RAF Centennial Celebration
by A. Kevin Grantham
The United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force (RAF) kicked off its centennial celebration in the Washington, DC area on Sunday, April 15, 2018. The National Air and Space Museum (NASM), Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, located in Chantilly, Virginia, hosted the event which featured hundreds of smartly dressed Royal Air Force personnel, historical artifacts and informative lectures, and, of course, some very nice British aeroplanes.
The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is uniquely situated on the grounds of Dulles International Airport, making it an ideal location to host live aviation events. Planning for the celebration began several weeks back as an impressive lineup of attending aircraft began to take shape with the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum’s Avro Lancaster and at least seven Spitfires booked to attend. Unfortunately, mechanical issues and a strong cold front pushing east kept many of the warbird owners from bringing their airplanes to the celebration. The Collings Foundation’s Spitfire was the last to cancel, but Rob Collings and his family flew down from Massachusetts to support the event anyway.
The first aircraft to arrive was a Boeing P-8 Poseidon, operated by a British Royal Air Force crew. The Lancaster was next, along with a PT-17 Stearman biplane, piloted by Heather Penny, and Tim Trimble’s P-26. John Sessions’ B-25, named Grumpy after the Snow White character, managed to navigate through the cold front and arrived at Dulles Airport late Saturday evening. It took Richard Wilsher two days and nights to fly his de Havilland Chipmunk across the country as well, but by Sunday morning, all of the aircraft were on display.
The museum opened at eight o’clock. NASM volunteers, along with men and women from the RAF, greeted the visitors with small British flags, informational flyers, and all sorts of event swag. Noted historians and official participants held lectures around the museum highlighting 100 years of RAF history. The lines to tour the display aircraft on the ramp outside the museum stretched a good distance. Crew members from each aircraft were on hand to answer spectator questions and to hand out information cards. One group of reenactors also brought an RAF Jeep and Hillman Staff Car to help enhance the historic nature of the event. Children and adults alike were fascinated by the Hillman’s right hand steering column. Inside the museum, the Royal Air Force Band entertained the public with choreographed marches and British aviation movie scores from films like The Magnificent Men and Their Flying Machines, 633 Squadron and The Battle of Britain. Also, the Queen’s Colour Squadron demonstrated precision marching drills at various times during the day.
Veteran World War II pilot Flight Lieutenant (Flt.Lt.) Richard E. Boyd (retired) DFC closed the event. Flt.Lt. Boyd flew the Lancaster bomber during the war and related some of his interesting experiences during that time. He flew 33 missions (11 in the day and 22 at night) in the course of his wartime career. He described the reliability of the Avro bomber and its 22,000 pound bomb capacity. The duration of most of his missions was 4 to 6 hours, with the exception of the flight to bomb Dresden, Germany. “On that mission,” said Boyd, “we could only carry about a 4,000 pound bomb load. We needed the extra weight for fuel as the mission was 8 to 9 hours long.” Flt.Lt. Boyd flew 33 missions without a casualty. “Well, I did have one,” recalled Boyd. “On one mission, my radio operator needed to go to the toilet. I had a rule about knowing where my crew members were at all times. So, my radio operator was required to plug his headset when he got to the toilet. He reported in, and all seemed OK until we heard screaming over the interphone. The toilet in the Lancaster has a metal seat, and at 12,500 feet it is frozen. When the radio operator sat down, he became stuck. The resolution was—he had to sit until the seat warmed enough to release his skin leaving behind a telltale mark of the incident!”
The RAF Centennial Celebration was a resounding success, despite the small number of flyable airplanes on display. It was evident throughout the event that both the RAF and NASM staff members followed the World War II slogan Keep Calm and Carry On.
The author would like to express his sincere thanks to Pat Robinson, David Schwartz, and the entire NASM staff for making this article possible.
A gallery showing the aircraft during their arrival at the Great British Fly-in on the much sunnier Saturday afternoon…
A gallery showing images from the Great British Fly-in…
WarbirdsNews wishes to express our thanks to Kevin Grantham for his excellent report and images, and also to NASM’s Pat Robinson and Dave Schwartz who facilitated our great access to the event.