Writing for History Extra, Keith Wilson introduces the history of the formation of the King’s Flight and shares 12 remarkable images which chart the royal family’s experiences with aviation since the birth of powered flight…
When the King’s Flight was officially formed in 1936, passenger flying was very much in its infancy. Creating the Royal Flight was a most innovative action by King Edward VIII, although members of the royal family had enjoyed a passion for flying almost since the dawn of aviation.
The first confirmed flight by a member of the Royal Family was when Edward, the Prince of Wales – while on a visit to Villaverta on the Italian Front on 27 September 1918 – was invited to fly in the rear cockpit of a Bristol F.2B Fighter with Captain WG Barker of the RAF’s Number 139 Squadron. Interestingly, the prince remained standing in the rear cockpit throughout the short flight.
Shortly after the end of the First World War, Prince Albert took a flying course at Croydon and was awarded his wings on 31 July 1919.
However, it was the Prince of Wales’s fervent interest in aviation that led him to purchase his very own de Havilland DH.60G Gipsy Moth in September 1929 and which ultimately led to the formation of the King’s Flight. Edward later took flying lessons in the aircraft and soon earned his own wings under the tutelage of one Squadron Leader Don.
Later, Edward added two further de Havilland aircraft to his own private collection before the flight was moved to RAF Hendon in late 1930. Shortly after the move, the aircraft were unofficially nicknamed ‘The Royal Flight’ by staff on the airfield, although it would be another six years before the King’s Flight would be officially formed.
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Other Royal Air Force aircraft were allocated to ‘official’ royal duties and the sight of members of the Royal Family travelling by air became commonplace.
Over the years, the King’s and Queen’s Flight have operated an interesting variety of aircraft and helicopters, many of British design and manufacture. Royal visits have provided an excellent opportunity to promote British aviation.
One chapter in the book is dedicated the experiences of those who flew members of the royal family during the last years of the Queen’s Flight, which was finally disbanded on 31 March 1995 and merged with the RAF’s Number 32 (The Royals) Squadron. Flt Lt Steve Hunt was a pilot on the Duke of Edinburgh’s personal jet for a number of years and fondly recalls the experience of flying the royal party to locations all over the world.
Royal Flying – A Pictorial History covers far more than just the history of the King’s and Queen’s Flight, but also the flying careers of the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles, Prince William and Prince Harry.
Royal Flying: A Pictorial History by Keith Wilson is published by Amberley Books and is on sale now.