The U.K.’s Royal Mail recently revealed a 10-stamp set marking the centenary of the Royal Air Force (RAF).
The iconic aircraft depicted span the RAF’s 100-year history and feature original artwork by renowned aviation artist Michael Turner. Featured on the stamps are the First World War-era Sopwith Camel F1; the Hurricane Mk 1 from the Battle of Britain; a Vulcan B2; the Lightning F6; the Nimrod MR2; and Typhoon FGR4. The Red Arrows also feature on four stamps displaying the aerobatic display team in full flight during four formations, including Flypast; Swan; Syncho; and Python.
“We are proud to salute the contribution of the RAF in peacetime and conflict with these spectacular new stamps,” said Royal Mail spokesperson Philip Parker.
On April 1, 1918, the union of the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps formed the world’s first independent air force, the RAF, which fought over the Western Front in direct support of ground forces. It played a major role in blunting the German spring 1918 offensive and in the Allies’ final counter-attacks, which led to the surrender of German forces in November 1918.
During the Second World War, the RAF played a decisive role defending the U.K., operating worldwide with increasing strength and providing support to the war at sea and on land. Victory in the Battle of Britain in 1940 was crucial to securing the country’s survival and preserving its ability to wage war alongside its allies. The strategic bomber campaign steadily eroded Germany’s will and capability to fight while the winning of the Battle of the Atlantic ensured the lifeline from the U.S. was maintained. The RAF also supported land forces in North Africa and Burma, which were critical to the Allies’ eventual success. The establishment of air superiority in the build-up to D-Day and direct support for the invasion of Normandy in June 1944 paved the way for the advance into Germany and final victory.
The RAF began the Second World War with around 3,550 aircraft, including biplanes and many obsolete models. Five years later, the service had 9,200 aircraft, many of which features advanced design such as the only jets to be operated by the Allied air forces. By the end of the war, there were 1,079,835 RAF, Dominion and Allied officers and airmen serving alongside 158,771 women, giving a total RAF strength of 1,238,606 (including 193,313 aircrew).
Throughout the post-war era, RAF transport aircraft have delivered humanitarian aid worldwide in the wake of natural disasters—be it famine, earthquake or hurricane. The RAF has seen many cultural changes and reorganizations in recent years, including the introduction of women in combat. It remains ready and able to operate around the world across the spectrum of air warfare.
Sopwith Camel F1
The Sopwith Camel was a single-seat biplane fighter that entered service on the Western Front in May 1917. By the end of the First World War, almost 5,500 units had been produced, and it had become the most successful Allied fighter, being credited with shooting down 1,294 enemy aircraft. The Camel was also used in the ground attack role. Powered by a single rotary engine, it was extremely manoeuvrable but difficult to handle for inexperienced pilots. It was flown by some of the most famous pilots, including Captain A.R. Brown of No. 209 Squadron, who was credited with shooting down Baron von Richthofen, the infamous “Red Baron.”
Hurricane Mk 1
The single-engine Hawker Hurricane powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine first flew in November 1935. It was to achieve immortal fame during the Battle of Britain, equipping 33 squadrons. It went on to serve as a fighter and a ground-attack aircraft in every theatre of war and with numerous air forces. It was capable of withstanding extensive battle damage. Hawker Hurricane PZ865 was the last of 14,533 Hurricanes built and named “The Last of the Many.” It now flies with the RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.
The English Electric P1 first flew on Aug. 4, 1954. Development of this prototype led to the Lightning F1, which entered operational squadron service as an all-weather interceptor capable of flying at twice the speed of sound (Mach 2) in July 1960. The Lightning equipped 10 squadrons in the U.K., Germany, Cyprus and Singapore. The final version—the F6—was powered by two Rolls-Royce Avon 310 engines with afterburner. Its spectacular rate of climb and supersonic speed allowed it to intercept aircraft at heights in excess of 15,000 kilometres, and the aircraft played a key part in policing U.K. airspace for two decades, frequently intercepting Soviet Air Force bombers.
The unique delta-wing Avro Vulcan was the second of the RAF’s V-bombers designed to carry a nuclear bomb. It first entered RAF service in 1957 with the more powerful Mk 2 following three years later, and eventually equipped nine squadrons. The force formed part of the U.K.’s independent nuclear deterrent until 1969, when the role was passed to the Royal Navy’s Polaris submarine fleet. Two squadrons served in Cyprus and were assigned to the Central Treaty Organization. As a conventional bomber, the Vulcan carried up to 21 450-kilogram bombs. The aircraft’s only operational missions took place during the Falklands War in May 1982, when the Black Buck raids were made against the airfield and radars at Stanley.
The RAF’s latest combat aircraft, the extremely agile single-seat, twin-engine Typhoon first entered squadron service in March 2007 and assumed responsibility for the U.K. Quick Reaction Alert in June 2007. It was initially operated in the air defence role, but the latest version, the FGR4, has a multi-role capability and has been deployed to the Middle East for operations over Libya, Iraq and Syria. The aircraft’s sophisticated electronics and suite of precision-guided weapons enables it to pinpoint targets with great accuracy. Typhoon squadrons continue to police U.K. airspace and in recent years have been deployed to Eastern Europe and the Baltic for NATO air defence operations.
The Hawker Siddeley Nimrod MR2 was modified from the de Havilland Comet 4 airliner. The long-range maritime patrol and anti-submarine Nimrod entered RAF service in 1969. Powered by four Rolls-Royce Spey engines, it had a cavernous bomb bay that could hold a variety of weapons and sensors. With its long range, it could operate well north of Iceland and to mid-Atlantic, and at an even longer range with air-to-air refuelling. Its crew of about 10 had a wide array of sophisticated sensors to track submarines and surface ships. Three aircraft were equipped with special electronic equipment for intelligence-gathering missions. Nimrods played a crucial role in recent conflicts in the Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan. The MR2 was withdrawn from service in 2010.
For more information or to place an order, visit royalmail.com/rafcentenary.