We attend the launch of the RAF Falcons’ 2022 season, which opened with a dazzling display at RAF Brize Norton.
FALCONS FLY HIGH
“Launch day is an integral part of our season. This is an opportunity to say thank you to our sponsors and engage with the local community.”
On Tuesday 26th April, the RAF Falcons, widely recognised as the UK’s premier military parachute display team, officially began their 2022 season in spectacular style.
For Flight Lieutenant Stuart Philpott, Officer Commanding of the RAF Falcons Parachute Display Team, the launch could not have gone any better.
On a perfect day for parachuting against the bright blue Oxfordshire skies, we took our place amongst a crowd thrilled by the flying Falcons. Combined with the use of the Chinook, regarded by many as the world’s most iconic helicopter, we got to see the very best of the RAF Falcons.
Up at the crack of dawn, we made the three-hour journey from Norfolk to the Falcons’ home base at RAF Brize Norton, to be greeted by the team (as well as some much-needed teas and coffees) upon arrival.
Remarkably unphased by the descent they would soon be undertaking, the Falcons stood out as a very relaxed, welcoming and approachable team, engaging with ourselves and the fellow sponsors in attendance.
Photos taken with the team were followed by a presentation led by Flight Lieutenant Mike Reeve, who began by providing a brief history of the RAF Falcons. We had the honour of being joined at the launch by the family of the late, great Peter Hearn, one of the six founding members of the team.
“Peter saw an opportunity for parachute displays to be utilised as a military showpiece, and was part of ‘The Big 6’ which eventually became the RAF Falcons in 1965,” Reeve told us.
“They were the pioneers of display parachuting and the first parachute display team in the UK, and from there displayed all over the country and the world.”
Reeve also informed us of the Falcons’ brand-new display, one that captivates the military precision and skill of the team and demonstrates the ever-changing skill sets required for military parachuting, whetting the room’s appetite for the launch display that was to come later in the day.
“This season is looking epic – the predicted number of people the Falcons will be displaying to this season is up to two million across all the shows!” he smiled.
A short, scenic walk away from the lecture theatre was the Airborne Delivery Wing, a Royal Air Force training unit that provides parachute training to all three British Armed Forces, where Warrant Officer Paul Floyd walked and talked us through the impressive facility.
Knowledge dispels fear in the Airborne Delivery Wing, and Floyd equipped us with a thorough understanding of all things parachutes and parachute training.
Complete with a virtual reality (VR) parachute trainer, the Falcons also utilise digital imagery to create a virtual world and train service personnel. As impressively demonstrated to us, the parachuters are suspended by harnesses and wear VR goggles, to practice jumps in a range of realistic, immersive environments.
“It’s about making sure everyone is good to go before they begin a parachute descent. The VR gives everything needed to instil the required drills and procedures,” Floyd explained.
Just shy of midday, it was time for local schools, sponsors and senior military to gather for the sun-soaked season launch and a highly anticipated, brand-new parachute display.
Having completed a busy period of winter training overseas and in the UK, this would be the inaugural display of one of the Falcons’ busiest seasons to date.
Though the traditional display was changed last year to coincide with the RAF Falcons’ 60th anniversary celebrations, the famous canopy stack formation the team has been performing since the 1970s will continue to be displayed, embellished by some new, exciting and dynamic parachute manoeuvres.
Ahead of the two-minute call from the Drop Zone Safety Officer (DZSO), the team was going through their final safety checks, loaded up with all sorts of parachuting equipment and smoke canisters.
That the mighty Chinook was merely a spec in the sky from ground level really emphasised just how high up the Falcons were. With the weather on their side, they would be jumping from the maximum height of 7,000 ft, staying in constant communication with each other.
Adorned in the prestigious red, white and blue canopies of the Royal Air Force, whose colours truly popped against the crisp Oxford sunshine, the Falcons commenced their complex routine, starting with the ‘snake’ formation.
Once in position, the team formed a touching heart-shaped tribute, dedicated to the members of the Hearn family who were with us for the display.
Named after the fairground ride, the Falcons then turned into the ‘carousel’, the team’s favourite manoeuvre and a fun visual spectacle, before completing an impressive ‘sabre chase’ in the final formation before the display landing.
All the while, separate from the other parachutists was Sergeant Doug McAll, flying the flag of the United Kingdom. Upon landing, the team safely stowed away their equipment, secured their parachutes, and waited for the command of the DZSO to take their positions for the RAF Falcons parachute salute.
Just as we experienced first thing over tea and coffee, the Falcons were more than happy to meet and greet their awestruck audience, even after the exhilarating thrill of a parachute display.
“We obviously had the clear blue skies, so we were able to do the full display, which is nice because we are normally battling with the cloud, wind and rain,” Philpott told us, fresh from his 7,000 ft descent.
“It’s really nice to see the crowd. You can hear them before you land as well, so it’s nice to get that little bit of a buzz. After a few hundred descents, the nerves disappear, but the buzz stays.”
A dramatic close-up of the Chinook was a fitting way to finish the launch, as the Falcons embark on another spectacular season of displays.