For over 100 years, the Royal Air Force has kept the skies of the United Kingdom safe. First seeing action in World War I, they were an integral part of the nation’s defense when the Luftwaffe attacked in the Battle of Britain. Ever since the RAF has earned an exceptional reputation in the world’s air forces, but that reputation would not be possible without the amazing aircraft at their disposal. From some of the world’s first fighters to its most advanced, we have outlined five of the most famous planes to be part of the RAF. If there’s a favorite of yours that you think we left out, let us know in the comments.
Introduced into World War I before there was an RAF to speak of, the Sopwith Camel was a biplane that first saw combat in 1917. With twin wings and twin machine guns, the Camel racked up one of the most successful kill rates of the war, downing 1,294 enemy aircraft—more than any other nation. The plane proved extremely versatile as it was equipped to launch from makeshift aircraft carriers as well as airships and saw combat up until it was retired in 1920. Today it remains one of the most iconic aircraft from WWI and in the history of dogfighting.
The Hawker Hurricane was the workhorse of the Battle of Britain, totaling 60% of the kills during the conflict. It entered the RAF’s arsenal in 1937 and combined a traditional wood and metal design with the powerful Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. It was easier to maintain and repair than its cousin, the Spitfire, its durable nature often saw it directed against German bombers while the nimbler Spitfire went after the fighter escorts. Unlike the Spitfire, it would not see continued use throughout the war and saw some of its last fighting in 1944.
Handley Page Hastings
The Hastings is certainly an unsung hero of the RAF’s fleet and has been since its first flight in 1946. In fact, when the Hastings was introduced into the RAF in 1948, it was rushed into service so that it could provide much-needed relief for the Berlin Airlift. During this event, when the Soviet Union attempted to block Allied access to the western half of the city and force its leadership to submit to Soviet control, thirty-two of the Hastings planes deployed over 55,000 tons of supplies to West Berliners. It continued to serve as a cargo and troop transport throughout its service history until it was retired in 1977.
Of course, we can’t mention the Hurricane without its battle buddy, the Supermarine Spitfire. Introduced shortly before the war in 1938, the Spitfire took center stage in the Battle of Britain but was a vital part of victory in any theater in which it was deployed. It had a 37-foot wingspan that helped reduce drag and a powerful Rolls Royce Merlin engine that could produce 975 hp, giving it a power and speed unmatched by the Axis Powers. Throughout the war, Spitfire’s did twice as much damage as they took, shooting down 529 enemy aircraft while losing 230 of their fellow planes.
Harrier Jump Jet
Seriously one of the coolest planes to ever exist, the Harrier Jump Jet is known most for its VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) capabilities. Harriers were capable of being able to take off without a runway (or with only a short runway) as their jets would propel them vertically before rotating for forward motion. Of many similar craft that were developed in the 1960s, the Harrier was the most successful and was made from 1967 until 2003. Amazingly enough, the Harrier is still in service today in some parts of the world, though the RAF retired their planes in 2011.