The Royal Air Force (RAF) was established as a independent armed service on 1 April 1918 as an amalgamation of the Army’s Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). It is the oldest independent air force in the world. To mark the centenary, a flypast was staged over London on 10 July 2018, in which over a hundred aircraft of all types took part. An estimated 70,000 people crowded the Mall and Trafalgar Square to see the show, while the Queen and other members of the Royal Family watched from the balcony of Buckingham Palace.
1. Chinook and Puma helicopters.
First up was a wave of Chinook and Puma helicopters. The twin-rotor Boeing CH-47 Chinook first flew in 1961 and remains one of the most capable heavy-lift helicopters in service over half a century later. The Aérospatiale SA 330 Puma is another venerable workhorse, which first flew in 1965. Both types have seen action with innumerable operators and in innumerable theatres of combat.
2. Juno and Jupiter helicopters.
The Chinooks and Pumas were followed by two Juno H135s and a Jupiter H145. These are military versions of the Eurocopter EC135 and EC145 respectively. The civilian aircraft are widely used by police and emergency services. The RAF use them for training purposes.
3. Douglas Dakota.
The Douglas C-47 Dakota is one of the most successful aircraft of all time. A military derivative of the DC-3 airliner, it first flew in 1941 and saw extensive service with the Allies during WW II. Over 10,000 were built, many of which remain airworthy. This aircraft is part of the RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, but as a multi-engine tail wheel aircraft it is also an important training asset for Lancaster aircrew and for Lancaster pilots maintaining their licences on aircraft of this type.
4. Battle of Britain Memorial flight.
The Dakota was followed by the RAF’s flightworthy Avro Lancaster escorted by three Supermarine Spitfires and two Hawker Hurricanes. These legendary aircraft need no introduction from me!
5. 120TP Prefect.
Next up was a formation of three 120TP Prefects. Built by the German manufacturer Grob, the 120TP is a two seat low wing turboprop monoplane with a composite airframe. It first flew in 2010. They are used as trainers by the RAF.
6. Tucano T1.
The Prefects were followed by nine Short Tucano T1 trainers flying in a tight diamond formation. The Tucano is built by Short Bros of Belfast under licence from Embraer of Brazil. It first flew in 1986 and production ended a decade later. They are due to be retired next year.
7. Shadow R1.
The Shadow R1 is derived from the Beechcroft Super Air King, a civilian utility aircraft that first flew in 1972. The Shadow R1 serves as an Intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) aircraft.
The Shadow R1 was followed by the first of the ‘big beasts’: a pair of Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules four engine turboprop transports. The ‘Herc’ first flew in 1954 and remains in production to this day, almost six and a half decades later. It is noted for its ability to operate from rough airstrips yet carry a substantial payload of 33 tonnes. The RAF operates the upgraded C-130J version, which entered service in 1996.
9. A400M Atlas.
The ‘Hercs’ were followed by the mighty Airbus A400M Atlas. The turboprop-powered Atlas first flew in 2009. It can carry a greater payload than the Hercules (37 tonnes) and shares its ability to operate from rough landing strips. The Atlas entered service with the RAF in 2014.
10. Boeing C-17 Globemaster & BAE 146.
Two more transports followed: the Boeing C-17 Globemaster and the BAE 146. The Globemaster first flew in 1991 and can carry a payload of 45 tonnes. The BAE 146 is a regional airliner. It first flew in 1981 and is used as a VIP transport.
11. Sentinel R1.
The Raytheon Sentinel R1 is an ISTAR aircraft based on the Bombardier Global Express business jet.
The Airbus A330 Voyager tanker is based on the A330 airliner. In addition to its inflight refuelling role, it can carry 291 personnel and freight.
13. RC-135 ‘Rivet Joint’.
The Boeing RC-135 ‘Rivet Joint’ is a large ISAR aircraft based on the venerable C-135 Stratolifter transport.
14. Boeing E-3 Sentry AWACS.
Distinguished by its large rotating radar dome, the E-3 Sentry is an airborne early warning of AWACS aircraft. The airframe is based on the Boeing 707 airliner. The Sentry was produced between 1977 and 1992.
15. Hawk T1 trainer.
Nine BAE Hawk T1 trainers flying in arrowhead formation. The T1 is an advanced jet trainer introduced in 1976 to replace the Folland Gnat, which it closely resembles. It has now been superseded as a trainer by T2, but it continues to be used by the Red Arrows and is expected to remain in service until 2030.
16. Hawk T2 trainer.
The Hawk T1 formation was followed by nine Hawk T2s, this time flying in diamond formation. The Hawk T2 entered service in 2009.
17. Tornado GR4.
The Panavia Tornado is a multi-role combat aircraft that first flew in 1974 and remained in production until 1998. The GR4 variant is a ground attack aircraft capable of engaging any target on the modern battlefield.
18. F35 Lightning II.
Making its first public appearance in Britain, the Lockheed Martin F35 Lightning II is a fifth generation multi-role stealth fighter. The type first flew in 2006. The British armed services are acquiring the F35B short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant, which will eventually be deployed on the aircraft carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales as well as serving with the RAF.
19. Eurofighter Typhoon.
The three Lightning IIs were followed by 22 Typhoon fighters, spelling out the number ‘100’. It took months of planning to fly in this formation, intended as a surprise to the huge audience. The Typhoon FGR Mk4 is an extremely capable fourth generation multi-role combat aircraft which first flew in 1994 and entered service in 2003. To date, 623 aircraft have been built.
20. Red Arrows.
Only the inestimable Red Arrows could follow the spectacular Typhoons, and their appearance, with trademark red, white, and blue smoke, drew a huge cheer from the crowd. Officially known as the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows have been delighting the public with their aerobatic displays since 1964. To date, they have performed over 4,700 displays in 56 countries.