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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.

87/100 - A tribute to the finest and bravest

Image of VC10 aircraft
The VC10 rose to prominence as a symbol of great British design - sleek, majestic and advanced.
But, it was in service with the Royal Air Force that its ability to operate 'hot and high', from short airfields at high altitudes and temperatures, proved its worth.
Twenty years after its first flight by Vickers Armstrong, one of our predecessor companies, it joined the RAF fleet as a refuelling tanker and transport aircraft.
On September 20, 2013 it made its final sortie, refuelling aircraft including the Eurofighter Typhoon and Tornado GR4.
That brought to an end 47 years of service as the mainstay of the RAF's air-to-air refuelling fleet and an aircraft which did everything from deploying troops to war zones to carrying VIPs.
Perhaps the most poignant aspect of the VC10’s history was that the first 14 commissioned by the RAF were each named after recipients of the Victoria Cross.
These names were carried forward onto the later VC10s - a proud tribute to the finest and the bravest.

86/100 - No ordinary job


Image of Nikki Thomas in cockpit
"I didn't want to spend my life sitting in an office, but I had always loved maths and solving puzzles."
That was how Group Captain Nikki Thomas, the first woman to command a Royal Air Force squadron, explained her inspiration to join the RAF.
For her, flying a Tornado, sometimes down to 100ft above the ground, at 420mph, arriving at a precise location at a precise time, was the ultimate puzzle.
Her solution came from incredible skill and commitment coupled with the capabilities which have made Tornado the backbone of air power for the RAF for decades - a perfect example of BAE Systems' partnership with the RAF.
For Group Captain Thomas, developing the capability of Tornado and supporting its transfer on to Typhoon, the backbone of the RAF for today and the future, are just some of the things which made this "no ordinary job."
This partnership also sees us working together to inspire the next generation of girls and boys to use their passion for science, technology, engineering and maths – the core STEM subjects – to fulfil their ambitions in serving or supporting the RAF for many years to come.

85/100 - Building for the future


Building for the future


After five years in the Royal Air Force, David Ewing was told he had grown too tall to follow his dream of being a fast jet pilot.
The 24-year-old had completed his basic training and was ready to take the next step towards becoming a frontline pilot when he was told that one of his legs was just two millimetres too long for life in a cockpit.
He recalls: "I said if I could not fly a Typhoon, I was going to build it, so I joined BAE Systems on the graduate development programme."
Having joined the company in 2017, David is now part of our advanced manufacturing technology team which is pioneering new ways to build the next generation of combat aircraft which will see service with the RAF. David is one of a number of our employees who used to serve in the RAF. Their experiences and insights into the RAF’s requirements are invaluable.
He says: "I'm not only building a new aircraft for the Royal Air Force, I am helping build it for my friends who will be flying in the future.”

84/100 - Remembrance Day

Image of knitted poppies
359 balls of wool and one mission brought together more than 200 of our employees last year.
The aim was to support the Royal British Legion by knitting poppies which could be sold to raise money for their annual Remembrance appeal.
The initiative brought together a wide spectrum of people from across our businesses.
In total our volunteers – some of whom had never knitted before – produced 3,629 poppies, raising £8,400 for the Legion, which provides lifelong support to members of the UK Armed Forces, veterans and their families.
As we speak the team are dusting down their knitting needles and preparing to raise even more money this year.

83/100 - "The most interesting life imaginable" by Ray Cooledge


The most interesting life


"I would not change places with anyone, I have had the most interesting life imaginable."
Ray Cooledge turns 100 years old on Saturday, September 8, and reflects on a life and a career which saw him fly in the frontline in the RAF before spending a quarter-of-a-century with De Havilland, one of our predecessor companies.
It was his glittering career with the Air Force which inspired his great nephew, Gareth 'Grob' Roberts, to follow in his footsteps and today he is part of our team delivering operational and air crew training to the RAF pilots of the future.
In its centenary year, the achievements of so many men and women who have served in the RAF is an inspiration to future generations and none more so than Ray's own remarkable life.
A very happy 100th birthday, Ray.

82/100 - The clearest vision

Image of pilot wearing Striker II
The first head-up display (HUD) was designed by our engineers at the height of the Second World War.
Prior to HUDs, pilots could find it challenging to locate their targets in hostile skies using verbal cues from a radar operator or looking down at screens in the cockpit.
Eurofighter Typhoon's HUD was developed using holographic technology that was revolutionary at the time of its development and displayed unrivalled capability. The HUD, which is used every day by the Royal Air Force in the front line, intuitively presents pilots with critical flight information overlaid onto the view of the outside world.
Today, after more than 60 years of HUD innovation and excellence, engineers in our Electronic Systems business continue to give pilots an edge using the latest advancements in digital display technology.

81/100 - Best of both worlds

Image showing BAe 146 aircraft
The BAe 146 is a commercial aircraft with a difference.
Built to two specifications, it performs the role of transporting senior Government ministers, Ministry of Defence personnel and senior members of the Royal Family, but is also capable of playing a role in-theatre with the RAF.
Even in its VIP role, the 146 is equipped with a defensive aids suite capable of offering protection to high-ranking passengers and is versatile enough to operate from temporary landing strips in locations other similar aircraft cannot.
For a time, its ability to make steep approaches and departures meant it was the only aircraft able to operate in and out of the City of London financial district.
Outside of this VIP work, it provides an essential support to military commanders, moving personnel and small freight items around conflict zones.
Now exclusively resident at RAF Northolt, the 146 is at the heart of the fleet of 32 (The Royal) Squadron of the RAF.

Image - Jane - BAE Systems graduate


Manufacturing Graduate, Preston

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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.
Find out more
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


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