Olympic Air

From the Eurofighter Typhoon to the Goodyear Blimp, see what’s flying at the 2012 Olympic Games.

neil chapman
Senior Aircraftman Neil Chapman, Crown Copyright/MOD 2012

Aerobatics is not yet an Olympic sport, but plenty of aircraft are involved in this year's Summer Games, where more than 13,500 military personnel will provide security on the ground, in the air, and at sea. Take a look at our gallery, above, to see what's flying.

The U.K.'s E-3D Sentry fleet will be on standby during the Games to help coordinate air security in greater London. "Just because we see a Sentry in the skies over London, that doesn't meant there's a reported threat we need to do something about," Air Commander Gary Waterfall told AviationWeek in early March. "It may be we have discovered a temporary gap in radar coverage."

In the photo above, a pair of RAF Typhoon aircraft joined a Boeing E-3D Sentry to fly over the Palace of Westminster in April 2012.

The BBC reported in April that seven E-3D aircraft were taken out of service after a fault was discovered on one of the RAF surveillance airplanes; they were returned to flight status later that month.

Lynx Mk8

(Royal Navy, Crown Copyright)

A Lynx Mk8 from British Naval Air Station 815 leaves the flight deck of the HMS Ocean. The Lynx, prepared to intercept hostile aircraft, will have RAF Regiment snipers on board. In May, Lynx helicopters assigned to the Royal Navy and Army Air Corps flew practice maneuvers as part of Olympic Guardian, an alert exercise.

Dove Craft

(British Airways)

British Airways hired designer Pascal Anson (pictured) to transform nine of its aircraft into the likeness of a dove. Legend has it that in the first Olympic Games, doves carried reports to distant towns. Over time, the dove came to symbolize nations flocking together in peaceful competition.


(British Airways)

British Airways spent eight days repainting an Airbus A-319 in white, with gold strokes representing dove feathers. Aboard the aircraft, British Airways chefs will serve British meals typical of 1948, in a nod to the last time the country hosted the Olympic Games. Watch a time-lapse video of the aircraft being painted, here.

Red Arrows

(Geoffrey Lee, Planefocus Limited)

The Red Arrows, the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team (here, with four Eurofighter Typhoons, entertaining Londoners for the RAF's 90th birthday), will perform a nine-ship flypast in "Big Battle" formation to mark the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games. In 2009, four years before the Summer Games, it was erroneously reported that the Red Arrows had been banned from the Opening Ceremonies for being "too British," and for possibly offending other nations with their "military background." Even though ceremony organizers and the Red Arrows both refuted the story, a protest movement was launched, and half a million people signed a petition begging that the team be "reinstated." On July 27, the Red Arrows will fly over Olympic sites in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, and London.

Typhoon Fighters

(Geoffrey Lee, Planefocus Limited)

According to the BBC, at least four RAF Typhoon fighters will be deployed to RAF Northolt in west London, the first time fighters have been based at that airfield since World War II. (Preparations included removing a section of hedge at the airfield because it was at risk of catching fire from the Typhoons' jet blast.) The fighter jets will be on standby to prevent a 9/11-type terrorist attack. See a clip of a security exercise, here.

Goodyear Blimp

(Susan Matthews)

In April 2012, the Goodyear airship Spirit of Safety flew in close orbit to the ArcelorMittal Orbit, a 375-foot-tall steel sculpture near Olympic Stadium. Orbit is made from 4.4 million pounds of tubular steel, and will welcome up to 5,000 visitors daily on its observation deck. London Mayor Boris Johnson teamed up with Lakshmi Mittal (CEO of ArcelorMittal) to create this landmark, a work that will serve as a visitor attraction during the Games and after.

Goodyear's long history with the Olympics goes back to 1932, when the company's blimp covered the Winter Games at Lake Placid, New York. It took a day for the airship Los Angeles to travel from the naval air station at Lakehurst, New Jersey to the Games, the first Winter Olympics held in the United States.

Helicopter Filming

(Flynet UK/FameFlynet Pictures)

To capture footage for a film to be shown at the Opening Ceremonies, this pair of helicopters (an Aerospatiale AS355 Ecureuil 2, left, and an Agusta Westland 139) flew between the upper walkway and lower roadway span of the iconic Tower Bridge on the River Thames. Details of the film weren't released, but one helicopter was rumored to hold Daniel Craig, the latest actor to portray James Bond. Nearby on the grounds of the Tower of London, a Royal Marine commando practiced rappelling to the ground from a Sea King helicopter.

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