Royal Mail will celebrate the centenary of the Royal Air Force with a set of six counter-sheet stamps and a four-stamp miniature sheet on March 20.

Established on April 1, 1918, through the merger of the Royal Flying Corps (the air arm of the British Army) and the Royal Naval Air Service (the air arm of the Royal Navy), the RAF is the world’s oldest independent air force, in the sense that it is not controlled by another branch of the military.

It played major roles in winning World War I and World War II (not least in protecting Britain from invasion by Germany in 1940), in projecting British power during the Cold War, and in waging more recent conflicts such as the Falklands War, the Gulf War, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It has also engaged in search-and-rescue and humanitarian work.

The sheet stamps illustrate six key aircraft which span the 100 years of its history, as painted by the renowned aeronautical artist Michael Turner. The stamps come in three horizontally se-tenant pairs.

The miniature sheet, designed by Turner Duckworth, focuses on the RAF’s famous Red Arrows aerobatic team, with photographic views of four spectacular aerial manoeuvres. Set up in 1965 and based at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, the Red Arrows fly nine Hawk T1 aircraft in close formation at speeds in excess of 600mph.

The set was litho-printed by International Security Printers.

1st class Lightning F6

Built by English Electric (and later by BAC), this was the first supersonic aircraft to enter service with the RAF, in 1959, and the fastest British-made fighter of all time. The power of its two Rolls-Royce engines allowed for a rate of climb faster than any other jet, and it was the RAF’s principle interceptor for 20 years.

1st class Hurricane MkI

Designed by Hawker Aircraft and introduced in 1937, this single-seat fighter did the lion’s share of the work in winning the Battle of Britain in 1940, accounting for more than 55% of German losses, and in repelling bombing raids in 1941-42. Powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, it was known for being versatile and easy to maintain.

£1.40 Vulcan B2

Built by Avro (and later by Hawker Siddeley), this iconic delta-wing aircraft entered service in 1956. Designed as a high-altitude bomber, it was responsible for Britain’s nuclear deterrent until that duty was passed to Royal Navy submarines in 1969, and served as a tactical bomber in the Falklands War of 1982.

£1.40 Typhoon FGR4

Developed by the Eurofighter consortium which includes Britain’s BAE Systems, this multi-role fighter was first deployed in 2003. Capable of flying at altitudes up to 55,000ft and speeds up to Mach 1.8, it saw active service in Libya in 2011 and remains the principal aircraft tasked with defending UK skies.

£1.57 Sopwith Camel F1

Built by the Sopwith Aviation Company and introduced in 1917, this biplane was the most successful Allied fighter and reconnaissance aircraft of World War I. Although it was difficult to fly, it was credited with shooting down almost 1,300 enemy aircraft on the Western Front with its twin synchronised machine guns.

£1.57 Nimrod MR2

Developed by Hawker Siddeley for maritime patrol and anti-submarine roles, this aircraft carried sophisticated radar and electronic surveillance equipment in its extended nose and tail. The MR2 version entered service in 1979 and was deployed in the Falklands War and in the Gulf War, as well as in search-and-rescue operations.

 

MINIATURE SHEET

1st class Flypast

The way in which the Red Arrows traditionally make an initial flypast at the start of a display is also known as the Big Battle formation.

1st class Swan

The Red Arrows’ ultra-precise swan formation is reminiscent of a graceful bird in flight.

£1.40 Synchro

The synchro manoeuvre involves two Red Arrows flying past each other in opposite directions at an altitude as low as 100ft and with a closing speed of around 800mph

£1.40 Python

The python formation has five Red Arrows flying at close quarters, typically with multicoloured smoke trails.

 

OTHER PRODUCTS

The presentation pack offers an overview of the RAF’s history, information about the aircraft featured on the stamps, and a special feature about the Red Arrows.

Press sheets of 12 uncut miniature sheets are available in a limited edition of 600, and there is a choice of coin covers in addition to standard first day covers.

The stamps also appear in retail and prestige booklets.

 

PRICES

Set of 6 stamps  £7.24

Miniature sheet  £4.10

Press sheet  £54.12

Presentation pack  £11.85

Stamp cards  £4.95

First day cover (stamps)  £9.11

First day cover (mini sheet)  £5.34

Coin cover   from £17.50

 

VERDICT

COMMEMORATIVE WORTH   4/5

This is a major anniversary for one of the world’s finest military forces, with hugely important historic achievements

QUALITY OF DESIGN   4/5

Painted images have much more character than photographs can ever achieve

WOW FACTOR   3/5

It is not only plane-spotters who will stop and take notice of these stamps