In 1998, the Royal Saudi Air Force decided to form an aerobatic team, mounted on the British Aerospace Hawk Mk.65 aircraft. Initially known as the "Saudi Hawks", the team was subsequently renamed the "Green Falcons".
Since this article was first written in 2000, it would appear that the team have now reverted to their original name of Saudi Hawks. Quite when this took place, and why, is unknown, but the name seems to have been confirmed by both BAe Systems and the RSAF.
Here, we present an exclusive feature on this team. All credit for the information and photographs goes to Dennis Robinson, former BAe Superintendent at King Abdul Aziz Air Base, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, who was in charge of the BAe personnel responsible for the painting of the team's aircraft. The vast majority of the content of this feature was made available to us from Dennis's personal files. Some supplementary information was also provided by the Royal Saudi Embassy, London.
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All information on these pages © The Aerobatic Display Teams S.I.G. of IPMS(UK).
Around 1988/89, BAe decided to modify (as a gift to the RSAF), six Hawk Mk.65's from the initial Al Yamama contract that were already in-Kingdom, to give them a smoke producing capability. The six aircraft concerned were: 3760, 61, 62, 63, 64 and 3765. RSAF aircraft are assigned serial numbers depending on which Squadron they are assigned to.
The 37th Squadron, to which these aircraft should have belonged, never actually formed and all the "37" serialled aircraft operated with the 21st Squadron, along with two Jetstream 31 Tornado crew trainers. With the signing of the Al Yamama 2 contract, the last six Hawk Mk.65A's (serialled 7915, 16, 17, 18, 19 and 7920), were all modified at BAe Warton, again as a gift from BAe, to smoke capable status. It should be noted that, although the aircraft were modified to be smoke-capable, they were still delivered in standard RSAF camouflage markings.
The initial six Hawk Mk.65's can only carry and produce a single colour of smoke, but the second batch of Hawk Mk.65A's can carry and produce three smoke colours. The smoke pods which are fitted to the aircraft are externally identical to those carried by the RAF Red Arrows.
On 25th June 1998, Number 88 Squadron was officially formed at King Abdul Aziz Air Base, as the RSAF Display Team. Their stated purpose is "to represent the Royal Saudi Air Force in national and international occasions". Three of the smoke-capable Hawk Mk.65's (3763, 3764 and 3765) and all of the smoke-capable Mk.65A's were transferred to the new squadron, although it was in fact February/March 1999 before all the aircraft were officially transferred.
In keeping with RSAF aircraft serial numbering policy, the team's aircraft were all allocated new serial numbers with their transfer to 88 Squadron - they were re-numbered as follows :-
So officially, the Squadron consisted of nine aircraft. However, during a four-ship practice on 27th September 1998, number 7915 (still in camouflage markings), was landed rather heavily at the end of the sortie. The pilot ejected and the aircraft continued rolling slowly down the runway after the other three. It drifted to the left, departed the runway onto the desert floor, shedding various parts of the airframe as it did so. It lost the landing gear, smoke pod and a flap before finally coming to rest. Following a damage survey, the damage to the fuselage was classified as Category 2, and the wing was written off. This aircraft was last seen sitting forlornely on trestles in a Dhahran hangar. There were plans to move it by road to Tabuk, but it is not known if this happened.
The team moved from King Abdul Aziz Air Base to King Faisal Air Base, Tabuk, in February 1999, along with the other RSAF Hawk Squadrons.
The Aircraft and Colour Scheme
The reason that the team use a mix of Hawk 65 and Hawk 65A aircraft, is basically that they were built at different times. Technically, there are some 3000 detail differences between the two marques. When the RSAF decided to order more Hawks, they requested that they be the same as the existing Mk.65's. It was explained to them that with the passage of time, change of manufacturing venue and improvements incorporated into the basic Hawk design, that the production of new-build Hawk Mk.65's would be prohibitively expensive. So, they accepted the changes that had taken place over the years. From a modelling point of view, the only external difference between the 65 and 65A, is a trapezoidal plate which is bolted/riveted to the rear fuselage below and just forward of the tailplane. Note also that both the Mk.65 and the Mk.65A have retractable landing lights in the nose, an important point to remember when modelling the subject. On the team aircraft, there are minor changes to the cockpit layout - the front gunsight has been deleted and replaced with a GPS installation and the Weapons panel has been replaced by a radio frequency panel.
The special colour scheme for the team aircraft was originally submitted by Dennis Robinson of the BAe staff at King Abdul Aziz Air Base. Then, on September 8th 1998, a fax message from HQ RSAF instructed them to take possession of Hawk 65 number 3763 for a trial paint scheme. Accompanying the order were a set of written instructions and crude drawings for the scheme, based on the BAe scheme.
Both the "drawings" and the written instructions stated that the overall shade of green was to be FE102-C/5250, which was the standard dark green used for Saudi roundels, fin flags and other trim. This was the colour that the BAe staff had originally specified, and they had plenty of it in stock.
Then, a few days later, a 1/24th scale model of a Hawk arrived, which had been painted up in Riyadh in the proposed colour scheme for the team, in accordance with the original sketches. However, the model was in a lighter shade of green..... This lighter shade was confirmed by Riyadh and also confirmed was the fact that Prince Sultan himself had approved the scheme and the shade of green. This model had actually been painted with Humbrol number 2 Green, and as it had now been approved by the Prince, this was the colour the team aircraft had to be ! So began a frantic search to find gallons of green paint that matched Humbrol number 2 !! In the meantime, aircraft number 3763 had already been scuffed down to the first coat of primer, but now there was no paint to paint it with.
There was a very tight timescale to keep - the job had to be completed by 21st January 1999. Dennis Robinson was tasked to find some lighter green paint on the basis that he "was a modeller and obviously knew where to get some"!
After first checking Kalusguide No.1 together with a set of FS595a/b colour cards, only two colours were near enough to Humbrol no.2 : 14110 (BSC381C-221), as used in a matt form for the roundels of Dubai Hawks - ("BAe Warton are bound to have some and we can always overcoat it with gloss Poly varnish"- wrong on both counts !) : And FS595b 14092 as used by the Pakistan AF on its roundels. A lot of this paint had been supplied by McDonnell Douglas as the original roundel colour for the RSAF F-15's, but when it was inspected, the "use-by" date was almost pre-history ! In desperation, Dennis even tried contacting Trevor Snowden , through Dick Ward, to see if they could persuade Humbrol to actually specially manufacture a few gallons of their green no.2 to spec Skythane DTD5580A ! But for various reasons, that plan fell through and eventually, Courtaulds were contracted to manufacture the paint, specifically to match Humbrol no. 2 - which they did in record time.
Marking up and painting the aircraft was difficult, as there were no real, formal drawings to work from. So, the 1/24th scale model was used as the "master", and the full-sized Hawk was carefully marked out with an interpretation of the scheme on the model. The aircraft was marked out on the left side of the fuselage and fin, and on both the upper and lower surfaces of the left wing and tailplane. Once the crew were satisfied that it looked like a combination of the model and their originally-submitted sketches, then templates for the white areas were cut out from flexible polycarbonate sheet. Once all the white areas had been marked out and masked on the left side of the aircraft, the templates were simply reversed and the white areas marked out and masked on the right side. The flaps, ailerons and rudder were all removed to access the otherwise hidden parts of those controls - they would all have to be re-balanced once the repainting was completed prior to re-installation anyway. Measurements were taken along the fuselage, fin, tailplane, wing leading edge and at the cut-out where the flaps and ailerons would normally be fitted, to ensure correct alignment of the templates when applied to subsequent aircraft.
Then, they just had to wait for the paint.
By this time it was the end of September 1998. As mentioned above, aircraft number 7915 had recently crashed after a practice session, which therefore reduced the total number to be repainted to eight - but they all had to be completed - including flying control re-balancing, landing gear retraction tests, assembly, weighing and a test flight - in the space of twelve weeks, in order to meet the deadline.
The original programme called for one aircraft (3763) to be repainted in the new colours during the first weeks of September, after which a formal inspection would take place and authority given to repaint the remaining aircraft, incorporating any changes decreed during the inspection. This programme had already slipped by three weeks and looked like slipping further. The situation was worsened by the Dhahran climate at that time of year - although the mean temperature drops from the summer highs of around 49°C to the high 30's or low 40's, the humidity increases to around 95% - 98%, making working conditions intolerable. Personnel are regularly soaked in perspiration and can, during one shift, go through as many as four complete changes of clothing ! To add to these difficulties, the air conditioning in the Hawk Paint Shop finally broke down for good, and so the operation was moved to the Tornado/F-15 paint shop next door. In order to attempt to catch up on lost time, Hawk number 7917 was acquired and also stripped down for painting.
The new green paint finally arrived at the end of the third week in October, and aircraft 3763 was completed during the last week of that month. The flying controls were painted white, offered up to the wing to confirm the alignment of the trim, and then removed again before the green was sprayed. As each stage was completed, measurements were taken for use on subsequent aircraft. Most external markings (ejection seat triangles, rescue arrows etc.) were applied by eye to give the most aesthetically pleasing appearance, and then their measurements taken to make the positioning "official". Effectively, the final design of the team's colour scheme was actually carried out on the aircraft. Such was the speed of the programme that additional instructions often arrived from Riyadh days after those stages had actually been completed. It eventually got to the point that Riyadh was so far behind that they gave up issuing instructions and began asking the paint team what they had done, so they could just issue the authorisation for the work !
On the 31st October 1998, the formal inspection took place and apart from the addition of the white outline to the National Flag on the fin, the RSAF seemed perfectly satisfied. All the dimensions were then sent to Riyadh so that formal drawings could be prepared.
On the original scheme submitted by Dennis and the BAe staff, the underside markings consisted of two white inverted "V"'s on the green background. An inverted "V" is the Arabic for the numeral "8" and so the undersurface should have read, in Arabic, "88", ie. 88th Squadron (as can be seen in the team badge). However, in late December 1998, after four aircraft had already been completed, this was changed by the Logistics Wing Commander, Saad bin Fahad (who is one of King Fahad's sons). He indicated that he didn't like the large area of green on the centre and rear fuselage and "suggested" that changes were made. So, a third inverted white "V" was added to the scheme, inboard of the existing ones (now, in Arabic, reading "888" !).
The first four aircraft had also left the paint shop with the fin flag in the same green as the rest of the airframe and it was around this time that all the 88th Squadron Hawks were assigned their 88-series serial numbers. Saad bin Fahad also wanted the fin flag to be more prominent, so the first four completed Hawks were recalled to the paint shop to have the additional white inverted "V" added, the fin flag enhanced with a darker green background and the serials changed from the 37 & 79 series, to the 88 series they now wear.
The official paints and colours used on the Saudi Hawks aircraft are :-
GREEN : Desthone HS Base CA8000/C5696 Batch
K1904UR, Def Stan 80-209/1
At the time of writing, the team has not flown many official displays. Scheduled venues are the Graduation at the Technical Studies Institute in Dhahran and at the Flying College Graduation in Riyadh. The team were also scheduled to perform in Bahrain around February/March 2000, but it is not known if this took place. If they did perform in Bahrain, that would have been the team's first overseas performance.
For their displays, the team usually fly a formation of five aircraft, leaving the other three as reserves. However, they can appear with any number of aircraft from one to seven.
The colours of smoke used during displays depends on which aircraft are used. As mentioned above, the Hawk mk.65's are only capable of carrying one colour, which is either green or white or red (Islamic colours). The Hawk mk.65A's on the other hand, carry all three colours.
All information on these pages © The Aerobatic Display Teams S.I.G. of IPMS(UK).