AIR CHIEF MARSHALL SIR MICHAEL GRAYDON, former Chief of the Air Staff
‘The centenary of the Royal Air Force’
We were honoured to welcome a former Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshall Sir Michael Graydon, to review the first hundred years, and the significance, of the RAF’s contribution to the defence of the UK.
The clash of fighter planes during the Great War marked a new and revolutionary form of warfare. Despite the opposition of the Army and Royal Navy, a new body – the RAF – came into being in April 1918. At Cranwell an officer training course was set up and, equally importantly, and impressively, a technical training scheme. A band (musical!) was also considered essential. Thus did the excellent Lord Trenchard start the RAF off on the right track
During the twenties and thirties the case for air power was made, and the new air force proved to be a successful (and cheap) method of policing the Empire. During the second world war the contributions of Fighter, Bomber and Coastal Commands are of course well known and deeply appreciated, and during the Cold War which followed our air defence systems were on 24-hour alert, keeping the USSR at bay.
The end of the Cold War marked a return to conventional war and from Iraq in 1991 to present day Syria the RAF has been continuously operational – with the development of precision bombing, increasingly impressive intelligence gathering and unmanned drones. In the future 50% of planes will be pilotless. However, that leaves 50% with crew. In 1991 the RAF’s manpower strength was 90,000. It is now 31,000 – dangerously low. Perhaps echoes of the 1930s here? Our audience of 75 were impressed by Sir Michael’s overview – and his warning.