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Hawker Hunters of No. 111 Squadron’s display team the Black Arrows. Photograph by Mike Chase MM FRPS, 1957. © IWM RAF-T 240.
Hawker Hunters of No. 111 Squadron’s display team the Black Arrows. Photograph by Mike Chase MM FRPS, 1957. © IWM RAF-T 240.

For over forty years the Royal Air Force was in the frontline of Britain’s Cold War defences. Recording the first half of this dynamic period were a small number of specialist aviation photographers from the Air Ministry’s (later Ministry of Defence’s) Photographic Reproduction Branch (PRB) who produced a unique collection of 10,000 colour images. PRB’s chief photographer for much of this period was Mike Chase MM, one of the country’s most experienced aviation photographers.

In 1956 he was made a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society for his work improving air-to-air photography. He worked extensively with pilots to achieve some of the world’s finest images of aircraft in flight. These photographs are among the most noteworthy within the collection.

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English Electric Lightning F.3s of No. 74 Squadron based at RAF Leuchars, Fife, are seen in flight over nearby St Andrews in 1964. Crown Copyright / IWM RAF-T 4800.
English Electric Lightning F.3s of No. 74 Squadron based at RAF Leuchars, Fife, are seen in flight over nearby St Andrews in 1964. Crown Copyright / IWM RAF-T 4800.

Held by the Ministry of Defence's Central Negative Library set up in King Charles Street, London after the Second World War, the collection was used by the Air Ministry and RAF in recruitment brochures, periodicals and newspaper supplements. Individually the photographs show key aircraft, people and events.

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Senior Aircraftwoman Una Taylor of No. 74 Squadron and a pilot of a Hawker Hunter confer following an air defence exercise in 1957. © IWM, RAF-T 208.
Senior Aircraftwoman Una Taylor of No. 74 Squadron and a pilot of a Hawker Hunter confer following an air defence exercise in 1957. © IWM, RAF-T 208.

Collectively they show the force adapting to the combined threats of the Cold War and the frequent defence cuts of the 1950s and 1960s. As recruitment aids, they encouraged boys to become aircrew or skilled RAF tradesmen, both of which had seen a decline following a series of disastrous political decisions from the late 1950s. 

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Squadron Leader Ulf Burberry’s crew run towards a Handley Page Victor of No. 15 (XV) Squadron during a demonstration scramble at RAF Cottesmore, June 1959. © IWM, RAF-T 1018.
Squadron Leader Ulf Burberry’s crew run towards a Handley Page Victor of No. 15 (XV) Squadron during a demonstration scramble at RAF Cottesmore, June 1959. © IWM, RAF-T 1018.

As a public relations tool, they promoted to politicians and the general public the similarities between the RAF’s vital Cold War role in defending Britain and its successes during the Second World War, then still strong in popular memory.

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A Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight along with a Hawker Hunter F.6 of No. 43 Squadron and a Gloster Javelin FAW.7 of No. 23 Squadron during a Battle of Britain anniversary flight in August 1959. © IWM, RAF-T 1163.
A Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight along with a Hawker Hunter F.6 of No. 43 Squadron and a Gloster Javelin FAW.7 of No. 23 Squadron during a Battle of Britain anniversary flight in August 1959. © IWM, RAF-T 1163.

This collection remained largely unknown to the public until it was transferred to IWM for preservation in 2005. In November 2014, 160 of these images will for the first time be published together in their original colour in ‘The RAF in the Cold War, 1950-1970’  by Ian Proctor.

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Avro Vulcan B.1 XA904 of No. 83 Squadron is serviced at RAF Waddington, October 1957.
Avro Vulcan B.1 XA904 of No. 83 Squadron is serviced at RAF Waddington, October 1957. © IWM, RAF-T 416.