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RAF 100 – A Lifetime of Service – Looking Back and Looking Forward By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.

Almost exactly a year from today the Royal Air Force will commence formal commemorations that will mark the 100th anniversary of its founding on the 1st of April 1918. RAF 100 is about showcasing its people, the depth of talent and diversity, raising the profile of the Royal Air Force, celebrating history and supporting the fund raising for RAF-related charities.

Throughout the period of events in 2018 all that have served through the past century will be celebrated and not just those that have engaged on the front line. It will seek to remember all those that have played a supporting role and without whose skills and expertise there would be no Force. Above all, RAF 100 has been designed to be inspirational as seeks to inform a new generation of what the Force stands for today, what it does and what it plans to do in the decades ahead. In doing so, RAF 100 events will seek to educate and inform of the vital role that its people and cutting edge equipment capability play in the defence of the United Kingdom, the huge part that the Force plays within NATO and in supporting our allies.

An event of such significance as RAF 100 should require far more than commemoration and celebration of past achievements, the present and a look into the future. It must also be about the legacy of what such a range of events achieves. The legacy from RAF 100 is planned to be a great many things, not least of these being the ultimate benefit that it will provide to the four main RAF charities.

Moreover, the legacy will be about encouraging the future generation to look at the Royal Air Force and to provide more energy and inspiration for the Air Cadets through the creation of a residential plan that will assist in their education and support and importantly, place greater emphasis on diversity. The legacy will also include supporting a significant package of STEM subjects, defence technical training at RAF Cosford and in bringing industry and the Royal Air Force working closer together. Combining all these it is not difficult to see how the legacy from RAF 100 is about inspiring future generations of the RAF.

The formal RAF Appeal process that will be run by the four key RAF charities (RAF Benevolent Fund, Royal Air Forces Association, RAF Charitable Trust and the RAF Museum) in order to raise charitable funds to support the wider RAF100 objectives and intended legacy will begin its work during autumn this year. The theme of the appeal process is based on the mission to excite and inspire young people, to exploit all avenues of the future Royal Air Force and to ensure that the message of what the Royal Air Force and its people have achieved over the past one-hundred years is enshrined in its future.

The Royal Air Force remains as important and relevant today as it ever has in the past. As the world’s first independent air force and in recognition of how it is so highly regarded by air forces all over the world and indeed, looked up to as the example that most would wish to replicate, the commemorations and celebrations taking place all over the country next year will be closely observed by the international air force community.

Without doubt, 2018 will be a very important year for the Royal Air Force and as already mentioned, the hope is that it will excite and inspire young people for the future just as it will remember and recognise the people that made its past so very successful.

Achieving its first one-hundred years of being the first ever Air Force in the world is clearly a very significant milestone and while some may regard this to be just a date, RAF 100 will in my view mark the end of the one very significant chapter and the opening of another. Thus the intention is that it will be seen as being far more than one more important milestone.

The real process of commemoration and celebration begins on March 31st next year with a concert at the Royal Albert Hall. This will attempt to recognise all facets of the past one hundred years of Royal Air Force history , why it exists, what it has achieved, its people, equipment capability, stories about its past and also what the present Royal Air Force is about and what it is doing today Importantly, it will look at what it intends to be tomorrow.

Of course it will be about remembering what has been achieved through the one hundred years that it has been in existence so far but equally important is the ability of the anniversary to be used as an opportunity to enhance the reputation of the Royal Air Force, to inspire future generations of airman and airwomen, to raise the awareness of not just what the Royal Air Force has done in the past but also of what it is doing now and the important role that it will play in the future.

The hope is that by the end of 2018 the Royal Air Force will not only be able to look back on the events that have taken place and on itself and be very proud not only of what the service has done and achieved but also in how it has been messaged to a wider audience. RAF 100 should also be seen as an opportunity and desire to excite and inspire people for the future, to better explain and message the vital importance of the RAF and what it is about.

Appeal and Sponsorship

The Appeal for funds will primarily be based on Sponsorship Opportunity. This will include a National Appeal, merchandising, branding, commemorative publications and events supported by national advertising and all media promotion activities. Commercial sponsorship will be a key strand of this and will bring with it a range of privileged attendance and associated activities. Packages will, I understand. be based on a three tier system that ranges from a partnership of five companies from different sectors as the major ‘headline’ sponsorship team making up the First Tier and who will receive maximum branding opportunities in association with the RAF 100 Appeal, national events and logo’s appearing on all promotional material.

The Second Tier will seeks opportunities for up to 30 corporate supporters that are seeking to secure networking and association benefits to be made available through a series of RAF 100 VIP events while the Third Tier provides opportunities for organisations wishing to support the RAF 100 appeal but have limited budgets and that while not necessarily seeking to participate in events may seek to make philanthropic gestures and create legacy investment with or without publicity.

A great deal of work has already been put in to secure a single charitable appeal process for RAF 100, the legacy of which and the anticipated shared benefits (my understanding is that the first £2.5 million will be split five ways between the four RAF charities and ‘legacy’) that will be received by the four hugely important Royal Air Force charities – the RAF Association, the RAF Benevolent Fund, the RAF Charitable Trust and the RAF Museum. Below is a brief description of each in relation to RAF 100:

The Royal Air Force Association

The RAFA spends approximately £9 million per year undertaking over 100,000 welfare contacts, calls and visits per year. Its support is very wide ranging but key focusses include reducing loneliness and isolation amongst veterans and on keeping serving RAF families strong and connected even when operational commitments and deployment means that they may spend significant periods apart. RAFA seeks to increase the national and international network of highly-trained welfare caseworkers.

Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund

In 2016, the RAF benevolent Fund supported some 60,000 beneficiaries and spent £20 million on welfare of individuals. These included the young families of RAF personnel, those currently serving and many RAF veterans. The latter incudes those that have been involved in recent conflicts to those who are still suffering through their service in the second-world-war.

RAFBF provides support ranging from financial grants to individuals provisions of benefits advice and advocacy, working with partner organisations to support relationship, anxiety and isolation issues, youth support services on RAF stations and the provision of a respite facility for the serving and elderly.

Royal Air Force Charitable Trust

The RAF Charitable Trust mission is to promote public understanding of the Royal Air Force and to support its personnel and encourage air-mindedness in young people. In staging the annual Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford together with other air shows and concert tours, RAFCT showcases the RAF’s capabilities and its personnel to the home and international audience.

RAFCT makes around £1 million of grants available annually to enrich the lives of RAF personnel and to inspire young people to be involved in and gain key skills in aerospace and aviation. RAFCT is chaired by Air Marshal Sir Kevin Leeson and previous chairs have included Air Chief Marshal Sir John Cheshire and Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Knight. The Trust delivers scholarships and bursaries to individuals and makes group grants to cadet organisations to support training and leadership development.

The Royal Air Force Museum

The Royal Air Force Museum’s role is to ensure that the RAF story endures and enriches future generations. Founded from the legacy of the 50th Anniversary of the Royal Air Force in 1968 and with the Hendon site opening in 1972, having two sites, one that comprises the former RAF Hendon wartime station in North London and the other, in Cosford, Staffordshire which is adjacent to and within the boundaries of the RAF Cosford base and that was opened in 1979. Combined, the two sites welcome approximately 720,000 visitors each year of whom 60,000 are children coming with their schools. The RAF Museum CEO is Maggie Appleton and its board of Trustees is chaired by Air Chief Marshal Sir Glenn Torpy.

The RAF Museum has been working very closely with its RAF 100 Appeal partners to mark the RAF 100 next year and separate but fully complimentary to this, the Museum is currently engaged in transforming the Hendon, London site through a separate £25.5 million development plan.

The RAF Museum focus is to tell stories of the people and partners of the Royal Air Force, capturing the whole story and looking ahead to the future. Immersive new exhibitions and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) learning opportunities will sit within revived landscaping that recalls the history of the site’s airfield heritage (RAF Hendon) while people across the globe will be invited to share their RAF stories both in the Museums themselves and on-line.

Appeal and Legacy                                   

As mentioned, the formal Appeal will be launched in the autumn of this year along with a revived website and corporate activity.

Importantly, the legacy from RAF 100 is intended to go much further than in just supporting the four above mentioned charities and as part of a wide ranging developmental challenge from the appeal, a major package of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) projects with the aim of expanding the number and geographical coverage of RAF aerospace STEM encouragement projects that are delivered through schools and cadet units in order to enhance young people’s involvement in this key area of national need.

Another of the principle objectives of the RAF 100 Appeal is to expand the range of scholarships and university bursaries for air cadets and school pupils, particularly those from under privileged backgrounds, in order to enhance significantly their opportunities to enter rewarding aviation and aerospace careers. A number of Universities have already signed up.

While the RAF and most observers of the Force recognise the he importance of the fantastic air cadets (Air Training Corps) and understand what the RAF does but the importance of the RAF 100 legacy will be for the Force to connect with an even wider range of Britain’s young people.

This year marked the 75th anniversary of the Air Training Corp and it is by going through this this initial route together with membership of the University Air Squadrons that provided the entry point for a great many young people to take up careers in the Royal Air Force. Both are invaluable.

The RAF 100 Appeal legacy process is also intended to extend the range of flying scholarships offered for less privileged scholars, air cadets and serving personnel in order to provide such aviation skills to a wider audience. The point here being that learning to fly develops personal confidence and self-discipline.

Provisions also include plans to provide more extensive support to serving personnel through providing a wider range of service life enrichment activities and facilities on the basis that these provide recreational respite from the rigour of operations and additional personal development opportunities.

Finally, under the developmental category of proposed benefits to be made available from the appeal is the provision of a range of new aerospace training facilities, the Academy at RAF Cosford together with equipment and adventure training opportunities aimed at developing further excellence of the air cadet experience.

The Royal Air Force already engages in a large number of STEM activities in order to help create the engineers and scientists of the future it will need. This work also includes tailored STEM packages for schools and colleges that raise the awareness of RAF history and purpose and they demonstrate how essential disciplines are woven into the fabric of the RAF and of how future success depends on them.

Young people are the future and the Royal Air Force plays a significant role connecting with more young people through sport, leisure, community activities, music, social media and even video gaming to demonstrate what today’s RAF is all about and it does so in a manner that is as relevant as it is exciting.

Welfare programmes from the RAF 100 appeal process will be aimed primarily at reducing isolation and loneliness for all generations of the RAF Family include support for separated families and isolated serving communities, practical help for veterans suffering loneliness and social isolation together with new and improved respite facilities to provide nationwide availability.

Last but by no means least, the RAF 100 Appeal process will through a process of ‘educate and inform’ hope to inspire a broader range of people with the story of the first one-hundred years of RAF history and then invite them to imagine its future.

It will also set out to ensure that the RAF’s achievements of stories over the next 100 years are properly collected, showcased, shared and explored and that engaging spaces and programmes are developed that ignite curiosity in the RAF story overall and, through that story, take the recipient through key learning areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  –

Coinciding with the launch of the RAF100 Appeal, run by the four key RAF charities (RAF Benevolent Fund, Royal Air Forces Association, RAF Charitable Trust and the RAF Museum) that will aim to raise charitable funds to support the wider objectives, RAF 100 will as mentioned set out to raise the profile of the RAF across the whole of our nation, to enhance its reputation and to promote a better understanding of what it does.

The plan is that it will also showcase its people, the depth of talent and diversity and importantly, celebrate the history of the Royal Air Force whilst at the same time, demonstrating why the Service remains absolutely vital to the security and prosperity of the UK. Importantly, RAF 100 will support fund-raising for all the various RAF-related charities.

In advance of this the RAF Museum which was Itself created from the legacy bestowed from the 50th anniversary of the Royal Air Force in 1968 and that opened in 1972, had launched its Centenary Appeal last year in order to raise funds to support the hugely exciting redevelopment plan of major parts of the Hendon site in time for the RAF 100.

RAF 100 Events through 2018

RAF 100 will see a number of traditional style ceremonial and commemorative events including a live broadcast multi-media event from the Royal Albert Hall, a service at Westminster Abbey on the 10th of July which will mark one-hundred days after the April 1st ‘Founders Day’ following which my understanding is that a parade of 1,500 uniformed personnel will march up the Mall to Buckingham Palace where Her Majesty the Queen will take the Salute and review a flypast of 100 aircraft including the Red Arrows.

Important though large formal events are, the intention behind RAF100 is to showcase the RAF in many different ways – from air shows to festivals; from national, iconic events to local initiatives and STEM events in order to reach as many people as we can.

While preliminary events will take place in relation to the launch of the Appeal process later this year I understand that in March next year there will be a large STEM related event held in Birmingham.

On March 31st there will be a concert held at the Royal Albert Hall that will hopefully be broadcast and over the same weekend various buildings will be illuminated. The following day, April 1st which marks the formal 100th anniversary date, a Founders Day Service will be held at the RAF Church, St Clement Danes in the Strand, London.

The CAS (Chief of the Air Staff) RAF Air Power Conference will take place as normal in London during July as will the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire. Both events will mark the very special year that RAF 100 will be. This will be followed by the Farnborough Air Show.

Other planned events include a Reception and Dinner at the Guildhall in London on April 24th, static displays in various towns and cities across the UK including Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff (the latter coinciding with the Royal Welsh Show) plus in Washington DC in April  together with funded Concert Tours and many other events.

Important for the Royal Air Force too in its centenary year is that 617 Squadron will be stood up in 2017 as well.

I have mentioned only a small number of major event – many other smaller events will take place all around the UK.

The RAF – In the Beginning……

I do not intend to write a history here but I thought that it may be useful to have a short resume of how the Royal Air Force came into being on April 1st 2018:

The Imperial General Staff in Britain set up a subcommittee, which in February 1912 recommended the creation of a new flying arm with separate military and naval wings. In April the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) was founded by George V. It would last until the 31st March 1918, when it would become the principal element of the independent Royal Air Force.

The debate about having an independent air force free of Royal Navy and Army command dates back to Government of Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith and who had asked the Committee of Imperial Defence to examine the entire question of naval and military aviation and to suggest how Britain could have an efficient air force.

When the Government realised in 1912 that a large organised Corps was required to develop the use of aviation, it was a sub-committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence, led by General David Henderson, who developed the master-plan for the Royal Flying Corps that came into existence on the 13th March 1912.

On becoming Director General of Military Aeronautics in August 1915 command of the RFC passed to Major General Hugh Trenchard. However, demanding of more crews and machines, within a year Trenchard was complaining to the War Office that he was being forced to fight next year’s battles with last year’s machines. Trenchard had the support of General Haig who requested 20 more squadrons for the Western Front, but that request could not be met without borrowing from the Royal Naval Air Service. This was the point that it became clear to Trenchard that something was wrong with both the organisation and supply of equipment and trained personnel to what was in effect two air services.

The obvious overlapping of the functions of the 2 air services (RFC and RNAS), the competition between them for both engines and aircraft led to a rethink of how military aviation should be done. Unification between the RNAS and RFC was considered practically impossible in wartime and it was Lord Curzon who suggested that his Air Board should advise the Government on the creation of a larger body to deal with all air matters and on the formation of a separate air service.


Prime Minister David Lloyd George requested General Jan Smuts, a General and who was later to be a prominent South African and British Commonwealth statesman, to solve the matter of air defence quickly. What followed was two separate reports published during the summer of 1917 in which Smuts recommended formation of a separate Air Ministry and Air Staff to amalgamate the RFC and RNAS into a new Air Service that would be independent of both Army and Royal Navy. In so doing Smuts with his advisor, General David Henderson, had expounded a doctrine of the independent use of air power. Smuts said at the time:


“There is absolutely no limit to the scale of its future independent war use. And the day may not be far off when aerial operations with their devastation of enemy lands and destruction of industries and populous centres on a vast scale may become one of the principal operations of war, to which older forms of military and naval operations may become secondary and subordinate”


On the 29th November 1917 an Act of Parliament establishing an Air Force and an Air Council received the Royal Assent. This marked the beginning of what from the 1st April 1918 would become the Royal Air Force. However, internal disputes and political wrangling meant that the new Air Ministry got off to a very bad start. The main squabbling was in relation to who would become the first Air Minister and even Trenchard, appointed as the first Chief of the Air Staff, resigned within a few days of his appointment. It should be recorded here that Hugh Trenchard (later Viscount Trenchard) had not been an enthusiastic supporter of the creation of a unified air service or indeed, of his next job, as head of the Independent Force.

Brought back from the shadows, Trenchard took command of the ‘Independent Force (a strategic bombing force) in May 1918. This operated without concern for the land battle and over the next few months it would confirm Trenchard’s view of the importance of the offensive in the employment of air power, just as it was also indicative of the vast problems facing strategic offensive in terms of numbers of aircraft, accuracy of navigation, target planning and overall effectiveness weighed against cost.

It is a little known fact that Trenchard brought about the first paid apprenticeship scheme in the UK, something that he introduce on the basis of suggesting that “if you send me your child, I will not only feed, clothe and house him [thus relieving you of those costs] I will also provide him with a trade, that you would otherwise have to pay for”.

Of course, while Trenchard is rightly regarded as the ‘Father of the Royal Air Force’ today he himself said publically that in his view it was Lieutenant General Sir David Henderson who should be regarded as the real ’Father of the RAF’. This was typical of the man and it was after all Henderson who developed some of the central roles that would be carried on by the Royal Air Force including aerial reconnaissance, fighter interception and tactical support. Sadly, the death of his son in a flying accident in June 1918 would have a severe and detrimental impact on Henderson and he himself died in 1921 at the age of 59.  Viscount Trenchard died in 1956 and is buried in Westminster Abbey. His statue stands proud in front of MOD Main Build in Whitehall.

(This RAF 100 ‘Commentary’ is being specifically sent out today, March 31 2017 not because of my own well-known closeness to the Service or that this day happens also to be my own 68th birthday, but because it is exactly one year today before the first formal part of RAF 100 commemorations begin with a concert at the Royal Albert Hall. I hope that readers have enjoyed this special piece and that they will, particularly those in the corporate sector, do all that they can to support the main aims of the RAF 100 Appeal and the proposed legacy). 

“Per Ardua ad Astra”

CHW (London 31st March 2017)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS

Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,

M: +44 7710 779785

Skype: chwheeldon






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