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From the Stars and Stripes archives

The Black Arrows of Treble One

THE RAF aerobatic team, the "Black Arrows" of 111 Squadron, have a great deal in common with an American professional football team. They're pros and perfectionists, and they're a casual lot when not performing.

Like any professional outfit, they're always trying something new. Their latest was splitting the team into groups of nine and five at the recent Paris air show for eight minutes of continual aerobatting.

"Treble One's" aerobats were described by the French newspaper "Figaro" as presenting "celestial geometry."

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Another attribute of a pro outfit is a winning outlook. With British good manners. they make no boasts that they're the best aerobatic team in the world. But visit RAF Station, Wattisham, for a few days and observe their preference for letting aerial actions speak louder than ground words.

Squadron Leader Peter A. Latham, 33, has commanded "Treble One" since October. A native of Birmingham, he joined the Royal Air Force in 1943 after attending Cambridge University. The imaginative leader has flown jets for 10 years and has logged more than 2,000 jet hours.

He and 15 pilots "show the flag" with their F6 Hawker Hunters throughout Europe about 50 times from May to September. All hope that rumors of a trip to the States late this year will materialize.

During winter months the squadron works on operational training.

"The team," Latham (Boss) says, "has three principal purposes — the RAF's principal means of showing the flag, showing the British taxpayer that fighter command is still active and efficient part of national defence, and a recruiting stimulus.

"Any RAF pilot can volunteer. We'll take a look at him for a month. This cuts down the business of people saying, `Well, I could do it better."

"We started doing our synchronized stuff with nine and five groups this spring.

"In aerobatting you must do something new to hold the crowd's attention. Remember, our biggest competitors are the brewers."

"Treble One" has a tradition of innovation. It claims to be the first team of international standing to perform with five aircraft, and it has put 22 jet fighters into the sky at one time for maneuvers.

As the pilots, whose average age is somewhere around 26, gather in the pilot's room about a hundred yards from their parked fighters, their technical lingo during the briefing is a mysterious concoction of ...

"Wingover for voodoo ... nine-loop around for a wineglass ... half-swan ... pullout of a card five ... box formation ... big nine ... line abreast formation ... roundup into the bomb burst. ..."

Soon the Hunters are looping and rolling above Suffolk County seemingly spaced as close together as a professional football team ready to run a straight T formation play.

Latham leads the "blackjack red" section of nine aircraft. Flight Lt Brian Merger, squadron deputy commander, leads "blackjack blue" of five aircraft.

The two leaders give their sections only a warning and an executive command for each maneuver.

They operate between about 150 feet and 4,500 feet. Speeds range between 350 knots and over the top of loops at 140 knots. Only a matter of inches separates aircraft.

After the two sections land, the pilots gather in their room again for a debriefing. Some ask Flying Officer William R. Clayton-Jones what he was talking about. There is a very strict rule that pilots don't radio unless what they say will be of assistance to the group. Clayton-Jones replies:, "I wasn't talking. I was mumbling."

"What were you mumbling about then?"

'Well. I got into a severe slipstream and had to take violent evasive action. I was just mumbling, that's all"

The banter continues between the slouching, at-ease pilots. This exchange is typical:

'Golly, I was darn close to the boss on that last loop."

"So I saw. You were probably flying his aircraft for him."

"That 'must be why the boss says he always finds formation aeros so easy!"

Then Latham leads the group into debriefing. Pilots are candid about their own performance and others. Flight Lt Colin Hardie, who watched the performance from the ground, adds pertinent comments.

Among the more intelligible bits of their critique are:

"By all means go but fan it more ...How's that wingover for you? .... There's a lot of rudder in that one, Brian.... Got 3½ Gs here, can't get rid of it. If I do it'll fall to bits.... The. voodoo loop was a bit uneven, sir ... Again breaking- before the vertical ..."

Latham does-not spare his own performance — "I think I pulled too bloody high."

Criticism does not end with the debriefing. Usually, twice a day, pilots look at films of their performances and practices.

"We film every practice," says Latham. "We' can see everything we do. We see who's doing what. If a chap is doing something consistently wrong, it's there on film."

The parallel with a professional football team continues to the blackboard where maneuvers are planned and critiqued.

"Treble One" is so perfectionist that it plans its moves by what the spectators can see without turning their heads too much. A blackboard is marked off 70 degrees to each side of a person sitting in a chair and 55 degrees up Maneuvers are planned within those limits for greater spectator comfort

Being best is another tradition of 42-year-old "Treble One." In 1937 it was selected the first fighter squadron to receive Hawker Hurricanes, the first 300 mph-plus eight-gun fighters in the RAF.

During the Battle of Britain it bagged 94 enemy aircraft. In July 1941, re-equipped with Spitfires, it fought over Europe and then moved to battle over North Africa, Sicily and Italy.

Total victories for both World Wars were more than 260.

The RAF Fighter Command traditionally selects a different squadron each year to furnish its aerobatic team, but "Treble One" has held the honor for the past three years.

"Treble One has been accident-free since May 1957.

Latham stressed that the Hunters are fully operational and can be converted from carrying smoke containers to guns in a matter of minutes.

The superb condition of the aircraft, he says. reflects the work and morale of the 80-member ground crew. Usually 28 mechanics accompany the team to foreign displays.

Flight Lt R. C. Phillips, a 30-year-old RAF veteran, is engineering officer. The progressive maintenance schedule he helped devise is now under study by USAF officers. Pilots also pitch in with maintenance. Before the Paris air show they helped polish aircraft with ground crews.

Other members of the team are: Flight Lt Matthew B. Kemp, who trained in Arizona for 10 months during World War II; Flying Officer Norman Lamb, who trained at Bunker Hill AFB, Ind., in 1945; Flight Lt Patrick B. Hine; Flight Lt James M. Oakford; Flight Lt David J. M. Edmondston; Flying Officer Roger E. Hymans; Flying Officer Marcus S. Wild; Flight Lt Stanley W. Wood; Flying Officer Anthony M, Aldridge; Flight Lt Francis L. Travers-Smith'; and Flight Lt Leslie A. Boyer.

About "Treble One," Air Chief Marshal Sir Thomas G. Pike, commander of RAF Fighter Command, says:

"Fighter pilots are taught aerobatics because this helps them to fly their aircraft to their limits, to master them completely, and to have confidence in them. This mastery and confidence are essential for successful combat

"Aerobatics in the modern fighter call for great skill and stamina in performing evolutions at high speed. Formation aerobatics are more difficult than individual aerobatics and a good display represents many hours of hard work and training; they will never be used in war but the qualities which they require are some of those necessary in the first class fighter pilot

'`I would like to emphasize that though specialists in formation aerobatics. the pilots of 111 Squadron are first and foremost operational pilots"


Photo gallery

The Royal Air Force's aerobatic team, the "Black Arrows" of 111 Squadron, in the air and on the ground in England in June, 1959.

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Royal Air Force F6 Hawker Hunters flying in formation over the English countryside, as seen from the cockpit of Flight Lt. Patrick B. Hine's jet.

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The "Black Arrows" at work, viewed from the ground.

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Front row, members of Blackjack Blue: Flight Lt James M. Oakland (left), Flying Officer Roger E. Hymans, Flight Lt Brian Mercer, Flying Officers Norman Lamb and Anthony Aldridge. Blackjack Red members are (second row, left to right) Flying Officer William R. Clayton-Jones, Flight Lt Patrick B. Hine, Squadron Leader Peter Latham, Flight Lt Matthew B. Kemp, Flying Officer Marcus S. Wild and (third row, left to right) Flying Officer Stanley W. Wood, Flight It Francis L. Travers-Smith, Flight Lt Leslie A. Boyer and Flight Lt David J. M. Edmondston.

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Squadron leader Peter A. Latham debriefs Treble One aerobats after a practice session.

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Stars and Stripes photographer Francis "Red" Grandy prepares to fly in an RAF F6 Hawker Hunter, from which he took many of the photos in this gallery in June, 1959.
 

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