A flypast is a ceremonial or honorific flight by a group of aircraft or a single aircraft. The term flypast is used in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. In the United States, the terms flyover and flyby are used.
Flypasts are often tied in with Royal or state events, anniversaries, celebrations - and occasionally funerary or memorial occasions. Sometimes flypasts occur in special situations, to honour someone or to celebrate certain types of aircraft. They have affinities with parades, of which they form the aerial component. Often they occur in purely display contexts at airshows, but it is the flypasts linked with civic, ceremonial and national pride, that imprint themselves on a nation's memory. These spectacular and daring displays of military - and occasionally passenger - aircraft, are described in broadcast and print media as "historic".
Flypasts are regularly featured in public and ceremonial life in the United Kingdom, where they function as a particular kind of aerial salute. They serve to show respect, display aircraft, showcase flying skills and as a form of entertainment to delight the public, for example, during their annual appearance after Trooping the Colour. Flypasts reflect milestones of national life; varying in scope from personal, to community and local, to military, to national. They may honour individuals in private or public life or commemorate happenings at a particular location. They are also used to honour aircraft. On occasions both small and large they may occur over land or sea, sometimes connected with memorial or thanksgiving services.
Flypasts are usually performed by a country's Air Force or Navy.
In the UK, Royal Air Force (RAF) flypasts often originate from well known airfields, e.g. RAF Duxford or RAF Odiham. Very often, a flypast will be concluded by the RAF's aerobatic team, the Red Arrows, flying with their trademark red, white and blue trails. On appropriate occasions there is an appearance of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, generally comprising the distinctive Lancaster flanked by two smaller World War II aircraft, a Spitfire and a Hurricane.
Flypasts have been performed by, among others, the Indian Air Force, the Pakistan Air Force, the Republic of Singapore Air Force, the Royal Canadian Air Force, and the Royal Australian Air Force. National air force precision aerobatic teams, such as Patrouille de France, the Snowbirds and Frecce Tricolori, often appear.
Flypast locations are usually of national importance. In the UK, these include Buckingham Palace, where the Royal Family on the balcony will join the thousands of spectators in streets and parks below. Other London settings have included the River Thames. 50th and 60th anniversaries of World War II were celebrated by flypasts over Normandy in France. Festivities of Trafalgar 200 were centred over Portsmouth and at sea.
Settings have included the National Stadium, The Float@Marina Bay and the Padang in Singapore; Pakistan's Parliament House in Islamabad; Australia's Parliament House and ANZAC Parade to the Australian War Memorial, in Canberra; and Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Canada.
Trafalgar 200 was events during 2005 watched by thousands in Portsmouth, England, and millions on TV, commemorating the bicentennial of the Battle of Trafalgar. Among several flypasts, The Red Arrows overflew the Fleet review by the Queen.
Royal flypasts in the United Kingdom
The ceremonial flypast over Buckingham Palace on Queen Elizabeth II's Coronation Day, Tuesday 2 June 1953 was nearly cancelled due to bad weather. However, "after a short delay Duxford's Wing Commander Wallace successfully led 144 RAF Meteors and 24 Royal Canadian Air Force Sabres at 1,200 feet South to North across The Mall in squadrons line astern as the newly crowned Queen took the salute from the balcony of Buckingham Palace."  This 168-aircraft parade was under the charge of the Earl of Bandon. (On 15 May 1954, the Duxford Wing escorted the Queen on her return in the Royal Yacht, called HMY Britannia, from a six-month world tour, illustrating how much a part of ceremonial flypasts were in Elizabeth's early reign. )
On 15 July 1953 the Queen conducted a Coronation Review of the Royal Air Force at RAF Odiham. This spectacular featured a flypast by about 640 aircraft - among them 440 jet aircraft - again under the command of Air Vice-Marshal the Earl of Bandon.
The years since 2000 have been particularly rich in flypasts reflecting milestones of Royal life.
To greet the Queen Mother as their Commandant-in-Chief during her 100th Birthday Official Celebrations on 19 July 2000, the Red Arrows gave a 10-Hawk flypast over Horse Guards Parade - one plane for each decade of her life.
On Tuesday, 9 April 2002, the Queen Mother's burial at Windsor was marked by a flypast of a World War II Lancaster flanked by two Spitfires.
The finale of the Queen's Golden Jubilee Weekend on 4 June 2002 saw a lavish flypast "14 miles long at a speed of 310mph, passing overhead at a height of 1500ft." The formation, concluded by Concorde with a Red Arrows escort, was watched by the Royal Family on Buckingham Palace balcony and a million well-wishers in the Mall.
Among the celebrations of the Queen's 80th birthday during 2006 was a flypast following the Trooping the Colour. Headed by the Lancaster with 2 Hurricanes and 2 Spitfires (Battle of Britain Memorial Flight), the 49 aircraft in 9 formations included Typhoons, Jaguars, Tristar, VC10, C-17A Globemaster III and E-3 Sentry. The highlight was a "Diamond 9" formation of Tornado GR4s and the appearance of a Canberra escorted by the Red Arrows.
On Friday, 29 April 2011, after the wedding ceremony of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, a flypast of one Avro Lancaster bomber, one Spitfire and one Hawker Hurricane fighter aircraft was executed over Buckingham Palace, within sight of the celebrating public. This was then followed by a "Diamond 4" formation consisting of two Eurofighter Typhoon and Panavia Tornado jets.
- In May 2003, for only the third time in history, the Queen made a presentation of a new Royal Navy Colour. The ceremony at Torbay in Devon included a flypast by 89 helicopters and aircraft from the Fleet Air Arm, featuring the Phantom.
- On 29 October 2005, a Sea King helicopter overflew a service at sea commemorating the 125th Anniversary of the Wells lifeboat disaster.
- 70 years of the Spitfire plane were marked on 5 March 2006 by five Spitfires re-enacting the maiden flight of the plane before a crowd of thousands in Southampton.
- In 2008, Britain's then oldest man, Henry Allingham, had his 112th birthday marked with a luncheon and flypast at RAF Cranwell. (Similarly, his 110th birthday included RAF flypast and a visit from Gordon Brown. )
National or Republic Day celebrations
In many countries, flypasts, normally performed by the precision aerobatic team of a country's air force, are an integral part of Republic Day or National Day celebrations. The start of the Lord Mayor's Show in London each November is marked by a flypast over Mansion House. A flypast over Buckingham Palace is watched by the Royal Family each year following Trooping the Colour.
In Singapore the National Day Parade on 9 August 2005 celebrated 40 years of independence with an elaborate flypast  including two Chinook helicopters flying the national flag past the Esplanade Theatre in Padang.
In Finland, during Independence Day parade on 6 December the Finnish Air Force has traditionally performed a flyover of four fighters at the moment when the honour company of the Air force passes the podium where a representative of the war veterans, a representative of the city and the commander of the military province in question receive the parade troops marching past, the Helicopter battalion of Utti Jaeger Regiment has also performed flyovers timed to happen at the same time when the honour company of the Finnish Army provided by the Utti Jaeger Regiment passes the podium.
Air Force anniversaries
On 1 April 2008, a flypast by the Red Arrows over Central London marked the 90th Anniversary of the founding of the Royal Air Force. The milestone was also celebrated that June following Trooping the Colour 2008 with the RAF's longest-ever flypast: a line of aircraft stretching twenty miles in length, from airfields all over the United Kingdom.
During October 2006, the Indian Air Force celebrated its Platinum Jubilee with a flypast of around 78 aircraft, including the Sukhoi 30 MKI, the Mirage 2000, and MiG-25 attack aircraft. Anniversaries of World War II, such as VJ Day, have also been celebrated with flypasts in other countries, notably Australia and Canada.
World War II
(1945) Formation of American planes over USS Missouri and Tokyo Bay celebrating the signing of the surrender
Achievements of the Royal Air Force in World War II were celebrated at the time and continue to be commemorated in flypasts. The upper dams of Ladybower Reservoir were used to practise for the Dambusters raids and this is occasionally commemorated in flypasts by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.
On 15 September 1945, after the war ended, about 300 aircraft flew over London in the first Battle of Britain anniversary flypast. "The formation was led by 247 Squadron in their new Vampire fighters, the first time the public had seen the aircraft." This flypast was apparently led by Douglas Bader (RAF hero commemorated and portrayed by Kenneth More in the film Reach For the Sky.)
An attender recalls a victory parade in London on 8 June 1946 featuring two flypasts, one during the day and one at night. Scores of aircraft, of many kinds, took part.
The 50th and 60th anniversaries of World War II were commemorated with large flypasts. On 15 September 1990, 168 aircraft in seven formations celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain. Further flypasts occurred on 6 June 1994, celebrating the 50th anniversary of D-Day.
Over the weekend of 19–20 August 1995, the 50th anniversary of VJ Day was marked in London, including "a two-minute silence which...was ended by a Lancaster bomber overflying The Mall and dropping about a million poppies over the site." In the evening, there was a further flypast on the Thames.
6 June 2004 marked the 60th Anniversary of D-day, with the Normandy landings commemorated by veterans (many now aged 80+ years) and political leaders at locations throughout Normandy. The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight scattered millions of poppies over the veterans as they crossed the English Channel by ferry. Later, it flew over the veterans at Arromanches, concluding a memorial service with a 47-aircraft flypast of modern military jets led by the RAF Red Arrows. At Pegasus Bridge, the Army Air Corps conducted a flypast of Lynx helicopters.
The 60th anniversary in 2003 of the Dambusters raid was marked by a flypast of the last operational Lancaster over the cliffs at Reculver, site of secret tests of inventor Barnes Wallis's bouncing bomb. (This flight was part of a larger series of flypasts over key locations by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.)
On 16 May 2008, Les Munro, the last surviving Squadron Leader, and Richard Todd, star of the celebrated film The Dambusters, attended the 65th Anniversary service and flypast over Ladybower Reservoir. At 100 feet, as compared to 60 feet of the Dambusters' practice runs, a single Lancaster aircraft passed three times over Derwent Water. A Spitfire, two Tornadoes, and a Dakota transport plane also participated.
The Royal Canadian Air Force at the Canada Aviation Museum in Ottawa honoured Canada's participation and commemorated the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Britain on 17 September 2006. Modern aircraft performed a flypast along with four World War II planes provided by Vintage Wings of Canada who made a "once-in-a-lifetime formation".
The largest flypast in history occurred on the signing of the Japanese Instrument of Surrender which formally ended the war between Japan and the allied powers in Tokyo Bay on 2 September 1945. 400 B-29 bombers and 3000 carrier aircraft participated.
On 7 May 2007, hundreds of workers at Kennedy Space Center watched as US Air Force Thunderbirds performed a series of passes over the main industrial area, where the Space Shuttle is maintained and prepared for launches. The purpose of this demonstration was to photograph the planes at KSC for promotional purposes. Almost six months later, in November 2007, the Kennedy Space Center hosted the inaugural World Space Expo. The opening featured an aerial salute to NASA with the Thunderbirds as the main attraction.
Flypasts also demonstrate national pride at landmark entertainment and sporting events.
- Canada, the Snowbirds perform a flypast after the national anthem O Canada at each annual Grey Cup event, which is the largest sporting event in Canada.
- Italy Among the celebrations in of the Football World Cup victory in 2006 was a colourful flypast by the Frecce Tricolori at Pratica di Mare, streaming the red, green, and white of the Italian flag.
- United Kingdom A flypast provided a close to the 2012 Summer Olympics Handover Party in London. The preceding pop concert, held outside Buckingham Palace, was attended by a crowd of 40,000 (including guest of honour Michael Phelps) in The Mall, down which the Red Arrows roared. The flypast consisted of: 1st Wave: British Airways A319-131 - G-EUPC; 2nd Wave: RAF Puma, 2 x Royal Navy Lynx, 1 x RAF Sea King; 3rd Wave: RAF E3D, 2 x RAF Typhoon; 4th Wave: RAF Red Arrows
- United States, flyovers are common at professional sports and racing events as part of the performance of The Star-Spangled Banner. The flyover had been a strong NASCAR tradition, as every major race features one, usually performed by an air force or air national guard wing based in the area, and in some cases naval and marine air units. Army helicopters have also occasionally performed them. It is also a staple of the national anthem at the Super Bowl and the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. A flyover occurs at the beginning of the Men's Final of the US Open Tennis Championships. This is usually performed by the Blue Angels, the official U.S. Navy aerobatics demonstration squadron. A flyby takes places prior to the start of the Indianapolis 500 mile race, the largest single-day sporting event in the world. Held annually on Memorial Day weekend, U.S. military aircraft perform a flyby while "Taps" is played in remembrance of Memorial Day. In some years, multiple aircraft participate, executing the missing man formation.
New Zealand showed its pride at being the location for The Lord of the Rings, at the premiere in Wellington of the third film in the trilogy, The Return of the King. An Air New Zealand Boeing 747-400 flew in Lord of the Rings livery in a historic flight over Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Gisborne and Napier, "enabling more than two million people, one in two New Zealanders, to share in the excitement of The Lord of the Rings". This was the first time that a 747-400 had undertaken such a flypast in New Zealand.
The funeral of Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti was sealed by a flypast from Frecce Tricolori over Modena Cathedral, his native town, on 8 September 2007. Tens of thousands of people who had filed past his coffin as it lay in state, witnessed the show of respect and mourning.
Panic and disaster
Some Canberra residents panicked during a flypast in 2003 over Parliament House by two F-111 jets, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Australian High Court. It manifested itself as "two thunderously loud balls of flame screaming overhead at a height of about 300 metres and heading toward the city's landmarks." Press releases had been issued, but the police had not been informed.
In Goa, India during a ceremonial flypast to mark the silver jubilee of the Naval Air Squadron 315 in 2002, the wingtips of two Ilyushin aircraft brushed in mid-air, with the subsequent loss of a dozen lives[clarification needed]. The incident raised questions as to the necessity of flypasts which, "although spectacular and entertaining, can be risky".
- History of Trooping the Colour accessed 2 October 2006
- Duxford postwar history. Retrieved 30 September 2006.
- Royal Air Force history, 1953. Retrieved 30 September 2006
- Red Arrows News Archive for July 2000. Retrieved 18 October 2006. NB: The Queen Mother's actual birthday was 4 August; the official celebrations took place a couple of weeks earlier.
- The Guardian, Wednesday 10 April 2002, "A nostalgic flypast and a last show of respect across the nation". Retrieved 18 October 2006
- Eastern Daily Press coverage, with photographs and configuration, of flypast rehearsal, 30 May 2002 quoted on RAF Marham site. Retrieved 18 July 2006.
- Guardian Unlimited, Tuesday June 6, 2006.. Retrieved 3 October 2006
- For the full configuration, see National Day Parade, 2005
- MSN News, "IAF marks 75th year with impressive flypast" October 8, 2006 Accessed 15 October 2006
- Royal Air Force history timeline. Retrieved 30 September 2006
- World War Two commemorations description from the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 30 September 2006
- commemorations of 60th anniversary of D-day on RAF website
- The Scotsman, Monday 7 June 2004. Retrieved 3 October 2006
- Times Online, July 11, 2005. Retrieved 3 October 2006
- See BBC News, 17 May 2003. Retrieved 3 October 2006, for full description
- BBC News, 16 May 2008 "Dambusters remembered 65 years on". Retrieved 16 May 2008
- ABC News, Central Victoria, 19 April 2003. Retrieved 8 October 2006
- Canadian National Defence website report, 14 September 2006 accessed 15 October 2006
- Nemesis: The Battle for Japan - Max Hastings
- Space Task Force article, 8 May 2007. Accessed 2 April 2008
- Scoop! Independent News, Tuesday, 2 December 2003 Accessed 14 October 2006
- flypast (image no. 11 in this BBC photographic gallery)
- Funerali Pavarotti: l'ultimo saluto dalle Frecce Tricolori
- Sydney Morning Herald, 13 October 2003. Retrieved 8 October 2006
- The Hindu, Saturday 5 October 2002 Accessed 8 October 2006
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- Photographs of King George Review of 6 July 1935
- Official programme of Victory Parade in London 8 June 1946, including flypast
- Report on Queen's presentation in July 2003 of Royal Navy colour
- Pictures of the flypast and other events at the 125th anniversary of the sinking of the Eliza Adams lifeboat
- Helicopter and Red Arrow displays at Trafalgar 200, 28 June 2005
- The Lord Mayor's Show, which begins with a flypast
- Photographs of flypast for Trooping the Colour 2004
- BBC photograph (Image no. 10) of Italy World Cup 2006 celebratory flypast