The question we are asked most regularly is 'what is the best airshow?' Or sometimes 'I would like to take my child to her/ his first airshow, which do you recommend?'
Readers would expect us to respond that it depends on what you want from an airshow and, indeed, that is the case. Nevertheless, some pointers may be helpful.
If you are looking for the biggest show in terms of greatest number of aircraft and the greatest variety of nations represented, then the answer has to be The Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT). RIAT is a three-day airshow, held at RAF Fairford, a Royal Air Force station, in Gloucestershire in mid July, typically over the third weekend of that month. Saturday and Sunday are full flying days, with displays from before noon until teatime. Friday has a shorter display day but there are usually arrivals of some of the aircraft that are flying in for static display as well. Major 'arrivals days' are Wednesday and Thursday, when there is a chance to see even more of the aircraft in the air that will only be on static display for the rest of the show. On the Monday after the show weekend there is a busy schedule of departures. Tickets can be bought to enable viewing at these arrival and departure days.
Contemporary military aircraft from around the world
Although RIAT is held on an RAF base it is not organised by the RAF (the show at RAF Cosford is the only RAF-organised airshow) but by RAF Charitable Trust Enterprises.
RIAT has the reputation as the biggest military airshow in the world, sometimes hosting around 250 aircraft from 20 or more countries in static or flying displays. The show is in the Guinness Book Of Records as the world's largest military air show in terms of participating aircraft, with a record of 535 aircraft at the 2003 show, although visitors should not expect that number at future shows.
Most of the displays will be modern aircraft in current service or recently retired although slightly older aircraft and even a few vintage favourites also appear. Visitors can also anticipate some unique formations, often including the Red Arrows escorting an aircraft that is celebrating an anniversary or other moment of fame; or a combination of aircraft all with a common purpose. Check this year's programme but in the recent past there have been Red Arrows formations with a 747 in BOAC heritage livery (2019); a flypast of several aircraft from different nations representing NATO to celebrate that organisation's 70th anniversary and flypasts with other national teams, such as the Black Eagles from the Republic of South Korea in 2022. Read more about the airshow at Fairford on our RIAT page.
Duxford airshows are well reputed for their non-stop activity. Some airshows elsewhere are arranged as a series of single or small-group displays with an interval in between. Not at Duxford. Blink and you are almost bound to miss something. Most aircraft in the displays are based at Duxford, for the event if not long-term, so as well as the displays in the air there is plenty of action on the ground as aircraft taxi into take-off formation. Most of the time there is some such aircraft action on the ground at the same time as a display in the air. Sometimes a display will be punctuated with a landing or take-off and occasionally there will be more than one aircraft giving separate but synchronised displays at the same time in neighbouring airspace.
WWII Era aircraft and constant activity on the airfield and in the air
Click the blue text for a list of Duxford airshows.
There used to be three major airshows at Duxford each year but since one of the favourites, Flying Legends, moved away, there are two 'full' shows. However, there are also 'Flying Days', lower-cost (free to IWM members) shows with fewer displays and less frantic action for those wanting a more gentle introduction to airshows. Two of the 2021 Flying Days, 'After Hours' (now renamed Duxford Flying Evening) and 'The Best Of' (now the 'Flying Finale') became 'Special Flying Events' in 2022 and are no longer free to members.
Most displays at Duxford airshows tend to be from the WW2 era, with a heavy emphasis on Spitfires, but there are many from other vintages, including occasional visits from contemporary aircraft and a splattering of examples from overseas.
The biggest, many would argue the best, Duxford airshow is the Battle of Britain Airshow in September, which features large assemblies of Spitfires and other aircraft with links to the theme. The show is an example of non-stop activity and is often a sell-out.
Airshows at the Shuttleworth Collection, Old Warden, are arguably the best for anyone who wants to see older aircraft flying. By 'older', we don't just mean WWII, nor interwar, not even WWI, but pre-WWI, right back to aircraft of the Edwardian era.
The conditions have to be just right for these oldies to fly but given those conditions, fly they will.
Vintage Aircraft, especially pre-war
Old Warden is a small airfield where the atmosphere is much more relaxed than at many other shows. As well as the Edwardians (in perfect conditions) there will be aircraft of other eras, even the Red Arrows occasionally, but the emphasis is on older, gentler aircraft rather than contemporary or recent military or other noisier machines.
The Shuttleworth Collection of older aircraft is housed in hangars in extensive grounds with scenic 'Swiss Gardens' to wander; Shuttleworth House to visit and a huge children's playground.
There are airshows at Old Warden most months throughout the season. The details do vary from year to year but you can usually depend on a season starter in May and another ten-or-so shows at regular intervals, mostly in the daytime but a few in the evening, through until the season finale in early October.
Click the blue text for a list of the shows at Old Warden and then on a show name for details of each show as they emerge during the year.
There are airshows at several seaside locations around much of the UK during the summer season.
The number of shows has reduced over the years as regulations and cash both get tighter. Nevertheless, a handful of very good seaside shows remain around the country.
Good variety of family-friendly displays and usually free
Most seaside airshows are free (Southport is the exception) and to get to the free ones you don't need tickets, so you don't have to plan too far ahead. This means that you can leave a decision until quite late and see what the weather is going to do - which you can't with most airfield shows, where the organisers often want you to pre-book ahead of time. If you need to book somewhere to stay, however, you will need to make an earlier decision, as accommodation tends to get booked up very early in towns that have the best shows.
Seaside shows tend to have a similar line-up of aircraft which will typically include family favourites such as Wingwalkers, a Spitfire or two, light aircraft aerobatics and possibly some RAF displays, such as one or more of The Red Arrows, the Chinook, the Typhoon and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.
Which show you choose will probably depend on how close it is to where you live, or where you will be on holiday. It is worth looking at reviews of past shows to see the general nature and number of displays before you decide. As the show date approaches our calendar, or our page for that show, will list the displays we know about.
If distance is no object or if you are planning to make a weekend of it, the biggest and best-attended shows are at Bournemouth, Eastbourne and Swansea.
The UK airshow map shows where seaside airshows are expected this year.
If you think the suggestions on this page are not balanced, or that something has been missed, or even if you agree with them, do get in touch to let us know.
We would normally suggest thinking about Flying Legends and The Royal Navy International Air Day at RNAS Yeovilton, but neither show was held in 2022 or are programmed for 2023 and their future is uncertain.
Worth thinking about, though, are the RAF Cosford Air Show, for a chance to see around an operational RAF base as well as enjoying a very good airshow; the Battle of Britain Airshow at Headcorn for Spitfires, Dakotas, locally-based light-aircraft aerobatics and (usually) parachutists - sometimes with round canopies; The Abingdon Air and Country Show for a mixture of country craft and aircraft, with a greater than average proportion of helicopters; and the smaller but well-organised and excellently regarded shows at Little Gransden and the Old Buckenham Airshow. For something a little different, the Midlands Air Festival has masses of hot air balloons as well as aircraft, all in the grounds of a stately home. Click any of the blue text for more details of the respective shows.