How wonderful of the RAF to put on a great big military flypast right in the middle of the week when loads of people in the city can pop out for 10 minutes to watch it.

None of that fussing about getting back into the city on a Saturday to watch one, it’s right over the offices people spend much of their day staring at computer screens. Now time to stare at something much more exciting than a spreadsheet.

Some had moaned that these things should be at weekends for the kids, but this was a show for the RAF by the RAF. It just happens that a flypast over the centre of a large city is going to be exceptionally visible, so loads of people were going to be outside to see it.

Your correspondent wandered across from Waterloo at noon, and already there were the tell-tale signs that Something Interesting was about to happen with loads of mostly men with big cameras bagging a spot for some long-distance lens action.

The normally busy Trafalgar Square was buzzing and abnormally busy for a mid-week lunchtime, but the biggest sign that Something Interesting was happening was the small traffic island that houses the statue of Charles I. Normally empty and ignored by everyone, today it was packed full of people hoping to be right under the flypast as it headed down The Mall.

Office suits clutching their bags of lunch from Pret, men with small cameras and big lenses, girls with smartphones, bewildered tourists.

By ten to one, the crowds were enormous for this time of day, seemingly spilling into the roads in places and adding to the already fraught road chaos caused by several road closures.

A number of embassy buildings had gained an unusual decoration, as staff spilled out on their rooftops — the staff in Canada House having a large patio on their roof doubtless helped them.

A flag seller collecting money for the RAF 100 Appeal did a roaring trade in donations. It being unseemly to refuse to donate when such a grand show is being put on for free.

A slow-moving convoy of seemingly Chinese tourists in a coach got stuck right in front of the Strand, and while the driver doubtless cursed, the tourists started taking photos of the people in the crowd outside.

They were in for an unexpected treat on their visit to the UK.

In the distance, the scaffold clad Big Ben didn’t bong to herald the flypast, but the throbbing sound of loads of Chinook helicopters came slowly into view over the Grand Building.

Crowds point to friends, it’s started. Mobile phones held aloft in that modern salute that says anything worth seeing is better seen through a digital haze.

Over they rumbled, and the crowd, as one, turned to look towards The Mall, then quickly back to see what’s next.

In the Grand Building, faces could be seen pressed to the glass as they, and thousands of other people across London took 10 minutes from their desks to stare at what just caused their desks to shake.

In waves they came. The older planes got rounds of applause. The bigger craft got gasps of amazement. The smaller planes, rather less so.

Everyone wanted the Red Arrows, but the crowd was ecstatic when a formation of jets came over flying to show the number 100 in the air.

Was that it some wondered, but then, yells as the familiar white smokes of the Red Arrows came into view and then right in front, became the red, white and blue of patriotic nationhood.

The crowds applauded, laughed, made comments about being excellent, then slowly dispersed.

People who admitted to not really being plane fans came away just a bit more of a fan, and maybe an airshow missed an opportunity to promote their event to smiling faces.

The flypast over, stuck coaches slowly moved off, the Chinese tourists in their coach sat down again, and Whitehall was momentarily blocked by the huge numbers of civil servants heading back to their offices.

Men with big lens having photographed Something Interesting packed up their gear and headed home.

You can watch the flypast on telly, or look at photos, but it’s the sounds, the crowds, the gasps that make a flypast so much more exciting to experience in the flesh.

No wonder The Queen looks so happy when they go over her home.


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  1. J P says:

    You’re so right. Whilst the television cameras will have the best views, after the balcony on Buck House, it’s the glimpses through the crowds/trees/other obstacles that are unutterably enhanced by the rumbling in the tum produced by the roar overhead.

  2. Annabel says:

    I was on Waterloo Bridge, and our view kept being obstructed by buses, vans, etc. Fortunately the crowd was good-natured and just laughed when that happened – one could always turn round and see them heading towards Buckingham Palace, after all.

  3. James Cook says:

    I am no more than 3 meters away from where you were standing today. I was closer to the traffic island next to the coaches that appear in your photographs and was hoping to see myself and look for my red glasses in your photographs but unfortunately not!

  4. Chris Rogers says:

    Ian, I too was just a few metres away from you, it seems, having nipped across London from SE1 on a long lunch. I was slightly further north, having learned from the test run I did for Trooping the Colour. The anticipation was great, seeing people as you say on rooftops, and not one nor two but three helicopters hovering to watch (one was the police’s). The ominous first element of the helicopters was impressive, as were the fast jet formations, but the ‘100’ – a complete surprise – was stunning, even better than the simple pass the Red Arrows did. Stunning pics of Flypast at The Times’ site xx

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