968 The Red Arrows have performed as a nine ship display team and from that  time the Diamond Nine shape has been their trademark.

Number six and seven are known as the Synchronised or Synchro Pair and are well known for their breathtaking crosses in front of the crowd.

The display routine has always been designed to keep the attention of the crowd and is split into two distinctive segments. Each year the team pilots create a display routine around this basic format. The complete routine lasts about twenty minutes, which some spectators think is not long enough. The team, however, believe in the philosophy that is always better to leave the crowd wanting more.

The first half of their display consists of aerobatic manoeuvres performed by all nine aircraft flying a variety of different shapes. Six and seven spend most of the first half in line astern on the leader, forming what is called the stem. In the second half the Synchro Pair split off from the other seven aircraft to perform their crosses, these are interlaced with the splits and rejoins of the main section. In previous years all nine aircraft would rejoin for the Parasol  Break as the finale to the show.

The Red Arrows fly as two loose formations of five aircraft when transitting between displays. The Team Manager flies the spare. For many years now the front five have been nicknamed "Enid" after the famous five books by Enid Blighton. Six to ten are known as Gypo which comes from the word Gypsy. Perhaps this was due to the appearance of some of the pilots. 1979 was the last year that the Team flew the Gnat. The British Aerospace Hawk became the RAF's new jet trainer and the Red Arrows converted to it during the winter of 79/80. The Team began the 1980 display season with the new aircraft and a brand new colour scheme.

Seventy-five support personnel are required to keep the Team airborn. Six of these are involved in administration and planning, commanded by a Warrant Officer.

The remainder are engineers, of which 25 are designated as First Line and 41 are Second Line. First Line are responsible for servicing the aircraft away from the home base. They are commanded by a Flight Lieutenant Engineering Officer (Eng 1), who flies, together with nine of his engineers, to the displays, and collectively they are known as Circus. The remainder, if required, will travel by road. Second Line are responsible for the in-depth maintenance back at base and are also commanded by a Flight Lieutenant Engineering Officer (Eng 2).

The Team has always fulfilled its role in promoting a positive image of the Royal Air Force and as an aid to recruiting, but more recently they have been called upon to promote the British Aerospace industry through displays at home and abroad.

Frecce Tricolori

The National Acrobatic Team "Frecce Tricolori" of the Italian Air Force has been established in Rivolto airbase on the 1st of march in 1961. From 1964 till 1981 they used this Aeritalia Fiat G-91 PAN, which is a single-seat tactical strike/reconnaissance fighter. In 1982 the Team got ten Aermacchi MB-339-A/PAN airplanes. They will prove the highly degree of its training through spectacular sequences of vertical and horizontal manoeuvres. They fly with ten MB-339's and they have three spare planes.The Aermacchi MB-339-A/PAN (PAN stands for Pattuglia Acrobatica Nationale) is a two seat jet trainer and it is employed for acrobatic flying and operational close air support missions against tanks and helicopters.

La Patrouille de France

La Patrouille de France, the French International Aerobatic Team from the French Airforce, was formed in 1953 and they are one of the oldest fulltime Military Aerobatic Teams. In 1981 they became the new Alpha Jet which is a twin-engine training/attack aircraft. Their colours are the markings of the French flag. They are based at Salon de Provence in France and fly the show with eight Alfa Jets (in 1981 only with seven) and they have two spare planes.

The Dassault-Breguet/Dornier Alpha Jet is an International product of France and Germany. It's a two-seat advanced trainer and light strike/reconnaissance aircraft.