While the TV company made their plans, the Red Arrows went off to Indonesia - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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While the TV company made their plans, the Red Arrows went off to Indonesia

I then took the Thames TV group for their first look around College Hall. They were absolutely delighted with everything they saw. Alec Lom, the script writer, gave me a long list of things to do, including making contact with all the Red Arrows who had flown with Ray, especially the ones who had flown with him in 1966, his first year as Red Arrows Leader. Alec also wanted me to make contact with Air Vice-Marshal Johnny Johnson, the World War 2 fighter ace, and Raymond Baxter, former RAF Spitfire pilot and television personality. I knew how to contact all of them. Finally we went out onto the flight line to see how we could arrange the 'hit' with Michael Aspel - I had already worked out what I thought should happen. Fortunately for an event such as this, the Red Arrows can have the airfield closed to all other aircraft movements. That would immediately get around one of the major problems associated with filming on airfields - unwanted aircraft engine noise.

I suggested that we built the 'hit' around the Red Arrows return to base from Blackpool Airport immediately after the Southport display on the day of the recording. I would arrange for Ray Hanna and his son to be out on the flight line at Cranwell ready to watch the Reds as they made the normal low level flypast they make on every return to base. I would tell Ray that the TV Company was there purely to film this final return to base and that they were going to interview John Rands before they all went off again for Ray's trip with the Reds. I thought that I could persuade Ray Hanna to agree to give a rare TV interview since the crew were already there. As JR climbed down from his aircraft, Ray Hanna would move forward to greet him and then Michael Aspel would appear from nowhere and spring the surprise on Ray. Simple!

John Graham and the rest of his team thought this was an excellent plot and Alec Lom was tasked to write the script accordingly. I told John Graham that I would be out of office for three weeks while I travelled to Indonesia where the Red Arrows had been tasked, at quite short notice, to fly several displays at the Indonesian Air Show in June 1996. The Producer said that was no problem because they now had a lot of work to do in London working on our This is Your Life and one or two others that were in the pipe-line.

I'm sure it's true to say that hardly anyone on the Red Arrows wanted to trek all the way out to the Far East again. Once again the tour was sponsored, that is paid for, by Defence Export Services Organisation (DESO). Because of the action of protest groups objecting to the sale of British Aerospace Hawks to Indonesia, there had been no official publicity about the forthcoming Red Arrows trip - but the news eventually filtered out, mainly when some display organisers were told that the Team would no longer be able to perform at their air show. The main purpose, in fact the only purpose of the Red Arrows attendance at the Indonesian Air Show was to assist British Aerospace in their endeavours to get a further contract for Hawk sales. When MoD finally confirmed that the Red Arrows were indeed going to Indonesia, there was quite a lot of criticism in the media, and some public demonstrations, because the Indonesian Air Force was using their Hawks to quell internal political dissent. I was much relieved that MoD handled all the media criticism.

Once again I travelled ahead of the Team, this time on a direct flight to Jakarta by British Airways. The days spent in Jakarta were quite pleasant for all of us. The display organisers had gone to enormous trouble with all their arrangements and they went out of their way to make us feel welcome. Because of the hostility in the UK about the Hawk deliveries to the Indonesian Air Force, I was not allowed any direct contact with the Indonesian media and so there was very little for me to do except turn up.

The Team pilots and I were invited to a "Grand Reception to Meet the Red Arrows", hosted jointly by British Aerospace, Rolls Royce and Marconi. Dr Habibie, the Indonesian Minister for Research and Technology, and Michael Portillo, then UK Secretary of State for Defence, were both present. Dr Habibie, who later became, for a short while at least, President of Indonesia, spoke at the Reception for exactly 60 minutes - with no questions allowed. One of the British Embassy staff seated next to me whispered that this was the short version of a much longer speech that all foreign diplomats had come to know almost off by heart. We listened as Dr Habibie announced, but without any advance notice to anyone apparently, that in future the Indonesian Air Show would be held biennially. It would be known as the Asia-Pacific High Technology and Aerospace Show and, he added, he expected the Red Arrows to attend every one. Two days later the Red Arrows were guests at a Grand Dinner in the Jakarta Hilton to celebrate Dr Habibie's 60th birthday. I excused myself from that one.

It was while we were in Indonesia that we heard the splendid news that Squadron Leader John Rands had been awarded the OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List. A very well deserved honour for a very fine Leader and a nice fellow to boot.

President Suharto was present for the show on 22 June and the public show on 29 June was attended by 600,000 spectators according to official Indonesian hand-outs. The British Defence Secretary, Michael Portillo, watched the display on 24 June and then went to the flight line to talk to all the pilots and ground crew. Also present and representing the British Chief of Defence Staff was an old friend of the Red Arrows and their former Commander-in-Chief, now Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir John Willis.

Landing for refuelling at Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Chiang Mai (Thailand), Calcutta, Delhi, Karachi, Dubai, Riyadh, Hurghada (Egypt), Iraklion, Brindisi and Villafranca, the Red Arrows finally arrived back at Cranwell at 1050 am on Wednesday 10 July to be met by wives and children and the inevitable Customs and Excise officers. The faithful Hercules arrived 30 minutes later to disgorge the weary but happy Red Arrows ground crew. Another Red Arrows spectacular had been professionally executed.

The Red Arrows had flown 18,000 nautical miles, given seven public displays and one practice display, and flown 362 Hawk sorties amounting to 492 flying hours, without any major unserviceability. The support Hercules used up 60 flying hours and remained serviceable throughout. The Team had missed several of the planned 1996 UK shows, including the local one at Waddington. Judging by the letters to the Editor of the Lincolnshire Echo, the Lincolnshire fans were rightly outraged. The Red Arrows were not best pleased either!

Footnote. The on-going political problems in Indonesia meant Dr Habibie's dreams of an Asia-Pacific High Technology and Aerospace Show came to nought. He was Indonesia's third President from 21 May 1998 to 20 October 1999.

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