Portal:Royal Air Force

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The Royal Air Force (RAF) is the air arm of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918 the RAF has taken a significant role in British military history ever since, playing a large part in World War II and in more recent conflicts. The RAF operates almost 1,100 aircraft and has a projected trained strength of over 40,000 regular personnel. The majority of the RAF's aircraft and personnel are based in the United Kingdom with many others serving on operations (principally Iraq, Afghanistan, Middle East, Balkans, and South Atlantic) or at long-established overseas bases (notably the Falkland Islands, Qatar, Germany, Cyprus, and Gibraltar).

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The RAF's mission is to support the objectives of the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) and to provide "An agile, adaptable and capable Air Force that, person for person, is second to none, and that makes a decisive air power contribution in support of the UK Defence Mission."

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The Red Arrows, officially known as the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, is the aerobatics display team of the Royal Air Force. They were formed in late 1964 as an all-RAF team, replacing a number of unofficial teams that had been sponsored by various RAF commands.

Originally equipped with seven Folland Gnat trainers which were inherited from the RAF Yellowjacks display team, they flew at 65 shows across Europe during their first season. In 1966, the team was increased to nine members, enabling them to develop their Diamond Nine formation. In late 1979, they switched to the BAE Hawk trainer. The Red Arrows have now performed over 4,000 displays world-wide in 53 countries.

Such is the popularity of the Red Arrows that at a recent charity auction, a British woman paid £1,500,000 to fly with them.

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Boeing E3-D Sentry at take off
Credit: Adrian Pingstone

Boeing E3-D Sentry AEW1 (ZH101) of the RAF takes off from the Royal International Air Tattoo, RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire, England.

Selected biography

Group Captain Leonard Cheshire, VC, OM, DSO and Two Bars, DFC (7 September 1917 – 31 July 1992) was a highly decorated British RAF pilot during the Second World War. Among the honours he received as a bomber pilot is the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. After the war, he became a charity worker, setting up Leonard Cheshire Disability and other philanthropic organisations.

He was appointed to succeed Wing Commander Guy Gibson as commander of the legendary 617 "Dambusters" Squadron in September 1943 and helped pioneer a new method of marking enemy targets for Bomber Command's 5 Group, flying in at a very low level in the face of strong defences, using first, the versatile Mosquito, then a "borrowed" P-51 Mustang fighter. This development work was the subject of some severe intraservice politics; Cheshire was encouraged by his 5 Group Commander Air Vice-Marshal Ralph Cochrane, although the 8 Group Pathfinder AOC Air Vice-Marshal Don Bennett saw this work as impinging on the responsibilities of his own command.

Cheshire was nearing the end of his fourth tour of duty in July 1944, having completed a total of 102 missions, when he was awarded the Victoria Cross. He was the only one of the 32 VC airmen to win the medal for an extended period of sustained courage and outstanding effort, rather than a single act of valour. Cheshire was, in his day, both the youngest Group Captain in the service and, following his VC, the most decorated. On his 103rd mission, he was the official British observer of the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki flying in the support B-29 Big Stink. Cheshire dedicated the rest of his life to supporting disabled people and, in 1948, he founded the charity now styled Leonard Cheshire Disability, which provides support to disabled people throughout the world. It is now in the top 30 of UK charities.

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The Westland Sea King is a British license-built version of the American Sikorsky S-61 helicopter of the same name, built by Westland Helicopters now AgustaWestland. The aircraft differs considerably from the American version, with British Rolls-Royce (Bristol-Siddeley) Gnome engines, British made anti-submarine warfare systems and a fully computerised control system. The Westland Sea King was also developed for a wider range of missions than the Sikorsky Sea King.

A dedicated Search and Rescue version (Sea King HAR3) was developed for the Royal Air Force, and the first of 15 entered service from September 1977 to replace the Westland Whirlwind HAR10. The Royal Air Force aircraft are in service with 22, 202, 203(R) and formerly with 78 Squadron.

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Military history (British military history task force, Military aviation task force)  • United Kingdom

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