July in the UK airshow calendar is a busy month with Yeovilton and Duxford both holding major airshows plus numerous smaller specialists and local shows. But topping them all is the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire. The base itself is a serving USAF base in the UK and was originally established in preparation for D-Day in 1944. In the near future the base will change and expand its operations as the USAF pulls out of RAF Mildenhall and transfers some operations to RAF Fairford in 2023.
This year’s big theme was the anniversary of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) established 70 years ago. Other celebrations and farewells were noted too, including the 100th Anniversary of British Airways, the end of service in the RAF of the Tornado multi-role aircraft and the Tocano advanced trainer aircraft. As ever with airshows in the UK the weather always dictates what flies and what does not, and this year the weather was not cooperating fully with the RIAT team. The best days for weather were the days before the show during the arrivals, practice and validation period.
The airshow is over three days, Friday, Saturday and Sunday with a changing line-up over each day. Day one was truly awful with very low cloud cover around 500ft and almost constant rain. This of course grounded almost all the aircraft. The Airbus A400M did its low program but this only demonstrated how bad the conditions were as the aircraft undertook its tight turns and only one wing and the fuselage were visible from the ground. The NATO anniversary flypast was reduced to one aircraft only, a Boeing E-3A SENTRY from the NATO Early Warning and Control Force in Germany.
Saturday saw the show get started for real with grey skies and strong winds with occasional breaks of sunshine and blue patches.
Fast jets included the Belgian Air Component Lockheed Martin F-16AM/BM FIGHTING FALCON 3 ship flypast with two aircraft sporting D-Day stripes leading on to the solo Belgian F-16 display. As always an entertaining display of not just speed and power but agility too. The USAF also displayed a Lockheed Martin F-16CM via the Viper Demonstration Team of Air Combat Command. This display was much more about speed and power and truly impressive it was. Unfortunately on the Sunday the pilot had to terminate the display after just a few moments due to damage to the aircraft. The pilot and aircraft returned to land safely but a great display was cut short to the frustration of spectators and the Viper team. The Swedish Air Force displayed the SAAB Gripen F7 and a tiger tailed Boeing F/A-18C HORNET. The Finnish Air Force displayed their Boeing F/A-18C HORNET to great effect. The RAF delivered one of two Eurofighter TYPHOON displays with a FGR4 from RAF Coningsby, the other was via the Italian Air Force. Both showing substantial ability of the twin engine multi-role type.
The RAF also provided a flypast of its Lockheed Martin F35B LIGHTENING IIout of RAF Marham, hopefully we will see a full display from the RAF in the near future at RIAT. The spice for the fast jet displays was provide by the Ukrainian Air Force out of Myrhorod with a Sukhoi Su-27P1M (NATO Code: FLANKER) and the Romanian Air Force from Mihail Kogalniceanu with a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 LANCER The Sukhoi is becoming a regular attraction at RIAT and with good cause, an outstanding display of manoeuvrability for such a large aircraft and including a slow dirty pass along the runway giving all a great view of the type. The MiG-21 LANCER although not as manoeuvrable was still a crowd pleaser, not often seen in the UK. This display also included a low top surface pass but much faster than the Sukhoi. The icing on the fast jets cake was provided by the Spanish Navy displaying a pair of McDonnell Douglas EAV-8B Harrier IIs, it was truly great fun to see these well missed aircraft at a UK airshow again. They had previously displayed at RNAS Yeovilton an ex-Navy Harrier base and been very well received indeed. And the same was true at RIAT, a great display and our thanks to the Spanish Navy for sending them. For one of the pilots the Sunday display would be his last flight in the type before moving on to another. The fire crew gave him the customary salute of an arch of water to mark the occasion.
Training aircraft were represented by the Leonardo T-346A of the Italian Air Force and two RAF displays the Shorts TUCANO T1 and the Grob TUDOR T1, a Pilatus PC-9M of the Slovenian Air Force and a Beechcraft T-6A TEXAN II of Team Daedalus from the Hellenic Air Force. All very competent displays highlighting the stability of the trainers. Of note among these was the RAF Shorts TUCANO. The type is being phased out of RAF service to be replaced by the Beechcraft T-6A TEXAN II, so this was the last RIAT for the RAF TUCANO display team.
Rotary wing displays were from the RAF Boeing CHINOOK HC4/6A of RAF Odiham, the Army Air Corps AgustaWestland APACHE AH1 and accompanying pyrotechnics and a short display of the Bell Boeing CV-22B OSPREY from US Air Force at RAF Mildenhall.
Display teams were represented by the national teams of Italy (FRECCE TRICOLORI), France (PATROUILLE De FRANCE), UK (RED ARROWSs and the Breitling Jet Team flying 7 Aero L-39C ALBATROS of Apache Aviation at Dijon-Darois. Flying smaller aerobatic aircraft were firm favourites and regular participants The Royal Jordanian Falcons with their 4 Extra EA330LX aircraft and newcomers to RIAT The Blades of 2Excel Aviation in 4 Extra EA300/330s out of Sywell in Northamptonshire UK. All giving spectacular performances as we have all come to expect for if they did they would not be at RIAT.
The RED ARROWS joined up with the PATROUILLE De FRANCE to form a joint flypast of both teams creating quite a spectacle.
The RED ARROWS would also be joining up with a British Airways Boeing 747-436 painted in nostalgic British Overseas Air Corporation BOAC livery as part of British Airways celebration of it 100th Anniversary. Starting out as Aircraft Transport and Travel Limited in August 1919 with the world’s first international scheduled air service between London UK and Paris France. Passing through a number of name changes over the years until todays British Airways name seems to have stuck. With the Red Arrows aligned along the wings the Boeing 747 made quite a sight on its two passes on Saturday only. The Blades enhanced their debut at RIAT by joining up with an Airbus Military A400M for a similar flypast on the Sunday.
One of the themes of the show was the Anniversary of the formation 70 years ago of NATO and to celebrate that the NATO flypast was organised.
Consisting of: E-3A Sentry from the NATO Early Warning and Control Force in Germany;
3 x Lockheed Martin F-16AM FIGHTING FALCON of the Belgian Air Component;
Eurofighter EF2000 of the German Air Force;
Airbus A400M of the German Airforce;
Panavia Tornado IDS of the German Airforce;
3 x Eurofighter Typhoon of the RAF;
Lockheed Martin F-16AM/BM FIGHTING FALCON from the Danish Air Force;
Lockheed Martin F-16AM/BM FIGHTING FALCON from the Royal Norwegian Air Force;
3 x Boeing F-15C EAGLE / F-15E STRIKE EAGLE of the US Air Force;
Boeing KC-135 STRATOTANKER of The French Air Force.
On the Friday this line up was reduced to just the German E-3A SENTRY, but Saturday was better and this item was not included on the Sunday.
Heavy lift aircraft was represented by the outstanding Airbus Military A400M display, as spectacular this year as last. A big aircraft manoeuvring through acute angles of attack in climb and descent, an outstanding display. The only other heavy was the Leonardo C27J Spartan of the Italian Air Force, also an impressive display for a transport aircraft that included several rolls.
THE Battle of Britain Memorial Flight displayed Supermarine SPITFIRE Mk XVIe TE311 and a Hawker HURRICANE Mk IIc PZ865 but not the AVRO LANCASTER B.Mk III due to wind speeds on Saturday but all three flew on the Sunday. As always the sound of six Rolls Royce Merlin Engines brings a smile to everyone’s face as the flight perform a flawless display.
In conclusion and disregarding the washout on Friday a successful and solid show with some great highlights. With the RAF not holding any airshows now RIAT has become even more of a draw for UK enthusiasts and international visitors alike. The future of the event may be in discussion as the USAF move more operations to RAF Fairford between now and 2023 when RAF Mildenhall is scheduled to close. So enjoy it while you can
Will Moore, CHK 6 UK
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