Kings, Queens & Flying Machines

The connection between flying and the Royal Family stretches back almost to the dawn of aviation. In 1909, during a visit to Paris, King Edward VII met the Wright brothers and watched them demonstrate their Flyer aircraft.

King George V established an early interest in aviation in the years immediately before the First World War, and The Prince of Wales (Edward VIII) made his first flight in 1916.

In 1919 the King learned of an earlier flight by the Prince with Major William Barker VC in Italy during 1918. Barker had flown the aircraft with one arm in a sling! When the King heard of this he immediately prohibited his son from flying. Prince Albert (George VI) transferred to the RAF in 1919 and immediately began flying lessons.

The Prince of Wales (Edward VIII) resumed his flying in the 1920s and took delivery of Gipsy Moth G-AALG In 1929.

In 1936 The King’s Flight was established at Royal Air Force Hendon, a few hundred metres from this Museum. During the Second World War, The Flight was disbanded.

However, King George VI and members of the Royal Family continued to fly in RAF VIP aircraft throughout the war and in 1946 The King’s Flight was reformed.

Although helicopters were attached to The King’s Flight from as early as 1947, it was not until 1953 that Prince Philip made the first royal flight in a helicopter. Six years later Whirlwinds joined The Queen’s Flight. These in turn were replaced by Wessex in 1969.

During the 1990s radical changes were made in royal flying arrangements. On 1 April 1995, The Queen’s Flight was absorbed into No.32 (The Royal) Squadron at Royal Air Force Northolt. In 1998 the unit gave up the task of providing helicopters for the Royal Family when the Wessex were retired. The Royal Household awarded a ten year contract to Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation and Hanson Helicopters to provide the Queen with an S-76 and crew.

No.32 (The Royal) Squadron retained two BAe 146 aircraft for fixed wing operations.

Photographs of ‘Kings, Queens & Flying Machines’