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Queen’s Birthday Fly Past by Kevin Jackson and Chris Muir

So, what do you give the lady who has everything? When the lady in question is HRH Queen Elizabeth II and she is celebrating her 80th birthday, and you are the RAF, the largest flypast in years, consisting of most of the aircraft types currently in service would seem like a good idea.

Queen’s Birthday Fly PastQueen’s Birthday Fly PastQueen’s Birthday Fly Past

The second Saturday in June is traditionally used to mark the British Head of State’s official birthday celebrations, on the ground this consists of a parade known as Trooping the Colour, a ceremony where one regiment passes on the Royal ‘Colour’ to another. Upon completion of the parade, the Royal family gather on the balcony of Buckingham Palace and at 1pm sharp the RAF will fly down the Mall to conclude the days events.

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The make-up and size of the flypast is usually dictated by the significance of the day, so the Queen’s 80th was to be marked by one of the largest formations in recent years, with a total of 49 aircraft of 15 different types spanning 8 decades of RAF history, from the newest fighter to a grand old jet bomber making her final appearance over London in RAF service.

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Split into 9 elements, ‘Windsor Formation’ and overall formation leader was Group Captain Bob Judson in the Battle of Britain Memorial Flights Lancaster, Judson is in the fortunate position of being qualified to fly the Typhoon as well as the BoBMF’s Spitfires and Hurricanes, and is the station commander at RAF Coningsby, Lincs.

Flanking the Lancaster were two Spitfires and two Hurricanes. The remaining 8 elements following at 2-mile intervals and at 1500 feet over London.

Element 2: Four Eurofighter Typhoons from 3 (Fighter) Squadron, 17 (Reserve) Squadron and 29 (R) Squadron, all based at RAF Coningsby.

Element 3: One C-17A Globemaster III from 99 Squadron based at RAF Brize Norton.

Element 4: One Tristar air-to-air tanker and transport aircraft from 216 Squadron based at RAF Brize Norton, led by Flt Lt Oliver James Pengelly, with two Typhoon T-2s of 29 (R) Sqn and two Jaguar GR3s of 6 Sqn, based at RAF Coningsby.

Element 5: One Nimrod MR2 maritime reconnaissance aircraft from 42 (R) Sqn from RAF Kinloss, Scotland and four Tornado GR4s of 12 (Bomber) Sqn based at RAF Lossiemouth, Scotland.

Element 6: One E-3D Sentry airborne early warning aircraft of 8 Sqn from RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire and four Tornado F-3s from 111 (F) Sqn, based at RAF Leuchars, Scotland.

Element 7: One VC-10 air-to-air tanker from 101 Sqn based at RAF Brize Norton, with four Jaguar GR3s from 6 Sqn, RAF Coningsby.

Element 8: Nine Tornado GR4s representing all four Tornado squadrons based at RAF Marham, of which the Queen is Honorary Air Commodore. The four squadrons are: II (Army Co-operation) Sqn, IX (Bomber) Sqn, XIII Sqn and 31 Sqn. Group Captain Greg Bagwell, Commanding Officer of RAF Marham, leads this element.

Element 9: Nine Hawks of the RAFAT, the Red Arrows, from RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire in formation with a Canberra PR9 from 39 (1 PRU) Sqn based at RAF Marham, Norfolk.

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Appropriately in proud formation with the Red Arrows, surrounded by red white and blue smoke at the culmination of the flypast, marking the end of its illustrious RAF career, came the Canberra PR9, flown by Flight Lieutenant Dave Piper, who said after landing back at RAF Marham: "It was a great honour – I think it will be the last time Her Majesty sees a Canberra in the air. I have heard she has a soft spot for the Canberra.

"It was extremely hot flying at relatively low level at 280 knots but it was fantastic having the Red Arrows either side of me. It was a great way to say farewell to a fabulous aircraft which was leading edge in the fifties and made all the fighter boys snarl as here was a bomber that could outclimb and outpace them!"

This was a bitter-sweet time for WG CDR Mitchell, current Commanding Officer of 39 (1 Photo Reconnaissance Unit) as the Canberra flew past the Palace, he is also overseeing the disbandment of the squadron and the retirement of the Canberra after more than 55 years in operational service in just a few weeks on July 29.

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It is a true testimony of the skill and dedication of the RAF crews involved that enabled such a large and diverse formation from three different holding patterns to arrive over Buckingham Palace at precisely 1pm. To the masses of Londoners and tourists who looked up at the aircraft going by, perhaps this wasn’t apparent, but for those lucky enough to be involved, it was a privilege to witness the RAF at its best.

The author would like to thank Ana Dick and Kate Zadada at RAF Brize Norton for the opportunity to fly with the 216 Squadron Tristar on the flypast.