The Royal Air Force are quite often criticised for the lack of “special scheme” celebratory or commemorative aircraft they produce compared to other air arms, but it’s fair to say that 2015 seems to buck the trend. As time marches on towards the 100th anniversary of the RAF, many squadrons are already celebrating their respective centenaries – and that, coupled with other significant anniversaries, has produced a wide range of interesting paint schemes for the year. This listing provides a roundup of all RAF Special Paint Schemes revealed during 2015.
Not included here are any schemes produced that are not intended for flight – or that of the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows. Any schemes from previous years that were still present in 2015 are also excluded.
8 Squadron – E-3D Sentry AEW.1 ZH106
The largest aircraft in the RAFs inventory to currently sport a special scheme is Boeing E-3D Sentry AEW.1 ZH106 of 8 (or VIII) Squadron, which carries special tail markings celebrating the centenary of the squadron. Formed at Brooklands on 1st January 1915 operating the BE.2C, 8 Squadron specialised in the spotting of anti-tank artillery during the First World War.
The tail design of the E-3D is composed of three notable aircraft from various points in the squadron’s history – a DH91/BE2C dating back to the squadrons roots, a Hunter, operated by the squadron from 1960 – 1967, and the squadron’s current aircraft, the E-3D Sentry. The squadron’s badge, an Arabian dagger, takes centre place on the lower half of the tail with aircraft types of the squadron’s history leading banners of the squadron’s colours up the tail. Also present on the aircraft is the squadron crest, which adorns the supports of the radome mounted above the fuselage. The Arabian dagger seen both on the tail and as the central image on the squadron crest dates to December 1943 when King George VI approved the design to symbolise the guardian duties of the Squadron along with the unit’s long association with the Middle East. The E-3D has been operated by the Squadron for over 15 years whilst being based at RAF Waddington. This is one of the more elusive schemes of 2015 – firstly stuck at Waddington during the runway renovations and then suffering an in flight emergency soon after relocating to Coningsby.
9 IX(B) Squadron – Tornado GR.4 ZA456
A belated scheme that certainly stands out amongst the Tornado schemes of late, No IX(B) Squadron celebrated their centenary last year, but have only recently smart new guise applied to Tornado GR.4 ZA456 consists of a black tail and spine with the squadrons eye catching yellow and green colours running along the top of the aircraft and up the tail where the centre piece, the squadrons famous crest, a large Bat, is adorned. The aircraft is marked with the Johnny Walker symbol, and the words “Still Going Strong” – in memory of the Lancaster Mk.I W4964 which was delivered to IX(B) Squadron in 1943 and carried the same noseart. This was one of the few Lancasters to survive over 100 missions, and was named for an alcoholic beverage, as were several others in the unit’s inventory. Today part of that Lancaster survives at the Newark Air Museum.
The unit itself is the oldest dedicated bomber squadron in the RAF, having been formed as a Royal Flying Corps unit on December 8th 1914 at St Omer in France. The bat emblem of the unit was approved by King Edward VIII in November 1936 to highlight the night bombing activities of the squadron. With a lengthy and distinguished history – including the sinking of the Tirpitz, operations in the Suez Crisis and involvement in Operation Granby in the first Gulf War, IX(B) Squadron is now equipped with the Tornado GR.4 at RAF Marham – the last frontline Tornado base in the Royal Air Force.
Sadly this aircraft has already been flown to RAF Leeming, and is now part of the “Reduce to Produce”, or RTP, programme – being stripped of parts to keep the ageing Tornado fleet operational.
11 XI(F) Squadron – Typhoon FGR.4 ZJ925
Based at RAF Coningsby flying the Typhoon FGR.4, XI(F) Squadron was formed at Netheravon in Wiltshire on 14thFebruary 1915 as a unit of the Royal Flying Corps, flying the Vickers Gunbus. XI(F) Squadron is one of, if not the, oldest fighter squadrons in the world, having been deployed to France in July 1915 in the fighter role. The twin eagle motif of the squadron was awarded in 1937 as recognition of the twin seat fighter types the unit operated during World War One – and although the unit now operates single seat aircraft, it still operates in the fighter role.
Typhoon FGR.4 ZJ925 carries an extremely smart black and white gold scheme, featuring the twin eagles of the XI(F) Squadron crest emblazoned on the tail of the aircraft. As has been the norm with recent Typhoon schemes, the Canards are used to record both the formation of the squadron (Netheravon 1915) and the current location of the unit (Coningsby 2015). The aircraft has been heavily used by the RAF on normal operations – regularly seen flying from Coningsby, and deployed with XI(F) Squadron to Exercise Anatolian Eagle in Konya, Turkey during June 2015.
12 (B) Squadron – Tornado GR.4 ZA405
Formed on February 14th 1915 at Netheravon, 12 Squadron initially was equipped with the BE.2C and operated in the long range reconnaissance role. 12 Squadron would eventually move to Germany after the signing of the Armistice as part of the occupying forces, and remained there until 1922 when it was disbanded. The unit gained their distinctive Fox motive and the “Leads the Field” motto in recognition of their work as the sole operator of the Fairey Fox, with which 12(B) introduced new bomber tactics to the RAF.
12(B) Squadron’s centenary tail (Tornado GR.4 ZA405) was perhaps the least expected of those unveiled in 2015. In 2014 the unit, then based at RAF Lossiemouth, celebrated 99 years of service with a special tail on Tornado GR.4 ZA395 – with the anticipation that the Squadron would be disbanded in March of that year. However due to the high tempo of operations against so-called Islamic State, 12(B) was given a new lease of life and relocated to RAF Marham, taking on the Tornados of II(AC) Squadron who were at the time moving northwards, to RAF Lossiemouth and the Typhoon. The centenary scheme was almost identical to that of the 99 year aircraft, but with a more vivid green extending from the tail along the spine and around the cockpit frame. The battle honours and squadron crest decorate the forward fuselage around the SLIR camera, whilst the spine is lined with text recalling “100 Years of Leading the Field”. ZA405 was still active at the end of 2015 at RAF Marham.
15 XV(R) Squadron – Tornado GR.4 ZA461 and ZA602
One of the first schemes to be unveiled in 2015, XV(R) Squadron celebrated their centenary on 3rd March 2015. Formed on March 1st 1915 as a Royal Flying Corps squadron at Farnborough, XV(R) Squadron are now the Operational Conversion Unit for the Tornado GR.4 – flying out of RAF Lossiemouth in Moray, Scotland.
Tornado GR.4 ZA461 was marked in the distinctive red and blue colours of the squadron, complete with a large motif from the squadron’s crest – depicting a “hind’s head affrontee erased at the neck between wings elevated and conjoined in base”. The crest was approved in 1936 by King Edward VIII, and pays homage to the Hawker Hind bombers that the unit was flying at the time.
Sadly this aircraft has already been flown to RAF Leeming, and is now in storage at the airfield – although not part of the RTP (Reduce to Produce) process used to keep the aging Tornado fleet operational.
As a side note, XV(R) are also flying a second “special” aircraft – ZA602, which the current iteration of the infamous “MacRobert’s Reply”. Named by Lady Rachel Workman MacRobert, the original aircraft to bear the name – Short Stirling N6086 – was gifted to the RAF in commemoration of Lady MacRobert’s three sons, all of whom were killed in service with the RAF. Bearing the F for Freddie tail code handed down from the original MacRobert’s Reply – which was coded LS-F – ZA602 is the fifth aircraft to carry on the MacRobert heritage, being preceded by two Short Stirlings, a Blackburn Buccaneer and another Tornado GR.4.
18(B) Squadron – Chinook HC.4 ZA712
Also celebrating their centenary this year is 18 Squadron, currently operating Boeing-Vertol Chinook heavy lift helicopters from RAF Odiham. Formed from No.4 Reserve Squadron, No.18 Squadron stood up on the 11 May 1915 at RAF Northolt as part of the Royal Flying Corps, initially operating the Vickers FB5 ‘Gunbus’ along with FE2b’s. Designed by Flight Lieutenant Andy Donovan of the squadron, the scheme is composed of several different elements harking back through history. Head on, the aircraft carries a Poppy on the forward engine cowling along with the code ‘W’, a nod to former Wing Commander HG Malcolm who lost his life in a Bristol Blenheim coded W, and who was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1942 in recognition of his role in the Squadron’s efforts in World War II.
Alongside the Squadrons motto, ANIMO ET FIDE – ‘With courage and faith’, carried below the crew door, the silver and white colours on the forward fuselage bear testament to the Squadrons operations in the First World War. Moving back along the fuselage the colours blend from the silver to black & red which hark back to the 75th anniversary scheme worn by ZD980 in 1990. Within the red and black design on the rear of the fuselage flying above the rear window is a small red ‘Speedbird’ which were worn by Canberra’s B2s when the squadron was equipped with them in 1953. The red and black design extends up the rear rotor housing and round the engines, where the Squadrons badge, Pegasus rampant, is situated. The Pegasus commemorates the Squadrons co-operation with the Cavalry Corps at the Battle of the Somme during World War I and was approved by King Edward VIII in 1936. The cab itself was chosen due to the time it has spent deployed in several war zone theatres including the Falklands and more recently several stints in Afghanistan.
29(R) Squadron – Typhoon FGR.4 ZK349
Perhaps the most impressive scheme to be unveiled by the RAF so far this year, and some may say to date, is the ‘wrap around’ camo applied to Typhoon FGR.4 ZK349 of No. 29(R) Squadron. Based on the World War II era scheme worn on the Spitfire and Hurricane, this replica camo scheme has been applied in memoriam of ’the few’ who made the ultimate sacrifice as we celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain this year.
The aircraft carries the code G-NA; originally worn by Hurricane P3576 of No. 249 Squadron flown by Flight Lieutenant James Brindley Nicolson. Flight Lieutenant Nicolson was the only Fighter Command pilot to be awarded the Victoria Cross during the Battle of Britain for his bravery and determination shown on the 16th August 1940. Subsequent to its initial unveiling, the aircraft has also now had Flight Lieut. Nicolson’s original nose art, a Defiant Red Devil, applied below the cockpit along with ‘Flt. Lt. James Nicolson VC’ stencilled beside on the port side of the nose. This summer the aircraft is flown by Flight Lieutenant Ben Westoby-Brooks alongside one of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Spitfires in the RAF Syncro-pair display.
29(R) Squadron – Typhoon FGR.4 ZK353
29(R) Squadron, as the Operational Conversion Unit for the Typhoon and home of the Typhoon Display Team for almost the complete history of the team, was widely expected to produce another special scheme Typhoon after their first display aircraft was marked in 2014. Although the aircraft is marked with the Typhoon Display Team corporate logos, it also commemorates 100 years of 29(R) Squadron, who formed on 7th November 1915 at Gosport in Hampshire. Whilst the unit has not quite reached its 100th at the time they painted the aircraft, the need for a display aircraft made it a logical decision.
The scheme adorning Typhoon FGR.4 ZK353 is broadly similar to the 2014 display aircraft (Typhoon FGR.4 ZK343), which indeed is still on strength as the fallback display aircraft in case of technical issues with ZK353. ZK353 has a red tail, complete with the “Triplex” symbols and Eagle head from the squadron motif – as well as red canards with the Triplex symbols and large 29 lettering. The aircraft is flown by Flight Lieutenant Johnny Dowen, the 2015 Typhoon Display Pilot.
31 Squadron – Tornado GR.4 ZA548
31 Squadron – The Goldstars – are based at RAF Marham, flying the Tornado GR.4. Formed on 11th October 1915, the unit initially comprised of only one flight and five officers. The emblem of the unit – the five pointed “mullet”, is in reference to the Star of India, and 31 Squadron’s claim to be the first RAF unit to fly in India, when in December 1915 they deployed to Bombay (Mumbai) and later Risalpur, to assist the British Army fighting against Peshawar tribesman. In modern times the Squadron has gone back to their old stomping grounds, becoming the first Marham unit to deploy to Afghanistan in 2009 with the Tornado GR.4 – in much the same role as their forebears in 1915, although with considerably more technology and firepower than the Royal Aircraft Factory BE2c and Henri Farman aircraft used at that time.
The Goldstars Centenary aircraft – ZA548 – is of a fairly simple design, with the “Goldstar” being a prominent feature on the gloss black tailfin of the aircraft. As well as the dates of the centenary (1915-2015) and a large 100 to get the message across, a gold star shoots up the spine towards the cockpit. The aircraft features the squadron colours as a bar under the cockpit, which although not a unique part of this special is starting to disappear from fleet aircraft as the RAF continue to pool their airframes between units. Also included is a panel (obviously newly painted) with the Squadron crest and battle honours, under the cockpit in front of the intakes.
41(R) Test and Evaluation Squadron – Typhoon FGR.4 ZK315
To celebrate their forthcoming centenary, 41(R) TES unveiled a Typhoon marked in 100 year colours. This aircraft – FGR.4 ZK315 – is the latest in a steady line of 41 “special” aircraft. Most recently the Squadron had Tornado GR.4s ZA614 and ZA600 marked with commemorative tails, the latter to mark 95 years of the Squadron. ZA600 was retired from service in April 2015, and ZA614 has not been with the unit since January – leaving 41(R) without a commemorative aircraft.
ZK315 features the squadron’s distinctive red and white colours, with the red double armed cross featuring distinctively on the tailfin. The cross is adapted from the coat of arms of St Omer, where the squadron was formed in 1916. Down the rear of the fin are the silhouettes of key aircraft in the Squadron’s history -namely the FB5 Gunbus, Demon, Spitfire, Meteor, Jaguar, Tornado and Typhoon. Emblazoned across the top and bottom of the canards of the aircraft are the words “Seek” and “Destroy” in white, on a red background – from the unit’s motto “Seek and Destroy”.
208(R) Squadron – Hawk T.1 XX350
208(R) Squadron was originally formed on the 25th October 1916 at Dunkirk as No.8 (Naval Squadron) of the Royal Naval Air Service. Flying Sopwith Camels, Sopwith Pups and Nieuport Scouts in an artillery spotting role, the unit was re-designated No.208 Squadron on the 1st April 1918 when the Royal Air Force was formed. With the centenary of the unit approaching in 2016, No. 208(R) Squadron has applied a special scheme to one of their Hawk T1s, XX350, to reflect both the squadron of today and their forebears of 1916.
The scheme splits the aircraft into two era-themed schemes, with the front keeping the current conventional black colours of the Hawk T.1 in its current training role, and the rear and tail section showing off the scheme originally applied to the Bristol F.2b Fighter when they served in the squadron between 1920 and 1930. Indeed, the Shuttleworth Collection at Old Warden has an airworthy Bristol F.2b that was flown by 208 Squadron during the Chanak Crisis in Turkey in 1922, and this Hawk has rightly conducted a photoshoot with that aircraft.
Tutor Display Team – Tutor T.1 G-BYXZ
The Tutor scheme doesn’t quite fit with the others in this article – which in general commemorate squadron anniversaries. Grob Tutor G-BYXZ is the 2015 Tutor Display Team aircraft, and sports a scheme designed solely for the display team role, to enhance the visibility of this aircraft against typically white English skies. The scheme was designed by the display pilot Flight Lieutenant Andy Preece back in 2007-08, and applied to the aircraft at the end of the 2008 season. Since then, it has gone through several iterations which saw the removal of the large RAF roundel from the underside and the addition of a shark mouth under the engine cowling. The design has evolved in 2015 to reinstate the large RAF Roundel, and to add a Battle of Britain 75th motif on the tailfin in line with the RAF commemorations as a whole.
Again unlike many of the other RAF Special Paint Schemes (discounting those produced for special ground-only events), the Tutor design is created by using vinyl decals rather than paint – and every colour used must be approved by the manufacturer because of the different heat absorbent properties.