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Over the ThamesSalute 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.

Jaguars with the fourth elementLed 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.

Grey skies and grey aeroplanes!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."

Anatomy of a flypast (click on each element for pictures from the rehearsal)
A hitchhiker's guide to the route
C-17A Globemaster III ZZ174 99 Sqn c/s WINDSOR LEAD
TriStar KC1 ZD950 216 Sqn c/s FAGAN
Tornado GR4s ZA564/DK & ZA547/DC 31 Sqn c/s ROCKET
Sentry AEW1 ZH102/02 8/23 Sqn c/s SENTRY
Tornado F3s ZE965/WT & ZE256/TP 56(R) Sqn c/s WARLORD
VC10 C1K XV109 10 Sqn c/s MADRAS
Jaguar GR3s XZ391/EB & XX116/EO 6 Sqn c/s BOXER
Nimrod MR2 XV241/41 KSW c/s NIMROD
Canberra PR9s XH134 & XH135 39(PR) Sqn c/s BENGAL
BAe.146 CC2 ZE700 32(TR) Sqn c/s CLARET 1
BAe.125 CC3s ZD620 & ZD704 32(TR) Sqn c/s CLARET 2
Typhoon ZH588(DA2) BAe Systems c/s OCTANE
Concorde G-BOAD British Airways c/s CONCORDE AD
Hawk T1s XX266, XX253, XX233, XX308, XX264, XX306, XX292, XX294, XX179 Red Arrows
Airspares were Tornado GR4 ZA553/DI 31 Sqn c/s ROCKET 3, Tornado F3 ZH556/OT 56(R) Sqn c/s WARLORD 3 & Jaguar GR3 XZ103/FP 41 Sqn c/s BOXER 3. VC10 K3 ZA 147 101 Sqn c/s LION 21 was the refueller on duty.
With thanks to all at mil-spotters for the info!

As someone who has lived and worked in Suffolk and Essex, it was a strange experience to travel along a well-trodden path from Southwold to the Mall at 1,500 feet and some 300 knots plus. At such speed the small size of our country is compounded - just fourteen minutes from crossing the coast north of Dunwich to overhead Buckingham Palace, a journey that would take the best part of two and a half hours by car.

Known landmarks sped past at an alarming rate, and sitting facing backwards left one unprepared for what approached next - just as one feature was recognised, and the next imagined, than it was past and gone! If only I could have travelled along the A12 as fast in my days of commuting...
Here are some milestones on the way, see if you can see yourself waving back!

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.


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