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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).

Air Force Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg
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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Red.arrows.single.arp.750pix.jpg
The Red Arrows, officially known as the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, is the aerobatics display team of the Royal Air Force. They were formed in late 1964 as an all-RAF team, replacing a number of unofficial teams that had been sponsored by various RAF commands.

Originally equipped with seven Folland Gnat trainers which were inherited from the RAF Yellowjacks display team, they flew at 65 shows across Europe during their first season. In 1966, the team was increased to nine members, enabling them to develop their Diamond Nine formation. In late 1979, they switched to the BAE Hawk trainer. The Red Arrows have now performed over 4,000 displays world-wide in 53 countries.

Such is the popularity of the Red Arrows that at a recent charity auction, a British woman paid £1,500,000 to fly with them.

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Supermarine Spitfire Mark XVI
Credit: Chris Howells

A Supermarine Spitfire Mark XVI. The Spitfire was an iconic British single-seat fighter used by the RAF and many Allied countries in the Second World War. The Spitfire saw service during the whole of WWII in all theatres of war, and in many different variants. It is often credited with winning the Battle of Britain.

Selected biography

Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup in 2010
Marshal of the Royal Air Force Graham Eric Stirrup, Baron Stirrup, KG, GCB, AFC, FRAeS, FCMI (born 4 December 1949), informally known as Jock Stirrup, was a senior Royal Air Force commander who was the Chief of the Defence Staff from 2006 until his retirement in late 2010. He is now a Crossbench member of the House of Lords. In April 2013, he was appointed a Knight of the Order of the Garter by Queen Elizabeth II.

As a junior RAF officer, Stirrup was a fast jet pilot, seeing action in the Dhofar War. Later in his career, he commanded No. 2 Squadron and RAF Marham. After several senior air force appointments, Stirrup was made the Deputy Commander-in-Chief of Strike Command and during this time he served as the first commander of British forces engaged in fighting the Taliban. In 2002, Stirrup was appointed the Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff responsible for equipment and capability and was heavily involved in procuring equipment for the invasion of Iraq. Spending a little over a year in that role, he was then appointed the Chief of the Air Staff, in which capacity he served from 2003 to 2006. He became Chief of the Defence Staff in 2006: during his time in office the British Armed Forces faced significant commitments both to Iraq (Operation Telic) and Afghanistan (Operation Herrick). Stirrup retired as Chief of the Defence Staff on 29 October 2010, taking a seat in the House of Lords in 2011.

Selected aircraft

Lockheed C-130 Hercules.jpg
The C-130 Hercules is a four-engine turboprop military transport aircraft built by Lockheed. It is the main tactical airlifter for many military forces worldwide with over 40 models and variants serving more than 50 nations. Capable of takeoffs and landings from unprepared runways, the C-130 was originally designed as a troop, medical evacuation, and cargo transport aircraft. The versatile airframe has found uses in a variety of other roles, including as a gunship, for airborne assault, search and rescue, scientific research support, weather reconnaissance, aerial refueling and aerial firefighting.

The Hercules family has the longest continuous production run of any military aircraft in history and in service with the Royal Air Force with squadrons based at a number of airbases including RAF Brize Norton.

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