Central Flying School History
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Formation Display Flying

The Meteorites An instructor with the Central Flying School Flight Lieutenant C R Gordon led a team of four Gloucester Meteor T7 aircraft as the Central Flying School's official team during the 1952 and 1953 seasons. The Meteorites were the first RAF display team to be given a name; until that time display teams were known only by the squadron numbers. The Meteor aircraft retained their standard bare metal (silver) colours; towards the end of the season they gained high visibility yellow anti-collision training stripes. The Meteorites disbanded at the end of the 1953 season.

Meteor T7 The prototype trainer made its first flight on the 19th of March 1948 and the Meteor T7's maiden flight was on the 26th of October 1948. The type entered service with the RAF in December 1948. Meteors were the first jet trainers in service and marked the end of the conversion from piston powered aircraft to jets. Over 680 Meteor T7 aircraft were built with orders coming from the Royal Navy and overseas. Production ceased in 1954, the last aircraft built was given the service serial number XF279. In its training variant the Meteor was lengthened by 30 inches to allow for the second cockpit, the armament was removed and full dual controls were fitted. To improve endurance provision was made for the fitting of three drop tanks. Performance of the T7 was so good that it out performed the fighter version in a number of ways. By the middle of the 1950s Meteors were being replaced by a combination of Provost and Vampires, although they continued to serve alongside Vampire T11s until the late 1950s. In RAF service the Meteor was employed at a number of Advanced Flying Training Schools and provided conversion to jets for pilots coming from piston engined trainers such as the Harvard. Conversion courses for the pilots lasted 14 or 18 weeks with the first course commencing in August 1949 at No 203 AFS at Driffield. At its peak the Meteor served with approximately 10 Advanced Flying Schools and five Operational Conversion Units. Although the training role of the Meteor was replaced by the Vampire a number of operational stations continued to operate the Meteor for continuation and refresher training.

The Sparrows Formed as a team in 1957, The Sparrows were the CFS official team for two seasons. Led by Flt Lt J H Kingsbury, the team flew the Hunting Provost T1 (The Piston Provost) for it's first year, converting to the Jet Provost T1 in 1958 under the leadership of Flt Lt N Griffin. The Sparrows displayed their Provost T1s alongside many other RAF teams at the SBAC Airshow, Farnborough, in 1957. The Piston Provosts flew in standard RAF training colours of silver with yellow training bands; the Jet Provosts having white upper surfaces and red undersides.

Piston Provost At the end of the 1940s the British Air Ministry issued Operational Requirement 257, this defined the need for a new, higher performance, piston-engined trainer. The Air Ministry were convinced that the existing training sequence of Percival Prentice to Harvard was inadequate preparation for their jet pilot trainees for frontline flying duty. While speed was not a prime concern of OR 257, a cruising speed of 110 knots was required, along with an endurance of at least two hours flying time. Of the 15 companies involved in the fierce competition for design approval, Percival led the pack because it had privately developed a mockup trainer that anticipated many of the RAF's requirements. Called the P56 the Percival entry also had the edge because their early start made them the only firm able to meet the time limits specified by the RAF for delivery of a prototype. Thus, an initial order for 200 of the aircraft was placed with Percival in May, 1951. The Provost was a two-seat, side-by-side low-wing monoplane with fixed landing gear of the tailwheel variety, powered by a 550hp Alvis Leonides 126 radial engine. In 1953, the first production P56 joined the Central Flying School's Basic Training Squadron at South Cerney as the RAF's standard basic trainer, called the Provost T Mk1. More than 330 of the aircraft were eventually delivered to the RAF over a period of 3 years, during which time (1954) Percival became part of the Hunting Group. The Provost remained in service until they were replaced by a major revision of the design that evolved the P.6 Provost into the Jet Provost trainer, which eventually evolved into the Strike Master multi-role trainer and light attack aircraft in 1967. A total of 461 Provosts were built by the time production ended in 1959. Long after its retirement as a trainer with the RAF, Piston Provosts went to war in the Dhofar as part of the SOAF. To quote the pilot Ralph Swift , "This is the Piston Provost fully armed and ready for war. It was seriously underpowered with it's Alvis Leonides engine during the hot summer months, it required full boost a lot of the time and an eye had to be kept on the cylinder head temperatures". Read more about Ralph Swift's exploits here.

The Redskins When The Sparrows disbanded at the close of the 1958 season two aircraft were allocated to a new team - The Redskins. The pair performed throughout 1959, being stood-down at the end of that season.

The Pelicans and The Red Pelicans Named after the bird from the Central Flying School's crest, The Pelicans were to become the RAF's official team, and were often seen practicing in Cotswold skies. The team was formed by CFS in 1960, and initially flew four silver and red Jet Provost T3 aircraft. In 1962 the team converted to the more powerful Mk4 and added a fifth aircraft. The colour scheme changed in 1963 to all-over dayglo red, becoming The Red Pelicans. At this time a sixth aircraft was added; during the season the team, under the leadership of Flt Lt Ian Bashall, attended many home and European air displays. All aircraft were equipped with smoke generators, to enhance their displays. 1964 saw The Red Pelicans being nominated as the official team for the RAF. Led by Flt Lt T E L Lloyd, the team ended their season flying co-ordinated displays with the 'Gnats' of The Yellowjacks at the SBAC Airshow, Farnborough. With the newly-formed Red Arrows in place as the RAF's premier aerobatic team, the Red Pelicans subsequently trimmed down to four aircraft without a smoke system facility, and were all re-painted into a post-box-red scheme. The 4-ship team continued to participate in shows across the UK for the next five seasons. In spring 1970 the team, led by Sqn Ldr E D Evers, re-equipped with the latest variant of the Jet Provost, the Mk5. The team disbanded permanently at the end of the 1973 season, bringing the curtain down on 15 years of CFS Jet Provost teams.

The Jet Provost Developed by Hunting Percival Aircraft from it's piston Provost primary trainer of the late 1940s, the Jet Provost was built in response to a 1953 RAF requirement for a jet powered primary trainer so as to provide pupils with all through jet training. A fairly simple re-design led to the Alvis Leonides engine in the nose being replaced by an Armstrong Siddeley Viper jet of 1750 Ib thrust, and the fitting of a nosewheel undercarriage. The first Jet Provost Tls flew in the summer of 1954 and the type was used for trials by No 2 Flying Training School from the summer of 1955 alongside the existing piston Provosts. These trials proved that trainee pilots showed no great problems in receiving their initial training on a jet as opposed to a piston aircraft. A greater benefit was that pilots on the Jet Provost took less time to reach their solo flying stage than on the existing Provost. During 1957 and 1958 four aircraft from the Central Flying School operated the RAF's Aerobatic Team. The success of the trials led to the RAF ordering large numbers of a developed version in 1957 - the T3. This version had a more powerful Viper engine, improved canopy vision, tip tanks for extra fuel, shortened undercarriage and Martin-Baker ejector seats. The first of 301 RAF Jet Provost T3s were delivered to No 2 Flying Training School at Syerston in the summer of 1959, with the first all jet "ab initio" course being completed the following June. The T3 was developed into the T4 which had an even more powerful Viper (2500 Ib thrust), giving it a much greater rate of climb. This was of advantage to student pilots who were progressing to more advanced training as they could receive more instruction at higher altitudes. 185 T4s were delivered to the RAF between November 1961 and the middle of 1964. During the 1960s and 1970s most of the RAF's Flying Training Schools operated their own acrobatic teams for display at Air Shows, including The Macaws from the College of Air Warfare, The Poachers from RAFC Cranwell and The Red Pelicans from the Central Flying School. Service use of the Jet Provost T.4 led to a further development - the Mk5. High altitude training to experience compressibility was restricted by the fact that the T.4 was not pressurised, and so British Aircraft Corp (who had absorbed Hunting Percival) developed the new version as a private venture. The prototype flew in February 1967, and entered service with the RAF's Central flying School at Little Rissington in September 1969. 110 were delivered to the RAF, again a number of them flying with acrobatic teams during the 1970's and 1980's. The Jet Provost remained in service until the early 1990's when they were replaced by Short Tucanos.

The Red Arrows The Red Arrows were formed as a CFS unit in 1965. Whilst being head-quartered at RAF Little Rissington, the Gnat aircraft flew initially from RAF Fairford (some 20 miles to the south) then from RAF Kemble. With the formation of the Red Arrows , the Red Pelicans were stood down as the RAF's official team.

The Skylarks Never as famed as The Red Pelicans, the Skylarks were a team flying four de Havilland Canada Chipmunk trainers. The team, led by Flt Lt J F Merry, operated from 1967 until 1971, their aircraft being marked in standard training colours. A Skylark badge was carried on the tail; a green 'lightning flash' was added to the fuselage sides. Whilst lacking some of the panache of the jet teams, The Skylarks performed low-speed precision aerobatics with their Chipmunk aircraft.

The Chipmunk The de Havilland Canada DHC-1 Chipmunk was designed to succeed De Havilland's classic Tiger Moth biplane trainer. Two were evaluated by the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment at Boscombe Down. As a result, the fully-aerobatic Chipmunk was ordered from Hatfield and Chester to Specification 8/48 as an ab initio trainer for the RAF. The RAF received 735 Chipmunks manufactured in the UK. The first to wear RAF roundels were flown by the Oxford University Air Squadron from February 1950; thereafter, the type replaced the Tiger Moth with all 17 University Air Squadrons, as well as equipping many RAF Volunteer Reserve flying schools in the early 1950s. National service pilots underwent their initial training on the Chipmunk, which served intermittently at the RAF College Cranwell.

The Vintage Pair 1972 saw the start of a new aerobatic team at CFS. The Vintage Pair comprised of Meteor TMk7 (WA669) and Vampire T11 (XH304). Both aircraft were fully aerobatic and were in service with the examining wing of CFS until they started synchronised display flying. The team continued until 1986 when sadly, both aircraft were destroyed following a collision at Mildenhall. From that point public display flying was limited to singleton aircraft.

David Watkins' recently published book - The History of RAF Aerobatic Teams from 1920 is a mine of information on this subject.