RAF centenary flypast: Shawbury helicopters part of historic event

By Aimee Jones | Shawbury | News | Published:

It is a majestic sight in this most patriotic of weeks – and pilots from Shropshire were today at its heart.

The airmen from RAF Shawbury who were today taking part in an historic flypast over Buckingham Palace involving 100 aircraft

About 100 aircraft were today flying in mass formation over Buckingham Palace to mark the centenary of the Royal Air Force.

And aircrew from RAF Shawbury were among the spectacular tribute, with their three helicopters.

The crew are all part of the Defence Helicopter Flying School and Central Flying School (Helicopter) Squadron, where astronaut Time Peake was once an instructor.

They were flying in the new Airbus H135 Juno and H145 Jupiter helicopters, which recently came into service at RAF Shawbury as part of the rotary element of the Military Flying Training System.


Group captain Chuck Norris, station commander of RAF Shawbury said: "This is a once in a lifetime flypast of historic and modern aircraft. It is a great honour for us to be part of this historic event to celebrate and commemorate 100 years of the RAF and inspiring future members of the RAF."

The Royal Air Force marked its official centenary on April 1 but decided to wait for exactly 100 days until today to have the formal parade and flypast.


More than 1,000 servicemen and women were today marching along the Mall to mark the occasion..

The Queen, accompanied by Prince Charles, was presenting a new Queen’s Colour to the Royal Air Force at a ceremony on the forecourt of Buckingham Palace.

This was this afternoon being followed by a spectacular flypast, directly overhead Buckingham Palace.

All you need to know about the RAF centenary celebration flypast


The largest concentration of military aircraft in recent memory will descend on the skies above London as the Royal Air Force marks its centenary year.

Up to 100 jets, helicopters and aeroplanes from across a range of different eras of RAF history – including Spitfires and modern state-of-the-art aircraft – are expected to take part.

But how has the spectacle been organised and planned? Here are some of the questions surrounding the event on July 10.

– Which aircraft will take part?

Weather and serviceability dependent, it is expected the new cutting-edge stealth fighter F-35 jets will feature, as well as helicopters including the Puma, Chinook, Juno and Jupiter.

Aircraft from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight including the Dakota, Lancaster, Hurricane and Spitfire are also be part of the line up, as well training aircraft including the Prefect, Tucano and Hawks.

The Hercules, Atlas A400M, C-17, BAe 146, Sentinel, Voyager, Shadow, Rivet Joint, E-3D Sentry, Tornado GR4, Typhoon and Red Arrows are also set to appear.

– Will 100 aircraft fly on the day?

Wing Commander Kev Gatland said the weather across the holding areas, where the aircraft take off from, over London and the areas they disperse to afterwards is key and may affect the numbers involved.

RAF centenary
A Spitfire is in the line-up (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

If the weather is bad or unsuitable in any of these areas, some aircraft may not join the flypast, or it could be cancelled altogether.

Having spent 11 months organising the event, he said operational commitments of the aircraft is another reason why they might not take part, as is the serviceability of each one.

– How will it all happen?

The aircraft will take off from where they are based and fly into their designated holding areas – this is where they will circle and move into their formations until it is time to join the flypast.

RAF: 1918 v 2018
(PA Graphics)

It is expected that the flypast will begin to form up over Suffolk to the west of Ipswich at around 12.45pm before heading towards Colchester, and then Chelmsford.

The formation will continue over the M25, Stapleford Abbotts, Hainault Forest and on to central London – passing Olympic Park, Hackney, Bethnal Green, and Shoreditch before getting to the Mall at around 1pm.

– What speeds are the aircraft doing?

Wg Cdr Gatland said: “The front aircraft the helicopters are doing 90 knots, so about 100 miles an hour, the back aircraft which will be the Red Arrows are doing about 300 knots – just over 300 miles an hour.

“They obviously compress, they are at their tightest when they go over Buckingham Palace with a 30 second spacing in between.

“At that point we need to geographically deconflict them all safely using height, track lines away from each other and timing to keep them all clear.”

– How high will the aircraft be flying?

Wg Cdr Gatland said they will be stacked between 1000 ft to 1200 ft above the ground. He said their heights are alternated “through wake turbulence” and to provide space if the aircraft “happen to get too close”.

RAF centenary
A cutting-edge Chinook will feature in the flypast (Sean Clee/PA)

– What happens after the aircraft have passed over Buckingham Palace?

Wg Cdr Gatland said the dispersal, or what is known as egress, is where the aircraft then head back to their bases, and is one of the most important aspects.

He said there will be a “bomb burst” of up to 100 aircraft once they have passed over the royal family in Buckingham Palace and a packed Mall.

The three sections of the flypast will head into different directions, with the larger, heavier aircraft – including the Sentinel and Voyager – heading towards Runnymeade.

The training aircraft will head towards Hendon and the fast jets – including the Typhoon and Tornados – will pass over Heathrow, Windsor and Maidenhead before going back to their bases.

– How has it been planned?

Wg Cdr Gatland said the event has been planned using what he calls “fantastic” and “very accurate” software in which speeds, routes and locations are entered and worked out.

They have also conducted flights over the planned route to check for obstructions – including new, tall buildings, and cranes on top of buildings that are being erected.

– What are some of the facts and figures?

The flypast will consist of up to 100 different aircraft of 23 different types, with nearly 200 aircrew from 25 different RAF squadrons.

RAF 100
(PA Graphics)

The lightest aircraft will be the 120 TP Prefect at a maximum take-off weight of 1,440kg, and the heaviest will be the C-17 Globemaster III at 265,350kg.

The largest aircraft taking part is set to be the Voyager at a length of 58.82 metres and with a wingspan of 60.3 metres.

The Typhoon FGR4 is the fastest with a top speed of Mach 1.8, with the slowest being the helicopters.

Aimee Jones

By Aimee Jones

Senior reporter based at the Shropshire Star's Shrewsbury office, covering Shrewsbury, North Shropshire and South Shropshire.


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