Wednesday, 23 June 2021

Rotary Club of Henley Bridge

SQUADRON leader Graham Laurie MVO, pilot of the Queen’s Flight, was the speaker at our meeting

SQUADRON leader Graham Laurie MVO, pilot of the Queen’s Flight, was the speaker at our meeting at Badgemore Park Golf Club.

He spoke about his 26 years as a pilot for the royal family and the history of royal flying.

Sq Ldr Laurie entertained Rotarians and their guests with many insights and anecdotes.

He also showed a series of photographs of planes used by members of the royal family over the years, including their red carpet arrivals at many Commonwealth destinations.

The Queen’s Flight formed in 1952 and was based at RAF Benson.

It started with Vikings which were unpressurised and had no air conditioning even though they flew the royals on many of their Commonwealth tours.

In 1964 the Vikings were replaced with Hawker Siddeley Andovers, twin engine turbo props that could fly to 25,000ft and were more suitable for global travel.

By the late Seventies and early Eighties, the use of Wessex helicopters enabled a member of the royal family to fit in at least five UK visits in a day whereas previously only one could be managed.

By 1986 three VIP configured BAe 146s entered the Queen’s Flight for overseas tours as the flight’s first jet aircraft.

Following the 1994 Pocock Report, the Queen’s Flight was merged with RAF 32 Squadron to become the Royal Squadron based at RAF Northolt. This ended the RAF’s provision of dedicated VIP planes since the aircraft of 32 Squadron are only available to VIP passengers if not needed for military operations.

Mr Laurie also told of the success of members of the royal family in becoming pilots themselves.

Both Edward VIII and George VI were flying planes from as early as 1917.

The Duke of Edinburgh learned to fly fixed wing planes on Chipmunks, then De Havilland Doves and Herons, and later learned to fly helicopters. He continued flying until he was 75 years old.

Prince Charles also learned on Chipmunks and Princes William and Harry both gained their wings. Prince William is now on regular duty with the air ambulance.

Michael Pooley thanked Sq Ldr Laurie for a fascinating insight into royal and VIP travel in the 20th century.

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