British Royal Navy Celebrates Centenary of Air Power

It has been one hundred years since the Admiralty first put aside funds to have an airship built for the Royal Navy. The event was history in the making and before long the face of warfare changed completely.

It all began on May 7, 1909, when £35,000 were officially set aside for the development of a rigid airship that would compete with the threat offered by the German airship program. The result of research and development was the HMA 1 airship, more commonly known as the Mayfly. Unfortunately the Mayfly never actually flew as a strong gust of wind caused it to hit an obstruction and break in half. But the potential of having sea-based air power and the advantages it would provide in warfare were already clearly recognized, with the result that just three years later the first aircraft was launched from a moving ship. It was a momentous time and the Royal Navy has certainly never looked back. 2009 now marks the centenary of British naval air power. Naval air power has since proved to be of vital importance, helping Britain to dominate the Pacific theatre of World War II. Stephen Saunders, editor of ‘Jane’s Fighting Ships’, noted the reasons behind this advantage when he said: “Naval aviation is important because of the flexibility and independence that air power gives you. If you operate from ship you have a large moving airfield that can get to places that simply may not be served by an airstrip.”

After a hundred years of British naval air power, the Royal Navy has now seen fit to celebrate an illustrious and successful past. And why not? The navy’s Fleet Air Arm now boasts more than 250 aircraft and helicopters and so constitutes approximately one third of the UK’s air strength. The anniversary will be celebrated during the course of the year during a series of concerts, fly-pasts and other events. It will culminate on 7 May when both a modern and ancient Fleet Air Arm does a fly-past over HMS Illustrious aircraft carrier. The following day a formal service recognizing the centenary occasion will take place at St Paul’s Cathedral.