Northern Ireland has marked the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Royal Air Force with a service of celebration and thanksgiving at St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast.
The service recognised the historic links between the formation of the RAF and the formation of Ireland’s National Army Air Service, now the Irish Air Corps.
Ireland made a significant contribution to the development of the Royal Air Force from the days before the First World War when the Royal Flying Corps made the first ever crossing over a stretch of water, the Irish Sea, in 1913.
The Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier joined his counterpart from the Irish Air Corps, Brigadier General Sean Clancy to mark the occasion.
Outside the cathedral was a life size replica WWII Spitfire aircraft, owned by Ulster Aviation Society was displayed opposite the Cathedral, in Writers Square.
The aircraft is a replica of Spitfire Mark 2a and was painted in the design of Spitfire P7823 of 504 Squadron which served with the RAF. The original P7823 was based with 504 Squadron at Ballyhalbert in the autumn of 1941.
It was one of 17 Spitfires purchased through the Belfast Telegraph Spitfire Fund, set up through donations of thousands of individuals as well as businesses and private organisations. Each of the 17 aircraft bore the name of a community, county or region in Northern Ireland. The Spitfire P7823 was named after County Down and was the only aircraft from the Belfast Telegraph Spitfire Fund which was based in Northern Ireland.
There will also be an RAF100 exhibition inside St Anne’s from 23 April – 6 May. The service was the first major event marking the Royal Air Force’s 100th anniversary in Northern Ireland and will be followed by several different events across the country in the next few months.
These events include a special air display day on 3 June at the former site of RAF Killadeas in Lough Erne County, Fermanagh. During WWII the Lough was a key base in the Battle of the Atlantic and was home to Squadrons flying the Sunderland and Catalina flying boats.
The capability those aircraft had in terms of hunting for submarines will be continued in today's high-tech air-force by the soon to be formed P8 Squadrons based in Scotland. In tribute to the contribution of County Fermanagh during the WW2 years a Catalina will be displaying its capabilities in the air and on the water. And for the first time RAF personnel will take part in a field gun salute having undertaken training with the Royal Artillery.
On 4 August the RAF100 Aircraft Tour will be arriving in Newcastle, County Down, to coincide with the province's main air show. The Red Arrows have been a key feature of the show for years, but the RAF100 village will allow people to get up close to some iconic aircraft and interact with serving personnel about today's high tech and science focused air force.