Awarded for an outstanding and enduring contribution to aviation.
The Royal Air Force Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (RAF BBMF) was founded at a formal ceremony held at RAF Biggin Hill, the famous Battle of Britain airfield in Kent, on 11th July 1957. The unit was unveiled as the Historic Aircraft Flight, although it was already being referred to as the Battle of Britain Flight, a name which became its official title in February 1958. The initial complement of aircraft was three PR Mk XIX Spitfires and the RAF’s last airworthy Hurricane, LF363. (Three of these four aircraft still serve with the BBMF today).
In its early years, as a small unfunded unit with an entirely volunteer workforce, the Flight’s fortunes fluctuated and it moved bases frequently. Between 1959 and 1965 the Flight had only one Spitfire (PM631) and one Hurricane (LF363) on its strength. Subsequently, the Flight’s collection of historic aircraft gradually grew and it was renamed the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight in 1969. This was also the year when the BBMF was formally established as a fully funded unit.
The BBMF has continued to grow and evolve to become unrecognisable from its humble origins 66 years ago. It is now a regular, independent, supported RAF unit, funded by the Ministry of Defence and manned by established, full-time Service engineering personnel to maintain and operate its remarkable collection of 12 historic aircraft. The Flight now operates ten historic and irreplaceable Second World War era aircraft: an Avro Lancaster, a C-47 Dakota, six Spitfires, two Hurricanes and, in addition, flies two 1952 de Havilland Chipmunk T10 training aircraft. Some of the BBMF aircraft have remarkable wartime histories of their own and most have defied the odds to survive as flying examples of their kind.
Today the BBMF is a household name and a national institution. It represents a continuance of the values held dear by the Royal Air Force, typifying the professional excellence, teamwork and dedication that have existed in the Service since its foundation and to which today’s RAF also aspires.
At the heart of the Flight’s ethos is the long-term preservation of its historic aircraft in airworthy condition. The BBMF personnel believe passionately that the aircraft should be kept where they belong, in the air, as a living memorial to those who have gone before. Today these historic ‘warbirds’ are maintained to the same rigorous requirements as the RAF’s most modern aircraft. This is no easy task and requires long-term planning, as well as careful husbandry of the aircraft and their flying hours. The BBMF aircraft now all wear carefully researched and authentic colour schemes that tell specific stories of inspirational human endeavour, courage and fortitude.
The BBMF’s commemorative role is perhaps its most important. For many the sight and sound of the BBMF aircraft has long been a tangible demonstration of the nation’s respect and gratitude for those who designed, built, maintained and crewed our aircraft during the Second World War, as well as a tribute to those who died whilst doing so. However, although the Flight was originally formed to commemorate the RAF airmen killed during the Second World War and particularly during the Battle of Britain, it now flies in tribute to all those who have lost their lives in service with the Royal Air Force from 1918 to the present day. The BBMF reminds us of the debt we owe to all those who have paid the ultimate price in the service of their country, fighting to preserve the freedom of others. In their natural element, in the air, the BBMF aircraft make a greater statement than any history book or written account, and they provide a living tribute greater than any static memorial.
The BBMF is committed to inspiring all those who see its aircraft, whether in the air or on the ground. Although some 80 years old, the technology and engineering remain as impressive today as when they first took to the air. The opportunity to show aircraft in their component form and use them to promote STEM to a wide audience is one the Flight is increasingly committed to. Indeed, the Flight focuses particularly on reaching a younger audience. Engagement with schools, trusts and youth charities allows the flight to use its aircraft to inspire and promote interest across STEM and aviation.
In 1977, the year of the BBMF’s 20th anniversary, the Flight was typically performing at around 300 events for an estimated audience of 2.5 to 3 million people. Today the BBMF is typically tasked to fly at around 100 displays and 800 flypasts in each display season, generating over 1,000 individual aircraft appearances every year, with an estimated audience of eight million. With the power of TV and social media, the BBMF’s reach is even greater.
Now in its 66th year, the BBMF has displayed its aircraft to very many millions of people. In addition, around 25,000 people each year visit the BBMF at its home at RAF Coningsby via the BBMF Visitor Centre and hear the stories associated with the aircraft. The BBMF’s personnel and its wonderful historic aircraft provide a dynamic synthesis of old and new, people and machines, which is a source of great envy for many air forces that do not have an equivalent, and one of great pride for the modern RAF. For an outstanding and enduring contribution to aviation, the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight is duly recognised by the Award of Honour.
1999/2000 awarded twice:
Sir Arthur Marshall
Sir George Edwards
2000/2001 awarded twice:
Group Captain John Cunningham CBE
Wing Commander Roland Prosper Beamont CBE
2002 Not Awarded
2002/03 Squadron Leader Neville Frederick Duke DSO OBE DFC** AFC
2003/04 awarded twice:
Lionel Peter Twiss OBE DSC* QCVSA
Joseph Sutter Hon FRAeS
2004/05 Sir Michael Cobham CBE
2005/06 awarded twice:
Captain Eric Brown CBE DSC AFC KCVSA MA FRAeS
2006/07 awarded twice:
Sir Michael Knight KCB AFC
Albert L Ueltschi
2008 - 2009 Not Awarded
2009/10 Sir Maurice Flanagan KBE BA Hon.FRAeS FCILT
2010/11 Duncan Simpson OBE CEng FIMechE FRAeS
2011/12 Wing Commander Kenneth Horatio Wallis MBE
2012/13 Captain James Arthur Lovell USN (Retd)
2013/14 Sir Michael John Marshall CBE DL
2014/15 UK Military Search and Rescue Force
2016 Captain Robert "Hoot" Gibson DSM DFC
2017 awarded twice:
Air Chief Marshal Sir Patrick Hine GCB GBE FRAeS
John Tribe BSc(Eng)
2018 The Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, The Red Arrows
2019 Stuart King FRAeS
2020 Greg McDougall
2021 Martin Baker Aircraft Company Ltd
2022 Not Awarded
2023 The Royal Air Force Battle of Britain Memorial Flight
INCORPORATED BY ROYAL CHARTER
PATRON: HM THE KING
MASTER: CAPTAIN JONATHAN P LEGAT
CLERK: PAUL J TACON BA FCIS
© 2024 The Honourable Company of Air Pilots