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Why the Union flag on the Prime Minister’s Voyager plane isn’t wrong, backwards or upside down

It wasn’t long after the Prime Minister’s newly-repainted plane had emerged from the hangar at Cambridge Airport yesterday that people began suggesting the Union flag on its tail was wrong.

Many took to social media to claim the flag was upside down or backwards.

The Prime Minister's plane leaves Cambridge Airport after its repaint by Marshall ADG. Picture: Dan Thomas, Airliner Videos
The Prime Minister's plane leaves Cambridge Airport after its repaint by Marshall ADG. Picture: Dan Thomas, Airliner Videos

Some pointed to the red bar on the leading edge of the flag, suggesting it should be towards the top of the white section, not the bottom. On Twitter, #tailfail began to appear, mocking the £900,000 paint job.

But Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group, which carried out the work, had in fact carried out its work on the RAF Voyager ‘Vespina’ - an Airbus A330 - to perfection, as you might expect from one of the world’s leading companies in the field, which has worked with the RAF for more than a century.

A spokesperson for the Royal Air Force explained: “The design is correct in all respects and carefully follows the correct protocol for displaying the Union flag on an aircraft.

“The convention is for the flag design to appear as though it is flying from a flag placed on the nose of the aircraft, as it travels through the air.

The Union flag
The Union flag

“When viewing the starboard side (right hand side), this can give the mistaken impression that the design is backwards, or upside down, when in fact the observer is simply viewing the reverse side of the flag.

“A keen eye will notice that this convention has been consistently applied on all flags represented on the aircraft, including on the Union Flags on the two forward-most aircraft doors.

“This protocol is not unique to the UK, a simple online search for images of the United States’ Air Force One starboard side will show that an identical convention has been followed.”

The paint scheme is designed to “promote the UK around the world while transporting ministers, senior members of the royal family and their delegations on trade, diplomatic and other missions”.

The RAF confirmed the aircraft also remains certified for its original use, including air-to-air refuelling and personnel transport.

The PM's Voyager jet arrives at RAF Brize Norton. Picture: RAF
The PM's Voyager jet arrives at RAF Brize Norton. Picture: RAF

It is able to fly to and from almost any airport across the world that can take an Airbus A330, and has a range that enables it to reach much of the world without costly and time-consuming refuelling.

Air Commodore Simon Edwards, the senior responsible officer for the project, said: "This project was a privilege to have been involved in and I am delighted to have seen it delivered so quickly and efficiently, together with our industry partners. The aircraft’s new paint scheme will better reflect its prestige role which we are proud to undertake.”

The aircraft - sometimes referred to by its military registration number ZZ336 - looked exactly the same as the rest of the operational Voyager fleet, with a grey colour scheme before its paint job.

Airbus developed the detailed drawings for the work, and Marshall delivered the project “on time and within budget”, the RAF said.

The cost of the paintwork has come under fire from Labour city councillors, who felt it could have been better spent, as the Cambridge Independent reported, although supporters have pointed out that planes need regularly repainting.

The RAF said: “This external paint scheme will better reflect its VIP mission and contribution to ‘Global Britain’.”

The Voyager flew from Cambridge, where Marshall completed the work in its vast and recently upgraded paint shop, to its home at RAF Brize Norton.

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