Page last updated at 15:07 GMT, Monday, 16 February 2009

Century of naval aviation marked

Crew member of an SS 'Z' Class airship about to throw a bomb from the rear cockpit of the gondola
Early naval airship crew launched bombs the old-fashioned way

The Royal Navy has unveiled its plans for celebrations to mark the centenary of British naval air power.

The anniversary will be celebrated throughout the year with a series of flypasts, concerts and other events.

On 7 May, 1909 the Admiralty put aside funds for its first airship, changing the face of warfare to come.

One hundred years later, the navy's Fleet Air Arm can boast more than 250 aircraft and helicopters - a third of the UK forces' air strength.

One hundred years ago 35,000 was allocated towards the creation of a rigid airship to compete with the German airship programme.

The result was the HMA 1 airship, commonly called the Mayfly.

Though the Mayfly technically never flew - a strong gust had caused it to hit an obstruction and break in half - the idea of air power was well established and within three years the first aircraft was launched from a moving ship.

A Harrier launches from the deck of HMS Illustrious in 2001.
A Harrier launches from the deck of HMS Illustrious in 2001.

The Pacific theatre of World War II proved the importance of air power at sea, Stephen Saunders, said the editor of Jane's Fighting Ships.

He said: "Naval aviation is important because of the flexibility and independence that air power gives you.

"If you operate from ship you have a large moving airfield that can get to places that simply may not be served by an airstrip."

The news conference to unveil the anniversary was attended by past luminaries of the Fleet Air Arm including veteran 'Jock' Moffat, the pilot whose torpedo crippled the mighty Bismarck during World War II.

But the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Jonathon Band, also looked to the future, as he discussed the two new aircraft carriers ordered by the Royal Navy in 2008.

"Their requirement is testimony to the enduring capability of carrier aviation," he said.

Centenary events will culminate on 7 May with a fly-past of ancient and modern Fleet Air Arm aircraft over the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious.

There will also be a service to formally recognize the sacrifices made over the 100 years of naval aviation at St. Paul's Cathedral on 8 May.

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