The Queen has praised the Royal Air Force for its “tenacity, skill and gallantry” as she was joined by senior members of the royal family at the centrepiece of events marking the force’s 100th year.
Standing in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace as she presented the Queen’s Colour to the RAF, she spoke of the “remarkable contribution to defence” over the last 100 years.
A vast array of more than 100 RAF aircraft roared and thundered across the skies of London as the Queen and members of the royal family watched the biggest display of military aircraft in recent memory from the palace balcony.
In their biggest ever formation, 22 Typhoon jets spelt out the number “100” in the sky – an added surprise for the royals, personnel and the throngs of public spectators who had packed out the streets to watch.
The Queen spoke proudly not only as the RAF’s Air Commodore-in-Chief, but also as a citizen who remembered the Battle of Britain, and as a daughter whose father King George VI served with the RAF.
She said: “Presenting the Royal Air Force with a new Queen’s Colour provides an opportunity to congratulate the service for your remarkable contribution to defence over the last 100 years.
“Tenacity, skill and gallantry have been your hallmarks as you helped safeguard freedom and security in many parts of the world.
“I remember the Battle of Britain being fought over the skies above us and we shall never forget the courage and sacrifice of that time.”
She also took the Royal Salute at the ceremony as her relatives including the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke of Cambridge plus the Duke and Duchess of Sussex watched nearby.
It was 100 years ago on April 1 1918 that the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service merged to create the RAF – the world’s first independent air service.
At just after 1pm on Tuesday, Puma and Chinook helicopters began the spectacle, followed by aircraft including a Lancaster, Spitfires, Hurricanes, the A400M Atlas, Tornados and three F-35 stealth fighter jets.
Drawing the spectacle to a close was the Red Arrows, who in traditional aerobatic style, streamed red, white and blue smoke down the length of the Mall.
The Queen recalled how her father was the first member of her family to qualify as an RAF pilot and served alongside the service’s founder Lord Trenchard.
Beginning the special day of events, members of the royal family including the Queen, the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex attended a service at Westminster Abbey.
And despite still being on maternity leave, after giving birth to Prince Louis only 11 weeks ago, it is understood that Kate felt it was important to attend Tuesday’s celebrations.
More than 2,200 people packed Westminster Abbey for the service, with dignitaries including Prime Minister Theresa May, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn attending.
Charles, William and Harry all chose to wear No 1 RAF uniform to the abbey, with Kate wearing a Dacre Brooch – which was presented to her by the Air Cadets when she took on patronage in 2015.
She also wore a coat by Alexander McQueen, and a hat by Sean Barrett, with Meghan choosing to wear a dress by Dior and a hat by royal milliner Stephen Jones.
And in keeping with the traditional blue of the RAF, the Queen wore a royal blue silk coat with a turquoise collar and dress in the same colour, both by Angela Kelly, with a matching hat by Angela Kelly and a diamond star brooch.
The head of the RAF Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier told the Press Association: “It is a tremendous coming together of a whole range of RAF capabilities, and a celebration of the quality of our people, and it is that connection between the Royal Air Force and her Majesty the Queen.”