This website uses cookies. By navigating around this site you consent to cookies being stored on your machine


Centenary of the Royal Air Force
1 April 2018 is the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Royal Air Force. In its Centenary Year, the RAF will invite the Nation and its international partners to join them in commemorating with respect, celebrating with pride and inspiring future generations. All anniversary celebrations will be brought together under the umbrella of RAF100.

100 stories and reflections


In support of RAF100, BAE Systems is communicating 100 unique and compelling stories and reflections from 1st April to mid-October.  Together these insights support the RAF and demonstrate our support for RAF100 in particular.

These are key facts around the technological edge we have provided the RAF over the last 100 years (and will continue to in the future), as well as the instances where our colleagues past and present have gone beyond to provide the kind of imagination, invention, service and support the RAF needs in order to carry out their own role.

31/100 - Canopy off

Image of Tornado in flight with the canopy off
When testing any aircraft ahead of delivery to the Royal Air Force, the top priority for our flight testing team is the safety of the pilots who will fly it in service. This photo illustrates the lengths the team is willing to go to.
In 1988, our test pilot Keith Hartley flew at speeds of up to 500 knots with the canopy of his Tornado aircraft off, to test the emergency escape procedures of the jet.
The RAF’s Tornado fleet will be retired in 2019 after almost four decades of distinguished service but our flight testing team continues to test the safety and performance of every aircraft we build.
Every week, Typhoon jets fly from our aerodrome in Warton, Lancashire, with our test pilots at the controls. We even have a test pilot working with the RAF and Fleet Air Arm to develop the capability of the newest arrival to the UK fleet, the F-35. At home and abroad, we work every day to ensure the RAF can maintain its operational edge.


30/100 - "I wanted to do my bit" by Graham Palmer 


I wanted to do my bit


Graham Palmer is an employee at our Head Office in Farnborough who volunteers as an instructor with the RAF Air Cadets.
He joined as a reservist four years ago when he realised he wanted to get out of his comfort zone and do something to make a difference.
A desire to "look for new challenges, meet new people and do new things" brought him to the RAF where he began as a member of the HR team.
However, he quickly realised that he still wanted more and asked to be retrained as a weapons instructor.  He is undertaking this while training cadets near his home in Hampshire.
Graham says: "The biggest challenge I found converting from civilian life to military life actually sounds quite simple, it was the shoes and trying to get that mirror finish.  The shoes are a symbol of pride, dedication and attention to detail, that is key in the RAF and the Cadets."
Graham is just one of thousands of people who give up their own time to volunteer with the Air Cadets and one of hundreds throughout every part of our business who volunteer across the three services.
He is a symbol of another part of our enduring partnership with the RAF over the past 100 years and one we are proud to continue into the next century.



29/100 - The suited test pilot

Graphic showing Roly Falk

Today's experimental test pilots climb into the cockpits of modern combat aircraft wearing similar uniforms to those worn by their Royal Air Force counterparts.

But, Wing Commander Roly Falk, the test pilot for the A.V. Roe and Company, was no ordinary test pilot.

During the Second World War, he became Chief Test Pilot at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough in 1943.  He flew more than 2,000 hours in 300 different aircraft ranging from gliders to jet prototypes, including captured German aircraft, all whilst wearing a lounge suit and tie. For his service he was awarded the Air Force Cross, an honour given for "an act or acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying, though not in active operations against the enemy."  However, despite having a distinguished career serving his nation, it was neither this nor his distinctive dress style that Falk is best known for.

In 1950, he joined Avro as Chief Test Pilot and took over the company's development programme of delta-winged aircraft. In August 1952, he took the controls of the Avro 698 prototype VX770, which would later become known as the Vulcan.

Powered by four Rolls-Royce RA.3 Avon engines, with a temporary fuel tank fitted into the bomb bay and only fitted with the first-pilot's ejection seat, Falk took the aircraft through a number of unconventional manoeuvres before opening the throttle to such a point that it shattered a number of factory windows. A matter of weeks later the then unnamed aircraft appeared at the Farnborough Air Show with a number of names rumoured, including 'Ottawa' in honour of the company's connection with Avro Canada, but the Air Council opted for ‘Vulcan’ in recognition of its role in the RAF’s V-Force. The aircraft was the key part of the UK’s airborne nuclear deterrent up to the late 1960s.

Although typically armed with nuclear weapons, the Vulcan’s ability to also carry conventional weapons was used to full effect on Operation Black Buck during the Falklands War between the UK and Argentina in 1982 - these were to be the only missions ‘flown in anger’ by a Vulcan.

Falk demonstrated the aircraft on several occasions including at the 1955 Farnborough Air Show when he barrel-rolled it at the top of the take-off climb, a spectacular manoeuvre in an aircraft weighing 69 tons and with a 99-foot wingspan.

When he ceased test flying, Falk became a sales representative for Hawker Siddeley, of which the Avro company was then part.  He eventually retired from Hawker Siddeley and moved to the Channel Islands where he set up his own aircraft company.


28/100 - "It takes one to train one..."

It takes one to train one...


Throughout every part of our business, we have people who have experienced life in the Royal Air Force.
From the boardroom to the fast jet cockpits manned by our flight testing team right through to those beginning their careers with us, there are examples of people whose lives have been touched by the RAF.
One of these is Colin McGregor, part of our team based at RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland, who was a frontline pilot in the RAF for more than 20 years, notably flying the Tornado GR4.
Today, he uses all these experiences as he helps to train the latest generation of RAF pilots, equipping them with all the skills they need to ensure they are ready for action whenever called upon.
It is at RAF Lossiemouth that our team supports part of the RAF Typhoon fleet which stands ready to respond on Quick Reaction Alert, which stands guard over UK airspace around the clock.
Colin is part of the team which operates our training facility at the station where squadrons can now train in a formation of aircraft known as a "four-ship", a formation which is essential on operations.
This is thanks to the installation of two new flight simulators which bring even greater capability to the RAF whilst also saving it time and money.
You might notice something familiar about Colin. He starred in a recent documentary celebrating the past 100 years of the RAF alongside his brother, Hollywood actor, Ewan.


27/100 - Young, courageous and just 20 years old

Image with headline
"Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."
These famous words from a speech made by Prime Minister Winston Churchill in August 1940 were recognition of the ongoing efforts of the Royal Air Force, then fighting the pivotal Battle of Britain.
The pilots who fought in the battle have forever been known as 'The Few', and one little known fact about those is the age at which many of them entered the conflict.
The average age of a pilot of the iconic Spitfire, the aircraft produced by Supermarine (which later became part of our business) was just 20 years old.  The average age of an RAF pilot during the Second World War only 22 years old.
The courage, skill and bravery of these youngsters is something we commemorate as we look back over the past century of our enduring partnership with the RAF.



26/100 - Nat Makepeace - The Family 

Nat Makepeace - The Family


Nat Makepeace spent 19 years in the Royal Air Force before joining our team of experimental test pilots working to deliver the capability our customers need.
It was 12 years ago that Nat joined our business and his close working relationship with the RAF still makes him feel part of the family as he did when he flew in the frontline.
Nat recalls a time when he was part of Operation Southern Watch at the end of the first Gulf War when he and his colleagues had to move due to a terrorist incident to one in the middle of the desert.
He remembers: "We lived in a very large tented city and that was quite an experience and one which brought everyone together."
Nat is one of many former RAF servicemen who work in our business today, bringing their experience of the RAF family in to the work we do to support them every day.



25/100 - Passing the torch


Graphic created for RAF100 for reflection 25/100

The arrival of the latest aircraft in the Royal Air Force's front line, the F-35 Lightning, marks the end of a chapter which has seen RAF Marham developed to be the home of the UK's first fleet.
Today, the jets will touch down at the station in Norfolk where our people have been at the heart of the team behind the construction of state-of-the-art maintenance, training and operational facilities ready for the jets’ arrival.
By this summer, there will be a total of nine F-35s stationed at Marham where our people are working alongside industry partners, including Lockheed Martin, and the RAF to ensure the aircraft is available and its air and ground crews have the skills to operate them when required.
This whole force concept has been something we have achieved at Marham working in partnership with the RAF in support of Tornado, ensuring availability on operations and swifter capability upgrades and maintenance.
We will continue to deliver this support for the RAF until Tornado's out of service date at the end of 2019, as we also open a new chapter of delivery on the F-35.
Together with Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor on the F-35 programme, we have formed a team of more than 100 skilled technicians at RAF Marham, which will provide engineering and technical expertise, deliver air-crew and ground-crew training, facilitate routine maintenance and help to manage the jets’ global supply chain.
This is just one part of our work in sustaining the global F-35 fleet which includes delivering maintenance, overhaul and upgrade services for avionic and aircraft components of hundreds of jets from across Europe and the South Pacific.
In the United States, we also ensure the readiness of critical electronic warfare systems on the F-35, which are delivered by our BAE Systems Inc business.
Our role at the heart of the F-35 programme and our pedigree of delivering availability servicing for the RAF makes us the perfect partner to open the next chapter in our enduring relationship as the F-35 in the UK moves from a programme to a force.


24/100 - Continuous evolution 

Continuous Improvement


Over the past century our business has worked alongside the Royal Air Force to constantly evolve aircraft to meet the needs of the day.
From the early days of our enduring relationship when the Bristol Aircraft Company, produced the Bristol Fighter, the "Biff", a biplane which entered service in 1916 with the Royal Flying Corps - two years before the RAF was founded.
Following the First World War, it was kept in service and modified to make it more adapted for use in the Middle East and the Far East and remain in service until the early 1930s.
Today, we continue to see this evolutionary path still exists on the Eurofighter Typhoon, the RAF's multi-role combat aircraft.
We work hand-in-hand with the RAF to ensure our engineers are delivering the capabilities required now and in the future.


23/100 - Taranis first flight

Taranis first flight


Named after the Celtic god of Thunder, Taranis is the most advanced military aircraft ever designed and flown by the United Kingdom.

The technology demonstrator is the result one-and-a-half million hours of work by leading scientists, aerodynamicists and systems engineers from 250 UK companies.

However, although Taranis was designed to demonstrate unmanned air systems, during flight it was always under the control of a human operator.

It can undertake sustained surveillance, marking targets, gathering intelligence, deterring adversaries and carrying out strikes in hostile territory.

The Taranis demonstrator aircraft was formally unveiled in July 2010 and underwent ground-based testing, including unmanned pilot training, radar cross-section measurements and ground station integration, before making its first flight in August 2013.

Speaking following the tests, our then-group managing director Nigel Whitehead said: "During its initial sorties – and there were many – Taranis did not just meet our expectations; it surpassed them in every way."

Further flight trials followed and the data, engineering know-how and experience fed back in to Team Taranis, the group of businesses we led to work alongside Ministry of Defence military staff and scientists.

In the same way, the Eurofighter Typhoon flown by today's Royal Air Force pilots was the product of a technology demonstrator, the Experimental Aircraft Programme or EAP, the technologies developed by Taranis are at the heart of our work to develop new capabilities for the RAF of the future.

Image of the painted Anson aircraft

May reflections

Missed the stories and reflections we published during May? You can find them all here.
Find out more
Graphic showing Roland

April reflections

Missed the stories and reflections we published during April? You can find them all here.
Find out more