2018 sees the centenary of the founding of one of the world’s first and most famous Air Forces, the Royal Air Force.
Ascension Island has an important past, present and future connection with the RAF being as it is an essential part of the UK to Falkland Islands Air-bridge. Wideawake Airfield is a joint facility of the RAF and the US Air Force and was constructed within three months by the US 38th Combat Engineer Regiment during the Second World War. On 11th June 1942 the pilot of the Fairey Swordfish aircraft dispatched from H.M.S. Archer to drop a message to the Cable & Wireless Office in Georgetown, was surprised to see an almost finished air strip and decided to land his plane, thus becoming the first aircraft to land on Ascension Island. Although mainly used by the US Air Force during World War II, as a stopping point, the airfield was expected in the mid 1960’s to act as amongst other things, an emergency runway for the Space Shuttle, and in 1982 because of the increased air traffic during the Falkland Islands War, Wideawake was for a short period the busiest airfield in the world.
To mark this anniversary Ascension Island is releasing a series of 4 stamps depicting aircraft from each 25-year interval of RAF history.
20p – Royal Aircraft Factory SE5a
Designed at the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough, the first production aircraft had the 150hp Hispano-Suiza fitted and were designated SE5. However just 77 of these were built before the improved SE5a was introduced with a 200 or 220hp Hispani-Suiza or 200hp Wolseley Viper engine. In total 5,265 SE5s were constructed.
It was used by twenty-four squadrons of the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force in France, Palestine, Macedonia, Mesopotamia and the United Kingdom, and equipped one squadron of the Australian Flying Corps and two of the United States Air Service on the Western Front.
The SE5a was considered by many pilots to be the best British single-seat fighter of World War One. It was one of the fastest aircraft of the war whilst being stable and manoeuvrable. Problems with the engine limited production numbers but together with the Sopwith Camel it was instrumental in achieving allied air superiority during 1917 and maintaining it for the duration of the war.
35p – Hawker Hurricane
The Hawker Hurricane was a British single-seater monoplane fighter aircraft designed by Sydney Camm at Hawker Aircraft in the early 1930’s. Dubbed the 'workhorse of World War Two', the Hurricane accounted for 60 per cent of the RAF's air victories in the Battle of Britain and served in other major battles during the course of the war.
Essentially a scaled-up Hawker Fury, it failed to receive government funding for the building of a prototype - despite this set back, Hawker Aircraft were so convinced of its significance that they proceeded as a private venture. In September 1934 the necessary funding materialised and the first prototype flew on 6th November 1935. The aircraft was informally christened ‘Hurricane’ by King Edward VIII during a visit to Martlesham Heath in July 1936.
24 variants of the Hawker Hurricane were created with around 14,483 aircraft built in total. Of these, 1,715 Hurricanes flew with Fighter Command during the period of the Battle of Britain, far in excess of all other British fighters combined. The last Hawker Hurricane rolled off the production line at Langley in July 1944 and many aircraft exist today.
50p – Avro Vulcan
As a part of the V-force, the Vulcan was the backbone of the United Kingdom's airborne nuclear deterrent during much of the Cold War. Although the Vulcan was typically armed with nuclear weapons, it was capable of conventional bombing missions. It was the only aircraft of the 1950’s British V-Bomber Force to actually fulfil its designed role as a bomber, ironically at the tail end of its service career. Entering service with the Royal Air Force in 1956, the Vulcan went to war for the first and last time in the year that it was due to retire from service, when in May 1982 after taking off from Ascension Island, several bombing missions took place over the Argentine occupied Falklands Islands. At the time these were the longest successful combat flights in history. It took fifteen Victor tankers and seventeen separate in-flight refuels to get one Vulcan over the target and give its crew a reasonable chance of coming back alive. The total flight time for the first of seven bombing raids lasted fifteen hours and forty-five minutes. This was the only time throughout its entire service life that the Vulcan ever dropped a bomb in anger. The last Vulcan squadron was disbanded in 1984.
£2 – Tornado
The Tornado is a family of twin-engine, variable-sweep wing multirole combat aircraft, which was jointly developed and manufactured by Italy, the United Kingdom, and West Germany and has been one of the mainstays of the Royal Air Force since first entering service in the early 1980s. The Tornado F3 that saw service in the Falklands until replaced by the Eurofighter Typhoon. They were powered by two turbofans giving it a maximum speed at 36,000ft of 1,262 knots. The operational ceiling is about 70,000ft and it has a combat radius of 300 nautical miles. The Tornado is armed with a 27mm Mauser cannon plus four Sky Flash medium range missiles and four Sidewinder infrared homing short-range missiles.
Designer: Robin Carter
Printer: Cartor Security Printing
Process: Stochastic lithography
Stamp Size: 28 x 42mm
Sheet Format: 10
Perforation: 13 ¼ x 13 ½ per 2cms
Release Date: 2 July 2018
Production Co-ordination: Creative Direction (Worldwide) Ltd