As the Royal Air Force (RAF) marks its 100th anniversary this year, numerous attractions are charting not only the history and people that make up the UK’s prestigious armed service, but also its impact on the history of flight. Here are some stories and events to uncover during RAF100.
RECOGNISING A FORCE FOR GOOD
Plenty of heroes, heroines and trailblazers made their mark in the RAF, the world’s oldest independent air force, which was formed towards the end of the First World War on 1 April 1918. The Royal Air Force Museum, in north west London, documents the stories of many of those who made significant contributions, both to the organisation and to developments in flying.
The museum’s online exhibition delves even deeper into the history. ‘Women of the Airforce’ honours the role of women in the air services, such as the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF), which was established at the same time as the RAF. It was set up following concerns that the highly-skilled female workforce would be lost after the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) merged to form the RAF.
You can also trace the story of Commandant Helen Gwynne-Vaughan, a formidable leader who set the standards for all women’s air services in Britain, and discover how her professional approach changed male attitudes towards women in the air service.
Women continued to play an important role in the Second World War, an aspect that’s highlighted in the ‘Grandma Flew Spitfires’ exhibit at Maidenhead Heritage Centre. The exhibit tells the stories of both men and women’s courage, skill and sacrifice in the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA). The ATA ferried over 309,000 warplanes of 148 different types between factories and frontline squadrons. There is also a fascinating selection of memorabilia, from log books to uniforms, as well as the opportunity to sample life in the cockpit in a Spitfire simulator.
Another initiative is 14-18 NOW, a five-year arts programme connecting people to the First World War through arts experiences, such as the high-profile, visually striking Wave and Weeping Window exhibit, a sea of ornamental red poppies first displayed at the Tower of London. Currently on tour between now and December 2018, you can catch it in Hereford, Fort Nelson, Carlisle, Stoke-on-Trent, Manchester, London, Belfast and Plymouth.
Centenary Service and Parade, London: The official commemoration of RAF100 will take place on Tuesday 10 July with a service at Westminster Abbey, followed by a reception and fly-past on Horse Guards Parade. You can apply for tickets here.
TAKE TO THE SKIES
Mary Ellis is one of the last surviving ATA pilots, who delivered Spitfires and bombers from factories to the frontline, keeping the squadrons replenished during the Second World War. To mark Mary’s 100th birthday last year, she celebrated by taking to the skies in a Spitfire.
Visitors to Britain can also experience the thrill of a Spitfire. Boultbee Flight Academy offers an exhilarating Spitfire flight experience from four UK airports where participants can enjoy aerial views over England’s south west coast, the English Channel, the Scottish Highlands or the iconic Duxford Airfield, the centre of European aviation history, from where Spitfires first took flight in Britain.
Duxford is also home to the Imperial War Museum Duxford, which is worth a visit after touching down. Explore the same hangars as servicemen and women such as the famed RAF fighter pilot, Douglas Bader, discover their stories through original film and artefacts, and get up-close to iconic aircraft such as the Vulcan bomber, B-52 and Concorde.
Flying Lessons: Always wanted to fly a plane? Book an introductory flying lesson in a vintage RAF Tiger Moth for a taster of British aviation during the Second World War. Venues include Staverton Airport in Gloucestershire where you’ll enjoy spectacular views over the Cotswolds.
RAF Falcons Display: Visitors can witness Britain’s premier parachute display team achieve free falls of up to 120mph and see their incredible formations at one of the display days from May to October at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. Check their website for event dates and locations.
SHOW OF WINGS
On Sunday 10 June 2018, the RAF Cosford Airshow will feature a thrilling six-hour flying display in Cosford, Shropshire. Celebrating the evolution of air power, the show will include a selection of planes that have never been seen before.
The show also includes a Vintage Village complete with tearoom, live entertainment and classic cars. Visitors can also meet the RAF Red Arrows flying display team who will be honouring the centenary with their iconic red, white and blue vapour trails as part of their daring Diamond Nine-shape acrobatics.
Air Waves Portrush: Northern Ireland’s biggest free air show returns on the weekend of 1/2 September 2018 on Belfast’s Causeway Coast with aircraft displays, a motor village, trade fairs, artisan markets and a fun zone for children.
Duxford Battle of Britain Airshow, Cambridgeshire: Duxford’s airshow on Saturday 22 and Sunday 23 September 2018 will see the skies above Cambridgeshire filled with one of the biggest collections of aircraft from the era, while on the ground, RAF100 celebrations continue with re-enactments, 1940s dances, and talks and signings with respected authors of wartime history and literature.
For more information contact:
VisitBritain Media Teampressandpr@visitbritain.com