Royal Air Force Halton “Centenary Of Flight” Families’ Day 2013

The RAF Halton Families’ Day was held on the 15th June 2013; it also celebrated the 100th anniversary of flying on the Halton Estate.

This first encounter was with aircraft from the Royal Flying Corps (RFC later to amalgamate to become the RAF) in 1913. With a long tradition and fine reputation as a training unit, how appropriate it was that the first landing by 3 Squadron RFC aircraft at RAF Halton should be done during a training exercise — the British Army manoeuvres of 1913. At the 2013 Families’ Day we were honoured to have a Bleriot mono-plane on the ground of the same type used by 3 Squadron RFC in 1913 and it was joined by a fly-past of its most modern aircraft, that of 2 Typhoons of 3 (Fighter) Squadron within the Queen’s Birthday Flypast that flew overhead. The Trenchard Museum and Trenches stands helped to tell our story; the estate was lent to Lord Kitchener in 1914 for the preparation of infantry for the new volunteer army, his ‘First Hundred Thousand’, the emphasis then moved to aircraft maintenance in 1916 and, by the end of World War I, there were some 10,000 men, women and boys under training here at Halton.

A replica machine gun post, similar to that used in World War I, was set up to show how this training might have looked almost 100 years ago. After World War I, with the formation of the RAF, a school was built at the newly named RAF Halton for Lord Trenchard’s apprentices, commonly known as ‘Trenchard’s Brats’, and some 50,000 of them trained here in 155 entries from 1920 to 1993, augmented by vast numbers of other trainees on shorter courses, especially during World War II. Today such basic training continues at RAF Halton as the home of recruit and non-technical ground training.  Personnel from Recruit Training Squadron (RTS) were on hand to help all day with traffic marshalling, guarding and displaying the quality of their training and work.

Interesting stories of RAF Halton’s past are prevalent throughout the 100 years. The origins of recreational light aviation and gliding are rooted at RAF Halton; Halton Aero Club has been in existence since 1925 and gliding began at RAF Halton in 1930 – both Halton Aero Club and the RAF Gliding and Soaring Association produced displays of modern and older aircraft types for visitors to see. 613 Volunteer Gliding Squadron (613 VGS) and Halton Microlight Club also provided static-displays of their current aircraft. A large banner depicting milestones of RAF Halton’s airfield was displayed in 2 locations showing landings on the grass by no less than 3 AVRO Vulcan bombers and 2 De-Havilland Comet airliners, the first ever operational rotary wing squadron during World War 2 and various aircraft types at the airfield during its long history. This showed the visitors that RAF Halton has a connection to all of the main advances in aviation over the past century and is set to continue for some time to come. On average, in 2013 there are some 16,000 aircraft movements each year at this active military airfield. Activities include teaching Service personnel, Air Cadets and Civil Servants to fly in gliders and powered aircraft, plus also the provision of “Battleback” flights to Service personnel injured on duty as part of their rehabilitation.

Personnel and their families at the RAF Halton Families’ Day enjoyed the Queen’s Birthday Fly Past showcasing all of the modern RAF front-line fleet plus flypasts by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster and the Red Arrows in their red Hawk jet aircraft. On top of this, despite deteriorating weather, a Jet Provost Mk5 flew a terrific display – there used to be ~24 Jet Provosts based at RAF Halton for technician training. A very rare Miles Hawk Speed Six did a spirited display to re-enact the spirit of the 1930s at RAF Halton. A pair of Vans RV-8 aerobatic aircraft flew a terrific display with trailing smoke to represent a modern take on aviation. Finally a military marked Tiger Moth flew a magnificent display to the accompaniment of the Military Wives’ Chior just as the clouds opened and let the best weather of the day shine through – as many of those passing the gates of RAF Halton will have done their air-experience flying in the Tiger Moth, then this was a fitting tribute and end to the celebrations.

During the day, RAF Halton’s Station Commander, Group Captain Simon Harper, presented a cheque for £850 to Blackberry Farm RSPCA Chief Inspector Rob Hartley, who accepted the cheque, saying: “This money is very welcome and will go a long way to helping the work we do. My colleagues bring injured animals into the Blackberry Farm Centre where they are cared for”.  Parts of the Station Executive leadership and the Station Warrant Officer were subjected to a charity dunking as part of the celebrations and to raise money for our own charities. There were stalls and displays of the many station activities and sports including the children’s gymnastic group who put on a spirited display. The RAF Benevolent Fund and the Royal Air Force Association were represented and showed what they do in support of our Service men and women. The Buckinghamshire County Council Resilience Team were manning a stall to help remind people how to prepare for local and small emergencies. The Air Cadets provided a drill display, the Halton Pipes and Drums kept the crowds entertained and the Military Wives’ Choir also kept the, at times, soggy audience cheered up. The Aston Martin Club, also celebrating 100 years of Aston Martin that started in nearby Aston Clinton, turned out with a brilliant display of old and new Astons. The Trenchard Museum had a steady flow of people looking at their displays whilst learning about Halton’s past and speaking to some of the ex-Halton Apprentices that served as long as 60-70 years ago. Finally, the Heathrow and West London Military Vehicle Trust brought around a dozen ex-military vehicles to view. All in all it was a fabulous day when everyone came together to celebrate Halton of today and Halton of the past whilst also raising money and awareness for the RAF Benevolent Fund, RAF Association, Trenchard Museum and the WWI Trenches.

Wing Commander Holmes, Officer Commanding Operations and Plans Wing and also the Event Organiser, said: “In the year that the RAF celebrates its 95th anniversary, we also celebrate 100 years of military aviation from the Halton estate.  To mark this occasion and to pay tribute to all of those that work or live at RAF Halton, the Station held its 2013 RAF Halton Families’ Day on Saturday 15 June. In spite of poor weather, the event was attended by over 4000 personnel made up of friends and families of those that serve and work at the Station.  The success of the day belonged to the committee who brought together the event as well as those that came along to support the day.  The friendly atmosphere, the help and consideration shown to all and the weeks of hard work and preparation behind the scenes, ensured that everyone had an enjoyable time… no matter the weather.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank those who helped to organise the event, those that helped at the event, and those that came along to support the event; the day was a success because of you all.”

If you are interested in finding out more of the history of flying at RAF Halton a 100 page book has been written to mark the centenary and will be available afterwards through the Trenchard Museum. The actual anniversary for the first flight on Halton’s property is on the 18th September 2013 and the Station are planning a flypast to mark the occasion.