Royal Navy aviators and veterans, including Jock Moffat, the Swordfish pilot whose torpedo crippled the Bismark in World War Two, gathered today at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London to launch the One Hundredth Anniversary of Naval Aviation. The centenary year will be marked by a panoply of colourful events and activities throughout the UK.
The anniversary marks the Admiralty's far-sighted and visionary decision on 7 May 1909 to order the first airship, HMS Airship 1, and embark on a development programme for military aviation. Consequently, when, five years later, World War One broke out, the Royal Navy was not only prepared but in the vanguard. It was the Royal Navy who carried out the first strategic bombing from the air, the first air to air kill, the first sinking of a ship using a torpedo from the air and the first use of aircraft in a sea battle. The Fleet Air Arm, as these brave pioneers became known, went on to perform with valour and distinction including actions such as the Taranto Raid, the Channel Dash, involvement in the sinking of the Bismarck and more recently the Falklands Conflict, Gulf Wars and Afghanistan. The Fleet Air Arm has won 4 VCs during its history, the first being awarded to Lt Warneford in 1915 for downing a German Airship.
The focus of the anniversary is about acknowledging the direct and valuable contribution being made by the Royal Navy and Fleet Air Arm to UK Defence commitments worldwide. The vital role of the Fleet Air Arm today was acknowledged by the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Jonathon Band who said:
"The Harrier Jets of the Naval Strike Wing have just returned from Afghanistan where they were providing vital close air support to our troops, including the Royal Marines of 3 Commando Brigade. Sea King and Lynx helicopters from three Naval Air Squadrons are also out there, having moved across from operations in Iraq where they had been since day one of the war. Eighty per cent of our front-line squadrons are deployed on operations around the world demonstrating the flexibility, adaptability and professionalism that has become the hallmark of the Fleet Air Arm."
Looking to the future, Sir Jonathon said:
"We face an increasingly unstable world, and at the very heart of our national defence policy lies the requirement to respond to threats to our national security by dealing with them where and when they occur. This need for expeditionary capability is at the very core of what the Royal Navy is all about and the Fleet Air Arm is now, and will continue to be, a key element".
"The two new aircraft carriers, the largest and most potent warships ever procured for the UK, herald an exciting future for Defence. Their requirement is testimony to the enduring capability of carrier aviation. Each carrier offers the UK 4 acres of mobile sovereign air base able to provide airpower worldwide for all types of operations from conflict to humanitarian evacuation, vital when access, basing options and over flight cannot be assured. It is particularly fitting that the first cutting of steel for HMS Queen Elizabeth will be taking place during the Centenary year of Naval aviation."
Minister for Defence Equipment and Support, Quentin Davies MP, said:
"The Fleet Air Arm has made and continues to make a tremendous contribution to defence and I look forward to witnessing further achievements in this their hundredth year. We are opening a new chapter in this venture with the new aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince Of Wales. Together with their embarked squadrons of Joint Combat Aircraft, the carriers will represent a formidable force for deterrence or if necessary for intervention wherever and whenever necessary around the globe".
The highlight of the anniversary events will be on 7 May 09 at Greenwich, London with a fly past of historic and current Fleet Air Arm aircraft over the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious. A service of thanksgiving at St Paul's Cathedral on 8 May 2009 will formally recognise and pay tribute to the sacrifices made during the history of the Royal Naval Air Service and the Fleet Air Arm. In October, HMS Illustrious will visit the port of Liverpool, where another flypast will take place and in November the Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall will carry 100 years of Naval aviation as its theme. Ceremonial aside, this year the Fleet Air Arm will continue its active involvement in frontline operations in Afghanistan and the Middle East as well as participating in a major multinational military exercise, as part of the TAURUS 09 Amphibious Task Group deployment.
The Fleet Air Arm is an integral part of the Royal Navy operating over 200 fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters which make up over a third of the UK's military aviation capability. At a high state of readiness, Royal Navy fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters give the Navy the ability to respond quickly and with flexibility to protect UK interests, regardless of access, basing or over-flight limitations, almost anywhere in the world. Closer to home, Search and Rescue helicopters based in UK respond to calls 24/7, 365 days of the year - in 2008 alone, they responded to over 500 callouts and assisted in the rescue of over 500 people.
Historic connections with the Navy's air arm were represented at the press conference by veterans from previous conflicts where the Fleet Air Arm had proved decisive. 'Jock' Moffat, the Swordfish pilot whose torpedo crippled the Bismarck in World War Two and Dave Morgan, the Harrier pilot from the Falklands War, were among the pilots present who had served with distinction.