Salute fit for a Queen
Gary Parsons reports from overhead 'Buck House'
On 4 June, at 18:25 local time, above perhaps a million people packed onto the Mall, a formation of twenty-seven aircraft, which started with the C-17 and ended with Concorde and the Red Arrows, was the largest to fly across London since the end of the Gulf War in 1991 and was the biggest seen in the UK since the D-Day celebrations of 1995. The flight featured each of the main aircraft in service with the RAF, excepting the Harrier.
Led by Wing Commander Malcolm Brecht of 99 Squadron, it was a change from his normal duties - leading the fly-past of twenty-seven aircraft to mark the end of the Queen's Golden Jubilee celebrations was a stark contrast to his usual role flying supplies to Afghanistan. The formation was a logistical challenge different from Brecht's worries of flying into Kabul and Bagram. He had to plan how to get all aircraft over London at 1,500ft and pass over Buckingham Palace at the required time. "The formation flying is not the big issue, but getting a fourteen-mile trail of aircraft together is," said Brecht, who commands 99 Squadron, based at RAF Brize Norton. He last flew supplies - anything from Land Rovers to food - to Afghanistan this month, while co-pilot Squadron Leader Keith Hewitt returned on Sunday. Leading the flight was a return to royal duties for Brecht who began his RAF career flying one of the Queen's personal aircraft in the Royal Flight.
The formation, with each element spaced at two-mile intervals, took three minutes and twenty seconds to cross the Palace. Half an hour beyond the original time due to the parades and festivities running late, the lead formation was over the Mall at 18:25 local, the delay requiring some of the aircraft to refuel prior to the run-in from Southwold at 18:07. With thirty seconds between each formation, ensuring the correct position from the initial point was paramount. Dark skies and low cloud out to the east threatened to spoil the formation but a holding pattern inland instead of out to sea found enough cloudbase - it certainly gave the residents of East Suffolk a few laps extra!
After the flight, life will return to normal for Brecht and his colleagues. "I've got a couple of days with my family, and then I'll be flying back to Afghanistan."
Footnote from the initial point by Dave Eade
It is about 17:00 in the sea-front car-park at Southwold, Suffolk. The cloud is getting lower and, with each orbit completed, the RAF Jubilee flypast gets harder to see. Delayed by over-running events in the Mall, 17:45 passes and still there is no sign of the complete flypast. Suddenly, lights on, out of the gloom appears the majestic form of the C-17. Surely this must be the last pass. The rain is now more than a drizzle, but the flypast now includes that oh-so-rare sight - a flying Typhoon and yes, there they are - Concorde flanked by eight of the Reds with one "in the box" - and do you know what? The whole car-park of maybe four hundred car occupants bursts into totally spontaneous applause. Joe Public still holds the Reds and Concorde in a very special place in their hearts and, just sometimes, it's b****y great to be British.