Comment this morning on the RAF 100 Parade and Flypast in London yesterday, the Royal International Air Tattoo which opens its doors on Friday together with the Chief of the Air Staff Air Power Conference which starts today. Subject only to potential outcomes from the 2018 NATO Conference, ‘Commentary’ will reappear late next week.
What an honour it was and how humbling for those of us fortunate enough to have been able to observe the RAF 100 Parade in the Mall yesterday morning at which some 1,000 members of the Royal Air Force took part. Later, together with some RAF friends, the odd former Defence Minister together with others on the roof high above Trafalgar Square we watched with great pleasure as the superb flypast by over 100 RAF aircraft past and present fly along the Mall and over Buckingham Palace.
In warm summer weather that was perhaps not quite as perfect as that of the previous day, swarms of RAF aircraft, including those from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight together with a vast range of current aircraft capability that included three F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, a large number of RAF Typhoon and no fewer than Tornado GR4 aircraft from RAF Marham, Hawk T1 and Hawk T2, Tucano, Voyager, Air Seeker, Sentinel, Sentry E3-D, A400M, C-130J and other RAF aircraft, Chinook, Puma and other rotary training aircraft not to forget initial flying training aircraft, all of which flown with the precision, timing and perfection one would expect from Royal Air Force squadron pilots involved. The RAF 100 Parade and Flypast made a truly spectacular sight and sound for the many thousands who watched in the Mall or who gathered on roofs of buildings and on the streets and pavements below. I am sure that I speak for all when I say that for those fortunate to witness one or both, something that that they will never forget.
While RAF 100 celebrations and commemorations are far from being over yet, may I record my thanks to all those that have made this remarkable collection of commemorative events celebrating past and present Royal Air Force such a spectacular success.
On Monday I had the pleasure of visiting Horse Guards Parade in Whitehall for another related RAF 100 event, in this case as had occurred in Cardiff and elsewhere, where a number of RAF aircraft and helicopters both past and present together with those that flew them or indeed, fly them today made themselves readily available to members of the public both young and old.
The RAF 100 motto has been to Commemorate, Celebrate and Inspire and events such as this combined all three. Indeed, it was lovely for me to observe and talk to those that had served or that are still serving today and to see these justifiably proud people answering questions about what they do or what they did. Events like this are in my view absolutely crucial to the public understanding of what the Royal Air Force is and of what it does.
Given vast amounts of press and media coverage along with the many thousands of tweets and discussions on social media, all of which that I saw where in complete praise of what they witnessed, I will not dwell unduly in detail about the Parade or Flypast other than to say that for someone such as myself who, from a professional standpoint, has spent such a large part of his career standing up in support of the Royal Air Force and of the importance of airpower I too was humbled by what I saw yesterday.
The public gets more opportunity to understand what the RAF is and what it does at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) which opens its doors at RAF Fairford on Friday and goes on through Sunday. Organised by the RAF Charitable Trust, suffice to say that there is nothing that comes anywhere near to the brilliance of this major event anywhere in the world.
Senior serving members of the Royal Air Force, senior representatives and air force chiefs from some seventy countries worldwide the majority of whom will have attended the Chief of the Air Staff Air Power Conference over the two preceding days will all be at the Royal International Air Tattoo as will, no doubt, many foreign delegations, politicians and just about anyone who is anyone in the defence industry. All will be there to observe, to network and engage with colleagues and also to observe upon literally hundreds of static military aircraft on display and those that will later provide some spectacular flying displays.
With the RAF 100 theme running very much through the Royal International Air Tattoo this year and with the usual emphasis on STEM and particularly that of engineering and skills, visitors both young and old can be assured that RIAT this year will be a truly spectacular event. Coming straight off the back of the Chief of the Air Staff Air Power Conference in London for which the RAF Centre for Air Power Studies plays a pivotal role in partnership with the Air Power Association and which this year has as its main theme ‘Building The Next Generation Air Force’ I am very much looking forward to attending both these very important events.
At this juncture it is right that I should record the hard work and effort that has been put in over the past six years that have made RAF 100 so successful and that has and will provide a long lasting legacy. The companies that have supported RAF 100 are too numerous to list here but I would like to record particular thanks firstly to the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier who has worked so spectacularly hard visiting locations up and down the country whilst continuing to undertake all his other duties and also to his wife, Lady Elaine Hillier who has been at his side at so many events. Thanks also to his predecessor, Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford under whose watch the main work on RAF 100 began, to the Assistant Chief of the Air Staff, Air Vice-Marshal Mike Wigston and also to his two immediate predecessors, Air Vice-Marshal Rich Knighton and Air Vice-Marshal Ed Stringer, the former who never took no for an answer and the latter who started the design of RAF 100 process off. To the many others that have worked so hard and that I cannot mention here, thank you.
To all the various Royal Air Force Squadrons and the personnel that have taken part in the flying display and flypast yesterday, to the engineers and support staff and all those without whose work and devotion to duty no military aircraft could fly, to the air traffickers, the Military Aviation Authority, the RAF Centre for Air Power whose work in ensuring the history of the Royal Air Force was properly described and presented in speeches and internal publications, to the RAF Museum Hendon and Cosford, and finally, to members of the Air Training Corps who have provided support wherever and whenever they have been asked – Thank you for what you have done and achieved.
If there are takeaways from any of the many RAF 100 events so far, one for me would be that there should be no doubt in the minds of those in command of the Royal Air Force that the public is anything other than completely onside, just of course as it is the rest of the military.
That said, in the post RAF 100 environment the public will need to be continually reminded of what the Royal Air Force is, of what it does and of what it is about. Sometimes the public has a rather short memory! The RAF Red Arrows do a spectacularly good job in taking the Royal Air Force out to the public but I fear that in a world in which affordability has become a watchword, the Royal Air Force will need to engage more with the public if it is to convince.
RAF 100 has had at its heart a message and intent to inspire. It has done that in spades and it would be unrealistic to expect to be able to see anything of the like again. The RAF Cosford Airshow and the National Aircraft Tour that has already taken in Cardiff, London and will soon be taking in Newcastle, Northern Ireland, Birmingham and Glasgow has and continues to be a very important sequence of events and has provided useful ways of getting the message and vital importance of what the RAF is and of what it does to the public. In my youth and when I was in the Air Cadets, the Royal Air Force held a number of open days at bases and these in turn proved to be a very useful way of allowing the public to know and understand what the RAF does. They, along with the Air Cadets and University Air Squadrons also provided a door in which interested youngsters who may be interested in joining the RAF could learn and find out more. Today, only RAF Cosford is the only one left.
There can be no turning back the clock of course and we well know the pressures of affordability and sometimes, impracticability rule out the opening up bases on the scale of the past. But, such has been their success in the RAF 100 process this year, I believe that it may be worth the RAF considering the virtues of repeating the National Aircraft Tour in two or three different locations every year in order to help get the message out. I am not in any way wishing to interfere, merely putting forward a suggestion for consideration!
Ask a typical member of the public ten years ago what the RAF was and what it did and I recall that around five times out of ten the answer would boom back the ‘Red Arrows’ or the yellow ‘Search & Rescue Helicopters’. Today I think the public really is more aware of the wider role that the RAF performs but experience tells me that we can never be complacent in ensuring that we get across to as many as we can
(Due to my attending the CAS Air Power Conference, the Royal International Air Tattoo and the Farnborough International Air Show, ‘Commentary’ will reappear on Thursday July 19th)
CHW (London – 11th July 2018)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785