Royal Air Force - 1945 to the present

Twelve RAF Jaguars made a very significant contribution to Gulf War one (UK Op Ganby, US Op Desert Storm) and were some of the first RAF combat assets deployed to the region. Between them, the 12 aircraft flew 612 combat sorties, achieving an astonishingly high sortie rate and level of availability. Twenty eight French Air Force Jaguars also participated (Op Daguet), with a similar level of operational success.

Hawker Hunter FGA.9, 58 Sqn, RAF Wittering, 1974

The Hunter has to be one of the most attractive jet fighters ever built. Long, thin and sleek, it combined an advanced engine with excellent aerodynamic design, to give a well behaved and versatile aircraft. Unfortunately, the long gestation period needed to get the design right meant that it quickly became obsolete as a fighter and was moved to the FGA role instead, with additional fuel and pylons for ground attack weapons. 58 Sqn operated Hunters from 1974 to 1976, training pilots in anticipation of the arrival of the new SEPECAT Jaguar aircraft.

Although all of the RAF's Hunters have long gone, the Hunter still continues in service around the world, with the Lebanese Air Force reinstating its very small Hunter Fleet to operational service in 2010. During the 1970s, the RN acquired a number of surplus RAF Hunters and continued to use them in the training and Fleet Requirements role until the early 1990s.

Gloster Javelin FAW.9R, 64(F) Sqn, RAF Tengah, Singapore,1964

The Javelin interceptor was chosen by the RAF over the contemporary DeHavilland DH110 (later to become the Sea Vixen). It suffered from an extraordinarily long period of development (by the standards of the day - although today's Eurofighter has been far longer!!!!), which meant that it was pretty much obsolete by the time it entered service. With further development stopped by the Sandys' Defence review of 1957 and the phenomenal English Electric Lightning following close behind, its service life was very short. However, it was widely deployed in Germany, the UK and especially in the Far East. Its final operational use was in Singapore, with 60 and 64 Squadrons based at RAF Tengah until 1968. Here it saw its sole "combat" victory; during the Indonesian Confrontation an Indonesian Air Force C-130 crashed while evading an aircraft of 64 Sqn sent to intercept it.

and the real thing (an earlier mark) displayed at RAF Cosford:

Hawker Siddeley HS 125 Dominie T.1, 55(R) Sqn, RAF, Cranwell 2004.

The RAF adopted an early variant of the hugely successful HS 125 light passenger jet as a radar and navigation trainer. Originally a DeHavilland design, the Dominie is now approaching the end of its service life, but several aircraft were updated in 2003 to add Ground Mapping Radar (GMR) and modern avionics.

During the Cold War, RAF Dominies were allocated a war role of coastal maritime reconnaissance, working with RN Offshore Patrol Vessels to escort coastal convoys around the UK. Later and larger variants of the HS125 are also used by the RAF as VIP transport aircraft.

English Electric Lightning F.1A - 74 Sqn, RAF Leuchars, 1973.

This is the old Airfix kit - I purchased this one as part of a "scrapyard" job lot from e-bay. It had no canopy or decals, so I obtained an Aeroclub canopy and used a set of Modeldecal decals as the basis for this "Tiger" scheme.

The Lightning was one of the few British aircraft to survive the Sandys' Defence review of 1957, apparently "because it was too far advanced to stop". It went on to become an icon of the RAF during the 1960s, 70s and even into the 1980s. Although it was always short legged, it had phenomenal performance, particularly when climbing off the deck. The Airfix kit represents the F.1A version, with straight wings, pointed fin, Firestreak IR missiles, guns and small belly tank.

RAF Lightnings from Leuchars in Fife, Scotland, were nominated to provide air cover for RN ships operating in the North Sea and Northern ADR.

Panavia Tornado GR1 - 617 Sqn "Dambusters" Royal Air Force, RAF Lossiemouth 1988.

An older build. The ESCI Tornado wasn't bad in its day although it is now totally eclipsed by Revell's newest mould. This is out the box; like most GR Tornado kits (including Hasegawa's), the nose profile isn't quite right !

The Tornado GR1, GR1A, GR4 and F3 have been the backbone of the RAF since the mid 1980s. Designed as a low level penetrator, the GR4 now performs a high level precision bombing role. F3s are now being replaced by Typhoon, with the first Conningsby based squadron having assumed Southern QRA duties in Jul 07.

A decision on replacing the GR4 will be needed soon; obvious candidates include the F-35 and Typhoon, although neither really performs the same role. In addition, with the RAF now operating Reaper/Predator TUAVs over Afghanistan, an unmanned option for Tornado replacement is a very real prospect.

Lossiemouth's Tornado GR.1s were tasked with Maritime attack operations, carrying the BAe Sea Eagle missile in support of the Royal Navy.

BAe Hawk 200 - Demonstrator Aircraft 1987.

Matchbox's Hawk 200 is the only 1/72 kit of this variant available. I built this some years ago, so it is not quite to current kit build standards. Might update it some day to have the wing tip sidewinder stations of the production aircraft.

"The last all-British Fighter?" Sold to a number of nations in the Far East and Africa, the 200 series shares the Hawk trainer's agility and ease of operation/maintenance. More recently, it has been promoted along with the advanced Hawk 100 series as a Lead-In Fighter Trainer (LIFT) for nations acquiring more modern aircraft such as the SAAB Gripen.

Auster AOP.6 Model C4 Antarctic

Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1958.

The Auster AOP.6 was introduced in 1949 as a successor to the wartime Auster V, itself a development of the US Taylorcraft Model A civilian aircraft. In 1955, two aircraft were modified to take part in the 1955-58 Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition, being fitted with extra radio equipment, larger tail surfaces, the ability to be fitted with floats or skis and a bright yellow hi-visibility finish.

The expedition, led by Dr Vivian Fuchs and Sir Edmund Hillary, was the first to reach the South Pole overland in 46 years, preceded only by Amundsen's and Scott's expeditions in 1911 and 1912; The second crossing of the continent did not take place until 1981, during the Transglobe Expedition led by Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

Friends & Allies - Part 1B

 Fixed wing aircraft of the Royal Air Force (1945-present)

(many with some sort of naval connection!):

SEPECAT Jaguar GR.1A, RAF JAGDET, Muharraq, Bahrain, Operation Granby, 1991

The Revell Jaguar is a joint Revell/Italeri mould that has also appeared in Tamiya boxes in the Far East. It assembles without drama and is acceptably accurate. Decals in the Revell issue include an RAF Gulf War aircraft (including semi-naked "Debbie" noseart) and an RAF Germany aircraft of 2(AC) Sqn at RAF Laarbruch. However, for various reasons I decided to use Modeldecal markings for XX733 "Biggles" instead, with rather less inspiring but more politically correct nose picture of a pink Spitfire

Since its premature departure from RAF service during the savage 2007 defence cuts, the Jaguar has become a somewhat forgotten aircraft. Developed in the late 1960s as a joint Anglo-French aircraft to be built by the Société Européenne de Production de l'Avion d'École de Combat et d'Appui Tactique (SEPECAT), a joint venture between the British Aircraft Corporation and Breguet, it remains in service with the Indian Air Force and Royal Air Force of Oman.

 In its final RAF form, the RAF Jaguar GR.3, with TERPROM navigation and precision guided weapons, was a remarkably capable aircraft.

The real aircraft in 2011, at the RAF Museum, Cosford


British Aerospace Harrier GR.3 - 1417 Flight, Royal Air Force Belize, 1987.

Fujimi's Harrier kits are reasonably accurate, but not easy builds. This one represents an aircraft of 1417 Flt, RAF Belize in the mid 1980s. Whilst I was serving in HMS LIVERPOOL, during our 1987 "West Indies Guardship" deployment (its a dirty job, but someone has to do it!), we exercised with 1417 Flt off the coast of Belize, providing our splash target for them to practice attacking fast moving sea-borne targets with Aden Guns and Rockets. Our activities attracted much interest from heavily armed (and not altogether friendly) Honduran and Guatemalan gunboats, which added a little spice to the proceedings.

The GR.3, easily recognised by its extended nose fairing to house the laser target marker and range finder, was the RAF's second Harrier variant, with improved avionics and uprated engines. Harriers were deployed to Belize from 1981 to 1993, in response to potential threats from Guatemala and Honduras. The aircraft were ideally suited to the rough deployed conditions, if occasionally limited by the temperature.

BAe Harrier GR5 - 224 OCU RAF Wittering/Cottesmore 1989.

Italeri's GR.5 and GR.7 kits are crude and not very accurate, although they do look fairly convincing when built.

This is the earliest issue (AV-8B prototype) with various (substantial) putty modifications to the nose & Modeldecal markings to convert it into a GR.5. More recently, this kit has been issued by Revell with the required modificaitons to make it as a GR.5 from the box.

The GR.5 was the RAF's first version of the second generation Harrier II, built jointly as the AV-8B with McDonnell Douglas (later Boeing). With longer range, greater weapon load and advanced avionics, it was, in effect, an entirely new type. The stubby GR.5 nose was designed to carry a Ferranti line scanning Infra Red system, but this was cancelled before entering service.

BAE SYSTEMS Harrier GR.7 - 4 Sqn RAF, embarked in HMS ILLUSTRIOUS 2001.

Italeri also issued a further revised version of the kit as a GR.7, with some nice (although not entirely accurate) decals and weapons. Unfortunately these do not include the Paveway laser guided bombs worn by this model, which come from a separate Italeri weapons set.

The GR.7 introduced full night operating and precision weapon capability to the RAF's Harrier Fleet as well as a further uprated engine. Existing GR.5s were converted to the new standard. Although designed to operate at low level in the European Theatre, the GR.7 now operates at medium level and has been the backbone of RAF combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since the 1990s, proving to be a reliable and effective weapons platform. Since the creation of Joint Force Harrier, Fleet Air Arm pilots have also flown former RAF GR.7s, with the Naval Strike Wing sharing Afghanistan duties with the RAF.

The joint RN/RAF Harrier fleet is now being further improved as the GR.7A and GR.9, with yet further engine and weapons system improvements:

British Aerospace Harrier GR.1 - 1 Sqn, RAF Wittering, December 1970..

ESCI’s first generation Harrier kits are currently the best available in 1/72, accurate, well detailed and thoughtfully engineered.  Whilst the Sea Harrier and GR3 have been re-issued by Italeri (and Airfix) the AV8a variant has not although there are plenty to be had on the 2nd hand market.

Some simple changes and new decals are all that is needed to turn it into a representation of one of the RAF’s first Harriers.

The first operational variant of the Harrier family was the GR.1 and up-powered GR.1A. Original performance from this radical aircraft was marginal, requiring that only the most skilled RAF pilots flew the Harrier.

The Airfix FGA.9 Hunter isn't a bad kit, although the recent Revell issues have far eclipsed it. However, it remains ideal for a quick fun build. I don’t find the supplied decals particularly inspiring (although in my issue they are well printed and comprehensive), so instead I have used a spare set from a Matchbox kit. Link to build page

The Airfix FAW.9 was modified from the mould for the Heller T.3. As such it has some deficiencies around the rear of the aircraft, with a fuselage and tailpipes that are noticeably too narrow for the larger re-heated Sapphire engines of the Mk9. Nevertheless, it is an easy kit to build and most impressive when complete. 64(F) Sqn is the shadow identity of 228 OCU, who were affiliated with the Type 42 Destroyer HMS LIVERPOOL during my time onboard.

Link to Build Page

This is the Airfix kit in its current (2008) issue, with a superb set of decals for an all black Domine of 55(R) Sqn in 2004 and an earlier red and white aircraft. The kit builds nicely although some of the detail is rather crude by current standards. Unfortunately the cabin window configuration has changed recently and the kit represents the earlier layout. The wing fences are also too far inboard, but otherwise this is a really nice little kit. Link to Build Page

I first built one of these kits back in the 1970s, at which time Airfix issued it in a very bright yellow plastic. This one came in a much more sober grey, requiring a coat of white and two yellow top coats to achieve the same effect. Unfortunately Airfix don't provide the correct tall tail-fin, but do provide a choice of wheels (with appropriate Army Air Corps AOP markings), skis or floats. Mine is a fairly recent issue, with some very nice decals providing many of the detailed stencils needed for this version. Link to build page

Link to Harrier GR.9 operated by the Fleet Air Arm

Link to my Harrier pages

BAC Lightning F.3 - 11 Sqn, RAF Binbrook, 1984.

Another example of the old Airfix kit, this time using the changed mould to represent the F.3 version with its larger tail fin, Red Top armament and no gun ports.   At some point between the kit above and this one, it went through a phase of being a snap-together easy build kit, with large location pins and snap-in canopy.  These changes don’t entirely help with buildability, but at least the kit is cheap!  

The F.3 variant of the lightning deleted the gun ports and introduced the more capable Red Top missile along with the Stage 3 enlarged and squared-off fin.  F.3s remained in service until the end of the Lightning’s career in 1987 although their short-range (they retained the small belly tank) limited their usability. At the very end they sported a wide range of markings, from grey-green camouflage to various combinations of grey.   

Scottish Aviation Bulldog T.1 -  Central Flyting School, RAF Little Rissington 1973.

This is a typical 1970s Airfix kit, with reasonable fit, but limited detail. It is quite fiddly to build and the undercarriage is very delicate when assembled. Decal options included a Swedish aircraft, with later issues covering the more recent black RAF scheme and a different camouflaged Swedish scheme.  

The Bulldog was developed from a Beagle Aircraft design and built at Prestwick by Scottish Aviation (later British Aerospace).  Widely used by the RAF and Swedish armed forces from the early 1970s until the turn of the century, Bulldogs also saw service with many other air arms around the world.

Supermarine Swift FR.5 - 79 Sqn RAFG, Gutersloh, West Germany, 1956.

Release of this new mould Airfix kit was awaited eagerly, but initial issues proved to have flaws caused by mould damage.  Repairs delayed re-issue by over a year, during which a little of the earlier enthusiasm had waned.  Nicely moulded with fine engraved detail and excellent decals, unfortunately it is not the easiest of builds, particularly around the nicely detailed cockpit, instrument panel and front undercarriage bay, whose fit is fiddly and very difficult to get right.  

Other than that, fit elsewhere is very good, although I had some problems seating the main undercarriage legs and needed a little filler on the upper fuselage joint and behind the rudder.  The cockpit decals do not fit at all well, and the slightly brittle plastic that Airifx hav eused means that fine parts such as the pitot tube and control column are easily broken when removing from the sprue.

Recommended for those with a steady hand and plenty of patience!

The Swift was always going to be eclipsed by the Hawker Hunter, but the Air Ministry was keen to retain a second source should the Hunter programme run into problems, as it certainly did.  Developed from the Supermarine Attacker, with a pedigree stretching back through the Spiteful to the Spitfire, the Swift entered service in 1954, as the RAF’s first swept wing fighter.  

Despite considerable efforts by Supermarine, it too suffered serious development issues, not least a tendency to dangerous wing tip stalls when landing, requiring a redesign of the wing to include a distinctive saw tooth in the leading edge.  An inability to light its afterburner at high altitude meant that its days as a fighter were limited, but the Swift quickly found a new role as a very effective low level reconnaissance aircraft, a role that it retained with 2 RAF Germany Squadrons until the early 1960s.

Main Index


Folland Gnat T.1 - Central Flying School - RAF Little Rissington, 1964.

Airfix have snuck out a number of superb cold war jets models amongst their newest issues, including the Vampire, Swift and this diminutive Gnat, representing the iconic RAF jet trainer of the 1960s and 1970s.  The kit has slightly deeper than optimum panel lines, goodness knows what the pilot figures are wearing on their heads and some of the stencil decals are ridiculously small, but other than that ,this really is an excellent little kit.

The Gnat was originally designed as a private venture low-cost agile fighter for the RAF. Unfortunately it did not fit the established RAF doctrine of the day, but was so good that even the RAF had to buy some.  

After modifications to add a larger wing, simpler control surfaces and a second seat, it became the standard RAF jet trainer and the mount of the Red Arrows.  Light, agile and very fast, the single seat Gnat saw front line service with the Finns and the Indian Air Force, the latter including a very creditable combat performance against Pakistani Sabres and Starfighters.

Yugoslavia also bought two Gnats for evaluation; although they did not purchase any more, the Gnat’s influence is clear in several follow-on indigenous  Yugoslavian designs.

Friends & Allies Index RAF 1918-45 US Navy & Marines USAAF and USAF NATO Other Nations Mirage & Rafale Civil Aviation

DeHavilland DH100 Vampire FB.5 - 603 Sqn Royal Auxiliary Air Force

RAF Turnhouse, Scotland, 1955.

Out of all the 1/72 Vampire kits currently available, I still believe this to be the best.  This is an original Heller release, but the kit has also appeared in boxes by Airfix and Revell.

The Vampire first flew during WW2 and was widely used by the RAF as a ground attack aircraft alongside Meteor interceptors.  Powered by the DH Goblin jet , its tail boom configuration ensured that all the limited power available from this early engine could be used.

The FB.5 variant was fully optimised for ground attack with over 900 built for the RAF alone.

Panavia Tornado F.3 - 111 Sqn "Tremblers" Royal Air Force, RAF Leuchars 2010.

Other than the expensive Hasegawa kits, the interceptor variant of the Tornado is not well provided for in 1/72.  This is the Airfix kit, which is rather crude and lacking on detail, but scrubs up tolerably well. This issue came as a gift set aimed at less experienced modellers, with good looking, but simplified, decals for the retirement scheme worn by 111 Sqn at RAF Leuchars in 2010.  To complete the build I added some ex-Matchbox decals for the many stencils around the fuselage and dotted lines on the upper surfaces.

The F.3 Tornado replaced the Phantom and Lightning in RAF service.  Entering service in 1987 it was finally withdrawn in 2011, after a remarkably long and successful period providing air defence of the UK.  The Air Defence Variant of the Tornado was designed specifically for RAF long range interceptor missions over the North Sea and Atlantic.  

With its Foxhunter radar, JTIDS data link and armed with semi-active homing Skyflash (and latterly AMRAAM and ASRAAM missiles) it was well suited to this particular role (and in a similar role over the vast Saudi desert) but its inability to adapt to more offensive fighter and swing roles meant that it saw no combat service, despite regular operational deployments to the Gulf.  Toward the end of its service, several aircraft were converted to undertake Suppression of Enemy Air Defence (SEAD) roles carrying the ALARM anti-radar missile.

As well as the RAF and Royal Saudi Air Force, Tornado F.3s saw brief service with the Italian Air Force as a stop-gap solution to Typhoon project delays . All 3 air forces have now replaced the Tornado with the Eurofighter Typhoon.

British Aerospace Hawk T.1, The Red Arrows,  Royal Air Force, RAF Scampton 2018.

Airfix released this nicely formed modern kit in about 2015, replacing their existing Hawk kit, which wasn’t too bad.  This is the gift set issue, which comes with cement, brush and some slightly unusable acrylic paint.  The kit and its decals are very nice and an easy build.  Painting the airframe and applying the decals need some skill though. Link to build page

First taking to the air in 1974, the HS.1182 Hawk has proved to be one of the most successful British aircraft of all time, remaining in production for over 44 years with more than a thousand built.

Although originally designed as a twin seat trainer, it has seen considerable export success in both double and single seat forms as a fighter and ground attack aircraft with over 18 foreign operators using the Hawk at some time. The US Navy also uses the carrier capable Goshawk variant, with tail hook and strengthened undercarriage for advanced carrier landing training of new USN and USMC pilots.

Operationally, both Malaysian and Zimbabwean Hawks have both seen air to ground combat against insurgent forces.  During the mid-1980s, the UK deployed Sidewinder and Aden Gun armed T.1A Hawk Squadrons in war roles as the local area defence layer, in conjunction with the longer range radar equipped Tornado F.3.  

Folland Gnat T.1 - Red Arrows - RAF Scampton 1974.

This is the ancient Airfix kit, long past its best.  Heller-era decals are poorly printed and out of alignment.    Link to build page

The Folland Gnat was originally developed as an ultra lightweight fighter, but whilst the Indian Air Force and  Finnish Air Force used Gnats enthusiastically in this role, lightweight fighters did not sit well with contemporary RAF doctrine (think Javelin instead).  

However the capabilities and potential of the Gnat were recognised, so instead the RAF encouraged development of a slightly larger 2-seat trainer variant which remained in service as an advanced trainer from 1959 until 1979.  

The first RAF aerobatic team to use the Gnat was the Yellowjacks in 1964. One year later they were reformed as the Red Arrows, who continued to use the Gnat until replaced by the Hawk in 1979

Hawker Hunter FGA.9, 54 Sqn, RAF West Raynham, 1966

One viable alternative to the Airfix offering is the FROG FGA.9 kit.  In some respects this is the finer kit, although it lacks detail and has an over prominent canopy (whereas Airfix is perhaps too flat). Link to build page

54 Sqn’s Hunters acted in the close support role, armed with rocket packs and their internal guns.  Although based at West Raynham in Sussex, the aircraft saw service around the world, including the acrimonious withdrawal of British forces from Aden.