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Centenary of the Royal Air Force
1 April 2018 was 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.


73/100 - Learning how to make the future

Image of air cadets
Inspiring the next generation is at the heart of the Royal Air Force's centenary celebrations.

Whether they are future pilots, maintainers or the engineers and manufacturers who will deliver the future aircraft, we share the same values.

On August 10, we hosted 80 youngsters from RAF Air Cadet squadrons across the North West for a ‘Make It’ Challenge designed to engage them in all aspects of manufacturing capability.

It challenged them to come up with everything from setting up a team through to designing a concept and then coming up with a finished product.

The competition took place at our Academy for Skills & Knowledge (ASK), a £15.6m commitment to our current and future talent. The ASK facility ensures we have the skills to continue to deliver the future capabilities required by the RAF and our international customers.

Since opening its doors in December 2016, the Academy has played host to more than 80,000 visitors from across the world including apprentices, graduates and schoolchildren to senior military officials and members of the Royal Family.

72/100 - Saluting the 'Tonka'

Saluting the 'Tonka'


On August 14 1974, an airfield in Manching, near Munich, Germany, saw the maiden flight of an aircraft which has since become the heart of operations with the Royal Air Force.
It was the first flight of the Panavia Multi-Role Combat Aircraft P01 D-9591 which became Tornado.

Speaking after the flight, Paul Millett, the British Aircraft Corporation test pilot who made the maiden flight, said: "It felt like an aircraft that has been flying for many years."

Since then, the trusty ‘Tonka’ as it has become known, has been present in every major operation from the first Gulf War in 1990 and remains in service today, spanning nearly three decades of almost continuous service.

As it prepares to go out of service in the UK in 2019, we are working alongside the Royal Air Force to ensure the capabilities which have seen Tornado at the heart of the frontline for so many years are transferred on to Typhoon.

As the RAF celebrates its centenary, there can be few more lasting legacies than that of Tornado.

71/100 - 100 Squadron

Images of 100 Squadron
Formed as the first night bomber squadron of the Royal Flying Corps, one of the predecessors to the RAF, 100 Squadron has a proud history.

Among the earliest aircraft it operated were the Bristol Fighter, known as 'The Biff' which was one of the earliest examples of a multi-role aircraft built by our predecessor company, but during the Second World War, 100 Squadron formed part of Bomber Command.

They operated the iconic Avro Lancaster bomber during the conflict, moving on to the Lincoln and later the English Electric Canberra.

Today, 100 Squadron operates the Hawk T1 from RAF Leeming providing advanced air combat training to RAF pilots.

The aircraft provides the 'aggressor' role, replicating hostile aircraft, for Typhoon pilots training for air-to-air missions and close air support for UK land units.


70/100 - 56 Squadron

Images of 56 Squadron
56 Squadron is among the oldest and most successful squadrons of the Royal Air Force with battle honours in campaigns including the First and Second World Wars.
The squadron was the first to fly the S.E.5a, developed by the Royal Aircraft Factory in 1917 and served with distinction during the First World War.
During the Second World War, 56 Squadron became the first to operate the Hawker Typhoon, known as the 'Tiffy', and then the Hawker Tempest.
The squadron later went on to fly the Gloster Meteor, Hawker Hunter and English Electric Lightning, which served in the frontline of UK air defence for much of the Cold War.
In the 1960s the squadron became the RAF's aerobatics display team, ‘The Firebirds’, flying the Lightning.  Its final association with aircraft types was the Panavia Tornado F3.
In 2008, the squadron took on the role as the Air Command and Control, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C2ISR) Test and Evaluation squadron, and today operates the Boeing E-3D Sentry and Raytheon Sentinel R1.


69/100 - 41 Squadron

Images of 41 Squadron
Few partnerships between our business and the Royal Air Force are as enduring as our partnership with 41 Test and Evaluation Squadron.
This squadron is dedicated to ensuring Typhoon remains a world-leading multi-role combat aircraft and sees RAF personnel working alongside our people to deliver its capability.
Today, this partnership sees us working alongside 41 Squadron personnel on Project Centurion, which will ensure Typhoon is equipped to replace the Tornado GR4 when it retires in 2019.
The squadron's connections to both Typhoon and Tornado go back to 2006 when it operated the Tornado F3 and GR4, before becoming a Typhoon squadron in 2013.
The squadron served with distinction in the Second World War, operating the Supermarine Spitfire built by our predecessor companies.
One of its pilots, Flt Lt Eric Lock, was the most successful RAF pilot during the Battle of Britain.


68/100 - 29 Squadron

Images of 29 Squadron
The final step to becoming a frontline Typhoon pilot with the RAF takes place with 29 Squadron, the RAF's Operational Conversion Unit.
Based at RAF Coningsby, where our teams provide support to the Typhoon fleet, the squadron provides the link from fast jet training through the Hawk at RAF Valley to the frontline of a fast jet cockpit.
It was the second RAF squadron to operate Typhoon having previously been the first operational squadron equipped with the Tornado F3, which it flew in the Gulf War.
In the Second World War, the squadron began service as a defensive night fighter squadron, operating the Bristol Beaufighter and the De Havilland Mosquito both twin-engined multi-role combat aircraft like today’s Typhoon.
Following the end of the Second World War, 29 Squadron operated many products of our heritage including the Gloster Meteor, Javelin, English Electric Lightning and Panavia Tornado F3.


67/100 - 17 Squadron

Images of 17 Squadron
Today, 17 Squadron is stationed at the Edwards Air Force Base in California, where it is responsible for bringing the F-35 Lightning in to service with the Royal Navy and RAF.

Our business produces around 15% of every F-35 built, including the aft fuselage and electronic warfare equipment, as well as supporting the UK in its entry in to service.

However, our close partnership with the squadron goes back much further. We worked closely with members of 17 Squadron at our Warton site in Lancashire as part of the entry in to service of Typhoon in an operational evaluation role, known as Case White in 2003.

17 Squadron continued its work as the Typhoon Operational Evaluation Unit from RAF Coningsby between 2005 and 2013.

During the Second World War, 17 Squadron operated the Hawker Hurricane, including in the Battle of Britain, and later operated the Supermarine Spitfire, English Electric Canberra, SEPECAT Jaguar and Panavia Tornado, all products of our business.


66/100 - 31 Squadron – First into Indian skies

Images of 12 Squadron
The Gold Stars of Number 31 Squadron are older than the Royal Air Force itself having been founded in October 1915.

Its first deployment was to then-British controlled India where it took part in operations in the Third Anglo-Afghan War operating the BE2.

It was from here that the squadron got its emblem, the Star of India, representing its claim to be the first military unit to fly in India, and its motto, In Caelum Indicum Primus - First into Indian skies.

The Bristol Fighter was the first product of our heritage which 31 Squadron operated.

Disbanded following Indian independence and Partition, it reformed in the UK in 1948 taking on the aircraft and role of the Metropolitan Communications Squadron, operating aircraft including the Avro Anson.

Reforming again in the 1950s, it was equipped with the English Electric Canberra which it operated in Germany and later on the SEPECAT Jaguar from the mid-1970s.

In 1984, it took delivery of the Panavia Tornado which it operated in both Gulf War conflicts, and 31 Squadron was the final one to return home following Operation Herrick in Afghanistan.

It currently operates the Tornado GR4 aircraft from RAF Marham, Norfolk.

65/100 - XI (F) Squadron

Images of 11 Squadron
With a claim to be the world's oldest, dedicated fighter unit, XI (F) Squadron's connections with our business date back to its first flight.

The squadron’s first aircraft, the Vickers F.B 5 known as the "Gunbus", was deployed to France in the First World War in 1915, the first ever fighter aircraft to do so.

In the Second World War, the squadron operated the Hawker Hurricane. By 1943 the majority of the squadron’s aircrew were made up of Royal Australian Air Force personnel, a symbol of the RAF's international partnerships.

XI (F) Squadron went on to fly the De Havilland Mosquito,  Vampire and Venom, as well as the Gloster Javelin before spending almost four decades operating the English Electric Lightning and the Panavia Tornado, in the frontline of the RAF's combat force.

In 2007, it was stood up at RAF Coningsby as part of the RAF's Typhoon fleet and today operates as part of its Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) force, supported by our team at the Lincolnshire base.

64/100 - IX (B) Squadron

Images of 9 Squadron
As a mainstay of the Royal Air Force's frontline since the early 1980s, the Tornado was first operated by IX (B) Squadron.

Today, it continues to operate the aircraft from RAF Marham, Norfolk, flying the Tornado GR4.

Finishing the First World War flying the Bristol Fighter, “Biff” it entered the Second World War, flying the Vickers Wellington.

Both these aircraft are from heritage companies and the Wellington is notable for having been designed by Barnes Wallis. 

Wallis’ connection with IX (B) Squadron continued when they flew missions dropping the 12,000 lbs “Tallboy” bomb that he designed, from its Avro Lancaster bombers.
It continued its role as a bomber squadron following the conflict, operating the Avro Lincoln, English Electric Canberra and Avro Vulcan, all aircraft which have their origins within our heritage.

Our partnership with IX (B) Squadron continues as we work alongside them to support the RAF's Tornado fleet at Marham until it retires from service next year.

63/100 - 6 Squadron – The eyes of the Army 

Images of 6 Squadron
Operating the Eurofighter Typhoon, 6 Squadron is a part of the RAF's Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) based at RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland.
During the Second World War the squadron operated the Hurricane, designed and built by our predecessor company, Hawker. 6 Squadron became the RAF's final Hurricane squadron following the end of the Second World War.
In the following years, 6 Squadron flew aircraft including the De Havilland Vampire, Gloster Meteor and English Electric Canberra, before being equipped with the SEPECAT Jaguar, the jet built by the British Aircraft Corporation as part of an Anglo-French alliance with Breguet.
Since 2010, 6 Squadron has operated Typhoon working alongside our teams at RAF Lossiemouth which deliver support to the Typhoon fleet.

62/100 - IV Squadron – To see into the future

Images of 4(IV)Squadron
Operating as part of the Royal Air Force's No. 4 Flying Training School, IV Squadron operates our Hawk advanced jet trainer from RAF Valley, Anglesey.

The 'flying classroom' puts student pilots at the controls of the latest radar, weapons systems and defensive aids simulation to prepare them for life in the cockpit of jets like the Typhoon and F-35.

While IV Squadron is at the cutting edge of today’s aircraft technology, the squadron has a combat history dating back more than half-a-century carrying out ground attack and reconnaissance. The squadron has operated a range of aircraft designed and delivered by BAE Systems and its heritage companies including the De Havilland Mosquito, Hawker Hunter and the Hawker Siddeley and BAE Systems Harrier.

During the Falklands War, the squadron operated Harriers from RAF Stanley and continued to operate the later marks of the Harrier until being stood down in 2010 and re-activated later the same year in its present role.

Our team at RAF Valley today works alongside IV Squadron and our industry partners to deliver availability support.

61/100 - 3 (F) Squadron – The third shall be first

Images of 3(F)Squadron
3 Squadron plays a crucial role as part of the UK's Typhoon fleet operating Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) support from RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire, one of two QRA stations in the UK.

Our people work in partnership with the RAF as part of a 'whole force' approach supporting aircraft availability through our Typhoon Total Availability Enterprise (TyTAN), introducing new ways of working to further reduce the costs of operating the fleet.

3 Squadron can date its origins as far back as the First World War when it flew the Sopwith Camel, a biplane fighter aircraft.
The Sopwith Camel was built by the Sopwith Aviation Company, one of our predecessor companies and a key part of our company's heritage.

Since then, the squadron has operated many aircraft built by our former companies, including the Hawker Typhoon and Tempest, De Havilland Vampire, English Electric Canberra and Hawker Siddeley Harrier.
In 2012, 3 Squadron's Typhoon aircraft provided air defence for the Olympic Games in London, the first time RAF fighters have been stationed in the capital since the Second World War.

60/100 - II (AC) Squadron – Guardian of the Army

Images of 2 Squadron
II (AC) Squadron was one of the first fixed-wing units of the Royal Flying Corps, one of the predecessors of the RAF, and today operates the multi-role combat aircraft, the Eurofighter Typhoon, from RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland.
Typhoon is the 23rd aircraft type operated by the squadron since its formation in 1912 which have included the Supermarine Spitfire, Gloster Meteor, Hawker Hunter, SEPECAT Jaguar and Panavia Tornado, all aircraft from our company's heritage.

Today, II (AC) Squadron operates as part of the UK's Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) force, securing the skies over the UK and its allies.

It has previously conducted QRA missions from Estonia as part of the NATO Baltic air policing mission, operating alongside allies from across the globe.

59/100 - 1 (F) Squadron - First in all things

Images of 1(F)Squadron
1 (F) Squadron today operates the Eurofighter Typhoon from RAF Lossiemouth, Scotland, which is one of the two Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) stations in the UK.
In 1912 it became one of the founder squadrons of the Royal Flying Corps, one of the predecessors to the RAF. 
Amongst its earliest aircraft was the Avro 504, a biplane operated in the First World War, and developed by our predecessor company, A.V. Roe & Company.
During the Second World War, 1 (F) Squadron operated the Hawker Hurricane and Typhoon and the Supermarine Spitfire, and by the end of the War was flying the RAF’s first jet fighter, the Gloster Meteor. 
In 1969, it became the world's first operator of the Harrier, the revolutionary vertical short take-off and landing aircraft designed by Hawker Siddeley and was deployed to the Falkland Islands during the conflict there in the early 1980s.
In 2012, 1 (F) Squadron was stood up as the RAF's fourth Typhoon squadron, operating from RAF Leuchars before relocating to RAF Lossiemouth two years later.
Our teams based at the station support 1 (F) Squadron as part of the Typhoon Total Availability Enterprise (TyTAN), a support arrangement which is introducing new ways to further reduce the costs of operating the fleet.

58/100 - From very good to the very best


Image of a Spitfire
During World War II, the Spitfire was constantly improved as new challenges became apparent and new technologies became available.
When it entered service with the Royal Air Force on this day in 1938,  it was ‘good’ and by the end of the war it was ‘the very best’.
Improvements in engine power permitted a 50% weight increase which was used for increased armament load, more fuel and better protection for the pilot.
The 24% speed increase took the Spitfire from a humble 364mph to an astounding 450mph top speed - close to the limit for a propeller-driven aircraft.
This made it better at chasing targets, as well as avoiding interception on reconnaissance missions.

57/100 - Learning from the world's fastest bird


Image of the worlds fastest bird
In a dive, the peregrine falcon has been clocked at speeds of more than 240mph.
How do they do it? Our scientists are working with leading academic researchers to look at how we can apply unique abilities developed from nature to military aircraft - improving in areas like safety, aerodynamics and efficiency.

An example is our work with City, University of London researching how falcons fly. This collaboration has seen the development of several concepts including 3D-printed polymer 'hair' filaments which would act like sensors on the body of an aircraft, providing an early warning system if it began to stall.

This type of bio-inspiration has been part of the design behind many of our aircraft operated by the Royal Air Force over the past century.

56/100 - The next level


Image of Typhoon on runway
Next year the Royal Air Force will retire its fleet of Tornado GR4s from active service.
We are working together with the RAF to ensure its Typhoon fleet has the technologies and capabilities it requires to seamlessly take over from Tornado through a programme known as Project Centurion.
This work is seeing us integrate complex, state-of-the-art weapons upgrades to transform Typhoon into the most capable multi-role combat aircraft in the world.
41 (R) Squadron, the RAF's Test and Evaluation Squadron, successfully fired a Storm Shadow air-to-surface missile and a next generation Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air weapon in trials ahead of roll-out across the fleet.
Meanwhile, in the first six months of 2018 we have completed further successful trials on the final phase of Centurion, including the Brimstone precision air to surface missile, ahead of handover to the RAF.
We are also enhancing simulation facilities at RAF Coningsby and RAF Lossiemouth, allowing pilots to train with the new capabilities before they fly them.
Typhoon is already combat-proven on global multi-role operations, keeping our national airspace safe 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
But Centurion is a game-changer, enhancing the full potential of Typhoon.
Group Captain John Cunningham, who heads up Project Centurion for the RAF, said: "By the end of 2018, no other aircraft in the world will have all of Typhoon's capabilities."


Image of The Red Arrows in action over Cyprus in 2013.

July reflections

Missed out on the stories we published in July? You can find them all here.
Find out more
Image of Tornado in flight with the canopy off

June reflections

Missed out on the stories we published in June? You can find them all here.
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Image of the painted Anson aircraft

May reflections

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

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