Encyclopedia  |   World Factbook  |   World Flags  |   Reference Tables  |   List of Lists     
   Academic Disciplines  |   Historical Timeline  |   Themed Timelines  |   Biographies  |   How-Tos     
Sponsor by The Tattoo Collection
Royal Air Force
Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Royal Air Force

The Royal Air Force (often abbreviated to RAF) is the air force of the United Kingdom.

Table of contents
1 History of the RAF
2 Current RAF Aircraft
3 Future aircraft
4 RAF on the Ground
5 See also
6 External links
7 Other Nations

History of the RAF

The Royal Flying Corps was formed by Royal Warrant on May 13, 1912 superseding the Air Battalion of the Royal Engineers. The Royal Naval Air Service was formed shortly after the outbreak of World War I. Both services saw heavy action during the war. The two services were amalgamated on April 1, 1918 to form the Royal Air Force under the supervision of the Air Ministry, becoming the world's first independent air force.

Between the World Wars the RAF was responsible for mail and armed forces services, but saw little military action. It was, however, used as an aerial police force to patrol the British Empire's borders. Of particular note was 1928's air evacuation of civilians from Afghanistan, the first operation of its kind. This period also saw the formation of the major flying schools that still provide its service personnel.

An important event during that time period was a reorganisation of the RAF's major commands. In 1936, the familiar Coastal Command, Fighter Command and Bomber Command were formed from the RAF's home squadrons. This mission-based organisation was unique at the time, and was to stand the RAF in good stead. In 1937 the Naval Air Branch was returned to the Royal Navy, and was soon renamed the Fleet Air Arm.

A defining period of the RAF's existence came during the Battle of Britain. Over the summer of 1940 the RAF held off the Luftwaffe in perhaps the most prolonged and complicated air campaign in history. This contributed immensely to the delay and cancellation of Germany's planned invasion of England (Operation Sea Lion) and helped to turn the tide of World War II. (See also British military history of World War II.)

The largest RAF effort during the war was the strategic bombing campaign against Germany. From May 31 1942 RAF Bomber Command was able to mount large scale night raids involving up to 1000 aircraft, many of which were the new heavy four-engined bombers. There exists considerable historical controversy about the ethics of such large attacks against German cities during the last few months of the war (see Bombing of Dresden in World War II).

The RAF did not have a prominent role in the Korean War, with only a few flying boats taking part. However, the Suez Crisis in 1956 saw a large RAF role, with aircraft mainly flying from Cyprus and Malta. The Konfrontasi against Indonesia in the early 1960s did see use of RAF aircraft, but due to a combination of deft diplomacy and selective ignoring of certain events by both sides, it never developed into a full scale war.

In 1968 the RAF experienced its largest change in administrative structure since 1936 when Fighter Command, Bomber Command and Coastal Command were combined into the new Strike Command which exists today.

The end of the RAF presence in the east of Asia came in 1971 when the Far East Air Force was disbanded on October 31.

The next large conflict involving the RAF was the Falklands War in 1982. Its most high profile missions in this conflict were the famous Black Buck raids using Avro Vulcans flying from Ascension Island. However, the service did many other things during the conflict, with its helicopters in the Falklands themselves, its Harrier GR3s flying from HMS Hermes, its fighter aircraft protecting Ascension, maritime patrol aircraft scanning the South Atlantic, and tanker and transport fleet helping in the enormous logistical effort required for the war.

In 1991 over 100 RAF aircraft took part in the Gulf War, in virtually every conceivable role. It marked an important turning point in the RAF's history as it was the first time the service had used precision guided munitions in significant amounts. It was initially thought that the RAF would not need to use them, as most of its bombing missions would be at low level. After heavy losses, bombing was switched to medium level, and the venerable Blackburn Buccaneer was rushed to the theatre to provide laser designation for the RAF's Tornados.

The end of the decade saw the much smaller Kosovo War in 1999, which confirmed the shift towards precision guided munitions. The Kosovo conflict was remarkable in that it was the first time a war of such size had been fought with no loss of life on one side. Although smaller than the Gulf War, it was still a medium sized war.

In the 21st century the RAF is trying to keep up with the technological lead of the United States Air Force. Two conflicts have been fought so far, with the RAF taking very much a supporting role in the 2001 conquest of Afghanistan, but centre stage in the 2003 Gulf War II. The latter conflict again saw over 100 fixed wing aircraft deployed, with all weapon firing aircraft capable of dropping smart munitions for the first time.

Provided adequate funding is provided for the RAF over upcoming years it should continue to be one of the most potent air forces in the world. It has a proud record and heritage, and it has powerful aircraft coming on stream in the near future.

Current RAF Aircraft

Many types of aircraft currently serve with the RAF, although there is less variety in the order of battle of the organisation than in previous decades due to the increasing cost of military systems. The types currently in the RAF inventory are:

Future aircraft

This list includes aircraft soon to be deployed or in development for the RAF.

The codes for what an aircraft does are relatively straightforward, and often similar to the equivalent American ones. The letters after the main alphanumeric code identify minor variants of a particular aircraft. For example, Tornado GR4A's are ground attack aircraft with a tactical reconnaissance capability, whilst Tornado GR4's are purely ground attack aircraft.

For historical aircraft see List of aircraft of the RAF.

RAF on the Ground

The RAF Regiment was created during World War II to defend RAF airfields from attack. They operate surface-to-air missiles to defend against air attack, and have infantry and light armoured units to protect against ground attack.

In the early days, machine guns were potent enough to severely damage most aircraft. As more advanced aircraft were able to fly higher, they could only be shot down through the use of high-powered anti-aircraft artillery. With the advent of supersonic aircraft, guided surface-to-air missiles were needed. These are either heat-seeking or radar guided.

Both types of guided missile may be "spoofed" or "decoyed" away from the target aircraft. Radar guided missiles are spoofed by chaff, which is a small "cloud" of short strips of metal which produce false radar returns. Heat-seeking missiles are spoofed by flares, which are produce false heat sources.

Modern military aircraft carry both systems, and also warning receivers that inform the pilot if the aircraft is "locked on" by a radar, or targeted by a heat seeking missile. The RAF developed the Rapier missile system, comparable to the American Patriot system. Missiles are automatically launched by a ground control system that can recognize, prioritise and target up to 80 aircraft at once.

See also

List of Aircraft | Aircraft Manufacturers | Aircraft Engines | Aircraft Engine Manufacturers
Airlines | Air Forces | Aircraft Weapons | Missiles | Years in Aviation

External links

Other Nations

There are also the RAAF (Australian) and RNZAF (New Zealand). Before 1968, there was also an RCAF (Canadian), which disappeared when it was amalgamated with the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and Canadian Army to form initially the Canadian Armed Forces, then the Canadian Forces (CF).