The UK Royal Air Force mounted the biggest flypast seen in Europe for many years over RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire, last Friday. On the ground, the Queen presented new colors to the RAF and the RAF Regiment with due ceremony, to mark the service’s 90th anniversary. Fortunately, the popular song title came true, and the rain did not fall on her parade. Five minutes later, however, a heavy thunderstorm flooded the car parks and caused the abandonment of the Royal International Air Tattoo scheduled to follow at Fairford over the weekend.
Aviation International News flew in the dress rehearsal for the flypast last Tuesday. We took off from RAF Cranwell in a Dominie T1 twinjet, in formation with another Dominie and two King Air 200s. These aircraft are used by the RAF to train rear crew and multi-engine pilots respectively. We headed for RAF Brize Norton, where we joined up with the Hercules C1K that would be our formation leader within “Package 2” of the formation, callsign Albert. Above us, nine Tucano basic trainers joined the package, while a tenth Tucano flew higher still, issuing radio commands to “whip” us all into the best shape. Elsewhere over southern England, the other formations were joining up in designated holding areas.
At 1423 precisely, Albert formation “pushed” out of the Brize hold and headed for the initial point. It was essential to keep to the designated timings, so that all 90 aircraft and helicopters could stream past the reviewing stand with appropriate spacing. Our package was preceded by 12 helicopters, four elementary training light planes, and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. We would close on them as we flew at 160 knots IAS and 1,500 feet down the flypast axis, which ran northwest to southeast across the airfield. Behind us and closing would be the exclusively-jet-powered “Package 3,” ranging from four-engine “heavies” like the VC-10 tanker and E-3D Sentry AEW aircraft, to no fewer than 45 “fast jets” such as Hawks, Typhoons, Harriers and Tornados.
So determined was the RAF hierarchy to ensure that exactly 90 aircraft flew past Her Majesty, that they ordered a few extra Hawk jet trainers into the air as airborne spares, in case any of the designated aircraft dropped out for technical reasons.
The dress rehearsal revealed a few timing difficulties, partly caused by a strong crosswind, but they were evidently addressed, since the real event was performed immaculately, to the delight of the Queen and some 5,000 invited guests. “The RAF can be truly proud of…the considerable successes it has achieved,” said the Queen in a short speech. “It continues to be an example to other air forces.”