Portal:Royal Air Force

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The Royal Air Force (RAF) is the air arm of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918 the RAF has taken a significant role in British military history ever since, playing a large part in World War II and in more recent conflicts. The RAF operates almost 1,100 aircraft and has a projected trained strength of over 40,000 regular personnel. The majority of the RAF's aircraft and personnel are based in the United Kingdom with many others serving on operations (principally Iraq, Afghanistan, Middle East, Balkans, and South Atlantic) or at long-established overseas bases (notably the Falkland Islands, Qatar, Germany, Cyprus, and Gibraltar).

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The RAF's mission is to support the objectives of the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) and to provide "An agile, adaptable and capable Air Force that, person for person, is second to none, and that makes a decisive air power contribution in support of the UK Defence Mission."

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RAF Bomber Command was the organisation that controlled the RAF's bomber forces from 1936 to 1968. During World War II, the command destroyed a significant proportion of Nazi Germany's industries and many German cities, and in the 1960s, was at the peak of its postwar power with the V bombers and a supplemental force of Canberra light bombers. RAF Bomber Command had 19 Victoria Cross winners, and in August 2006, a memorial was unveiled at Lincoln Cathedral.

One of the most controversial aspects of Bomber Command during World War II was the area bombing of cities. Until 1942 navigational technology did not allow for any more precise targeting than at best a district of a town or city by night bombing. All large German cities contained important industrial districts and so were considered legitimate targets by the Allies. Thus the attacks of the British Bomber Command were at times targeting highly populated city centres. The single most destructive raids in terms of absolute casualties were those on Hamburg (45,000 dead) in 1943 and Dresden (25,000–35,000 dead) in 1945. Each caused a firestorm and left tens of thousands dead.

In the postwar period, the RAF slowly declined in strength, and by the mid-1960s, it was clear that the home command structure needed rationalisation. To that end, Fighter Command and Bomber Command were merged in 1968 to form Strike Command.

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Boeing E3-D Sentry at take off
Credit: Adrian Pingstone

Boeing E3-D Sentry AEW1 (ZH101) of the RAF takes off from the Royal International Air Tattoo, RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire, England.

Selected biography

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Wing Commander Guy Gibson VC, DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar, RAF (12 August 1918 – 19 September 1944), was the first CO of the RAF's 617 Squadron, which he led in the "Dam Busters" raid (Operation Chastise), in 1943, resulting in the destruction of two large dams in the Ruhr area. He was killed later in the war.

In 1943 he was selected to command the new 617 Squadron asked to destroy dams in the Ruhr area. To accomplish this they were provided with the bouncing bomb designed and developed by Barnes Wallis. On the night of 16 May 1943, Gibson led 19 Lancasters carrying one bomb each into the Ruhr Valley. It took five attempts to breach the Moehne Dam before Gibson led the three remaining Lancasters to attack and breach the Eder Dam. Two other dams were attacked but not breached. After the Dams raid, Gibson was awarded the Victoria Cross in recognition not just of the raid, but his leadership and valour demonstrated as master bomber on many previous sorties.

Gibson was sent on a publicity tour of America after completing 174 missions over Germany but returned to operational duties in 1944, after pestering Bomber Command, and was killed along with his navigator Sqn Ldr Jim Warwick, on a bombing raid on Rheydt (a borough of Mönchengladbach) operating as a Pathfinder Master Bomber based at RAF Hemswell, when his de Havilland Mosquito crashed near Steenbergen, the Netherlands, on 19 September 1944. He was 26 years old.

Selected aircraft

Airbus A400M Rollout.JPG
The Airbus A400M is a four-engine turboprop aircraft, designed by EADS (Airbus Military) to meet the demand of European nations for military airlift.

The project began as the Future International Military Airlifter (FIMA) group, set up in 1982 by Aerospatiale, British Aerospace, Lockheed and MBB to develop a replacement for the C-130 Hercules and C-160 Transall. Varying requirements and the complications of international politics caused slow progress. In 1989 Lockheed left the grouping and went on to develop a second generation Hercules, the C-130J. With the addition of Alenia and CASA the FIMA group became Euroflag.

Following the revision of procurement totals the revised total requirement was for 180 aircraft, with first flight in 2008 and first delivery in 2009. The Royal Air Force have a preliminary order of 25 aircraft to be delivered in 2010.

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