With April 1, 2018 marking the 100 year result of the amalgamation of the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps, Jamie Ewan takes a look at what the Royal Air Force has planned to commemorate, in this their centenary year, under the banner RAF100.

Three words – Commemorate. Celebrate. Inspire. They are the basis of the Royal Air Force’s celebrations across the country (and the wider world) from April through to November. Formed on April 1, 1918, the Royal Air Force has been involved in near constant operations of all kinds around the world. With that in mind, 2018 and the RAF100 campaign gives the junior of the services a chance to commemorate their first centenary that includes extraordinary success, incredible achievement and selfless sacrifice. It is also a chance to celebrate the professionalism and dedication of the modern day RAF that is currently engaged in some 13 individual missions across 22 countries on four continents. In doing so, it is hoped that by honouring and paying tribute to the past, it will inspire future generations by telling them the story of the world’s first, and oldest, independent air force and more so the people who made it happen by defending the Nation’s interests and security at home and overseas for the last 100 years. These celebrations will launch officially on 1 April 2018 with the RAF100 Baton Relay.

Whilst the story of how the RAF came to fruition, who they are and what they do has been told the world over, it is hoped that RAF100 will allow those with little or no knowledge of those subjects to broaden their understanding while helping engage with those who have limited contact with the RAF – something that is incredibly important today with all of the Armed Forces facing a hugely complex and challenging future ahead in terms of recruiting. While there is a degree of recruitment expected to be gained from RAF100, it is far from the focus instead complementing the existing activity within that area.

With numerous events taking place across the country and the wider world throughout the year, it should be noted that although the actual centenary falls on April 1, the RAF has taken the decision to hold the public-facing centrepiece of RAF100 on July 10. Dubbed the ‘RAF100 Parade and Flypast’, the event will see a centenary service held at Westminster Abbey being followed by a parade with 1,500 service men and women and a mass flypast down The Mall and over Buckingham Palace. Expected to be an unparalleled spectacle in modern times, the flypast will reinforce the UK’s reputation at the forefront of defence aviation excellence and as an advocate air power. With plans for nearly 100 participating aircraft from across the Royal Air Force’s Order of Battle, it is hoped that a number of the service’s newest addition, the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II, will be seen over the capital.

Although not on the same scale, another mass flypast will take to the skies during the Royal International Air Tattoo as part of a Royal Review on July 13 at RAF Fairford. On both the Saturday and Sunday of the show, a smaller still flypast is expected including the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows. The showground will see numerous types past and present on static display, whilst the RAF Village will again promote the 21st Century service with the Air Force showcasing everything from air transport operations, medical service and RAF sport and gives the public the chance to meet RAF personnel from both the Regulars and the Reserves.

Now the RAF’s only ‘show, the RAF Cosford Air Show, to be held on Sunday June 10, is promised to be ‘the most spectacular and interactive Air Show tribute to the Royal Air Force’s centenary.’ With the world-renowned RAF Museum on site, many of the collections exhibits will be wheeled out of their hangars to join the special RAF100 exhibition on the airfield as part of a showcase of 100 aircraft placed in a chronological order allowing people the chance to see the development of aeronautical design and capability over the past century.

As well as the RAF100 theme being carried through in some way by shows up and down the country, the RAF will be fielding their usual brace of display teams to help spread the word. With the Red Arrows leading the way in this their 54th display season, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and RAF Falcons will again fly the flag for the United Kingdom and the RAF. Making a welcome return to the display circuit, the Grob Tutor in the hands of Flt Lt Andy Sell will be joined by the stalwart of the Joint Helicopter Force, the Chinook with a crew from 27 Squadron under the command of Display Captain Flight Lieutenant Stu ‘Kyno’ Kynaston. Having been displayed by the RAF for over a decade now, Flt Lt Jim Peterson of 29(R) Squadron will put the Typhoon through its paces during the 2018 season. While it is not known whether or not any of the display mounts will carry a ‘special’ scheme, a number of aircraft – including ‘gate guardians’ – have received a decal with what appears to be a corporate style ‘RAF100’ logo.

Of course, given the nature of the Royal Air Force’s role, there is always the chance that something happens somewhere in the world that needs their attention. Therefore, the proposed activities relating to RAF100 have been planned meticulously to ensure that the RAF uses its assets and resources prudently, without compromising any ongoing or future operations. Events that require it have been planned to be adaptable with built-in flexibility, should the need arise to deploy people or assets elsewhere at short notice – home or abroad. By the same token, many have asked the question why the centenary parade and flypast are taking place almost three months after the actual centenary date. With April 1 falling on Easter Sunday this year, it was deemed indecorous to stage the parade and flypast on the centenary date itself. Also adding to the decision was how unpredictable the weather can be at this time of year.

Unique opportunities for the public to interact with the RAF will continue through a nationwide tour of famous aircraft from across the century to six of the UK’s biggest cities – although the exact ‘aircraft’ taking part currently unknown. Starting at City Hall Gardens in Cardiff on May 16 through 20, Horse Guards Parade in London will see the tour next during July 6-9, with Newcastle, Northern Ireland seeing the National Aircraft Tour on August 4-5. Taking in Victoria Square in Birmingham on August 25-27, Scotland will see the tour at the Science Centre in Glasgow on September 1-2 before it comes to an end on September 15/16 at Cathedral Gardens in Manchester. With the numerous ‘plastic’ examples – a Red Arrows Hawk, Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin F-35 and Boeing Chinook to name but a few – seen at events up and down the country, one hopes the National Aircraft Tour is graced with ‘proper’ aeroplanes. Whatever the case is, the tour will provide numerous opportunities for thousands of people to see the RAF in city centre environments, pretty much on their doorsteps.

Following significant work, June 21 will see the RAF Museum at Hendon officially launch its new displays following a multi-million-pound transformation. During the summer, the site will launch three new innovative galleries exploring the first century of the RAF, its role in today’s world and its future contribution and technology. In preparation for RAF100, numerous aircraft have been seen road running between various collections and owners – none more so than between the sight at Hendon and Cosford who have been swapping airframes around. A huge logistical effort that promises to give something new to anyone who has previously visited. Working in conjunction with one another, both Hendon and Cosford are holding a number of ‘Open Cockpit’ events throughout the year that will allow a rare and exciting chance to get a closer look inside over 100 cockpits and vehicles from the unique collection.

Another huge effort to get the message of RAF100 out there is the work with numerous sports governing bodies across the United Kingdom to provide a presence at a number of major sporting events, including the FA Cups in England and Scotland, the Athletics in Birmingham and the Cricket at Lords. This year’s Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo will have a predominantly RAF feel to it as they celebrate ‘The Sky’s the Limit’ across August 3-25.

Centenary celebrations are not just confined to those at airshows or other such public events. For instance, the Post Office has released a series of six commemorative stamps featuring notable aircraft from the last 100 years from the Sopwith Camel to the Eurofighter Typhoon. Featuring some incredibly smart artwork, each stamp also contains numerous other details such as key airfields, personnel, medal ribbons, flags and the RAF Ensign – these will no doubt help spread the word of RAF100 around the world. The Ensign, like the red, white and blue roundel, is recognised throughout the world and is synonymous with courage, adaptability and innovation.

Likewise, the Royal Mint is releasing five new £2 coin designs (alongside an RAF Crest coin) throughout the year into circulation featuring the likes of the Spitfire, Vulcan, Sea King and Lightning II. Again, the chance of spreading the RAF100 campaign this way has the potential to reach a global audience.

With HM Treasury making some £2.4m available from LIBOR funds, it is easy to see that the Government sees the importance of the RAF100 Campaign and the enduring support they have for the Service, one that is proud of its heritage and recognises the public’s desire to commemorate a national landmark.

To keep up to date with all the RAF100 events around the country, keep checking the official RAF100 website – https://www.raf.mod.uk/raf100/whats-on/ . AeroResource will also be covering a number of events throughout the year.

RAF100 Key Events

  • April 1 – Official anniversary and launch of the RAF100 Baton Relay
  • May 16–20 – The RAF100 National Aircraft Tour opens in Cardiff City Hall Gardens
  • June 10 – RAF Cosford Airshow
  • June 21 –  Royal Air Force Museum Hendon re-opening ceremony
  • July 6–9 – National Aircraft Tour, Horse Guards Parade, London
  • July 10 – RAF100 Parade and Flypast, The Mall, London
  • July 13-15 – Royal International Air Tattoo, RAF Fairford
  • August 4-5 – Northern Ireland Airshow, Portrush
  • August 10-12 – National Aircraft Tour, Newcastle, Northern Ireland
  • August 25-26 – National Aircraft Tour, Victoria Square, Birmingham
  • September 1-2 – National Aircraft Tour, Glasgow Science Centre
  • September 15-16 – National Aircraft Tour, Cathedral Gardens, Manchester
  • September 16 – Battle of Britain Service, London
  • September 22-23 – Closing Event – Battle of Britain Airshow, Duxford