Military Flight Demonstration Teams of the World
The 2011 North American air show season is already upon us. One of the biggest attendance draws at an air show is a headlining military flight demonstration team. Around the world there are dozens of teams – some well-known here in the United States, some more obscure. Their jobs are many: symbols of national pride, recruitment tools for a country’s military services, a showcase for aviation prowess, and the list goes on and on. In the past decade and a half, teams have come and gone, while others have celebrated lengthy tenures. Teams disband due to political and financial reasons, or in other cases due to accidents or the retirement of a team’s aircraft. On the other hand, some teams have performed for decades. The Navy’s Blue Angels are celebrating 65 years of performances this year. The USAF’s Thunderbirds are entering their 58th season. Canada’s Snowbirds celebrate their 40th anniversary this year, although their heritage extends back to the 1930’s with the Siskins team. Italy’s Frecce Tricolori celebrated 50 years in 2010. The United Kingdom’s Red Arrows can trace their heritage through various teams back to 1920. The military teams provide a sense of national pride to a country’s citizens. In some cases, competition is fierce to make the team. In other cases, a cadre of instructors is designated to display the skills known by all of their country’s pilots. There’s no doubt that all pilots and crew wear their unit’s badge with pride and purpose.
Although there are numerous solo aircraft display teams (let’s not forget that each team needs ground crewmembers to support their aircraft), let’s concentrate here on the teams with two or more aircraft, that have been in existence over the past 15 years. How many of these have you either seen or have heard of?
Argentine Air Force, Escuadrilla Acrobática Cruz del Sur (Southern Cross Aerobatic Team)
*7 SU-29AR aerobatic planes
Royal Australian Air Force, Roulettes
*6 Pilatus PC-9 turboprop trainers (see photos)
Belgian Air Component, Diables Rouges, (Red Devils), (Hardship Red)
*4 SIAI Marchetti SF.260 piston trainers
Note: Team re-named as Red Devils (previously used) for BAC’s 65th Anniversary in 2011
Brazilian Air Force, Esquadrão de Demonstração Aérea (Smoke Squadron)
*7 Embraer T-27 Tucano turboprop trainers (see photos)
Canadian Forces, Snowbirds
*9 CT-114 Tutor jet trainers
Note: The Snowbirds operate Canada’s last CT-114 Tutors; DND is searching for a replacement.
Chilean Air Force, Escuadrilla de Alta Acrobacia (Halcones) (Falcons High Aerobatic Squadron)
*5 Extra 300L aerobatic planes
Chinese Liberation Army Air Force, August 1st, 81st Aerobatics Team
*Chengdu J-10 jet fighters
Note: The J-10 fighter jet is an indigenous Chinese design that gained operational status in 2003.
Croatian Air Force, Krila Oluje (Wings of Storm)
*6 Pilatus PC-9 turboprop trainers
Finish Air Force, Midnight Hawks,
*4 BAE Hawk Mk.51 jet trainers (see photos)
French Air Force, Patrouille de France
*8 Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet E jet trainers(see photos)
French Air Force, Cartouch Dore
*3 SOCATA TB30 Epsilon prop trainers
French Air Force, Voltige Victor
*2 Dassault Mirage F.1 jet fighters (see photo)
Note: The pair collided during a practice session in 2003, killing both pilots. The team never reformed.
Indian Air Force, Surya Kiran (Sun Rays)
*9 HAL HJT-16 Kiran Mk.2 jet trainers
Indian Air Force, Sarang (Peacock)
*4 HAL Dhruv helicopters
Indian Navy, Sagar Pawan (Sea Breeze)
*4 HAL HJT-16 Mk.2 jet trainers
Indonesian Air Force, Jupiter Blue Team
*5 BAE Hawk Mk.53, 1 BAE Hawk Mk.109 jet trainers, 2 General Dynamics F-16A jet fighters
Irish Air Corps, Silver Swallows
*4 Fouga CM-170 Magister light attack jets
Note: Following the retirement of the Magisters from service in 1998, the Silver Swallows were disbanded.
Israeli Air Force Display Team
*4 IAI Tzukit (modified CM-170 Magister) jet trainers
Note: Evidently not a regular team, but flies for special events.
Italian Air Force, Frecce Tricolori (Tricolour Arrows)
*10 Aermacci MB-339A/PAN jet trainers
Note: The team celebrated its’ 50th anniversary in 2010. Their 10-ship formation is the largest military team formation.
Japanese Air Self Defense Force, Blue Impulse
*7 Kawasaki T-4 jet trainers (see photo)
Royal Jordanian Air Force, Royal Jordanian Falcons
*4 Extra 300 aerobatic planes (see photos)
Note: Aircraft are serviced by civilian personnel, but flown by military pilots.
Royal Moroccan Air Force, Marche Verte (Green March)
*5 CAP-232 aerobatic planes
Royal New Zealand Air Force, Red Checkers
*6 Pacific Aerospace CT-4E piston trainers
Pakistan Air Force, Sherdils
*6 Hongdu K-8 Karakorum jet trainers
Philippine Air Force, Blue Diamonds
*Northrop F-5A/B jet fighters
Note: A sister squadron known as the Red Aces also existed, neither are active today.
Polish Air Force, Bialo-Czerwone Iskry (Red and White Sparks)
*7 TS-11 jet trainers
Polish Air Force, Zespół Akrobacyjny “Orlik” (Orlik Aerobatic Team)
*9 PZL-130 Orlik turboprop trainers (see photos)
Polish Land Forces, Grupa Akrobacyjna Skorpion (Scorpion Aerobatic Team)
*4 Mil-24 helicopters
Note: Scorpions have suspended flight due to operational commitments in 2010.
Portuguese Air Force, Asas de Portugal (Wings of Portugal)
*2 Alpha Jet A trainer/attack jets
Portuguese Air Force, Rotores de Portugal (Rotors of Portugal)
*3 Aerospatiale Allouette III helicopters
Russian Air Force, Russikiye Vityazi (Russian Knights)
*6 SU-27P/UB jet fighters (see photo)
Russian Air Force. Strizhi (Swifts)
*6 MiG-29 jet fighters
Russian Air Force, Berkuts
*6 Mil-24 helicopters
Royal Saudi Air Force, Saudi Hawks
*6 or 9 BAE Hawk Mk.65/65A jet trainers
Slovakian Air Force, Biele Albatrosy (White Albatrosses)
*5 Aero L-39ZA jet trainers (see photos)
Republic of Singapore Air Force, Black Knights
*6 F-16C jet fighters
South African Air Force, Silver Falcons
*5 Pilatus PC-7 Mk II Astra turboprop trainers
Republic of Korea Air Force, Black Eagles
*8 KAI T-50B Golden Eagle jet trainers
Spanish Air Force, Patrulla Aguila (Eagle Patrol)
*7 CASA C-101 Aviojet jet trainers (see photos)
Spanish Air Force, Patrulla Aspa (Blade Patrol)
*5 EC-120 Colibri helicopters
Swedish Air Force, Team 60
*6 SAAB SK-60 trainer/attack jets
Swiss Air Force, PC-7 Team
*9 PC-7 turboprop trainers
Swiss Air Force, Patrouille Suisse
*6 Northrop F-5E jet fighters (see photos)
Republic of China Air Force, Thunder Tigers
*7 AT-3 Tz-Chaing jet trainers
Turkish Air Force, Turk Yildizlari (Turkish Stars)
*8 NF-5A/B jet fighters
Ukrainian Air Force, Ukrayins’ki Sokoly (Ukrainian Falcons)
*6 MiG-29/UB jet fighters
Note: Inactive during 2010.
Royal Air Force, Red Arrows
*9 BAE Hawk T.1/1A jet trainers (see photos)
Royal Army Air Corps, Blue Eagles
*1 Westland Lynx and 4 SA341B Gazelle helicopters (see photo)
Royal Navy, Black Cats
*2 Westland Lynx helicopters
US Air Force, Thunderbirds
*6 General Dynamics F-16C jet fighters (see photos)
Note: 2011 is the 58th season of the Thunderbirds.
US Navy/Marine Corps, Blue Angels
*6/Boeing F/A-18 A/B/C/D Hornet jet fighters and 1/Lockheed C-130T turboprop transport
Note: 2011 is the 65th birthday of the Blue Angels.
I’ve included 50 teams from 36 countries. There must be more teams that I didn’t include too. Add to these the dozens of military solo aircraft demonstration teams worldwide, and when you add them all up, the sum is staggering! Next time you watch a military team present its’ routine at an air show, remember that the one you’re watching is one of many teams throughout the world.
Story and all photos by Ken Kula
January 23, 2011