The plane set to carry the Queen’s coffin from Edinburgh to London evacuated thousands of people fleeing the Taliban in Kabul last summer.

The “heavily used” C-17 Globemaster has also been used to take humanitarian aid and weapons to Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.

The head of the Royal Air Force (RAF), said the aircraft has also helped “extensively” in disaster relief efforts around the world.

The RAF has been tasked with moving the Queen’s coffin on Tuesday evening.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston told Sky News: “It’s a C-17 Globemaster, which is our strategic airlifter. But on this very sad occasion it will be carrying Her Majesty’s coffin down from Edinburgh to RAF Northolt.

“It’s a heavily used aircraft – it carried the majority of the 15,000 people that we evacuated from Kabul last summer.

“And, since then, it’s been involved in airlifting humanitarian aid and lethal aid nodes to support Ukraine.”

Sir Mike said the former monarch, who died last week aged 96, will get a royal guard of honour from 96 Queen’s Colour Squadron gunners when it is loaded on to the aircraft in Edinburgh.

The plane, which will also fly the Princess Royal south, will leave at 6pm and is expected to arrive in London an hour later.

The Queen’s Colour Squadron, this time with the King’s colours on display too, will then give another guard of honour.

A hearse will then take the Queen’s coffin to Buckingham Palace.

“Today is the day that we have long, long planned for but hoped would never come,” Sir Mike told BBC Breakfast.

“I’ll be part of the reception party at RAF Northolt to welcome Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal off the aircraft and then to be part of the royal salute as the coffin is moved into the hearse.”

(PA Graphics)

Sir Mike praised the Queen’s interest in new technology, noting that when she began her reign, the RAF was flying Lancaster and Spitfire planes.

“As one of the many chiefs that she’s seen over her 70-year reign, (she had) a depth of wisdom and interest in geopolitics or interest in the technology of today,” he said.

“And when you look at the technology and her interest in that, again, it speaks to somebody who right to the end kept this close affinity and a close interest.”

Sir Mike said the Queen is the “embodiment of a life of service”.

He told Sky News: “And when we join the armed forces – the Navy, the Army, the Air Force – we all try in some way to emulate that service.

“And His Majesty the King, just like Her Majesty, comes from a service family.

“They know what it’s like to have partners, sons, grandsons, grandchildren serving and serving on operations as well.

“They understand what it means to be a service family, and that’s why Her Majesty was able to engage with and sought out families – to talk to them, to share and hear their experiences and to share some of her own.

“It’s a very, very close personal relationship with her armed forces and she will be very sadly missed.

“But we stand ready to serve His Majesty the King in the same way.”

Sir Mike added: “Her Majesty the Queen’s father was the first royal to get his Royal Air Force wings, followed by His Majesty the King, followed by the Prince of Wales.

“And the Prince of Wales was a serving search and rescue pilot.

“I’m in no doubt that the Royal Air Force holds a very special place alongside all of the armed forces around the Commonwealth.”

Meanwhile, Sir Mike said Charles was a good pilot and could have had a “successful flying career”.

He told BBC Breakfast: “I know that he enjoyed his flying, as his father did, as his grandfather did, and as the Prince of Wales did as well.

“By all accounts, I still speak to one of his instructors and there was no doubt that, had His Majesty the King chosen a career in the Royal Air Force, he would have gone on to a successful flying career.”