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.
100/100 - Our enduring partnership
From the earliest days of flight we have been working alongside the men and women of the Royal Air Force. This year's centenary celebrations have given us a chance to celebrate and commemorate the achievements of the past 100 years and look ahead to the future.
The RAF has never stopped defending our country, our freedom and our future. We will never stop innovating. Never stop looking for new ways to help the RAF stay ahead. And always be there where it counts.
As the RAF100 celebrations draw to a close we say to our enduring partner: thank you for your service.
99/100 - Supporting the RAF family
On October 10 the Royal Air Force brings its centenary celebrations to a close with a special dinner to raise funds for the RAF Benevolent Fund.
The RAF Benevolent Fund, which marks its centenary in 2019, has been standing side by side with the RAF Family for almost 100 years. The Fund relies solely on charitable donations and as a proud supporter we have seen first-hand the positive impact it makes, supporting veterans, serving personnel and their dependants in times of need.
As we remember the contribution and the sacrifices the RAF have made for us all over the past 100 years, we are honoured to continue to support this vital work.
98/100 - Looking into the future
Since the Royal Air Force’s formation 100 years ago we have worked closely with the RAF to maintain their technical and operational advantage.
Our team of futurists continually scan the horizon looking at emerging technologies, new threats and opportunities, and the economic, social and geo-political macro trends that are shaping the world around us.
Nick Colosimo, a member of this team, explains: "all these things will tell us which technologies will succeed and how that will shape our future environment."
This external context is a vital input into the design and development of the RAF’s next generation combat aircraft.
97/100 - Future of partnership
Charles Woodburn, Chief Executive, BAE Systems plc, comes from a family with a long history in aviation. His father and grandfather were both pilots and growing up he was fascinated with the engineering and technology that enables aircraft to fly.
As a former Air Cadet he is “massively proud of the work we do with the RAF.” He recalls seeing this partnership in action during a visit to RAF Coningsby, home of the Typhoon fleet, where he saw our people working side by side with the RAF as part of one team.
Charles says: "you could not distinguish between our team and the RAF team, were it not for the overalls and uniforms that were being worn. That speaks to 100 years of history and the trust which has built up over that time - I use that as an example of how it should be when working with our customers."
As we deliver new capabilities on Typhoon, and work with the RAF and other partners to develop a next generation of combat aircraft, Charles believes "the future of our partnership is even more exciting than the past."
96/100 - Inspired by Concorde
As a teenager, Michael Christie stood in his schoolyard and listened to the sound of Concorde going supersonic over the south of Scotland. Seeing this iconic aircraft inspired him to pursue a career in aerospace engineering.
After graduating from University he joined British Aerospace – one of our predecessor companies – and worked on the experimental aircraft programme and the beginnings of the Eurofighter Typhoon. He recalls: "That was my Concorde and we actually used some of the aerodynamic data from the wing design of Concorde on Typhoon. It was a lovely connection from what inspired me to want to become an aeronautical engineer to what became my first job."
As part of the team developing a future combat aircraft for the RAF, Michael believes the vision unveiled by Team Tempest earlier this year will inspire the next generation of pilots and engineers. He adds: "It just reminds us how exciting the technology we work with is and is an inspiring vision of what the future can be."
95/100 - Chess game at sea
As well as securing our skies the RAF also plays an important role at sea, and from 1969 to 2011 the Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft was at the heart of RAF maritime operations. Designed by one of our predecessor companies, and maintained and developed by BAE Systems, its primary role was anti-submarine warfare.
Stu Butler, a former Nimrod commander recalls his time as a RAF submarine hunter: "If you think about how much of the world's surface is covered by ocean, then you superimpose on to that a single submarine - needle in a haystack doesn't come close. So part of the chess game at sea is using intelligence from all sources to narrow that down to a much smaller area."
Nimrod guarded the British Task Force during the Falklands War, and performed a crucial surveillance and intelligence gathering role during the Gulf War and in Afghanistan.
94/100 - Creating the pilots of the future
Training and support is at the heart of our partnership with the Royal Air Force, no more so than at No 4 Flying Training School at RAF Valley.
The RAF Station on Anglesey, North Wales is the home of training for the UK's next generation of world-class pilots, where our Hawk advanced jet trainer and RAF flying instructors come together to prepare student pilots for fast jets, such as the Eurofighter Typhoon and F-35 Lightning.
Having completed his own training, this Royal Air Force aircrew instructor stayed at Valley as a Qualified Flying Instructor (QFI) taking student pilots through their first flights in our ‘flying classroom’ which uses advanced airborne simulation technology to prepare for life in a fast jet.
From the days when legendary Battle of Britain pilot, Geoffrey Wellum, recalled his first solo flight with “quivering, bracing wires” in his Tiger Moth, Hawk gives today’s RAF students a truly digital experience.
93/100 - "You never forget your first solo flight"
Capturing the emotion of your first solo flight is like trying to paint a portrait in the dark.
However, the late Geoffrey Wellum, the Battle of Britain pilot who joined the Royal Air Force at the tender age of just 18, came closer than many when describing his first time alone in a Tiger Moth:
"No-one can ever forget their first solo. Flying along with nobody in the front seat, the quivering bracing wires and the buffeting slipstream, the sensation of being suspended in the air.
As the little Tiger Moth rolls to a stop, I experience a feeling of sheer disbelief."
These words, captured in Wellum's book, First Light, remain as true for today’s trainee pilots making their first solo flights in a Hawk as they were for his first flight in a De Havilland Tiger Moth all those years ago. No-one can ever forget their first solo.
92/100 - Delivering a milestone
BAE Systems has played a key role in the design and delivery of the UK’s new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers and the F-35 Lightning, the aircraft which will operate from the carrier. We are also working closely with the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy as they integrate the two.
A two-month programme of flight trials are currently underway off the US East Coast to ensure the safe and effective operation of the F-35 from the QEC carrier. The very first F-35 landing on-board HMS Queen Elizabeth was undertaken this week by Commander Nath Gray of the Fleet Air Arm. This was quickly followed by a landing by our own F-35 test pilot, Peter 'Wizzer' Wilson. The only industry pilot to take part in the trials, Wizzer was also the first pilot to make a vertical landing in an F-35 and the first to take the aircraft off a land-based ski jump.
His landing was viewed by a team of BAE Systems flight test engineers who are on board the ship throughout the trials, bringing their own experience and knowledge to bear in support of the UK’s biggest and most powerful surface warship.
91/100 - An icon of British Engineering
The F-35 Lightning is the latest addition to the Royal Air Force's front line.
Working alongside the Eurofighter Typhoon, it will form a combined force which will serve for future decades. Our technology and know-how will be at the heart of these operations.
We won our place in the F-35 programme, the world's largest defence programme, through our unique capabilities in advanced manufacturing and in short take-off and vertical landing technology - a legacy of the pioneering Harrier aircraft.
Michael Christie, Strategy Director for our Air business, recalls: "Harrier was unique in its time and it brought with it masses of UK technology, whether it was the engine, the aircraft itself or some of the control technology within it.
"It was simply a unique and an iconic British programme."
Developed initially by one of our predecessor companies, Hawker Siddeley, during the 1960s, Harrier enabled the RAF to operate from improvised bases, including car parks and forest clearings.
Harrier was in operation with the RAF until 2011 and a variant, the AV8-B Harrier, continues to serve with the US Marine Corps, with BAE Systems providing engineering support.
90/100 - The flying classroom
For generations of RAF pilots the Hawk advanced jet trainer has been a flying classroom, preparing them for life in a fast jet.
Since entering service in 1976 it has trained thousands of pilots who have then gone on to fly Tornados, Typhoons and the F-35 Lightning.
Using advanced airborne simulation technology and next generation cockpit design, Hawk replicates the look and feel of a frontline aircraft, putting pilots at the controls of radar, weapons and defensive aids they would find in a fast jet.
Today, the latest standard of Hawk, the T2, is at the heart of the RAF's training fleet, IV Squadron, based at RAF Valley, Anglesey.
Its capability has made Hawk an international success story operated by air forces across the Middle East, Europe, India and Australia.
89/100 - Flying off with the future
Since the Royal Air Force’s formation 100 years ago we have been working alongside the RAF to help ensure they are always at the forefront of aviation technology.
The Canberra, the RAF’s first jet powered bomber, is a perfect example.
On a snowy day back in 1951 the RAF arrived at our site in Warton, Lancashire in an Avro Lincoln and departed a few hours later with the very first Canberra.
Built by our predecessor company English Electric it flew twice as fast and twice as high as the Lincoln. In fact it could fly higher than any other bomber in the 1950’s and set a world altitude record of 70,310 ft in 1957.
Today, our employees at the very same site continue to support the RAF with enhancements to Typhoon’s world leading capabilities and the development of a next generation future combat aircraft.
88/100 - Seven days a week where needed
We are proud to equip and support the RAF, particularly during times of great need.
During the first Gulf War, in 1990 to 1991, we worked in close partnership with the RAF to meet their urgent operational requirements.
Clive Marrison was a Tornado pilot in 43 Squadron during the conflict.
He recalls: "The people, whether they be in uniforms, overalls, suits, came together and gave huge amounts of time and effort in order to deliver those capabilities onto the aircraft.
"We know, as we go forward, our products will again have these urgent operational requirements placed on them, so the lessons of 1990 are now drawing forward into the modern day and beyond.
"We know our people will respond to those challenges in the future, just as well as they have done in the past."
Today, our teams working at RAF Coningsby, RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Marham work in partnership with their RAF colleagues to support operational requirements on both the Typhoon and Tornado fleets.
87/100 - A tribute to the finest and bravest
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
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.
Missed out on the stories we published in August? You can find them all here.