Who are the best aerobatic team?

Sep 17 2010 - 9 Comments

As I have already explained in my previous post about the airshow held in Rivolto on Sept. 11 and 12, 2010, to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Frecce Tricolori, in the last weeks I was interviewed many times by both newspapers and TVs.

What I’ve noticed is that the majority of the journalist that interviewed me about my book (the official ItAF book for the Frecce’s 50th Anniversary), asked me the same question: “are the Frecce the best aerobatic team?”

It is extremely difficult to answer impartially to this question. Patriotism is something that can influence the pick, so what I answered each time I was asked this question is something that can’t be denied: the Frecce Tricolori can claim a certain number of records that have never been matched by any other aerobatic team in the world.

First of all its size: the Italian aerobatic team is the only one to fly with 10 aircraft.

Another singularity which makes the PAN unique is the fact that the whole display is executed in sight of the public. Separations, transformations and rejoins are always performed in front of the spectators, a circumstance which requires absolute preciseness in all phases of the display.

By the way: another record accomplished by the Frecce Tricolori is the fact that they separate into two formations (one flight of 5 and another of 4 aircraft) which then fly an opposition pass and subsequently rejoin in less than two minutes. Rejoin time is a factor that can influence deeply a flying display. For instance, many noticed that, after taking off from Rivolto, the Red Arrows were out of sight of the public for many (too many…) minutes before rejoining and performing the entry passage. I don’t know what exactly happened (maybe they experienced some kind of failure) but the “dead time” from take off to the first manouevre (“Big Battle to Short Diamond loop and twist”) . Will get back to the Red Arrows display later.

One more peculiarity of the PAN is the Downward Bomb Burst, a manoeuvre which has been part of the Pattuglia’s tradition since its creation, having been part of the Italian Air Force heritage for 80 years now. It is a manoeuvre in which the aircraft, starting from a high altitude and in formation, dive towards the ground and then separate into 9 individual elements which depart in different directions, finally returning for an opposition pass, at three different levels, over the same point. This is a very spectacular and complex manoeuvre, which no one else is capable of reproducing, especially due to the difficulty in opposition passing and rejoining in the very short time frames required for a display.

The other record of the Frecce Tricolori is tied to the Solo’s Lomçovak. This is a display which is typically executed by propeller aircraft, and foresees a “standing roll” followed by a vertical spin, reverse and subsequent aircraft pitch down. Such a manoeuvre is usually “outside the flight envelope” for most jet aircraft, but the PAN’s Solo pilot can execute it in complete safety, thanks to the outstanding handling capabilities of the MB 339.

That said, in my opinion the Frecce display is the most difficult and technical. Each manouevre is followed by another one, in a flying programme that is extremely “fluid” and “continuos” with no dead spaces (as you can always watch the 9 ship formation, or the solo’s display).

Red Arrows and Patrouille de France displays are impressive too: they have lots of different formations and manouevres, some of which are extremely spectacular (like  wingmen fly from one side of the formation to the other one). But formation is not as tight as the Italian “diamond”, manouevres (often) involve a lower number of aircraft (as the Reds’ Gypo Break or the Heart that the Frecce perform with two sections 5+4) and rejoining time is not as strict as for the Italian team and you can clearly notice the remaining aircraft flying nearby trying to rejoin with other “isolated” elements. Their display is like a series of beautiful manouevres that doesn’t look like a single choreography.

On the other hand, the Frecce display is (more or less) the same from decades. A new manouevre appears in the programme every 7 – 8 years. This make their display technical and interesting (especially for the competent observer) but monolithic, while the Reds or Bleus ones, are (maybe) slightly less difficult, but (maybe) slightly more “aggressive” and breathtaking.

The Swiss Patrouille Suisse (flying with the powerful F-5), the Spanish Patrulla Aguila and the Croatian Krila Oluje Team (whose display would be more impressive with the use of smokes) are quickly improving. Anyway, this is just my opinion, as the answer to the “who are the best aerobatic display team” question is still an open debate.






  • http://vvsphotography.wordpress.com Sebastijan Videc

    It is a debatable question for sure… I’m in the airshow loop now for more than 10 years and I have seen most of the aerobatic teams but stopped asking myself this question some time ago… My favorite are Reds, but just because they show the most precise flying… Frecce unfortunately dissapointed me too many times (aircraft lagging,…), but I still love seeing them…

  • Simone Bovi

    Hi David,
    talking about your question regarding the Reds that waited for an expected longer time before entering the public line maybe it was since they could not exercise on Saturday so they fixed and studied the reference points before starting the display.

  • Matteo Marianeschi

    Speaking again about Red Arrows I think that the reason should be researched in security reasons.
    In the first passage the Reds comes always from behind the public but in Italy is not allowed passing over the crowd.
    Being with you and some other friends in the press stand (so a little bit higher than the general public) I have noticed that they made a first wide turn on the right just before taking off, then a huge left turn exactly behind the display line (where Parking Area no.2 was)- also for creating the “V shape” formation – and finally they come across the display line all moved on the right side of the runway; making this manouvre they didn’t pass over the crowd.
    But anyway..that’s just my opinion ! ps excellent shots !!

  • http://cencio4.wordpress.com/ David Cenciotti

    I’m not sure the problem was that they hadn’t performed the rehearsal display on Saturday as they spent the minutes before the first pass miles to the south of the field, in a place where there are no (or very few) reference points on the ground. If they were checking for the reference points, I think they would have overflown the runway or flown to the north of the field, past the display line, where most of the manouevres are flown.
    Anyway, I think they’r quite used to fly that display and to come from the right hand side of the crowd.
    I don’t agree, but this is just my opinion, that the Reds fly the most precise flying (however I’ve seen there only 6 or 7 times) but that their flying is spectacular because quite aggressive (thanks also to an aircraft with a good turning and banking rate).

  • gio

    i have seen many teams and most of them were great ..but i have seen turkey team a few times .i think turkey team is the best for now

    • http://cencio4.wordpress.com/ David Cenciotti

      Interesting team. I saw them displaying at Ghedi airbase, in Italy, in 2001, and maybe another couple of times in Europe. The supporting C-130 was stunning.

  • Zero_Cool

    I am very proud and happy to see that Croatian aerobatic team Wings of storm (Krila oluje) has been mentioned. In a pretty short period of time (only few years), team managed to get worldwide recognition. They perform some complicated manouvers and some of the manouvers are only performed by them. Yes, it would have been more spectacular if they used a smoke instalation, but our budget is not that great at the moment. Anyhow, Pilatus PC 9M is a great plane and they are fantastic team to watch. Best regards from Croatia.

  • Sunray

    The skills of all men and women who fly for their respective countries is to be admired,it is my fondest hope for the world in general that the skills honed and perfected in peacetime are never needed on the field of combat. Every time they strap themselves in they risk their lives to demonstrate the capability of their equipment and their training. All teams are on any given day are quite simply the best in the world.

  • Paul

    Hi David, being a patriotic Brit I always would have put the Reds at the top of the heap (seen them loads over the years. I’m 56), but just watched a Doc’ ( Mighty planes) on the American Blue Angels flying F18s, 18″ apart. Can only say it was impressive. I’m not any sort of expert at all, but impressive team.