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By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.

27 Nov 13. Renowned at home and abroad for the fantastic role they play as ambassadors for Britain not to mention being loved by audiences across the globe for the spectacular aerobatic displays they provide the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team (RAFAT) which is better known as team ‘Red Arrows’ are now into the second half of a five-week tour of the Middle East. Taking in countries that they will either display or visit such as Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Jordan and Kuwait this long and very important tour of the Middle East region will mark the end of what has by any standards imaginable been a quite spectacular and very successful 49th display season for the ‘Red Arrows’.

Everyone knows the ‘Red Arrows’ and in public perception terms I venture to suggest that the Red Arrow along perhaps with the bright yellow ‘Search and Rescue’ Sea King Helicopters are the best known assets that the Royal Air Force has. No matter where they appear whether at domestic air shows through the summer months or abroad the bright red BAE Hawk T1 aircraft enthral, captivate and inspire audiences as they loop, swirl and whizz through the skies.

The ‘Red Arrows’ do a great deal more though than just captivate audiences and demonstrate the sheer excellence of disciplined formation aerobatic flying that are quite rightly to be considered as the best flying display in the world. Through the fantastic work they do at international air show events and goodwill visits the ‘Red Arrows’ also play a vital role promoting not only professional excellence that is at the centre of everything that the Royal Air Force does but in defence diplomacy too. Indeed, the role and contribution that the ‘Red Arrows’ play in defence diplomacy, in projecting what Britain is today, of what it stands for in a world still dominated by geo-politics and of what it wants to be cannot be underestimated.

The importance and role that the ‘Red Arrows’ play in the defence diplomatic role when displaying overseas in support of British foreign policy and trade objectives may not always be easy to see but it has never been lost on Government or industry. Whilst it is true that having a Royal Navy ship alongside at a foreign port playing its role in hosting trade and other foreign policy related events is always of significant importance having the ‘Red Arrows’ displaying overhead to a VIP audience is something that foreign nations hosting the British military love to see.

The ‘Red Arrows’ are in my view to be considered as nothing short of a winner for Britain. In the less well understood role that they play in defence diplomacy they are an increasingly vital part of how the rest of the world will view Britain and a priceless asset and one whose value to the nation is incalculable.

For British industry and also for the Government particularly within the role this plays within international defence trade agreements made with other governments the ‘Red Arrows’ may be regarded as being more important to the nation today than ever before. During the current Middle East tour many thousands of people will have watched the spectacular displays by the Red Arrows team. They will no doubt have been thrilled at the various precision formations undertaken, by the dynamic loops and the countless number of rolls.

RAFAT have been thrilling crowds, at home and overseas, ever since 1964 and next year there will be many celebrations to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the team creation. Yes, it is true that there has been the occasional sad incident over the years and that sometimes has been less than easy to explain but this team survives by its hard work, dedication, professionalism and the discipline of working together as a team.

At the Dubai Air Show earlier this month and which I might add at this point was visit

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