RAF Celebrates 100 Years with Spectacular Flyover in London

World’s Oldest Air Force Timed Massive Aerial Display to Perfection.

It was the first independent air force in the world; the Royal Air Force, the RAF. On Tuesday, July 10, 2018 it celebrated its 100th anniversary as the longest serving air force on the planet with a spectacular centenary aerial parade.

In celebration of its 100th Anniversary the RAF conducted a spectacular flyover Tuesday when aircraft including vintage Spitfires and brand new F-35s joined in an unprecedented historical review above The Mall and Buckingham Palace where the Royal Family turned out in full regalia to take in the observance and celebration. The U.K. have the most devoted aviation spotters and fans on earth and today’s aerial parade was an unmatched feast for veterans, photographers and aircraft enthusiasts.

Throughout its century-long history the Royal Air Force has stood for a stalwart and dignified gallantry unmatched by any other aerial service. The RAF has, since its beginning, always punched above its weight as a combat arm. From the battlefields of WWI to the tenacious and desperate homeland defense over the skies of London in the blitzkrieg of WWII and the Battle of Britain, the dam busters, the nighttime bombing raids on Germany to bush wars in Africa, the Middle East and Indochina, the RAF has always typified British toughness and heroism. The daring ultra-long range raid on the Falkland Islands by RAF Vulcan bombers in Operation Black Buck and the harrowing low-level attacks by Tornado GR1s on Iraqi runways in the Gulf War continued the illustrious record of the RAF into the jet age. Today the RAF continues the legacy with the combat proven Eurofighter Typhoon and its integration into the global F-35 Joint Strike Fighter force with the newest F-35B Lightning II aircraft.

Approximately 100 aircraft, one for each of the centenary years, participated in the flyover at 1:00 PM local time in London. It was reminiscent of Russia’s Victory Day Parade, the July 2017 Chinese Zhurihe Military Training Base flyover in Inner Mongolia and North Korea’s recent conspicuous displays of military might. But, whereas some recent military aerial parades attempted to send a message of strength, the mood over London was one of quiet dignity and historical reverence for an illustrious past and hopeful future.

Aircraft in the flyover staged in a complex aerial ballet from RAF bases that included Colchester, Norfolk, Suffolk and others. The exact schedule of the launches and routes for the flyover were not made public prior to the flight citing security. The flyover ended with a review of the nine RAF demonstration team, the Red Arrows’ BAE Hawk aircraft streaming colored smoke over the route.

The flyover could also be tracked online thanks to ADS-B/Mode-S/MLAT.

It took at least 11 months of planning according to the RAF to coordinate the flights. The project was managed by Wing Commander Kevin Gatland, Chief of Staff of the Tornado force based at RAF Marham in Norfolk. A total of 17 different RAF aircraft participated in the flyover including nearly every role of aircraft in the current inventory, from surveillance and attack aircraft to tactical transports. The most conspicuous absence was the Vulcan bomber, retired from flight demonstrations in October 2015. Standing in as a spectacular representative of Britain’s heavy bomber force was a Lancaster bomber as used in the night raids over Germany and the famous “dam buster” operation. It was also the first public flight demonstration of the RAF F-35Bs.

Coordination of the flight was complex considering the first wave of aircraft, tactical helicopters, flew over the parade route at only 100 knots, while the fast jets flew over the demonstration area at over 300 knots. As a result of the disparity in speed and performance the aircraft staged in waves at appropriate, synchronized distances from their parade rendezvous point hours before the flyover. The interval between the aircraft as they converged over the parade route was only 30 seconds.

Wing Commander Kevin Gatland told reporters, “So you have a very long train of aircraft which are compressing as they get overhead central London.” As a result of the flyover, London’s Heathrow Airport, one of the busiest in the world, had to cease operations for approximately 20 minutes.

Media from around the world covered the event both from camera aircraft adjacent to the flyover route and from the ground. Considering the historical significance of the event the flyover could be considered a resounding success even as overcast skies held above the formations.

Two Chinooks flying over London during the parade. (Image credit: Crown Copyright).

The 100-Year Anniversary of the RAF will continue this month as the Royal International Air Tattoo will take place at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire on July 13-15. It is the largest display of military aircraft in the world according to organizers with over 8 hours of flight demonstrations each day and hundreds of static displays and exhibitions.

Image credit: Crown Copyright

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