Royal Air Force is One Hundred Years Old


The United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force (RAF) celebrates its’ one hundredth anniversary on April 1, 2018. Formed during the latter part of the First World War, it came into being through the merging of the (army’s) Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service.

Although a full history with hundreds of important dates, statistics and anecdotes is warranted, time will only allow a short story here. Here’s an outline with a few major events in which the RAF played an important role, followed by one hundred aircraft photos of just some of the planes the RAF has used during its’ century of service.

The importance of an independent air arm was signaled through a study by South African General Jan Smuts in 1917. That study recommended an independent organization that would continue to support the army and naval forces at war, to help defend Great Britain from German and other aerial bombers, and to begin to develop the U.K.’s own offensive strategic bombing forces – as an answer to enemy strategic bombing campaigns which were taking their tolls in casualties, property and morale.

800px-Airco_D_H_9A_ExCC Airco D.H.9A Expired Crown Copyright Image by Royal Air Force via the websitewww.raf.mod

After World War I ended, the RAF continued to support the advancement of military aviation, ordering aircraft with innovative equipment and performance. In 1920, the RAF presented the first Air Pageant at Hendon, which showcased the aircraft and aircrews of aerial forces. This event was originally planned as a one-time presentation, but due to its’ popularity, became a yearly show until the Second World War.

In 1924, the Fleet Air Arm was formed, this contained RAF units that operated from ships of the Royal Navy. The Air Arm remained under the RAF until just before World War II erupted, when those forces came under Admiralty control, and would remain there since.

As the British Empire reached around the world, aviation assets of the RAF were involved in multiple military actions during the 1920s through the late 1930s, including those in India, Iraq, and Afghanistan.



The Second World War erupted in 1939 and embroiled Great Britain for six years. The country was defended heroically during the Battle of Britain, the nighttime strategic bombing of Germany that followed helped turn the tide of war in Europe, and the RAF was present in force in Asia, the Middle East and Pacific areas at the end of the war, too.

After World War II ended, the RAF supported involvement in a number of Asian and Middle Eastern countries, including Malaya, Palestine, Israel, and Korea. Major British aeronautical advances produced initial jet fighters and bombers at the end of the Second World War, and these military actions saw both jet and prop-driven aircraft used.

Vulcan bombers from RAF Waddington flying in formation in 1957.....

With the advent of The Cold War, the RAF was at the forefront of European defense, ranging from jet interceptors to the V-bomber force (Valiant, Victor and Vulcan) of nuclear-capable strategic bombers.

After the Cold War anxiety had settled down, the RAF took part in the NATO operations around Bosnia, the Coalition battles in Iraq, and, of course, the Battle of the Falkland Islands Campaign.


On July 10, 2018 –100 days after the 100th Anniversary was marked (April 1, 2018 falls on the Easter Sunday holiday and Passover too), a huge flypast of current and former RAF aircraft (up to 100 aircraft may attend) is planned to stretch overhead the Mall in London and Buckingham Palace. Other events are occurring throughout 2018 to mark the centennial too, here’s a link to the RAF’s official web site:

Now, here’s a group of 100 photos of current and former RAF aircraft… how many can you name?


Thanks to the RAF/MOD, Steve Lewis and Ken Middleton (and the author too) for these photos!

Ken Kula

Assignment and Content Editor, writer and photographer A New Englander all of my life, I've lived in New Hampshire since 1981. My passion for all things aviation began at a very early age, and I coupled this with my interest of photography during college in the late 1970s. I spent 32 years in the air traffic control industry, and concurrently, enjoyed my aviation photography and writing adventures, which continue today. I've been quite fortunate to have been mentored by some generous and gifted individuals. I enjoy contributing to this great site, and working with some very knowledgeable and equally passionate aviation followers.

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