RAF 100th Anniversary Flypast

Tuesday 10th July 2018

On Monday 1st April 1918 the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service were amalgamated to create the world's first independent air force. One hundred years on, the Royal Air Force's centenary celebrations - RAF100 - are the central focus of the 2018 airshow season, providing the theme to countless air displays up and down the country this summer. Royal Air Force's own celebrations centred around a parade and flypast down The Mall on the 10th July and with up to 100 aircraft promised by the RAF, this was one of the largest flypasts seen in recent years.

Scott Perry travelled to London to report on the flypast for UK Airshow Review from Waterloo Bridge. Photography as the formations passed Chelmsford from Dan Butcher.

The anticipation for this flypast mirrored its significance as the focal point of the Royal Air Force's centenary celebrations and details of the types taking part and the route were only released by the Royal Air Force two weeks before the flypast, yet the anticipation and build up started long before that on our forum and social media. In the weeks building up to the flypast there were many images appearing on the internet of swarms of aircraft taking off from their respective bases in order to practice for the flypast, with the exact constitution of the various elements unknown. The lack of information somewhat added to the excitement, suspense and anticipation of the build up to the event itself. The coyness of the Royal Air Force was actually somewhat refreshing in an information age, where everything is known and shared on social media long in advance of an actual event.

Whilst the flypast may have not been on the scale of some historic events, such as the 1953 Coronation Review flypast it was compared to in the build-up to the event, the massing of the eventual 101 aircraft is a mighty feat in contemporary times. The recent flypast for the Queen's birthday, as part of Trooping the Colour last month, saw only 23 aircraft involved, with nine of them belonging to the Red Arrows and three to the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. Thus, the opportunity to see so many of the Royal Air Force's operational aircraft amassed on this scale is a very rare treat. The last time so many were seen together was on the Friday of the ill-fated 2008 Royal International Air Tattoo, when the Queen presented new colours to the RAF for it's 90th Anniversary. That year, the London flypast was comprised of only the Red Arrows and a quartet of Eurofighter Typhoons in formation; the 100th anniversary would be celebrated on a much larger scale than that.

As the anniversary date of April 1st fell on Easter Sunday this year, the formal celebrations were planned for a date 100 days later and the morning of July 10th featured a ceremony at Westminster Abbey, a parade of Royal Air Force personnel along The Mall and the presentation of new colours for the Royal Air Force outside Buckingham Palace, before the 13:00 flypast - the whole encounter televised nationally by the BBC. Unfortunately, after the country enjoyed a heat wave over the preceding three weeks, with little cloud present over that period, the day itself saw much cloud and one of the worst days in terms of the weather for nearly a whole month. That didn't deter the crowds from gathering to see the flypast though, with large crowds on Waterloo Bridge, on the banks of the River Thames and on the tops of buildings in London, as well as various towns and viewing spots as the formations made their run in from the Essex/Suffolk border. It was without doubt a great sight to see the Royal Air Force centenary celebrations reaching such a large audience.

As usual with these affairs, the slower elements led the formation with a trio of Puma HC2s leading six Chinooks, a spectacular noise as the large formation passed over the centre of the capital. The opening element were followed by a pair of Juno H135s led by a Jupiter H145 from the Defence Helicopter Flying Training School, with the types having recently taken over from the Griffin and Squirrel helicopters. The rotary element was closely followed by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, led - in a rare appearance in a London flypast - by the flight's Dakota, with the Lancaster, a pair of Hurricanes and a trio of Spitfires behind representing the Air Force's rich history.

The fixed wing training fleet were next on the agenda, again looking to the future and new acquisitions with a trio of Grob 120TP Prefects, perhaps the quietest element of the flypast, leading a nine-ship of the older Shorts Tucano T1s.

The next section was made up of smaller formations and single 'heavier' types from the ISTAR, transport and refuelling fleets featuring some of the most seldom seen RAF aircraft at public events, typified by a pair of Shadow R1s which led this section - a very rare appearance for the type in a public flypast. RAF Brize Norton based assets then took centre stage with a pair of C-130J Hercules, an A400M Atlas and a C-17 Globemaster representing the Oxfordshire transport hub - also represented by the Airbus A330 Voyager that followed later in the flypast. The C-17 was joined by a BAe146, from 32 Squadron at RAF Northolt. A highlight of the former airshows at RAF Waddington were the opening station flypast of based aircraft, which have become a rare sights at airshows since air displays there ceased, so it was a real treat to see the Sentinel R1, Rivet Joint RC-135W and E-3D Sentry within the flypast.

The final element of the centenary flypast was the fast jets. A nine-ship of both Hawk T1s and Hawk T2s opened this section; followed by nine Tornado GR4s, a real treat to get to see so many of the remaining Tornado fleet before their impending retirement next year. The public debut appearance of the F-35B Lightning II - since the first four of the aircraft arrived at RAF Marham last month - followed, with three of 617 Squadron's latest mount taking to the skies over London. The centrepiece of the flypast though, came with the appearance of 22 Typhoons creating a '100' formation; a mightily impressive sight to see so many of the aircraft in close formation. The finale, as for any RAF flypast over the capital, was the Red Arrows, trailing coloured smoke as they flew over The Mall, a highlight for many of the members of the public that come out for the flypast.

The mass reach of the spectacle of the flypast was a delight to see and will be regarded as one of the successes of the RAF100 events, a real success of the centenary celebrations that they reached much further than just the enthusiast audience. The great public spectacle of the elements such as the Typhoon '100' formation will be remembered for a long time by all that witnessed it. While, also allowing and providing an opportunity to see some of the rarer types in the RAF inventory was also most welcome. The attention of the RAF100 celebrations now turn to the RIAT, where elements of the flypast will be repeated and will form the next stage of the RAF's centenary events.