Less than a month after flying the Queen’s coffin from Edinburgh to London for the sovereign’s state funeral, this RAF C-17 Globemaster was delivering essential military aid to boost Ukraine’s fightback against Vladimir Putin.
The C-17 carried 35,000lb of highly explosive warheads – 62 precision-guided Brimstone missiles, each capable of destroying a Russian tank or bunker position from 25 miles away – to an unidentified air base in Eastern Europe, near the war zone.
The aircraft, recently rechristened Lizzie in honour of her late Majesty, was flown by 32-year-old Flight Lieutenant Searle, 99 Squadron’s only female pilot.
She said: ‘I’ve flown six of these missions since the middle of this year. So much is at stake – we just want to play our part. The RAF has really stepped up.’
The late Queen is said to have approved the plane, which had previously been used to repatriate the bodies of British soldiers from Afghanistan, to transport her coffin, saying: ‘If it’s good enough for my boys, it’s good enough for me,’ according to Mike Tindall, husband of Princess Anne’s daughter Zara Tindall.
The Queen’s coffin was accompanied on its journey from Edinburgh to RAF Northolt in West London by the Princess Royal, ahead of the state funeral.
Pete Bond, who Mr Tindall says was tasked, when a staff officer in 2009, with reviewing plans for the movement of the Queen’s coffin if she died overseas, reportedly wrote that a BAE 146 business jet was due to transport the Queen, but access to its freight bay was difficult and it was substituted for the larger C-17.
A senior RAF source said: ‘Extensive and comprehensive planning was conducted by the military for the demise of Her Majesty the Queen. The most appropriate assets were used throughout the operation.’
Pallbearers from the Queen’s Colour Squadron, a unit formed in 1960 that provides safe escort to the Colour, carried the Queen’s coffin from the military jet to the state hearse ahead of her period of lying in state at Westminster Hall.
More than six million people had tried tracking the flight which was greeted by three officers and 96 non-commissioned gunners, poignantly used to mark each year of the late monarch’s extraordinary life, who had assembled on the airfield shortly before the plane landed following a short flight from Edinburgh.