Reputed to be the biggest military airshow in the world, RIAT features modern military and classic aircraft, static and flying, from many continents.
Much of publicity during the show surrounded 'Top Gun' star Tom Cruise, believed to have flown his Aerospatiale AS350B3 Ecureuil helicopter to the event, and meeting some of the teams as well as members of the public. It is good to know that the event has such a high-profile fan and he seems to have made a lot of people very happy.
Also featuring at the show were Tim Peake, who flew (but did not display) a Gazelle helicopter in addition to his ground-based meeting and greeting, and Col. Charles M. Duke Jr, former USAF fighter pilot and lunar module pilot on Apollo 16.
But for us the stars of the show were the 266 aircraft and 1,500 crew who hosted the static aircraft displays and flew the twenty-plus hours of displays.
Exactly which of the displays was the real star became a matter of debate but the overall winners of the prestigious King Hussein Memorial Sword and the FRIAT 'Crow Flies' award were the Republic of Korea Air Force 'Black Eagles' and few would deny them the accolades they won here and at the few other UK venues they have been able to attend.
They were, undoubtedly, the biggest draw, back at RIAT after an absence of ten years. Flying eight KAI T-50B jets, in their trademark black, white, and yellow, they demonstrated their pinpoint accuracy and their famous "Taegeuk" representation of the South Korean flag drawn in aerial smoke. The team flew at three UK airshows 2022 and even flew flypasts at Shuttleworth and Liverpool, but RIAT is the only venue where they performed their full display. Not only that, but on Sunday they flew two passes alongside the Red Arrows.
The other national teams were somewhat overshadowed by the novelty and pizzazz of the Koreans but a close second place in must go to the Frecce Tricolori, flying their ten aircraft as opposed to the Korean's eight and interspersing the display with some very high energy solo performances by 'Pony 10'. In any other company they could easily have stolen the show.
It was good to see the Irish 'Silver Swallows' back at RIAT after an absence of 25 years. Not as fast or eye-grabbing as some of the jet teams but the skills should not be underestimated. The Royal Jordanian Falcons paid another of their regular and welcome visits, flying their royally-pained four Extra XLs with traditional aplomb and the Royal Danish Air Force Baby Blue Display Team followed the operational 'training' theme in their Saab T-17 Supporter trainers. They were at the were one of the first teams to announce their participation and were at the Air Tattoo for the very first time. The Swiss PC-7 team broke the mould, arriving in formation with the same nation's F/A-18C Hornet before they made their separate displays.
So, what about the Red Arrows? Yes, they were there, too, making formation flypasts with a different partner each day and moving on to their own daily displays. The general chatter around the ground was a bit negative, possibly because of the inevitable comparisons with the more unusual displays from foreign teams which had the advantage of novelty, whereas the Red Arrows and their routine are familiar to most of the crowd. The reduction in number from nine to seven also reduces the impact just a tad. In practice, if there is a direct comparison between the formations flown by the teams, the Red Arrows probably pipped the others in terms of spacial accuracy. It's just that the formations and
manoeuvres of the others are less familiar and consequently more impactful.
The main theme of RIAT 2022 was the 75th Anniversary of the US Air Force. This theme was well represented in the static park, although there was not a great deal of flying by any of the US armed services, the notable exception being the Osprey. The main USAF attraction in the static display was a USAF E-4B 'Nightwatch', one of only four in the world, which could be seen flying in on Friday to make its debut outside the US. This extremely rare aircraft, based on the Boeing 747-200, made a special appearance at RIAT 2022 to mark the 60th Anniversary of the National Airborne Operations Center as well as the 75th Anniversary of the USAir Force. The E4-B, also nicknamed the 'Doomsday Plane', is a survivable 'Advanced Airborne Command Post' (AACP) and serves as an airborne command, control and communications center dealing with any Emergency Action Messages. One of its roles would be to host and transport the American President and American Defense Secretary in the event of an international emergency.
The USAF were also due to bring two of their Boeing B-52H Stratofortress bombers. One was going to perform a flypast during the displays on Saturday and Sunday. The other was due to be on static display. Just like the South Korean Black Hawks, this would have been the first time a B-52 will be seen flying at RIAT for ten years. Unfortunately, it was not to be. The pair were regrettable cancellations.
The operational theme was ‘Training the Next Generation Air Force’ allowing a focus on training aircraft. This theme was better represented in the flying, for example by the Finnish Air Force, who provided a Hawk solo flying display, although, disappointingly, not using their specially painted aircraft.
Another 'training' display and another debut were the "Mustang X-Ray Demo Team", flying a pair of Pilatus PC-21 advanced turboprop trainers and supporting the same theme, and after winning 'best display' in both 2015 and 2017, the Slovenian Air Force PC-9M Swift solo display were back with a traditionally impressive display and with a second Slovenian PC-9M and Let-410 Turbolet on static.
Aircraft listed to fly Check the show's web site for the official list of confirmed display aircraft
National aerobatic teams
Red Arrows (all 3 days)
Republic of Korea Air Force 'Black Eagles' (eight KAI T-50B jets) (all 3 days) Show's announcement
Frecce Tricolori (Italian National Team)
Royal Jordanian Falcons (Extra 300LX x4)
Baby Blue Display Team: Saab T-17 Supporter (x 6) (Royal Danish Air Force)
PC-7 Team (Pilatus PC-7 (x9), Swiss Air Force)
Silver Swallows Display Team (Pilatus PC-9M (x4) Irish Air Corps)
Jet Fighters / Attack
Lockheed Martin F-35 (Flypasts and hover only. Weekend only)
Eurofighter Typhoon (RAF) (all 3 days)
Eurofighter F-2000A Typhoon (Italian Air Force)
F16C 'Zeus' Demo Team (Hellenic Air Force)
F-16AM (Belgian Air Force).
McDonnell Douglas EF-18A+ Hornet (Spanish Air Force)
McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C Hornet (Swiss Air Force)
JAS-39C 'Gripen' (Hungarian Air Force)
JAS-39C 'Gripen' (Swedish Air Force)
Helicopters / Rotary Wing
Chinook (RAF) (Saturday and Sunday)
NH90 TTH (Finnish Army Aviation) CANCELLED
NH90 TTH (German Army Aviation)
Leonardo AW149 (Leonardo Helicopters)
Leonardo Wildcat HMA2 (Royal Navy) NOW STATIC
PZL W-3 Sokol helicopter (Czech Air Force)
Mil Mi-24 Hind (Hungarian Air Force)
CV-22B Osprey (US Air Force)
Sk.60 (Swedish Air Force)
Pilatus PC-9M ‘Swift’ (Slovenian Air Force)
British Aerospace Hawk Mk.51 solo display (Finnish Air Force)
Leonardo T-346A Master Jet Trainer (Italian Air Force)
Mustang X-Ray Demo Team (a pair of Pilatus PC-21 advanced turboprop trainers) (French Air and Space Force)
Aerobatic / Formation
The Blades (pair only) (Flypast on Friday only in formation with the Boeing 727)
Austrian Air Force QRA demo (a pair of EF2000s intercepting a C-130K Hercules)
Mil Mi-171 Hip in Combat rescue demo with Hind (Czech Air Force)
Mil Mi-24 Hind in Combat rescue demo with Hip (Czech Air Force)
BBMF Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane (Sat & Sun)
Westland Sea King HAR3 (Search and Rescue) (Historic Helicopters)
Westland Sea Lynx Mk88A (German Navy)
Westland Wessex HU5 (Historic Helicopters)
In case there are mistakes or changes, please check the
show's site for the latest list. Appearances are always subject to technical, weather and other constraints.
A rarity on the display circuit was the first ever display at RIAT by the Austrian Air Force QRA demo: a pair of EF2000s intercepting a C-130K Hercules, followed by an EF2000 pairs display. The pairs display demonstrated various forms of a dogfight on Saturday but it had to be abandoned on Sunday because of a technical problem that affected one of the Typhoons.
Another RIAT debut, and possibly also a swansong as the type is due to leave service, was the Czech Air Force Hind & Hip, performing a pairs role-demonstration flying display. The Czech Air Force also gave a very unusual W-3 Sokol solo helicopter display, during which two rescuers were lowered and hoisted and were even flown whilst suspended.
And, for fans of rotary wings, Germany sent for static display their CH-53G, which has not been to RIAT for over a decade, and the German Army Aviation sent an example of their NH90 TTH helicopter for the flying display. Including the CH-53G and NH90, the German military sent a total of 11 aircraft to RIAT, including fighters and transports as well as helicopters.
The Romanian Air Force sent an Antonov An-30. This reconnaissance aircraft, known by it's NATO reporting name of 'Clank', was one of the highlights of the static displays, as was another debut, this time the Kingdom of Bahrain who sent one of their C-130J Hercules aircraft.
The Estonian Air Force were back at RIAT, this time with the M28 Skytruck, the replacement for the Antonov An-2, on static display: the Lithuanian Air Force brought their AS365 Dauphin for the first time as well as their LET-410 transport aircraft and there was a Kawasaki C-2 aircraft from the Japan Air Self Defense Force on static display - not seen at RIAT since 2018.
The RAF were supportive, as always. In addition to the Red Arrows they had the Typhoon displaying on all 3 days and the Chinook and BBMF trio over the weekend. As well as the Typhoon, there were more fast jets in the flying display. One was the return of the ever-popular Zeus Demo Team from the Hellenic Air Force and there were a couple of firsts: the first RIAT display by Captain Steven “Vrieske” De Vries flying the Belgian F-16 solo display and the first since 2017 of the Spanish Air Force EF-18 Hornet.
Flypasts were quite a feature of the Air Tattoo. As well as the various joint flypasts with the Red Arrows, there were two flypasts by the amazing Airbus BelugaXL although the much anticipated NATO Airborne Early Warning & Control Force Sentry aircraft was a cancellation.
Over 200,000 people
266 aircraft 1,500 crew members Kingdom of Bahrain became the 57th RIAT participant
Prize Winners at RIAT 2022
The South Korean 'Black Eagles' won the prize for 'Best Demonstration' and the FRIAT 'Crow Flies' award.
The Steedman Display Award for the best demonstration by a UK participant was won by the Chinook Display Team.
The Belgian Air Force F-16 Solo Display won the trophy for the 'Most Spectacular Colour Scheme'.
The RJAF C-130 won the Concours d'Elegance award for Best Participating Aircraft
Irish Air Corps PC12 '280' won Concours d' Elegance award for Best Static Aircraft
Austrian Air Force QRA demo won 'Best Flying Demonstration by an Overseas Participant'
Sir Douglas Bader Trophy for the Best Solo Display was won by the Italian C-27J Spartan
Review to follow
More details and of RIAT 2022 will be here soon.
International Support for the 2020 Virtual Air Tattoo
Air arms representing more than 20 countries from around the globe took part in a special event organised by the team behind the Royal International Air Tattoo and supported by the Royal Air Force.
The Virtual Air Tattoo was a free-to-view, live-streamed event that took place from 11am to 3pm on Saturday July 18 and Sunday July 19, the same weekend the actual airshow was due to be staged.
Hosted by Air Tattoo commentators and aviation experts Ben Dunnell and Mark Manwaring and featuring special welcome messages from Sir David Jason and Carol Vorderman, the Virtual Air Tattoo gave viewers a flavour of the real event planned for 2020 with dramatic virtual flying displays, pilot interviews, special guests and unique aircraft footage.
Displays created by Virtual Airshows, performed by Europe’s top flight simulator pilots including the Virtual Red Arrows and Swiss, French and Italian teams.
Footage from some of the most exciting Air Tattoo participants, including 2019 displays by the MiG-21 LanceR & EAV-8 Harrier.
Live interviews with the Red Arrows as well as pilots from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and RAF Typhoon Display Team.
Unique behind-the-scenes footage of military aviation including a flight on a recent Royal Air Force air-to-air refuelling mission.
Messages, interviews and special aircraft tours courtesy of participating international aircrew.
And with tickets for the 2021 50th anniversary airshow going on sale over the same weekend, the Virtual Air Tattoo took a look back at some of the event’s aviation highlights since the live Air Tattoo was first staged in 1971.
Among the nations taking part in the Virtual Air Tattoo were Austria, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Jordan, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine, the US and UK – with Sri Lanka and Singapore being represented for the first time ever – albeit virtually. Video support for the Virtual Air Tattoo also came from aerospace industry, including BAE Systems Leonardo, Airbus Northrop Grumman, MBDA and Rolls-Royce, with additional help from Boeing, Lockheed Martin and other long-term sponsors.
Whilst the Air Tattoo delivered the main broadcast, the RAF hosted two additional channels, one providing extended footage of RAF content featured in the Virtual Air Tattoo and the other, broadcast live on Twitch, hosted by the RAF’s Video Gaming and Esports Association, who staged a number of socially-distanced esport competitions.
Working with PlanesTV, the programme was hosted from a live studio and, as well as featuring special guests, the show invited viewers’ questions via social media, making the Virtual Air Tattoo a truly interactive experience.
Before the event was broadcast, Air Tattoo Chief Executive Paul Atherton said:
“The Royal Air Force has been a great partner for the virtual Air Tattoo as they are for the Royal International Air Tattoo each year. Their support in providing behind-the-scenes access to, and footage of, its aircraft, facilities and people has been pivotal and we now look forward to sharing this content with our online visitors. We are confident that this, coupled with the incredible material created by our international friends and the virtual world of air displays will wow our audiences.”
Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston, Chief of the Air Staff, said:
“I am delighted the Royal Air Force has joined forces with RAF Charitable Trust Enterprises to deliver a trailblazing Virtual Air Tattoo. We look forward to exhilarating displays from our allies around the world, getting behind the scenes with the RAF and our industry partners as we showcase our talent, and sharing special moments from previous Air Tattoos as we approach the airshow’s 50th anniversary next year.”
RIAT RAF Fairford 2019
July 19th - 21st
Every year, the show awards prizes to the displays that have excelled. It is often hard to compare one excellent performance with another and many will have their own, different, favourites. Nevertheless, prize winners in 2019 were chosen at the after-show party on Sunday.
The Paul Bowen Trophy for the best solo jet display (named in honour of the late Paul Bowen, co-founder of the Air Tattoo) was won by Lt Col Yurii Bulavka, pilot of the Sukhoi Su-27P1M from the 831st Guards Tactical Aviation Brigade of the Ukrainian Air Force. "I will say only one thing", commented Bulavka. "Thank you for your attention, wonderful Air Tattoo. See you next time!"
The Italian Air Force's Frecce Tricolori aerobatic team of 10 Aermacchi AT-339A jet trainers, regulars at the Air Tattoo, won the RAFCTE Trophy, awarded to the best flying demonstration by an overseas participant. Team leader Maj Stefano Vit said, "It is really a great honour for me and for all the team, because it's a special trophy. The Air Tattoo is the biggest airshow in Europe, and winning this trophy is a big reward. It's nice to leave an occasion like this."
Following a triumphant event, including flypasts with the British Overseas Airways Corporation-schemed Boeing 747-436 of British Airways as part of the BA100 events and the French Air Force's Patrouille de France team as a salute to the 50th anniversary of Concorde's first flight, the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows, won the Steedman Display Sword for best display by a UK participant. Team manager Sqn Ldr Doug Smith commented, "This is absolutely fantastic. We adore coming to RIAT every year - it's a tremendously well-run airshow - and to come away with the trophy for best display from the UK is stunning. To do the flypasts with the 747 in BOAC livery and the 'double Concorde' formation was really, really good."
A double winner was Capt Arto Ukskoski, who flew the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C Hornet from Fighter Squadron 11 of the Finnish Air Force. He took home the Sir Douglas Bader Trophy for best individual flying demonstration and the 'As The Crow Flies' Trophy for best display as judged by the enthusiast members of Friends of RIAT. "I am quite surprised", said Ukskoski, "because there are so many good aircraft and so many good pilots. It's amazing, especially for the Finnish Air Force because we don't do so many airshows internationally every year."
One of the most regular performers at recent Air Tattoos, Swedish Air Force Saab JAS 39C Gripen pilot Maj Peter Fallén from F 7 wing of the Swedish Air Force, received the King Hussein Memorial Sword for best overall flying demonstration. An emotional Fallén said, "This means so much to me. I'm almost in tears now, because RIAT has been a big part of my career as a display pilot. I've been flying here for six years, and it's been the main event every year. I'm so grateful."
The RIAT Chief Executive Trophy, presented by outgoing Air Tattoo CEO Andy Armstrong, went to the Spanish Navy's EAV-8B Harrier II+ duo. Mr Armstrong referred particularly to the initiative shown by the squadron's commanding officer following a brake fire suffered by one of the two aircraft on arrival, which led to repairs being affected and participation in the weekend displays.
Finally, and possibly most controversially in a crowded field with so many excellent designs, the trophy for best livery was presented to the Eurofighter EF2000 operated by Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 71 'Richthofen' of the German Air Force, stationed at Wittmund.
The organisers of the Royal International Air Tattoo had promised that, as well as featuring the world's most exciting aircraft, the 2019 airshow would turn its spotlight into space. Accordingly, one of the themes for RIAT 2019 was 'Air & Space: inspiring the Next Generation Air Force'. It followed an announcement earlier in 2019 that the Royal Air Force would be taking command and control of the UK's military space operations, reflecting the importance of space in ensuring successful military operations around the world.
Andy Armstrong, Chief Executive of RAF Charitable Trust Enterprises, which organises the event, said beforehand that whilst the past 100 years saw military operations take place in the sky, the next century would see activities increasingly stretching beyond the Earth's atmosphere. To reflect this, activities at the show included rockets, astronauts and space-related entertainment, including a planetarium.
Another theme was a celebration of the 70th anniversary of NATO. On Friday and Saturday 20 operational aircraft from NATO member nations were due to take part in the only official NATO flypast taking place at a UK airshow this summer. See the grey box below for some more detail about what actually came about.
A popular flypast featured the Red Arrows with the special BOAC-liveried Boeing 747 aircraft, painted to mark the centenary of British Airways and its predecessors. The BA Jumbo, painted in its British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) scheme, performed the flypast with the Red Arrows on Saturday only.
These special features were part of a huge effort by the team at RIAT and by so many nations to celebrate achievements in air and space. Overall, over 245 aircraft from 39 air arms, representing 25 different nations were at the show. (... text continues below the information boxes)
Flying on Friday
Regrettably, the weather caused the cancellation of most displays on Friday.
The Spanish Navy Harrier displayed to open the show. It was a solo because the weather prevented the anticipated pairs display. The Chinook was able to demonstrate its resilience to conditions and the Boeing E-3A AWACS took off, made an approach and go round to take the Nato 70th anniversary salute as the cloud was too low for a traditional flypast.
The Tutor, Tucano and RAF Typhoon also took off and did single circuits. Although not scheduled for a solo on Friday, there was an almost full display from the British Aerospace A400M which skirted the clouds and disappeared entirely from time to time. At the end of the afternoon, the F-35B made a single slow pass before returning to RAF Marham.
All other intended displays were cancelled, including the Nato flypast (other than the E-3A). A joint Red Arrows and Patrouille de France flypast to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Concorde, was mooted as a possible extra item but was postponed until Saturday.
The show attracted 245 aircraft and around 170,000 visitors
Aircraft due to take part in the flypast on Friday and Saturday to celebrate NATO's 70th anniversary were due to be NATO Boeing E-3D AWACS; 3 F-16s fighters from Belgium and Denmark; Eurofighter EF2000, A400M and Tornado strike aircraft from Germany; KC-135R tanker from the French Air Force; 3 USAF F-15 aircraft from RAF Lakenheath and 3 Typhoons from the RAF.
In practice, the flypast was replaced on Friday by a single E-3A, because of the weather. On Saturday the German Tornado and the Nato E-3A were cancelled. The flypast comprised three RAF Typhoons, four USAF F-15s, a French KC-135R, four F-16s (one each from Norway, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands) and a German Air Force Typhoon.
Air Vice-Marshal Harv Smyth, Air Officer Commanding No. 1 Group, advised in advance of the show that, all being well, there would be a F35B “role demo” involving fast and slow passes, finishing with a decel to hover and pedal turn, before the aircraft returns to RAF Marham. In practice, there was a single slow pass on Friday and both slow and fast passes on Saturday.
A 35 Metre Observation Wheel was located near the Techo Centre offering 3-revolution (10 minute) rides.
Tim Peake at RIAT on Friday
This year, RIAT coincided with the 50th anniversary of the first manned moon landing. In keeping with this year's theme, 'Air & Space: Inspiring The Next Generation Air Force' British astronaut Major Tim Peake made an appearance at the airshow on the Friday.
Tim Peake, who is currently Head of Astronaut Operations at ESA's European Astronaut Centre in Germany, spent six months in space and was the first UK astronaut to visit the International Space Station, launching on a Soyuz rocket in December 2015 and returning to earth six months later, having taken part in a variety of activities, including conducting a spacewalk to repair the station's power supply.
Before his visit he said:
"I've been wanting to attend the Royal International Air Tattoo for some time and this year's 'Space' theme presented the perfect opportunity. I'm really looking forward to it!"
On Friday he was in the Techno Zone® to inspire young visitors as part of the airshow's 'Air & Space' theme. His biggest thrill, though, was riding with Red 1 during a Red Arrows display rehearsal.
In the Techno Zone® at RIAT 2019 there was a chance to see examples of commercial space rockets being developed in the UK. Visitors could also see an ExoMars rover prototype and talk to the scientists and engineers responsible for operating it. On Friday, Airbus Defence took a photo of the show from their Pleiades satellite from 400 miles above Earth.
After the special arrangements for the RAF centenary year, the show returned in 2019 to the more traditional scale and timetable, with fewer tickets and a shorter 4 hour airshow on Friday to allow for more aircraft arrivals before and after the displays. In practice, the weather forced an even shorter show than intended.
The first flying display announcement was confirmation that the Spanish Navy Harrier will return to the Air Tattoo. Then, a few weeks later, the organisers announced that there would be not one but two Spanish Navy Harriers and that they would both display on all three days of the show. In practice, the weather reduced the display to a single Harrier on Friday, but both displayed over the weekend and the team duly won the RIAT Chief Executive Trophy. The EAV-8B Harrier II Plus from 9 Squadron is based at Rota Naval Base and normally flies from the Spanish Navy's amphibious assault ship, Juan Carlos I. The Harrier can take off and land vertically, fly backwards, sideways and rotate on the spot and always impresses both regular and casual airshow visitors. Spanish Navy Harriers, in the form of the earlier AV-8S and TAV-8S variants, were last seen at the Air Tattoo in 1994. The last Air Tattoo Harrier flying display was in 2010, the final display season for the RAF's own GR.9 model prior to its retirement in March 2011.
The Swiss Air Force participated with a F/A-18C Hornet, a twin-engined, supersonic multi-role combat jet designed to carry out air-to-air missions and attack ground targets (the F/A designation stands for fighter/attack). The aircraft is currently flown by three Swiss squadrons, which operate out of Meiringen and Payerne. They use the F/A-18C for the air policing role as their primary function. A Swiss Hornet first appeared at an Air Tattoo in 1997.
Staying with jet fighters, The Swedish Air Force returned with their Gripen solo display; the Belgian Air Force provided their extremely popular F-16 'Dark Falcon', now with new and very impressive 40th anniversary tail art and one of the stars of last year’s airshow and a Russian-built Sukhoi Su-27 from the Ukrainian Air Force, thrilled again for the third year in a row.
The Soviet-era heavy fighter was initially created in reaction to the United States Air Force’s F-15 Eagle. The Sukhoi design, which was the first Soviet aircraft to be operated using an electronic interface instead of conventional manual flight controls, is an exceptionally agile aircraft that can reach top speeds of 2,500 km/h. Codenamed ‘Flanker’ by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), it first flew in 1977, and was much feared by potential Western opponents during the Cold War. Since the collapse of the USSR in 1991, the original Su-27 series has continued to equip the Russian armed forces and serve with the Ukrainian Air Force, which brought its display back to the Air Tattoo in 2019, supported by a second on static display alongside its support transport, the Ukrainian Il-76 ‘Candid’.
Another east-European fighter displaying at the Tattoo was a Romanian Air Force MiG-21 LanceR, last seen displaying at RAF Cottesmore at the 2001 Air Tattoo and on static display in 2005. The MiG 21 made the journey to the UK to join NATO 70th celebrations.
Although most jet demonstration and formation teams are military, the Breitling Jet Team are civilian, in fact the largest civilian aerobatic display team in Europe, comprising mostly former French Air Force fighter pilots. They flew at the Air Tattoo for the first time in five years in their six L-39 Albatros jet trainers.
The Royal Jordanian Falcons are regulars at the Air Tattoo and their display in the team's four Extra 300LX aircraft displayed again in 2019.
The RAF Chinook Display Team will be at 13 public airshows in 2019 and RIAT was one of them. They confirmed in late February that they would be at the Air Tattoo on all three of the show days. In practice, a technical problem prevented a display on Saturday, but there were displays on Friday and Sunday.
The Red Arrows confirmed, before their 2019 schedule was announced, that they would be
at RIAT on all three days, after it was announced earlier in the week by the Minister of Defence, in his statement about Tour of the USA and Canada, that the Red Arrows would leave for North America after the Air Tattoo.
Four more RAF teams were at the Tattoo. The RAF Typhoon Display Team demonstrated the multi-role BAE Systems Typhoon FGR.4 in a display that lived up to its promise to showcase the aircraft's amazing performance, flown again by Flt Lt Jim Peterson. RAF training aircraft also performed solo displays: the Shorts Tucano and Grob Tutor display teams. Airshow favourites, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight also flew at the show with the Lancaster (on Sunday), Spitfire and Hurricane. A technical problem with the starter motor prevented the Lancaster displaying on Saturday.
There was an Air Tattoo debut in the form of Hellenic Air Force's 'Daedalus' Demo Team flying a single T-6A Texan II turboprop trainer and another from The Blades.
RIAT RAF Fairford 2018
Spectacular celebration of RAF100
The 2018 Air Tattoo was selected by the RAF to be the international celebration of the RAF's Centenary and the entire show reflected that anniversary with a commemoration and celebration of a century of service to the UK and its allies. Highlights of the 2018 Air Tattoo were to have included a dramatic flypast on Friday 13th July, featuring around 50 aircraft from the Royal Air Force to launch RAF centenary celebrations. The massed flypast which should have included many of the RAF's operational aircraft, such as the new F-35 Lighting, Typhoons, Tornado GR4s, an A400M Atlas, the Red Arrows, and Puma and Chinook helicopters, accompanied by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight's Lancaster, Spitfires and Hurricanes flying in formation was expected right up until almost the 14.15 start time. Regrettably, the much-anticipated flypast had to be cancelled, partly because the timing coincided with the worst of the day's weather and partly because similarly poor conditions affected the various assembly and transit areas destined to be used by the participating aircraft.
Although the flypast itself could not go ahead, there had earlier been a Royal Review of aircraft and a parade of the newly presented Queen's Colour in front of HRH The Duke of Kent and HRH Prince Michael of Kent by personnel from the Queen's Colour Squadron.
Other special RAF100 themed set-pieces during the weekend's eight-hour flying displays did go ahead. These included a diamond nine of RAF Typhoons and a special '617 Squadron Tribute' of BBMF Lancaster, Tornado GR4 and the new Lightning jet on both Saturday and Sunday.
As usual for RIAT, there were a large number of national aerobatic teams. As well as the Red Arrows, the Royal Jordanian Falcons; the Swiss PC-7 Team, Patrulla Aguila from Spain and Frecce Tricolori all displayed.
The first flying display to be announced was the Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 Hornet Demonstration Team. The team included RIAT when their schedule was released on 4th December and the booking was confirmed by RIAT on 13th. The theme of the Demo Team for 2018 is the 60th anniversary of NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command) and its specially-painted NORAD plane displayed on the first two days, although, because of a technical hitch, Sunday's display was the more traditionally painted reserve.
France provided more international thrills in the form of the Couteau Delta pair and the Rafale Solo Display as well as a French Navy Rafale M.
The F-16 is always a popular display and at RIAT 2018 there were no fewer than six static and four flying: the spectacular SoloTurk, the Belgian 'Dark Falcon' and the Hellenic Air Force's Zeus and one from the Polish Air Force.
The winners of prestigious awards at RIAT 2018 were:
Best overall display: BBMF, Trenchard Plus Display
Best UK display: The Red Arrows
Best Civilian Aircraft: Bronco OV-10
Best Individual Flying Demo: F/A-18C Finland
Best flying demonstration by an overseas participant: Royal Jordanian Falcons
FRIAT award: Couteau Delta
Best Livery: Canadian CF-18 'Norad' scheme
F-35 Every Day
The F-35B performed flypasts, alongside other RAF aircraft, on all three days of RIAT.
Sky Guardian flew in
An MQ-9B Sky Guardian Remotely Piloted Aircraft flew 4,000 miles from its base in North Dakota and arrived at RAF Fairford late afternoon on 11th June, in time to be a static exhibit at RIAT. The aircraft will be known as the Protector RG Mk.1 when it enters RAF service in the early 2020s.
Apollo 15 Astronaut Al Worden, who made the first spacewalk in deep space, was at Air Tattoo 2018.
The Swiss Air Force had two flying displays. As well as the PC-7 Team, flying a nine-ship formation of Swiss-built Pilatus PC-7 Turbotrainers; their team members' normal day-job mount, the F/A-18C Hornet, also flew on the first two days, beginning the display in formation with the national team aircraft.
In 2017 the Finnish Defence Forces had an NH90 on static display. For 2018 Finland did even better with a Finnish Army NH90 TTH helicopter in the flying display as well as one on static in the type's 10th anniversary in Finnish Army service, whilst the Finnish Air Force demonstrated an F-18C.
The Ukrainian Su-27 and both the Swedish and Czech JAS-39 Gripen were also back for 2018.
Going back to the formative years of the RAF, seven of the ten Great War Display Team re-enacted the exploits of the First World War's pioneering military aviators on both weekend days, technical problems holding back the other three and the weather preventing any display on Friday.
Tragically, there was a fatal accident involving the Romanian MiG-21 at an airshow in Romania so, understandably, Romanian participation in RIAT 2018 was cancelled.
National aerobatic teams
Red Arrows (Fri at 11.20 then part of flypast at 14.17; Sat 12.05; Sun 16.35)
Frecce Tricolori (Italian National Team)
Royal Jordanian Falcons (4 x Extra 300LX) (Cancelled Friday)
PC-7 Team (Swiss National Team)
Patrulla Aguila (Spanish National Team)
Fighters / Attack
Eurofighter Typhoon (RAF)
Eurofighter Typhoon (Italian Air Force)
JAS-39C 'Gripen' (Swedish Air Force)
JAS-39 'Gripen' (Czech Air Force)
Aero L-159 Alca (Czech Air Force) (cancelled)
F-16 (Belgian Air Force) (cancelled)
F16C Demo Team 'Zeus' (Hellenic Air Force) (cancelled Friday)
F-16C Demo Team 'Soloturk' (Turkish Air Force)
F-16C (Polish Air Force)
F/A-18C Hornet (Swiss Air Force)
Rafale M pair (tactical demo)(French Navy)
F-18C (Finnish Air Force)
MiG-21 LanceR (Romanian Air Force) CANCELLED
Su-27 (Ukrainian Air Force)
Couteau Delta Tactical Display (French Air Force)
Rafale Solo Display (French Air Force)
Lancaster, Spitfire (x4 Friday only), Hurricane (x2 all days), Dakota. (BBMF reduced to traditional trio on Friday)
Alenia C-27J Spartan Tactical Transport (Italian Air Force)
Dassault ATL2 (AKA Atlantique 2) (French Navy) CANCELLED. Left RIAT for France 11.07.18 for operational reasons.
RAF Falcons (all 3 days)
Additionally there was a substantial static display including the following
A330 Voyager KC.2/3 (RAF)
A400M Atlas C.1 x2 (RAF)
AH-64D Apache (Royal Netherlands Air Force)
Airbus Helicopters H125 (QinetiQ) Alpha Jet E (x2) (French Air Force) (cancelled)
Antonov An-2 (Estonian Air Force)
Auster Mk 5 (Private owner) Avenger T.1 (Royal Navy) (cancelled)
B-52H ‘Stratofortress’ Bo105 (Flying Bulls) (cancelled)
BAE Systems 146 VIP transport (RAF)
Bristol Sycamore (Flying Bulls)
Bristow Helicopters' AW189
Britten Norman Defender 4000 (AAC)
Bulldog T1 (Private Owner)
Cessna 152 (RAF Halton Aeroplane Club)
Chipmunk (x2) Chipmunk (a third) (cancelled)
C-17A Globemaster (RAF)
C-17 Globemaster (NATO)
CC-177 Globemaster (Canadian Air Force)
C-27J Spartan (Italian Air Force)
C-27J (Lithuanian) C-27J (Romanian) (cancelled)
C-27J Spartan (Slovakian Air Force)
C-130 Hercules (Pakistan Air Force)
CC-130 Hercules (Canadian Air Force)
C-130E Hercules (Polish Air Force)
C-130H (Royal Netherlands Air Force)
C-130H (Jordanian Air Force)
C-130J Hercules (Royal Air Force of Oman)
C-130J (The Royal Danish Air Force)
C-130J Hercules C.4/5 (RAF)
C-130K Hercules (Austrian Air Force)
C-160 Transall (Luftwaffe)
CH-146 Griffon (Royal Canadian Air Force)
CH-47D Chinook (Royal Netherlands Air Force) CN235 (Irish Air Corps) CANCELLED CP-140 Aurora (Royal Canadian Air Force) CANCELLED
Diamond DA20 (civilian)
Do-228 (Royal Netherlands Air Force)
E-3D Sentry AEW.1 (RAF)
E-6B Mercury (US Navy)
E-7A Wedgetail (Royal Australian Air Force)
EC-135 (German Navy)
Embraer KC-390 tanker
Embraer Emb-121A 'Xingu' (French Navy)
Eurofighter Typhoon (Italian Air force)
EV-97 Microlight (Halton Microlight Club)
F-16AM (Belgian Air Component)
F-16 AM/BM x2 (Royal Netherlands Air Force)
F-16 (Royal Norwegian Air Force)
F-16 x2 (Royal Danish Air Force)
Gnat T.1 (civilian)
Grob 120TP (QinetiQ)
Grob Prefect (RAF)
Grob Tutor x 2 (RAF)
Grob Viking TX.1 x 2 (RAF)
Hawk T.1 (Royal Navy)
Hawk T.2 (RAF)
Hawker Hunter Mk 58 (Hawker Hunter Aviation)
H135 Juno HT.1 (RAF)
H145 Jupiter HT.1 (RAF)
Hawk T.1/1A (RAF)
HH-101 helicopter (Italian Air Force)
HH-139 helicopter (Italian Air Force)
Ikarus C42 x2 (civilian)
IL-76 Candid (Ukrainian Air Force)
Jet Provost T3 (Classic Jet Preservation Group)
Jet Provost T3A (Newcastle Jet Provost Group)
Jet Provost Mk 5 XW324 (J Bell)
JAS-39D 'Gripen' (Swedish Air Force)
Kawasaki C-2 (Japanese Air Self-Defence Force)
KC-10 Extender (USAF)
King Air 350 (RAF)
Leonardo M-346 Master
L410UVP (Slovenian Air Force)
Merlin HC.3 (Royal Navy)
Merlin HM.2 (Royal Navy)
Miles Magister (Private Owner)
MQ-9B Sky Guardian
NH90 (Finnish Army)
PA-28 Cherokee (Private)
PA-28 Cherokee (RAF Flying Clubs' Association)
Pembroke C Mk.1
Phenom 100 (RAF)
Pilatus PC-9M «Swift’ (Slovenian Air Force) Puma (x2) (French Army Air Corps) (cancelled)
P-8A Poseidon (US Navy)
Rockwell OV-10B Bronco (civilian)
Royal Aircraft Factory Be-2
S6 Coyote (self-build)
Sea King ASaC.7 (Royal Navy)
Sentinel R.1 (RAF)
Su-22 Fitter (Polish Air Force)
Su-27UB 'Flanker' (Ukrainian Air Force)
Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Vc
Tecnam P2008 (x2) (RAF Flying Club)
Tecnam Sierra (RAF Halton Aeroplane Club)
Tecnam P2002 (civilian)
Tornado ECR/IDS (x2) (Luftwaffe)
Tornado (Italian Air Force)
Tornado GR.4 x 2 (RAF)
Tucano T.1 x 2 (RAF)
Typhoon FGR.4/T.3 x2 (RAF)
Westland Gazelle AH.1 (AAC)
Westland Whirlwind Wildcat (Army Air Corps) (cancelled)
Wildcat HMA.2 (Royal Navy)
Air Tattoo's Beginning
The Air Tattoo's links with the US Air Force stretch back to 1972 when the Americans permitted the airshow to be staged at RAF Greenham Common, near Newbury. When the Air Tattoo had to find a new home in the 1980s, the US Air Force offered RAF Fairford and the first Air Tattoo was staged in the Cotswolds in 1985.
Airshows at RAF Fairford
RAF Fairford was built in 1944, towards the end of the second world war, mainly to provide an airfield for British and American troop carriers and gliders for the D-day landings. After the war it was one of four airfields chosen as a base for the USAF Strategic Air Command and in the 'cold war' era served as a USAF strategic bomber base.
The airfield played a role in several foreign military interventions, such as Libya in 1986, the Gulf war in 1991 and the Iraq war in 2003, but by 2010 all military personnel had been withdrawn. It nevertheless retains its status as a designated standby airfield, capable of reactivation within 48 hours.
Fairford's runway is over 3,000M long and has an unrestricted load capacity, so it can take any kind of aircraft. It served for eight years as a test centre for the Concorde and was also the only UK abort landing site for the American space shuttle.
RIAT RAF Fairford 2017
Highlights spanning the ages
The operational theme of the 2017 Air Tattoo was a celebration of 21st Century Partnerships throughout the defence and aviation community but the main theme was the 70th anniversary of the US Air Force (USAF70). The show's highlights spanned those 70 years.
The Thompson Formation of Lancaster, Hurricane and 3 Spitfires, whose individual ages almost match that of the USAF, displayed on all three days and provided one of the few opportunities to see this BBMF combination anywhere in the UK. The formation is named after Wg Cdr Peter Thompson who was Station Commander at Biggin Hill and was primarily responsible for what we now know as the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. This was not the first outing for the Lancaster after its long sojourn whilst undergoing deep maintenance and repaint, but it will have been a welcome a first sight for many of the rejuvenated 'Leader' ( ex- 'Thumper'). It will have been an emotional return for many, too, in a formation that also included two of the original BBMF aircraft. The display provided a generous series of flypasts by the quintet, followed by formation and tailchase displays by the fighters before the Lancaster performed her solo.
Towards the more modern end of the 70 years, an unlisted flypast by a Northrop Grumman B-2A Spirit Stealth Bomber direct from the Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri accentuated the USAF anniversary theme. The B-2A was flanked by a pair of F-15s and flew fairly level from east to west, turned and flew back along the same path but this time making a topside pass, showing another aspect of this rarely-seen bomber. Only 21 B2s were ever built and following an accident that destroyed one of them only 20 remain. At a reported cost of $2billion each, including development, it is one of the costliest as well as scarcest aircraft. Happily, the whole of the huge cost of the trip from the USA to the Tattoo did not have to be met by the show as the journey was arranged as part of a transatlantic 'Global Power' training exercise.
We do have one little gripe. The arrival of the B2 was well known to anyone who uses social media. Yet the commentators treated it as a 'surprise' saying only that visitors may wish to look up at the appointed time. Anticipation is part of the excitement and the expected arrival of the B2 generated a great deal of buzz around the show. What a shame that anyone not linked to social media, or out of tune with the general show chatter, was unable to enjoy the anticipation of one of the undoubted highlights of the Tattoo. Please, if you know what's coming, just tell everyone. OK, gripe over.
BBMF Thompson Formation
Thunderbirds and Red Arrows
Thunderbirds 5 and 6
As well as the B-2A with its brace of F-15s, and a Red Arrows / Thunderbirds combo, a third flypast to impress was from United States Air Force Europe. The special 70th Anniversary flypast, on all three days, featured a C-130J from 37th Airlift Squadron based at Ramstein, Germany; a KC-135R air-to-air refuelling tanker from 351st Air Refuelling Squadron, RAF Mildenhall, which flew through with refuelling probe extended ; an F-15C combat aircraft operated by the 493rd Fighter Squadron from RAF Lakenheath; two F-15E combat aircraft and two F-16C, flown by the 480th Fighter Squadron at Spangdahlem, Germany.
In advance of the show, and before the B-2A or Thompson formation became the focus, the most promoted display was by the USAF Thunderbirds. As part of the airshow's tribute to mark the US Air Force's 70th anniversary, the six F-16 Fighting Falcons of the USAF Thunderbirds made a rare trip across the Atlantic to display on all three days - their only UK appearance in 2017 and their first at RIAT since 2007. On Friday the Thunderbirds also flew in Paris to mark Bastille Day and the opportunity was taken on their return to form up with the Red Arrows for a joint pass over RIAT: for many, that flypast was a greater highlight than the Thunderbirds' actual displays.
On Friday, the four formation Thunderbirds flew but Thunderbird 6, one of the two soloists, had a technical fault that prevented him flying with the others. The loss of Thunderbird 6, who joins Thunderbird 5 for pairs formations, reduced the impact of the opposition and synchronised manoeuvres somewhat. On both weekend days the full six aircraft took part. The display comprised a number of formations, mostly four-ship variations on a diamond, interspersed with basic solo aerobatics and a few pairs synchronised and opposition passes. There were some nice mirror and echelon passes but it would be difficult for any team to match up to the rather ebullient 'cheerleader' build-up by their commentator. They were, nevertheless, presented with RAFCTE Chief Executive Andy Armstrong's special 'RIAT CEO Award' for an outstanding contribution to the show.
Other national teams at RIAT were the Red Arrows; the Midnight Hawks from Finland, the Royal Jordanian Falcons and the Patrouille Suisse, the aerobatic team of the Swiss Air Force, with their six F-5E Tiger IIs. The Midnight Hawks have to be applauded for displaying in close formation in some of the worst of the weather and the Patrouille Swiss were every bit as masterly as the Thunderbirds: without the razzmatazz. Overall, though, we can be proud of the Red Arrows. The display may not have the novelty of the others for regular airshow goers but the variety, competence and excitement of the formation and dynamic elements of the display were undoubtedly supreme amongst the national aerobatic teams. At the end of Sunday's display, Mike Ling, Red Ten, confirmed that it would be his last commentary at RIAT as he will be handing over the reigns at the end of the 2017 season after a record spell as the Manager of the Red Arrows. We wish Lingy good luck in whatever the RAF have lined up for him next.
Whilst the highlights of the show were the various formation passes and the highest profile was reserved for the national aerobatic teams, it was the jets that took most of the plaudits.
A very late addition to the Tattoo was one of the most famous of all combat jets, the Sukhoi Su-27P1M, which has the NATO codename 'Flanker'. The Ukrainian Air Force sent one each for the flying and the static displays. The energetic flying display, on all three days of RIAT, impressed with its almost constant afterburner. The Friends of the Royal International Air Tattoo certainly were, awarding the Su-27 display pilot Col Oleksander Oksanchenko the 'As The Crow Flies' trophy for the best overall flying demonstration.
The Su-27, a heavy air superiority fighter, was designed during the Cold War as a Soviet counter to potential Western opponents such as the US Air Force's F-15 Eagle. It first flew in 1977 and in the course of its development phase one of the prototypes set several time-to-altitude records. Service entry began during 1985. It appeared at Western air displays starting at Paris in 1989 and its first western airshow was at RIAT in 1996. The last time it was a flying display at RIAT was in 1999, although it was on the static park in 2011.
In the post-Soviet era, the original Su-27 series has continued to equip the Russian armed forces and carried on serving with the Ukrainian Air Force as well as other former Soviet states and several export customers. The design has continued to be developed for both the Russian and overseas markets, some of the latest derivatives incorporating thrust vectoring for even greater agility.
The Ukrainian Su-27s at RIAT 2017 are from the 831st Tactical Aviation Brigade, based at Myrhorod in central Ukraine. Also in the static park was the support aircraft for the 'Flankers', an Ilyushin Il-76 four-jet transport.
The UK's own Typhoon pilot Flt Lt Ryan Lawton was a winner too, being awarded the Steedman Display Sword for the best flying demonstration by a UK participant but the King Hussein Memorial Sword for the best overall flying demonstration went to Capitaine Jean-Guillaume 'Marty' Martinez, the French Air Force Dassault Rafale C solo display pilot. The judges called his "a faultless, flowing and dynamic flying display". Few would dispute that.
Lockheed Martin's F-22A Raptor flew as part of the USAF70 theme. The Raptor entered service with the USAF in December 2005 but did not perform its first UK flying demo until 2010. For the second year running its pilot, Maj Dan 'Rock' Dickinson, won an award at RIAT. This year he won the Paul Bowen Trophy for the best jet demonstration. The judges said the Raptor's performance was a "consistently accurate, powerful and superbly executed solo jet demonstration".
Flying Displays (tap / hover over icon for more detail)
National aerobatic teams
USAF Thunderbirds (US Air Combat Command)
Patrouille Suisse (Swiss Air Force)
Midnight Hawks (4 x BAe Hawks) (Finnish Air Force)
Red Arrows (All days) (RAF)
Royal Jordanian Falcons
Fighters / Attack
Typhoon FGR.4 (RAF)
EF-18AM Hornet (Spanish Air Force)
Sukhoi Su-27 'Flanker' (Ukrainian Air Force) (Sat & Sun)
F-16AM (Belgian Air Force)
F-22 Raptor (USAF)
Couteau Delta: Mirage 2000D pair (French Air Force)
Rafale Solo (French Air Force)
Saab JAS-39 Gripen (Czech Air Force)
Saab JAS-39 Gripen (Swedish Air Force)
Tornado A-200 (Italian Air Force)
Aero L-159 Alca x2 (Czech Air Force)
WAH-64D Apache (AHDT)
Westland Sea King Mk48 (Belgian Air Force SAR demo)
BBMF Lancaster (BBMF)
BBMF Spitfire x4
P-51D Mustang 'Tall in the Saddle' (Hangar 11)
P-51D Mustang (Comanche Fighters). Due to fly with F-22. Replaced by 'Berlin Express' before the latter was damaged. Frenesi reinstated but didn't fly Friday.
P-51B Mustang 'Berlin Express' flying with F-22 CANCELLED (damaged at Duxford)
As if the emphasise the skills of the pilots, the Raptor also teamed up for a 'heritage flight' with a Mustang. Originally it was to be P-51D 'Frenesi' until this was changed to P-51B Mustang 'Berlin Express'. However, when 'Berlin Express' was damaged at Duxford on 8th July, Frenesi was reinstated. It, too, was unable to fly on Friday for technical reasons so there was no heritage flight on that day and on Saturday the cloud base was too low for the Raptor. The Heritage Flight did display on Sunday when aircraft of such diverse ages, design and capability were able to maintain harmony, not just for a single pass, but for an enduring display.
Other jet winners were the Czech Air Force Saab JAS 39C Gripen whose pilot, Capt. Ivo Kardoš, was awarded the RAFCTE Trophy for the best flying demonstration by an overseas participant, displaying what the judges said was a "consistently well flown and accurate fast jet demonstration" and the Italian Air Force Panavia A-200A Tornado, which was awarded the prize for best livery, voted for by FRIAT members.
Unusually there were no prizes this year for two of the most popular jets on the airshow circuit: the Belgian and Turkish F-16s. The Belgian Air Component's F-16 Fighting Falcons are among the oldest still in service, but thanks to major upgrades they remain very capable fighters. Belgium's Air Component operates 54 single seat F-16AMs and twin seat F-16Ms. Their F-16AM was flown in typically flamboyant style by Cdt Tom 'Gizmo' De Moortel, in his third and final display season.
As well as the award-winning Czech example, there was a second Saab Gripen fighter from the Swedish Air Force, which displayed a solo Saab JAS-39C Gripen, their primary fighter. The Swedish Air Force is the largest operator of the Gripen; a relatively small, lightweight machine by modern standards which is able to operate from shorter runways than many otherwise similar fighters.
The jets were not the only aircraft to impress. The Czech Air Force were one of only a few displays to use pyrotechnics when they displayed their pair of L-159 ALCAs and the Italians had three varied items for the flying display. As well as their Tornado, their contribution included an M-346 Master jet trainer and the amazingly manoeuvrable Leonardo C-27J Spartan military transport. Another Military transport aircraft, the Airbus A400M, was displayed not by the RAF but by Airbus itself. The A400M, known as the 'Atlas' in RAF service, impressed with its short take-off and landing, steep climb and 120 degree wingover as well as its size-defying extreme manoeuvrability.
The strength of rotary action was in quality rather than quantity. The UK Apache was displayed by the Army Air Corps: their usual end-of-show flaming finale presenting a grand photo-moment following their tactical demo and the RAF's Chinook team were back with their show-stopping display of strength with agility, accompanied by a commentary that appeared to borrow some of the ebullience of the USA commentators. The Belgian Sea King featured in a search and rescue demonstration. Much missed in the UK, this will also be one of the last occasions on which such a display will be seen at a British event as the Sea King is being phased out by other nations, too.
Possibly the most impressive of the rotary action was the unique CV-22B Osprey from the USAF. The live demonstration of its tiltrotor system that gives it the ability to take off like a helicopter and fly like a conventional fixed-wing aircraft illustrated amply the commentary which explained how this is put to use in emergency transport and evacuation situations.
For a show with so many aircraft, there were relatively few cancellations. One disappointment was the non-appearance of an A-4N Skyhawk from Discovery Air Defence, based at Wittmund. This would have been the first A-4 to visit Air Tattoo since 1977 but unfortunately it was cancelled at the last minute.
Away from the aircraft there was plenty to entertain everyone. One of the most popular was the Techno Zone, where companies displayed, and visitors played with, all nature of gizmos and gadgets. In the Vintage Village visitors were able to enjoy a sequence of vintage entertainment, mostly song and dance of the wartime era and take tea, but a huge proportion was little more than a vintage market in a marquee. The Autodrome was a promotion for a limited range of motor prestige vehicles plus the 'wall of death' and the Activity Zone offered fairground and other adventures for children of all ages, some to watch and some to take part in.
The Air Tattoo is the biggest military airshow in the world and takes a massive amount of organisation, both in the year leading up to it and especially when the show is ongoing. There will be moans about delays getting into and out of the show car parks and there will be those who were upset to have missed one or both of the unannounced special flypasts. There were also a few cancellations on the day, some due to the weather and some because of technical glitches. But weather and technical glitches will happen and when 50,000 people are moving to and from the show there will be delays.
Overall, we think it is reasonable to marvel at how few issues there were. Over 150,000 people admired aircraft from 26 nations. Most of the planned displays took place, despite some awful weather, especially early on Saturday and late on Sunday: the B-2 arrived in good time all the way from Missouri and after a little bit of hanging around waiting for its slot, passed along the display line bang on time. Around 250 aircraft made it to the show - and all had to be garnered in and dispersed again in a meticulous operation.
We think it was one of the best Air Tattoos for quite some time. Next year the show will celebrate 100 years of the RAF. The RAF Charitable Trust have set the bar very high with this year's show. We look forward to seeing how they can top it in 2018.
US Navy Statics
The United States Navy showcased the world's most capable maritime patrol aircraft, the Boeing P-8A Poseidon on the ground at Fairford. The aircraft is on order for the Royal Air Force, who will take delivery of their first example from 2019, based at RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland.
In another coup for the show this year, the US Air Force displayed two of its largest and most formidable aircraft. The aircraft, a B-52 Stratofortress and a B-1B Lancer were both on static display and joining them on the static park on Saturday and Sunday was a U-2 Reconnaissance Aircraft.
A long range strategic bomber, the B-52 entered service with the US military in the 1950s and became a frequent sight in the Cotswolds' skies during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, Operation Allied Force in 1999 and Operation Desert Storm in 1991 when they operated out of RAF Fairford. The first operational B-1B flew with the US Air Force in 1986 and provided the air arm with a long range bomber that was both fast and manoeuvrable. It was last seen at the Air Tattoo in 2009. The B-52H came from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and the B-1B from Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota.
More USAF Statics
The USAF's forces stationed in the UK were further represented in the static line-up by two F-15C Eagle fighters and an F-15E Strike Eagle from the 48th Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath, Suffolk. These potent aircraft have maintained a front-line USAF presence on British shores since the 1990s, and taken part in many overseas combat operations. Also from Lakenheath, there was a rare airshow appearance by an HH-60G Pave Hawk combat rescue helicopter, operated by the 56th Rescue Squadron.
RAF Mildenhall added to the static park a KC-135R Stratotanker air-to-air refuelling aircraft from the 351st Air Refuelling Squadron. The Boeing KC-135 has formed the backbone of the USAF's air-to-air refuelling force since the 1950s and was once a familiar sight at RAF Fairford when they were based at the Gloucestershire airfield on deployment. Joining them from the USAF 76th Airlift Squadron, part of the 86th Airlift Wing at Ramstein, Germany, was a C-21A twin-turbofan transport.
As well as the flying display example, the US Air Force also sent to the static display a CV-22B Osprey, a unique tiltrotor machine capable of flying like both a helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft, which has made it successful as a Special Forces transport. Also from the USAF on static display were two F-16C fighter jets; the MC-130J Commando II tactical transport and tanker aircraft, used to support Special Operations alongside the 'Osprey' and a C-17A Globemaster.
The 2016 Air Tattoo took a look into the future under the main theme "The Next Generation: Inspiring Innovation". Like the show at RAF Cosford, there was a focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) related initiatives, with participation from organisations involved in STEM as well as in air arms, aircraft operators, aerospace and technology companies. Another theme shared with the airshow at RAF Cosford was the celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the Air Cadet Organisation.
The full list of nations invited to participate was published very early in the 2016 season. RIAT was originally the only UK show to get the USAF F-22 Raptor until it became a very late addition to the Flying Legends airshow at Duxford. The F-22, which entered service in 2005, was last at RIAT in 2010. This year it was flown by Major Daniel 'Rock' Dickinson of the F-22 Demo Team.
Flying Schedule (tap / hover over icon for more detail)
Airbus A400M (Airbus Defence & Space) (8th, 9th & 10th)
AgustaWestland HH-101A Caesar (Italian Air Force) CANCELLED
Apache: (AAC Attack Helicopter Display Team)
Apache Demo Team (Royal Netherlands Air Force)
BAC Strikemaster Mk82A (NWMAS - Mark Petrie) (8th only)
North American OV-10B Bronco (Tony de Bruyn / Eureka Aviation)
P-8 Poseidon (US Navy)
Piper L-21B Super Cub (Belgian Air Component) CANCELLED
Saab JAS-39C/D Gripen (Hungarian Air Force) CANCELLED
Saab JAS-39D Gripen (Swedish Air Force)
Scottish Aviation Bulldog T.1 (High G Ltd)
Shorts SC-7 Skyvan (Tony de Bruyn / Eureka Aviation)
Socata TB20 Trinidad (Bruno Stocker)
Supermarine Spitfire TR.9 (Boultbee Academy)
Textron AirLand Scorpion (Textron Aviation)
Tornado PA200 IDS/ECR x2 (German Air Force)
Tornado GR.4 x2 (RAF)
Transall C-160D (German Air Force)
Typhoon FGR.4 x2(RAF)
Vintage gliders (see text)
As well as the Raptor, five F-35s from the USAF and US Marine Corps were at the show, one of only two airshows to get the F-35 in 2016, the other being the Farnborough International Airshow. Two USMC F-35Bs and one RAF F-35B were in the main F-35 flying display. The USAF also featured a Heritage Flight formation flypast comprising F-35A, F-22 and Mustang 'Miss Helen'. There was also a F-35 Lightning II on static in the southside operational area at some times over the three-day weekend.
The US Marine Corps added a great spectacle to the international début of the F-35B by demonstrating the new fighter's ability to refuel in mid-air. The Marines flew one of their KC-130J Hercules tankers in close formation with the F-35 to perform an air-to-air refuelling simulation during the F-35B's display.
The United States enhanced that already significant presence at this year's Air Tattoo by reprising the Bell-Boeing CV-22 Osprey tiltrotor provided by the 352nd Special Operations Wing based at RAF Mildenhall, following its flying debut in last year's show. The aircraft has the unique capability of being able to take-off vertically like a helicopter but fly at forward speeds associated with fixed-wing aircraft. One of the Ospreys was also in the static display, allowing visitors to get up close to these impressive aircraft.
The Swedish Air Force provided a Saab JAS 39C Gripen to the flying display and a 39D Gripen to the static park although the Hungarian Gripen, once scheduled, was cancelled. The Hellenic Air Force F-16C 'Zeus' demo team was another of the flying displays. Stars of the show, especially flying in and out either side of show days, were the Hellenic Air Force's pair of jets from the 1960s, McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantoms, which spent show days in the static display. This was Greece's biggest contingent of aircraft since 1998.
This was the only UK airshow where the Swiss Air Force Patrouille Suisse flew.
The RAF contingent included the Red Arrows, the Chinook and the Eurofighter Typhoon, all of which flew on all three days. The RAF static display had some trainers: a Squirrel helicopter and Hawks T1 and T2; front-line aircraft: two Tornado GR.4 ground attack aircraft, two Typhoon FGR.4 multirole fighter/bomber and the C-130J Hercules C.5 and a Voyager tanker. The RAF's newest type, the A400M Atlas, featured in the RAF Village and helped to showcase the modern Royal Air Force to the public. The Royal Navy was represented by the Black Cats helicopter display team.
The Dutch sent a large contingent of aircraft to the static display. A Royal Netherlands Air Force Boeing CH-47 Chinook heavy-lift helicopter and C-130 Hercules airlifter were joined by a Dornier 228 twin-turboprop patrol aircraft, which is flown in the colours of the Netherlands Coast Guard by air force and navy pilots. The distinctive three-engined KDC-10 transport/tanker jet had also been scheduled for the static line-up but has been withdrawn.
The French Air Force contributed two of the most spectacular fast jet displays in Europe, the solo Dassault Rafale C multi-role fighter and Ramex Delta team, comprising two Dassault Mirage 2000N strike aircraft. Seen for the first time in Britain at RIAT 2015, Ramex Delta presented a dynamic role demonstration of the delta-winged Mirage, consisting of various tactical manoeuvres representative of those used in combat.
The Dassault Rafale swing-role combat jet has been at the Tattoo several times. The display aircraft was a single-seat Rafale C stationed at Base Aérienne 113 Saint-Dizier. At the controls for the first time this year was a new display pilot, Capitaine 'Marty' Martinez.
The Italian Air Force provided the highlight for many in the close formations, solo exhibitions and smoke-flag streaming of the ten Aermacchi AT-339A (previously known as MB339 PAN) of the Frecce Tricolori. This is one of the last seasons for the AT-339A, which is due to be replaced as the Frecce's mount by the Aermacchi M-345 HET.
The Italian Air Force also introduced the AgustaWestland HH-101A Caesar helicopter for its UK debut. The 'Caesar' is essentially the Italian's Merlin and is versatile enough to be configured for a variety of roles including combat search & rescue, special forces, medical evacuation and slow-moving intercept. The Italian's flying line-up was completed with a Eurofighter F-2000A Typhoon and a second was amongst the statics. The Spanish Air Force also sent a Typhoon for the static and flying displays.
Croatia was the 56th nation to display at RIAT when their Krila Oluje aerobatic team made its UK debut. The Krila Oluje (meaning 'Wings of Storm, celebrating a major Croatian military operation named 'Oluje', during the country's war of independence from the former Yugoslavia) fly six PC-9M in dynamic close-formation, opposition and solo elements. The team's support aircraft, a Mil Mi-171 transport helicopter, was on static display.
The Air Force from another east European country, Poland, was also represented in flying displays, displaying the MiG-29A and joining the Polish F-16C Tiger Demo Team and Team Orlik. The Slovakian Air Force was also to display a MiG-29AS, joined in the static park by a MiG-29AS/UBS and with a Slovakian Let L410 transporter in support, but their involvement in RIAT was cancelled.
The Belgian Air Component's long-time demonstration pilot Cdt Tom 'Gizmo' De Moortel displayed the extremely popular F-16 at the weekend. Belgium's fleet of 54 F-16s has benefited from 'Mid Life Upgrades', nevertheless their agility and popularity belie their 40 year pedigree. The extravagant 'Blizzard' paint scheme adds to its popularity, as witnessed by several trophy wins at previous Air Tattoos.
Belgium also sent a C-130H Hercules transport for the static display joined, for the first time at RIAT, by a veteran Piper L-21B Super Cub used as a glider tug to support the country's Air Cadets.
As part of official celebrations to mark the 75th anniversary of the Air Training Corps, the Royal International Air Tattoo 2016 featured a static display of vintage gliders used by the Air Cadet Organisation over the years. The oldest of them on show were the Slingsby Kirby Cadet, Slingsby Grasshopper and Slingsby Sedbergh, all employed by the ATC during the early post-war years. A later example is the Slingsby Venture, the first powered glider to be employed by the Air Cadets and current equipment was represented by examples of the Grob Viking glider and Grob Vigilant motorglider.
Getting to RIAT
The post code for sat nav is GL7 4EG but in all cases ignore the sat nav and follow local signposting as soon as it becomes available. Parking is free.
The best rail station to use is Swindon, because there are (chargeable) shuttle buses between Swindon station and the show. Swindon is well served with rail services from London, Oxford, Wales and the west.
It is best to book as far as possible in advance. This is not only because nearby hotels and guest houses tend get booked up well before the date of an airshow but also because prices can be better when you book early online.
There are plenty of booking agencies. We find that many of the well known ones are better at finding hotels from international or larger UK chains and may suggest hotels in main towns or cities quite a distance from the show site.
There is a Premier Inn hotel in Cirencester and more in and around Swindon.
Travelodge have four hotels within 10 miles of the show. Locations include Swindon, Cirencester and Burford.
Click any of the blue names to go to the corresponding web site. The links already have the location built in, but please check, and change as necessary, the dates, number of rooms and number of guests.
The Met Office 7-day forecast includes actual and "feels like" temperatures, the likelihood of rain, wind speed, wind direction, wind gusts and visibility: the latter can have an impact on the viability of displays.
The BBC's 14-day forecast has overall conditions including and hourly estimate of temperature, wind direction, wind speed and UV range.
Click the blue-text link to go to the forecast. The location is already built into the links.
Parking is free and does not require a special ticket.
Dogs are not permitted. Checks will be made in the car parks to ensure no animals are in distress. There are exceptions for guide dogs, hearing dogs and medical alert dogs but you should bring identification or other proof of status.