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Queen Elizabeth and Her Private Jet History

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Queen Elizabeth and Her Private Jet History

RAF's VIP Voyager Vespina

The history of air transport for the British Royal Family is a fascinating journey through time, showcasing the evolution of aviation technology and the changing needs of the monarchy. From the early days of modest aircraft to the modern, luxurious private jets, the British Royal Family’s air travel has come a long way. In this extensive article, we delve into Queen Elizabeth’s private jet history and also touch upon the broader air transport used by the British Royal Family and government.

Early Beginnings: Westland Wapitis

The British Royal Family’s relationship with aviation began in April 1928 when two Westland Wapiti aircraft were delivered to No. 24 Squadron at RAF Northolt. These were the first aircraft ordered specifically for the transport of the Royal Family. While the Royal Air Force initially maintained these aircraft, the responsibility for them eventually fell on the Prince of Wales, who would later become King Edward VIII. This marked the beginning of what would eventually become The King’s Flight, the world’s first head of state aircraft unit.

The King’s Flight Takes Off

The King’s Flight, initially commanded by the prince’s personal pilot, Edward ‘Mouse’ Fielden, operated the de Havilland DH.89 Dragon Rapide as its first aircraft. Interestingly, the flight included a steward to cater to the needs of royal passengers, highlighting the fatigue that royal personages endured during their travels.

As World War II erupted in 1939, the Dragon Rapide was replaced with an armed Lockheed Hudson to ensure the safety of the Royal Family during the conflict. In September 1940, a de Havilland Flamingo joined The King’s Flight.

Post-War Era: The Queen’s Flight

With the end of World War II, The King’s Flight was disbanded in 1942, and its responsibilities were transferred to No. 161 Squadron, which was actively involved in dropping supplies and agents over occupied Europe. The King’s Flight was reformed in May 1946 at RAF Benson, initially with a single de Havilland Dominie aircraft and later with four Vickers Viking C.2 aircraft.

From 1952 onwards, it became known as The Queen’s Flight, reflecting the ascension of Queen Elizabeth II to the throne. Over the years, this unit operated various aircraft, including Vickers Viking, Avro York, de Havilland Heron and Devon, Westland Whirlwind, Westland Wessex HCC.4, Douglas Dakota, de Havilland Canada DHC-1 Chipmunk, Beagle Basset, and Hawker Siddeley Andover aircraft.

Concorde Enters the Royal Fleet

On November 2, 1977, Queen Elizabeth II marked a historic moment in her air travel history by flying aboard Concorde for the first time. The flight took her from Grantley Adams International Airport in Barbados to London Heathrow, making it the first visit by a Concorde aircraft to Barbados.

Jet Age Luxury: BAe 146 Statesman

In 1986, the Royal Air Force leased two BAe 146 aircraft to replace The Queen’s Flight’s Andovers. These VIP-configured BAe 146-100s, also known as the BAe 146 Statesman, were the flight’s first jet aircraft. These aircraft were specially designed with a Royal Suite cabin for the utmost comfort of the royal passengers.

The Royal Squadron

On April 1, 1995, The Queen’s Flight merged into No. 32 Squadron RAF, becoming No. 32 (The Royal) Squadron. This transition involved the relocation of its aircraft, including the BAe 146s, to RAF Northolt. The Royal Squadron’s role was to provide transportation for government ministers, senior military commanders, and members of the Royal Family. The merger also marked the end of the RAF’s provision of dedicated VIP transport aircraft.

Changing Responsibility and Aircraft

In a significant shift, the responsibility for the Royal Family’s travel was transferred to the Royal Household on April 1, 1997. Before this date, it was jointly managed by the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Transport, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Funding for this royal travel came in the form of a royal travel grant-in-aid provided by the Department for Transport. This change allowed the Royal Household to acquire a helicopter for its private use, following the retirement of the Royal Yacht Britannia.

Diverse Aircraft Fleet

While the Royal Helicopter and the Royal Train are essential components of the Royal Family’s travel options, they are sometimes insufficient to meet all their requirements, especially for domestic travel. The King typically does not travel on scheduled flights, but other members of the Royal Family do when feasible. Depending on the distance and the size of the official party, members of the Royal Family are flown on private charters, which can include large fixed-wing aircraft, small fixed-wing aircraft, or helicopters.

The Modern Era: Airbus Voyager and Beyond

In recent years, the Royal Family and government have made significant updates to their air transport options. One of the most notable changes came in the form of the Airbus Voyager, which became the first dedicated VIP transport plane for government ministers and the Royal Family in 2016. This aircraft, known as Vespina, serves international transport needs.

In February 2022, it was announced that the four BAe 146 aircraft would be replaced by two Dassault Falcon 900LX aircraft. These jets were delivered to RAF Northolt in May 2022 and were used for a high-profile journey involving Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Liz Truss to meet Queen Elizabeth at Balmoral Castle.

Other Aircraft and Cost of Travel

Apart from these dedicated aircraft, the Royal Family and government have used various other aircraft over the years, including Vickers VC10 C.1s and even Concorde for international trips. Most recently, in November 2020, a contract was signed for the exclusive lease of a VIP-configured Airbus A321-200 NEO for use by the prime minister, ministers, and VIPs.

Security and Efficiency: A Balancing Act

One of the key considerations in the evolution of the Royal Family’s air travel has been security. As the world has become more complex, the need to ensure the safety and privacy of the Royal Family during their journeys has grown. This has driven the development of specialized aircraft, secure communications systems, and advanced security protocols.

Efficiency has also played a significant role in shaping the Royal Family’s air travel. With busy schedules and numerous official engagements, it’s crucial to minimize travel time and maximize productivity. The introduction of faster and more capable aircraft has allowed the Royal Family to reach their destinations swiftly and efficiently.

The Role of Private Charters

While the Royal Family has access to a fleet of dedicated aircraft, private charters have remained a crucial part of their travel options. Private charters offer flexibility and convenience, allowing the Royal Family to reach destinations that may not be easily accessible by larger aircraft. Luxaviation UK, as the exclusive supplier of private charters to the Royal Family since April 2009, has played a vital role in providing these services.

The Future of Royal Air Travel

The Royal Family’s air travel continues to adapt to the changing landscape of aviation. In 2021, the Airbus A321-200 NEO entered service, offering a modern and efficient option for government ministers and VIPs. This aircraft, painted in the striking Global Britain livery, ensures that the Royal Family can travel comfortably and securely on short-haul flights.

Additionally, the decision to replace the aging BAe 146 aircraft with the Dassault Falcon 900LX in 2022 demonstrates a commitment to providing state-of-the-art transportation for the Royal Family. These aircraft are well-equipped to meet the evolving needs of the monarchy in the 21st century.

Cost of Royal Travel

The cost of royal travel has been a subject of public interest and scrutiny over the years. The expenses related to royal air travel, as well as other modes of transportation like trains and yacht charters, are documented annually in the Sovereign Grant Report. This report provides insight into the overall travel costs for the Royal Family.

Historically, the cost of royal air travel has varied, with expenses documented in millions of pounds. The introduction of dedicated RAF aircraft and changes in pricing structures have influenced the cost of travel over time. However, the focus has always been on balancing the need for secure and efficient transportation with responsible stewardship of public funds.

Queen Elizabeth’s private jet history and the broader air transport of the British Royal Family highlight the intersection of tradition, technology, security, and efficiency. As the Royal Family continues to fulfill their official duties and engagements, their air travel will likely evolve further to meet the demands of the modern era while upholding the rich history and traditions of the monarchy.

This entire history that we have committed to writing is a testament to the ever-evolving world of aviation and the adaptation of air transport to meet the unique needs of the British Royal Family. From the humble beginnings of the Westland Wapitis to the modern luxury of the Airbus Voyager and Dassault Falcon 900LX, the Royal Family’s air travel has been a symbol of both tradition and progress. As technology continues to advance, it will be fascinating to see how the future of royal air transport unfolds.

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