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STAYING SAFE IN THE SKY


STAYING SAFE IN THE SKY
The purpose of the Red Arrows and the Blue Angels is to thrill millions of spectators every year, but they never compromise on pilot safety.

Due to the nature of their flying and the high number of shows they perform, accidents do happen, although they are less regular than they were when the aerobatic teams first performed. By studying both the pilots and the planes themselves, both teams are now aware of exactly how far man and machine can be pushed. Both the Blue Angel and the Red Arrow pilots wear specific safety equipment which enables them to perform their amazing displays with the minimum amount of danger.



Combating g-forces
We measure gravity in terms of how much acceleration a force applies to an object. During some of their daring manoeuvres, aerobatic pilots will often be exposed to extreme gravitational forces. These forces direct their blood away from the brain towards their feet, causing the heart to stop pumping sufficient blood back to the brain which will eventually cause the pilot to totally blackout.
There are two ways that aerobatic pilots can counteract this problem. Red Arrow pilots wear a gsuit which employs a compressed air and bladder system. This compresses the legs and abdomen, reducing the likelihood of a blackout by reducing the amount of blood able to flow away from the brain.
Blue Angel pilots undergo specific training to enable them to fly without g-suits. This is because it is impossible to wear them when they fly, as they rest their forearms on their legs and use their knees as a fulcrum which the suits could interfere with if worn. Instead, they learn to tense their lower body muscles and exhale sharply (known as the ‘hick’ manoeuvre), that slows the rate at which the blood flows away from the brain. Blue Angel pilots are mandated to exercise at least six times a week, which keeps them fit and helps their bodies cope with g-force.
On top of this, they train in a centrifuge each year which exposes them to extreme g-force and lets them practice dealing with its effects.


The interview process for selecting a new member of a display team is incredibly thorough. In the case of the Blue Angels, there has to be a  completely unanimous (16-0) vote in favour of a candidate in order for them to join.
The Red Arrows will shortlist nine potential pilots via a pre-selection board, who are then invited  for the seven-day interview. During this time, the candidates will undertake a flying test, meet  the current team, accompany a Red Arrow pilot during a display practice and be formally  interviewed. Once this has been completed, the current team will meet to decide which applicants  have been successful.
Flight lieutenant Mike Bowden, who pilots Red 2, explains how first-timers learn to fly in unison:  “When you fly in formation on the front line, you wait for the aircraft around you to move and copy  what they do,” he says. “If we were to do this in the Red Arrows it would make the overall  formation look very broken, which is why we learn to follow voice commands from the Team Leader).  We aim to perfect formation flying before moving to complex manoeuvres.”
After meeting the initial criteria, Blue Angel applicants, or ‘rushees’ as they’re fondly referred  to, shadow the current pilots for numerous displays. They watch everything the existing team do,  attend team briefs and go to social engagements. Candidates are then whittled down, with the  remaining potential pilots put forward for a daunting one versus 16 interview, where all current  Blue Angel pilots and officers ask the candidate a question.
After this, the current team sits down and decides which candidates will be joining the following  year’s team. We spoke to LCDR Mark Tedrow, the lead solo pilot for the Blue Angels, who revealed  how they train: “The Blue Angels are so unique and the flying we do is very different to anything  you do in the military – it really does feel like learning to fly all over again,” he says.  “Between the end of one season and the start of the next, we aim to accumulate 120 training  flights. We are usually flying 15 times per week, which is a fairly gruelling schedule, but that  means we can perform our manoeuvres practically from muscle memory.”