RAF100 Relay Baton

Number 4 School brings beauty to engineering to create the first historic artefact of the RAF’s second century

When the ex-Commanding Officer of Number 4 School of Technical Training (No 4SofTT), now Gp Capt Rob Woods OBE (Engineer Officer), came up with the concept of a relay for sports teams to celebrate the centenary of the formation of the RAF, he knew exactly where the Relay Baton should be made. Being very familiar with the capabilities of the General Technician Trade (Trade Group 5) he approached No 4SofTT to design and manufacture a baton that would encapsulate the importance of the centenary, showcase RAF engineering capability and was an ‘item of beauty’, as directed by Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hiller KCB CBE, Chief of the Air Staff (CAS).

Did you know?

Phase 2 General Technician Trainees on No 4SofTT designed the Baton as part of a competition within the School.

No 4SofTT started their work in July 2017, nine months ahead of the deadline of 1 April 2018 and the start of the RAF100 Relay. After understanding the brief, all of the Phase 2 Trainees on the School (General Technician Mechanical, Electrical and Workshops) were tasked with developing a concept. Instructors then helped refine their designs to ensure they met the specification and, importantly, were realistic and could be physically manufactured.

Did you know?

Chief of the Air Staff selected the RAF100 Relay Baton design after a ‘Dragon’s Den’ selection process at HQ Air Command.

The numerous designs created by the Trainees were then down-selected until three remained. Instructional staff then helped the final three teams create a presentation to pitch their designs to CAS. On 11 October 2017, the Teams travelled to HQ Air Command to take part in a Dragon’s Den selection competition adjudicated by CAS. The Trainees all performed exceptionally well in their presentations, considering they held the lowest rank in the Service briefing the highest-ranking officer (4*)! CAS, with input from his FS and SAC from his Outer Office, selected the design created by four General Technician Workshops Trainees, namely ACs Gower, Marston, Richardson and Qalobulawasikabara.

From the outset, it was realised that the choice of materials would be an excellent way of reflecting the 100 years of service by the Royal Air Force. A natural timeline was formed from early aircraft made from wood, through to the development of aerospace metals for increasingly complex and capable aircraft. The final design therefore used wood for the handle with brass fittings, representing First World War aircraft, moving onto aircraft grade aluminium for the main body and aerofoil sections, which encapsulated aircraft from the Second World War era and onwards.

Did you know?

From the selection of materials to the angles of construction and the number of light-emitting diodes, there is significance in all aspects of the Relay Baton’s design.

The design included a number of subtle features which captured a small selection of historical facts. The RAF was formed by the merging of the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps and therefore becoming the third branch of the United Kingdom’s Armed Forces. The main body of the Baton is tapered by 3° to represent this status. The angle on the top of the Baton is exactly 22° from the horizontal. This was selected to recognise perhaps the most famous and inspirational RAF Pilot, Sir Douglas Bader, who held a score of 22 confirmed aerial victories.

On day 46/47 of the RAF100 Baton Relay, 617 Squadron commemorated the 75th anniversary of their famous Dambusters Raid on 16/17 May 1943. Eight of their Lancaster bombers failed to return home, with the loss of 56 aircrew. Eight of these men were Flight Engineers who trained at No 4SofTT, in the very building the Batons were made. These engineers, and all the Lancaster crews, are remembered by the eight LEDs housed in the handle that illuminate the main body of the Baton.

Did you know?

There is more than one RAF100 Relay Baton. Four full-size batons were manufactured along with four smaller version – all played a part in the RAF100 Campaign.

Once the design was finalised, the arduous task of making the Batons began. Due to the complexity of the design and the time required to manufacture the Batons, this highly technical task was completed by senior instructors on No 4SofTT, mainly Workshops Instructors. However, Electrical Instructors also contributed to the effort installing the striking blue LEDs in the handle of the Batons.

As the materials chosen were to reflect the evolution of military aviation, so too were the manufacturing techniques employed in the production. It was important that a combination of old and new methods were used, rather than simply opting for modern Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) machinery throughout. Manually operated lathes and milling machines were employed for the majority of the main components, with a CNC lathe being used to generate a comfortable and consistent profile of the wooden handles. A CNC engraving machine was also used to cut the RAF crest on the top caps and inscribe the RAF motto, ‘Per Ardua Ad Astra’, around the bottom brass fitting of the handles.

Did you know?

Bespoke tooling was designed and manufactured so that the Baton could be bored out to reduce weight and store a congratulatory message to the RAF from Her Majesty the Queen.

Whilst some of the runners may beg to differ, a great deal of time and effort was expended in reducing the weight of the Batons by hollowing out the centre of the main body and end cap. This also provided a safe space to house a commemorative message to the RAF from Her Majesty the Queen. To achieve this, special tooling had to be designed and produced to allow a tapered bore to be machined to a depth of 385mm with a 26mm diameter at the bottom. The wall thickness of the body was set to 3mm as this was deemed as thin as possible whilst maintaining sufficient threads to attach the side aerofoils securely.

The aerofoils themselves were the most challenging parts to produce. The options were to fabricate them from sheet material, roll them from strip material, or machine from solid bar. After much consideration, the machining option was favoured as this was the most repeatable process for the quantities required in the very limited time available, plus it would give the most professional-looking end product. Unfortunately, it was also the most time consuming!

A large cone was bored from a 5” diameter aluminium bar. This was then fitted on a specially-made mandrel, mounted in a dividing head in the milling machine and drilled and counterbored to line-up exactly with the threaded holes in the main body. This was then cut lengthways using a bandsaw to produce two halves; each piece then being mounted back on the mandrel and milled to an exact 140° segment. This would create the radial gap between each of the aerofoils on assembly. The mandrel was then transferred to the lathe and offset to create the distinctive thick-to-thin profile of an aerofoil. The amount of offset had to be calculated carefully and the angle of the taper had to be adjusted to produce an aerofoil that tapered both around its circumference and along its length. The curved leading and trailing edges were applied by hand with a file and increasing grades of emery paper and finally the angles at each end were cut and finished by hand.

All the aluminium components were clear anodised to protect them from the elements during the Relay and to give them a pleasing surface finish. The difference in textures was achieved by brush finishing the main body using a coarse grade of emery paper and highly polishing the aerofoils using a polishing mop. Once the printing of the RAF100 logos and aircraft timeline had been completed, careful assembly was carried out before the No 4SofTT Electrical Instructors could wire up the LEDs in the handle.

Throughout the Project, Raytheon were the official partners of the RAF100 Relay Baton and graciously allocated £10,000 of funding. Sqn Ldr Gareth Thomas, OC Training Sqn on No 4SofTT, had the job of balancing the accounts and liaising with Raytheon on a frequent basis to reassure them that their money was being well spent!

As with any design project in the military, there was inevitable capability creep, with new requirements being added to the design specification. In late January 2018, the need to add satellite tracking was requested, along with an ability to mount a 360° camera to the Baton. With innovative thinking, these novel requests were embodied in the form of bespoke cap fittings, which were later employed at various points during the Relay.

Did you know?

Over one thousand hours of engineering effort were expended manufacturing the RAF100 Relay Batons.

The only aspects of the Baton’s manufacture that could not be completed by No 4SofTT and the RAF were certain aspects of electroplating, engraving and anodising. Two civilian firms ably supported No 4SofTT achieve the high standard of finish required. BIE Magnum carried out the electroplating and engraving and further arranged the printing of the RAF100 logo and aircraft timeline with Customark. These businesses, with no established links to the RAF, stepped up to the plate and went the extra mile to support RAF100. None more so than Mr Nigel Hunt from BIE Magnum, who actually drove the Batons back to MOD St Athan, so that the final deadline could be achieved.

The Batons were completed on 28 March 2018, just in time for promotional activity with the RAF100 Media Engagement Team and for the Baton to be introduced to Prime Minister Theresa May when she made a flying visit to MOD St Athan. The Batons were then dispatched to the Royal Courts of Justice in London for the official start of the Relay on 1 April 2018.

Over the subsequent one hundred days, the Batons travelled all over the UK and around the World. Travelling to every RAF base and even deployed locations, the Baton brought the intent of RAF100 to every corner of our operation. The RAF100 Baton Relay became the heartbeat of the RAF100 celebrations, a constant reminder of our special year.

Did you know?

The four full-size batons have all found new homes: One has been donated to the RAF Museum in Hendon; One was auctioned in aid of the RAF100 Appeal; The third will go to RAF Halton; and The final baton will stay with No 4SofTT.

The Relay and the Baton rapidly grew beyond its initial remit of a sporting celebration and the Batons were used for Defence Engagement activities around the world and for STEM and Youth Outreach in the United Kingdom. The Baton travelled to Washington DC, Afghanistan, Qatar and the Falkland Islands among many other locations. The original concept had evolved into a symbol of RAF100 with global reach and influence. Everywhere the Baton visited it brought joy and inclusion to all those saw and held it, confirming its beauty and engineering excellence.

Did you know?

The Relay Baton has been classified by Air Officer Commanding Number 22 Gp as ‘the first historic artefact of the RAF’s second century’.

The Baton Relay concluded on 10 July 2018 on Horse Guards Parade in London, exactly 100 days after the start of the Relay adventure. No 4SofTT are extremely proud of their involvement in the Relay, as one aspect of their wider RAF100 celebrations, and were thrilled to be told that one of the Batons would be gifted to the School as a reminder of their pivotal role in this very special undertaking.

AOC 22 Gp, Air Vice-Marshal Warren James, during a meeting with the RAF100 Baton Manufacturing Team, stated that No 4SofTT and the Baton Team can be proud to have produced the first historic artefact of the RAF’s second century. Further, following a visit to MOD St Athan on 24 October 2018, CAS stated that:

‘…the initiative and work behind the Baton manufacture and subsequent relay has been instrumental in promoting RAF100 across the globe’.

The RAF100 Relay Baton Design and Manufacture Team comprised the following personnel from No 4SofTT:

Sqn Ldr Gareth Thomas,

Mr John Muir,

Chf Tech Andy Brooks,

Chf Tech Gareth Chilcott,

Mr Mark Prout,

Sgt Richie Lawrence,

Mrs Sarah John,

Cpl Craig Marshall,

Cpl Rob Ross

and Cpl Rich Stanley.

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