Finest Hour 181, Summer 2018
By Robert Courts
Roberts Courts is Member of Parliament for Witney.
The Mall leading from Buckingham Palace to Admiralty Arch is alive with red, white, and blue. Union Jacks combined with sky-blue RAF ensigns hang from every lamppost. The centenary celebration of the first air force to become a fully independent branch of any nation’s military is underway in London.
On the roof terrace above the House of Commons, the first aircraft appear: a lumbering phalanx of Chinooks. Next come the big stars passing the London Eye and zipping around the Foreign Office and Treasury buildings. The audience audibly gasps at the music of nine Rolls-Royce Merlin and Griffon engines powering the Lancaster, Spitfires, and Hurricane of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.
The flypast slowly speeds up. The heavy transports from West Oxfordshire’s RAF Brize Norton lead the secretive intelligence aircraft before the brand new Anglo-American F-35s roar in to lead the centrepiece: twenty-two Typhoons—the backbone of the RAF’s modern fleet—forming a “100” figure in the sky. And as a finale, the world-famous Red Arrows slide in effortless formation across the grey sky, trailing red, white, and blue smoke as they go.
In Parliament Square, Whitehall, and Trafalgar Square, tens of thousands of people wear RAF roundel rosettes while their eyes search skyward. On Horse Guards Parade, the RAF have brought a selection of their most famous aircraft for public display. The first—the BE2c, a canvas and wood contraption—is a world away from the digitally inter-connected, supersonic F-35s and Typhoons.
In just a century, the Royal Air Force has gone from experimental novelty to the heart of British national identity. It has policed an Empire, taken help to the victims of natural disasters worldwide, flown a nuclear deterrent, fought for victory above the trenches, and, in the long, hot summer of 1940, saved a nation and the free world, for which it was justly immortalised by Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The Few may be fewer now than once they were, but still they lead the world and have a richly-deserved place in the centre of Britain’s national life.