I watched the Deutsche Welle archived live stream of Her Majesty the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee yesterday. None of the British news outlets had any such thing, and the service inside St.Paul’s Cathedral was limited to UK viewers only. Nevertheless it was quite a moving and nostalgic moment, since I haven’t watched Trooping the Colour for many a year.
As you may imagine, I was in full spotter mode at the very end when a huge assortment of aircraft (72 in total – I did count them from the list provided by the RAF on their website) operated by the British armed forces flew over Buckingham Palace.
What astounded me was how out of touch with current British military aviation types I have become. I spent some of the time thinking “I didn’t know we had any of them” and then found out that in most cases the aircraft concerned have been in service for at least five years, perhaps more.
The constituent parts of the Jubilee flypast are (or were):
1 x Wildcat HMA2 (Royal Navy), 2 x Merlin (Royal Navy)
1 x Wildcat AH1 (British Army), 3 x Apache AH1 (British Army)
1 x Wildcat HMA2 (Royal Marines, Royal Navy), 3 x Merlin (Royal Navy)
3 x Puma
3 x Chinook HCA6
1 x Lancaster, 2 x Spitfire, 2 x Hurricane (Battle of Britain Memorial Flight)
1 x Phenom, 4 x Texan
3 x C-130J Hercules
1 x A400M Atlas
1 x C-17 Globemaster
1 x P-8A Poseidon MRA1
1 x RC-135W Rivet Joint
1 x Voyager, 2 x F-35B Lightning, 2 x Typhoon
1 x Voyager, 4 x F-35B Lightning
4 x Hawk T2
15 x Typhoon
9 x Hawk T1 (Red Arrows)
So let’s examine the names which made me say “huh?”
Wildcat – no, not the tubby little Grumman shipboard fighter. I had this down as a Lynx when I saw the flypast and I wasn’t far wrong. This is the AgustaWestland AW159 Wildcat, which was known as the “Future Lynx” and “Lynx Wildcat”. It’s been in service with the British Army since 2014 and the Royal Navy since 2015 although trials were being undertaken from at least 2011.
Merlin. Formerly the EH101 and now the AW101. I didn’t know that the RAF’s Merlins had been transferred to the Royal Navy. But seemingly they have.
Puma. – really? wow! I built an Airfix Puma in the 1970s and yes, this is still the A3330 Puma, having been radically upgraded and now called the Puma HC2
Chinook. – Now in its HCA6 iteration, and I wonder just how much noise three of them made as they flew over in formation.
Lancaster, Spitfire, Hurricane. – The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight were pretty familiar although the Deutsche Welle video gave them about five seconds of screen time. Hey Ho.
Phenom – I had no idea what this was. It’s the Embraer EMB-500 Phenom 100. “Operated as part of the UK Military Flying Training System. On 2 February 2016 the Ministry of Defence signed a contract with KBR-Elbit Systems for the procurement and support of five Embraer Phenom 100 jets to train Royal Air Force and Royal Navy air crew until 2033.” Thank you, Wikipedia.
Texan. – so the RAF is now operating the Beechcraft T-6 Texan II following the withdrawal of the Tucano. The contract was signed in 2016. I couldn’t lay my hands on a picture of an RAF Texan, but this one gives you an idea of what it looks like. That’s a Texan in front, too, although my dad would have called it a Harvard. Fittingly the Canadian Armed Forces call the new Beechcraft the CT-156 Harvard II.
Hercules. – fine. This is the C-130J so they looked a big bigger. I remember there was some argy-bargy about the C-130J at the time the A400M was looking like it wasn’t going to get anywhere.
Atlas A400M (Atlas C.Mk.1). – I didn’t know the RAF had bought some A400s, but clearly they have. I find its shape weirdly pleasing. Operational in the RAF since 2014/15.
Globemaster. – I do recall seeing one of the RAF C-17s at RIAT before I left the UK so that wasn’t much of a surprise. I was intrigued at the way the C-17 pilot was maintaining very close station with the A400, or so it looked.
Poseidon MRA1. – The RAF’s new maritime reconnaissance aircraft, known elsewhere as the P-8A and developed from the Boeing 737-800. The UK announced its intention to order nine P-8As in the Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015. The last aircraft (of seven, so a couple got cut on the way) was delivered in January 2022.
RC-135W Rivet Joint. – this was the one that really made me sit up. I saw it looked like a KC-135, but I had no idea the RAF had any. Of course it wasn’t a KC-135, although at some point in its life the airframe (and its mates) had been tankers. Previously, the RAF had gathered signals intelligence with three Nimrod R1 aircraft but with the cancellation of the Nimrod MRA4 the United Kingdom bought three KC-135R aircraft (all of which first flew in 1964) for conversion to RC-135W Rivet Joint standard[ under the Airseeker project. They came into service in October 2014 and are expected to remain in service until 2045. (Mashed from Wikipedia). Talk about life expectancy. By my calculation those airframes when they retire will be 81 years old.
Voyager. – I did wonder why there were two A330s in the flypast, but one of them was the repainted ZZ336 known colloquially as “Boris Force One” since the eponymous Prime Minister allegedly ordered a special paint job when it was next in for a service. There are one or two disturbing facts about the British variant of the A330MRTT tanker, not the least of which is the British continuation of “probe and drogue” refuelling practices. This rendered the UK’s sole big tanker unable to refuel a number of “modern” aircraft which use the American “flying boom” system. Maybe this is why the publicity pictures all show a Voyager refuelling a couple of Tornado GR.4s seven years ago. A bog standard Voyager initially couldn’t have refuelled a 1964 era Rivet Joint, much less a C-17 or a Poseidon – and what about the F-35? No, I’m being too picky. Hmmm. “In April 2016, the RAF stated its interest in the idea of fitting a boom to some of the Voyager fleet, bringing its aircraft into line with other A330 MRTT operators” (Wikipedia) Jolly Good idea. The RAF website says the Voyager KC. Mk.3 has a large centreline hose “for use by large aircraft.”
Lightning, Typhoon. – The formation discipline of the 15 Typhoons making up the number “70” in the sky was a joy to behold.
Hawk. I saw a news piece about the end of 100 Squadron at Leeming a few weeks ago and that some of their black Hawks would be repainted and passed to the Red Arrows – and here’s why. “In July 2021, it was announced that all UK military units operating the Hawk T1 aircraft, apart from the Red Arrows, would see their airframes retired by 31 March 2022“. The longevity of the Hawk in RAF service is almost becoming the stuff of legend. Maybe I need to blog that separately.