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London's Naval inspection was aboard HMS Illustrious for the Fly Navy 100 flypast over London.


The mass of helicopters approaches HMS Illustrious under threatening skies. Key - Gary Parsons

The Royal Navy’s ‘Fly Navy 100’ flypast over London on May 7 was hampered by grey skies and a passing shower just as the formation passed over HMS Illustrious docked at Greenwich, but still managed to impress Londoners across the breadth of the city as well as assembled media, veterans and service personnel on board.

The centenary of naval aviation marks the decision by the Admiralty on May 7, 1909 to order the Navy’s first aircraft; His Majesty’s ‘Air Ship 1’ from the firm Vickers, Sons and Maxim. Although HMAS 1 was constructed by 1910, it never flew as it was damaged in a storm before any flight could be made – by then it was clear that aircraft had more potential, so repairs were abandoned.

Today flying from ships at sea is still the core business of the Fleet Air Arm and the Commanding Officer of HMS Illustrious, Captain Ben Key, said “It is an honour for HMS Illustrious to be the focus of such a historic occasion. Carrier aviation, particularly Carrier Strike, is not only the backbone of the Fleet; it is the backbone of our national security and wider defence policy.”

At midday the flypast formation passed overhead – first the rotary wing element, consisting of 17 helicopters ranging from the elderly Sea King to the modern Merlin, all operating from RAF Northolt for the day. Following a minute later were four Jetstream T2s from 750 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) at Culdrose, possibly in their last year so service, and completing the flypast were four Hawks from Yeovilton’s Naval Flying Standards Flight (Fixed Wing), at a height of 1,500 feet due to the stringent safety requirements of operating single-engined aircraft over the capital. Harriers did not take part due to the aeroplane’s brick-like gliding ability in the event of engine failure.

Addressing the service personnel was Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope KCB OBE, Commander-in-Chief Fleet: “The Fleet Air Arm is contributing directly to UK defence commitments worldwide, delivering operational capability on all fronts. Over 80% of our squadrons are currently deployed – in Afghanistan, the Arabian Gulf, and Gulf Of Oman, the Far East, the Caribbean and the North and South Atlantic. The Fleet Air Arm has never been in greater demand proving its utility and versatility in land operations as well as at sea.”

Among the distinguished guests was His Royal Highness, the Duke of York. Commodore in Chief of the Fleet Air Arm, the Duke is a distinguished naval pilot who saw active service in the Falklands conflict of 1982.

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