The RAF, still flying high after 90 years

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The world's oldest First World War veteran yesterday took pride of place beside the Queen to watch a spectacular flypast of 90 aircraft – one for each year of the RAF's history – at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire.

Henry Allingham, who is 112, said it was the ninth time the Queen had met him, so he was not overawed. The flypast was the biggest since one to mark the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Britain in 1990.

"It's a wonderful occasion," said Mr Allingham. "I had forgotten it for 25 years, then they resurrected me."

The flypast featured RAF Tornado F3s, Typhoons and Harriers, as well as an appearance by the Red Arrows. A Sea King helicopter and a Second World War Spitfire were also on show, along with Tornado GR4s, Tucanos and training school Hawks.

Just a few hours later, "unusually heavy rainfall" forced the organisers to call off the rest of the show. "When it became clear that we could not guarantee the safety of the many thousands of people who had bought tickets for Saturday, the decision to cancel was straightforward," said director Tim Prince.

Earlier in the day the Queen paid tribute to the "professionalism, skill, determination and courage" of the RAF, as she presented the force with new Colours. Speaking at the opening of the Royal International Air Tattoo, she told 5,000 guests that she was "deeply conscious" of the difficulties posed by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were met by Air Chief Marshal Sir Glenn Torpy and watched a parade of 759 RAF personnel yesterday morning. Wearing a lilac dress with pink trim, and a pink hat, the Queen told the ranks on the parade ground: "This is the fifth time I have presented the Royal Air Force with a new Colour. On each occasion I have been enormously impressed by the professionalism, skill, determination and courage with which the men and women of the RAF serve."

She went on to say that the RAF should be proud of its achievements in Iraq and Afghanistan but that she recognised these often came at a cost to personnel and their families.

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