In April 1911, a Royal Engineers air battalion was founded at Larkhill in Wiltshire. The battalion was composed of companies with airplanes, airships, balloons, and man-carrying kites. The Royal Navy established the Royal Naval Flying School at Eastchurch, Kent, in December 1911. Both were integrated into the recently created Royal Flying Corps in May 1912, which constructed a new flying school and organized new aircraft squadrons at Upavon, Wiltshire. RNAS was founded in July 1914 in response to the navy’s particular needs.

On August 4, one month later, the United Kingdom opened hostilities against Germany and began World War I. The RFC possessed 84 aeroplanes then, while the RNAS had 71 aeroplanes and seven airships. In that month, four Royal Air Force squadrons were sent to help with expeditionary activities in France. During the following two years, Germany gained the edge in air superiority with technologies such as manual machine guns, while England faced bombing attacks and anguish in the skies from German flying aces like Manfred von Richthofen. British military strategists pushed for establishing an independent air ministry to conduct aerial bombardment against Germany in response to repeated German airstrikes.

The RAF was created on April 1, 1918, with a female arm of the force, the Women’s Royal Air Force. The 22nd Squadron’s Bristol F.2B aircraft flew the RAF’s first official sorties on the same day.

By November 1918, when the war ended, the RAF had established air supremacy throughout the western front. In November 1918, the RAF had a strength of approximately 300,000 officers and airmen and more than 22,000 aircraft. At the onset of World War II in September 1939, the Royal Air Force’s operative capacity in Europe had been reduced to around 2,000 aircraft.

RAF History

After World War, I and the subsequent British defence cutbacks, the recently independent RAF assumed responsibility for airborne patrolling of the areas under British control. It was suggested that deploying air power to rule huge regions would cost less than traditional ground troops. Sir Hugh Trenchard, Chief of the Air Staff, had developed concepts for the employment of aircraft in imperial police, which proved effective in 1920 when the RAF and imperial troops on the ground crushed insurgent dervishes in Somaliland. The following year, in 1921, the RAF was granted command of all British forces in Iraq, with the job of ‘policing’ tribal violence. The RAF also served in Afghanistan in 1928 during a period of civil strife. It conducted a rescue effort, dubbed the Kabul Airlift, which was the world’s first aerial extraction of people.

To avoid being abolished and its functions transferred to the military and naval forces, the RAF expended enormous effort to maintain itself in the public spotlight via events like the annual Hendon Air Show and by sponsoring a Schneider Trophy team. In 1936, the RAF’s command structure was reorganized, resulting in the formation of Fighter Command, Bomber Command, and Coastal Command.

Aviation In the Navy

The establishment of the RAF dissolved the Navy’s aircraft and flying wing; however, the Admiralty retained control of aircraft carriers. The Royal Air Force’s Fleet Air Arm was founded under Air Ministry supervision on April 1, 1924. It included those Royal Air Force units generally stationed aboard aircraft carriers and battleships. During the 1920s, there was a contracted tug-of-war between the Chief of the Air Staff and the Admiralty on which arm should take responsibility for the country’s naval aviation. 

Throughout the 1920s and the early part of the 1930s, the RAF had little government funding, and the air staff placed a larger premium on strategic bombing than on naval aviation. Consequently, during the late 1930s, the Fleet Air Arm was only equipped with obsolete aircraft in small numbers. By 1936, the Admiralty was advocating once again for the reintroduction of naval aviation under their authority. This time they succeeded, and the Admiralty gained control of the maritime wing of the airforce on July 30, 1937. The RAF designation for the Fleet Air Arm continued in casual use until it was formally accepted. Command of the coastal wing that guarded the United Kingdom against maritime threats continued to remain under the authority of the RAF.

Strategic Bombing

The RAF devised a concept of strategic bombing, which resulted in developing long-range bombers that played a crucial role during the Second World War. 

RAF Formations

RAF formations include radio units, signals units, and calibration units. Wings, groups, and commands are regarded as formations in the Royal Air Force. Formations are military groupings comprised of specialized Arms and Services soldier units that combine to produce a balanced, integrated fighting force.

The RAF’s Nos 26 and 60 Groups were formed in the 1940s. No. 26 Group was created inside RAF Training Command on February 12, 1940, and later moved to RAF Technical Training Command. In 1942, it was assigned to RAF Bomber Command, and in 1946, it was merged with No. 60 (Signals) Group to establish No. 90 (Signals) Group RAF.

The Radio Warfare Establishment (RWE) was formed at RAF Swanton Morley in 1945 and eventually changed its name to the Central Signals Establishment (CSE). The CSE was founded in 1946 at RAF Watton and was provided with Dominie and Tiger Moth aircraft. It was decommissioned on July 1, 1965, at the same location. Numerous files relating to the CSE are housed in the National Archives at Kew.

The RAF in World War II (1939 – 1945)

The RAF’s first-line capability in the British Isles was around 2,000 airplanes at the onset of hostilities on September 3, 1939. These were classified into the following categories: Fighter Command, which was responsible for defensive action, with a portion assigned to the assault force in France till June 1940; Bomber Command, which was responsible for offensive operations in Europe; and Coastal Command, which was responsible for securing the sea routes and was operationally directed by the navy. Additionally, there were orders for Balloon, Maintenance, Reserve, and Training. The Army Cooperation Command and the Ferry Command were established in 1940 and 1941, respectively. 

Training programs were initiated in several regions of the Commonwealth to produce the personnel necessary to crew the quickly rising demand in the frontline and provide replacements for the massive fatalities sustained. Canada, Australia, and New Zealand collaborated to run the Empire Air Training Scheme, which trained pilots, navigators, and support personnel for the Royal Air Force. Additionally, because the United Kingdom served as the primary staging area for launching missions against enemy targets, it was constantly in danger of aerial assault. Training pilots had become extremely difficult in the country, and aircrew trainees were sent to Canada, South Africa, and Southern Rhodesia to undergo training at specially established schools. Civilian-run American schools were also used to train British aircrew.

Through World War II, the RAF conducted operations on a global scale; however, its signal contribution came during the Battle of Britain. The RAF started targeting German cities in March 1940. It strategically targeted German industrial towns and damaged infrastructure. The aerial bombing of Germany by the Royal Air Force lasted for the rest of the war. At the end of the North African campaign, the RAF Desert Air Force shifted its activities to the Allied operation in Italy. The RAF played a critical role in the successful Allied operation in Normandy.

The German aerial bombardment started on July 10, 1940, with the Luftwaffe attempting to empty the English Channel of British fleets. They were partly successful in this because their aircraft flew low, and the British radar installations could not detect them. On August 8, the Germans increased their assaults on British fighter airbases in southern Britain, and by August’s conclusion, night raids were being conducted across the country. On August 25, the Germans bombarded London inadvertently, and the British immediately responded with a symbolic assault on Berlin.

The RAF During the Cold War

The RAF was substantially restructured after World War II triumph, as technical improvements in air combat resulted in the introduction of jet aircraft. The RAF’s first significant Cold War activity was in 1948 and 1949 when it aided the Berlin Airlift, Operation Plainfare.

Although, during the Korean War, the UK did not station any RAF units in Korea, numerous RAF pilots saw combat while on exchange with the US Air Force, mostly flying F-86 Sabres. They were given credit for seven kills. RAF pilots also flew Meteors on ground support missions with Royal Australian Air Force units. Army Cooperation aircraft conducted two flights supporting artillery detection and surveillance. Additionally, two RAF flying boat squadrons were located in Japan and conducted maritime surveillance.

Before the development of British nuclear weapons, the RAF was supplied with nuclear weapons from America. Following the development of Britain’s nuclear weapons, the RAF’s V bomber squadrons had exclusive responsibility for implementing the UK’s nuclear deterrent until the Royal Navy’s Polaris submarines were built. Following Polaris’s launch in 1968, the RAF’s strategic nuclear mission was limited to a tactical one, using WE.177 gravity bombs. V bombers retained this tactical function throughout the 1980s and Tornado GR1s until 1998.

The RAF’s principal mission during the Cold War was to defend Western Europe from possible Soviet Union invasion, with numerous squadrons located in West Germany.

Primary Airfields of the RAF

Here’s a list of the six principal air force stations of the RAF in the United Kingdom –

  1. RAF Scampton – As the location of the No. 1 Air Control Centre, RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire is critical to the safeguarding of UK airspace. Additionally, it houses the Royal Air Force’s Mobile Meteorological Unit and the world-renowned Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team (The Red Arrows). RAF Scampton employs 600 people, including military members, engineers, and civilian workers.
  • RAF Wittering – RAF Wittering, situated in the counties of Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, is the primary operating facility and head office for the RAF A4 Force and a major training facility for aviation. The A4 Force provides critical technological and logistical support to the Royal Air Force’s worldwide undertakings. Exercises, ranging from bomb disposal to food, aircraft maintenance to ground support The A4 Force provides critical technological and logistical support to the Royal Air Force’s worldwide undertakings and exercises, ranging from bomb disposal to food, aircraft maintenance to ground support.
  • RAF Waddington – RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire is among the RAF’s busiest stations, serving as the center for the United Kingdom’s intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) operations and the primary operational base for surveillance airplanes and equipment. Air ISTAR serves as the RAF’s sensory organs in the sky, providing important information to British and NATO commanders concerning activities on land, in the skies, and water. The Air Warfare Centre at RAF Waddington provides complete and timely mission assistance to officers at the front lines. 
  • RAF Shawbury – RAF Shawbury in Shropshire educates around 1,000 students annually across the United Kingdom’s Armed Services and overseas allies to be strong, adaptive defense professionals who are professionally unmatched. The Royal Navy, the British Army, and the Royal Air Force use the No. 1 Flying Training School (1 FTS) to train aircrew. Originally known as the Defense Helicopter Flying School, the school was renamed 1 FTS in a ceremonial ceremony on February 28, 2020, by Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston KCB CBE ADC. The Central Flying School (Helicopter) trains the nation’s future helicopter instructors.
  • RAF Northolt – RAF Northolt is an armed service and civil airfield in west London that houses units from the army, navy, airforce, and the Defense ministry. RAF Northolt has a significant royal role since the Station is home to both 32 (The Royal) Squadron and 63 Squadron RAF Regiment (Queen’s Colour Squadron). RAF Northolt employs around 2,000 military members, civilian staff, and subcontractors.
  • RAF Honington – RAF Honington is located in Suffolk and is home to RAF Force Protection, responsible for the RAF’s protection both at home and overseas. The Station provides basic and advanced training for the RAF Regiment, as well as specialty training for the overall RAF Force Protection capabilities. RAF Honington is the base for three frontline RAF Regiment field squadrons and various operational and specialized units, including a specialized RAF Police Wing and an RAF Regiment unit tasked with fighting chemical, biological, and radioactive threats. At RAF Honington, around 1,500 service people, civil officials, and contractors are employed.

Number of Personnel

The Royal Air Force has around 31,000 officers and approximately 130,000 personnel who serve in other capacities. Almost 25% of the personnel in the RAF is of the officer cadre.

Flying Experiences

AirExperiences offers an incredible opportunity to fly over an RAF airbase in Oxfordshire. The RAF Aerial Tour covers RAF Fairford, Brize Norton, or RAF Benson and provides a panoramic view with vistas that demand to be photographed.

Air Experiences is a premier source for booking tickets for all types of flying experiences in the United Kingdom. Check out the best deals that make an excellent gifting experience and an opportunity for a memorable day’s outing with the family.