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 Royal Air Force Police (RAFP) is the military police branch of the British Royal Air Force. It was formed on 1 April 1918 and is responsible for policing the RAF and its installations. Members of the RAFP are distinguished by their white-topped caps (giving rise to their nickname of "Snowdrops"), which they have worn since 1945, and black/red/black flashes worn below their rank slides, known as "Mars Bars". Unlike their Army colleagues in the Royal Military Police, they do not wear a distinctive red beret when wearing camouflaged uniform, although they do wear MP flashes on the sleeve of their uniforms not unlike their army counterparts.

There is a detachment of RAFP on most RAF stations with larger bases having a security squadron, with a Squadron Leader in command as Officer Commanding (OC) Security, who is also responsible for the general security of the station. The RAF Police also fulfills the RAF's counter-intelligence (CI) role, similar to that carried out by the British Army Intelligence Corps. They provide specialist counter-intelligence and computer security support.

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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.

Selected aircraft

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The Hawker Siddeley Nimrod is a maritime patrol aircraft developed in the United Kingdom. It is an extensive modification of the de Havilland Comet, the world's first jet airliner. It was originally designed by de Havilland's successor, Hawker Siddeley, now part of BAE Systems. A major modification was the fit of a large weapon bay under the fuselage that can carry and drop torpedoes, mines, bombs and other stores. Sonobuoys for tracking submarines are dropped from special launchers in the rear of the fuselage.

The Nimrod is also capable of carrying American-made Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and Sidewinder air-to-air missiles for self-defense.

The Nimrod has been the Royal Air Force's primary Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) since the early 1970s, when it replaced the piston-engined Avro Shackleton. The RAF uses two Nimrod variants: the MR2 variant in the Maritime and Reconnaissance role; the R1 variant in a reconnaissance and electronic intelligence gathering capacity (ELINT).

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

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on Commons

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