Sunderland Airshow: The spotters’ guide

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With this easy to follow guide you’ll be an expert in the making when it comes to spotting planes

The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight

This flight is usually seen in a formation of three aircraft.

The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) is often seen flying at events commemorating World War II, and is a regular feature of national celebrations, such as the Queen’s birthday or Remembrance Day.

The BBMF is made up of the iconic Spitfire and Hurricane fighters and the equally famous Lancaster bomber.

The BBMF also includes a Dakota and two Chipmunk support aircraft – though it is the Spitfire, Hurricane and Lancaster which are usually seen on display.

Altogether, the BBMF has 12 aircraft, as follows: one Lancaster, six Spitfires, two Hurricanes, one Dakota and two Chipmunks).


The BBMF Lancaster bomber is one of only two surviving examples left in the world (the other being in Canada).

The now-legendary heavy long-range bomber went into service on Christmas Eve 1941.

A total of 7,377 were built between 1941 and early 1946, of which some 3,500 were lost on operations and another 200 or so were destroyed or written off in crashes.


Engines (except in one model) – four V-12-cylinder liquid-cooled Rolls Royce Merlins.

Wingspan – 31m / 102 ft.

Top Speed – 245mph at 20,000 ft, 275mph at sea level.

Range – 1,500 miles (with a 22,000lbs bomb load, 2,500 (7,000lbs bomb load).

Max Altitude – 20,000ft

Crew – normally seven, occasionally eight.


The sleek, swooping Spitfire is arguably the most iconic aircraft of all time, holding the place of honour in British affections as the frontline warrior which won the Battle of Britain, over the fields of England.

The first Spitfire entered RAF service in August 1938, and over the following 12 years some 20,341 were built, in 22 different models.


Engine – one Rolls Royce Merlin (or more powerful Griffon in later models) producing between 1,080 and 1,860 horsepower.

Wingspan – 11m / 36ft

Top Speed – 362mph

Range – 420 miles

Max Altitude – 40-43,000ft

Crew – One


Designed by Sir Sydney Camm CBE (who went on to design the Typhoon, Tempest, Hunter and Harrier) the Hurricane was delivered to the RAF just before Christmas 1937: the first British monoplane eight-gun fighter, the first RAF aircraft to exceed 300 mph in level flight and the first production fighter with a retractable main undercarriage.

A total of 14,533 were built and the aircraft served operationally on every day throughout WWII.


Engine – one Rolls Royce Merlin, producing 1,185 horsepower.

Wingspan – 12.9m / 40ft

Top Speed – 328mph

Range – 600 miles

Max Altitude – 36,000ft

Crew – One


The Red arrows, officially known as the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, was formed in late 1964.

The team features nine planes, nine pilots and 91 support members that form ‘The Reds’.

The nine pilots who fly the iconic aircraft, typically in a diamond formation, are all volunteerswho must have accumulated 1,500 flying hours and completed one or more operational tours on a fast jet.

The smoke that comes out of the back of the jet is a signature part of the display and is created by diesel being released into the exhaust, which immediately oxidizes it. The distinctive colours of red, blue and white are achieved by adding dye to the smoke.


Engine – Rolls Royce Adour jet engine, producing 5,200lbs of thrust

Wingspan – 10m / 32ft

Range – 1,500 miles / 2,500 km

Top Speed – Mach 1.2

Max Altitude – 48,000ft

Crew – One