RIAT RAF Fairford 2017
RAF Fairford hosted the annual Royal Internation Air Tattoo organised by and raising funds for the Royal Air Force Charitable Trust. This year's main theme was 70th Anniversary of the United States Air Force while the show also had the theme of 21st Century Partnerships. Two other anniversaries are being marked were the 60th of the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and the 75th of the RAF Regiment. As usual the Lincolnshire contingents of the RAF were well represented both in the air and on the ground. We were at the show on the Friday which though not a full show day still provided a four-hour flying display along with arrivals for the static display and the majority of the static displays open.
Returning to the show for the first time in ten years was the USAF Air Demonstration Squadron the Thunderbirds flying their six F-16 front-line fighter aircraft in striking white, blue and red livery. It was these who unofficially started the flying for the day as they departed early morning for a display in France. On their return to RAF Fairford they were joined by the RAF Red Arrows for a unique and unpublished joint flypast. As the Thunderbirds landed the Red Arrows from RAF Scampton stayed in the air to officially open the days flying display. Making their arrival from behind to cheers from the crowd the nine bright red Hawk T1's performed in close formations while looping and rolling before separating for their displays second half. This saw the synchro pair flown by Red 6 Flt Lt Tom Bould (synchro leader) and Flt Lt Si Taylor perform close opposition flypasts in front of the crowd.
The other seven aircraft lead by Red 1 Sqn Ldr David Montenegro, in his final year as leader, performed more close formations and manoeuvres together. The team closed the display with seven hawk's performing the infinity break towards the crowd as the synchro pair performed their final crossover to the applause of the crowd. Later in the schedule The RAF Typhoon FGR4 of 29(R) Sqn based at RAF Coningsby and flown by Flt Lt Ryan Lawton. His displays over the three days earned him the Steedman Display Sword for the best demonstration by a UK participant.
Battle of Britain Memorial Flight
Also from RAF Coningsby the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight performed a display but with an unusual formation. The Lancaster with one Hurricane and three Spitfires performed flypasts before they separated to do individual shows. The four fighters then reformed to perform a number of formation flaypasts. The RAF also displayed the Chinook HC.4 from RAF Odiham while another type in the RAF inventory, the Airbus A400m known as Atlas in RAF service, put on an impressive display in the hands of an Airbus pilot. Other aircraft that have been seen visiting the Lincolnshire skies displaying included the pair of Mirage 2000d's from the French Air Force team Couteau Delta, the F-16 Fighting Falcon of the Belgian Air Force and the CV-22b Osprey from the USAF Special Operations Sqn at RAF Mildenhall. Also in the display were the C-27j Spartan of the Italian Air Force and the PC-9m trainer from the Slovenian Air Force flown by 1st Lt Andrej Fiorelli who won the Sir Douglas Bader Trophy for best overall flying demonstration.
It was fitting that it was left to the USAF to close the display which began with a special 70th Anniversary flypast. This was made up of types operated by the USAF in Europe, from RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk the KC-135R tanker of 100th ARW, C-130j Hercules 37th Airlift Sqn Ramstein AB, F-16c Fighting Falcon 480th Fighter Sqn Spangdahlem AB and from RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk the F-15c Eagle 493 Fighter Sqn, F-15e Strike Eagle 48th Fighter Wing and HH-60g Pave Hawk from the 56th Rescue Sqn. Major Dan 'Rock' Dickinson from the USAF 1 Fighter Wing Lanley AFB then demonstrated the F-22 Raptor. His amazing demonstrations over the weekend earned him the Paul Bowen Trophy for the best overall jet demonstration.
The final official display was Thunderbirds back to perform their full display this time. Unfortunately technical issues on Friday saw then display with five rather than six aircraft. Differing from the Red Arrows almost their entire display the team are in two sections, the main four lead by Col Jason 'Shifty' Heard and the two solo's lead by Maj Alex Turner. Each take turns in displaying in front of the crowd before joining for all six aircraft to perform the signature Bomb Burst followed by a formation Delta flypast to close their display. RAFCTE Chief Executive Andy Armstrong presented the Thunderbirds with his own RAIT CEO award for outstanding contribution.
On the ground there was a wide variety of aircraft to look at up-close from the RAF and a number of Air Arms from around the World. Dominating the display in the RAF Village were the Atlas C1 and C-17a Globemaster transports from 70 & 99 Sqn respectively. The RAF display covered all aspects their air operations starting with the Vigilant & Viking gliders used by the Air Training Corps along with the G115e Tutor operated by the University Air Squadrons. The Tucano and Hawk trainers were on show joined by the Torando GR4 from RAF Marham. Again Lincolnshire was represented by the King Air B200 from 45(R)Sqn RAF Cranwell and Typhoon FGR4 from RAF Coningsby joining an example from 1Sqn RAF Lossiemouth.
Also on display were examples from rotary wing side of the RAF from the Squirrel helicopter used for training to the workhorse Puma HC2. The Army Air Corps and Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm also had examples of their aircraft on display. The theme of 21st Century Partnerships saw a number of Countries participate which included welcome returns from Israel, Pakistan, Qatar, Japan, Australia and Jordan joining the European Nations. As in the air the USAF had a good presence on the ground too with now rare visits to the show for the B-1b Lancer and B-52 bombers and the U-2s reconnaissance aircraft. They were joined by European based aircraft as seen in the flypast along with visiting KC-135 and C-17 from the States. A number of private light and historic aircraft could also be seen on the ground along with some demonstration types from manufacturers.
Special Zones and Villages
Also on the ground around the aircraft were a number of special zones and villages with different themes. The RAF village, aside from the aircraft, was showing all aspects of RAF operations on the ground including the RAF Police, Fire, and Regiment.
The RAF display teams also had a presence there where the public could meet not only the Red Arrows pilots and crew but also the BATTLE OF Britain Memorial Flight and Typhoon teams. The vintage village offered some nostalgia with a marquee containing vintage stalls, dance performances, music shows and an authentic tea shop and bar. The Techno Zone offered the chance for children to learn about and take part in experiments and activities relating to aviation. A number of leading aerospace companies took part in this including Rolls Royce, British Aerospace, Northrop Grumman, Thales and Leonardo along with agencies The Met Office, Aviation Skills Partnership, QinetiQ and Aerospace Bristol. In the activity zone children could take part in activities including sports and circus workshops. A new look AutoZone had displays from Porsche and Aston Martin, where you were offered the chance to win an exclusive Red Arrows Aston Martin, motorcycles and have the chance to see the famous wall of death.
The event was again a huge success and for 2018 promises to be even bigger as the show celebrates the 100th Anniversary of the RAF. Already announced is that Friday will be a full show day and that tickets will be advance only. Further information can be found by visiting airtattoo.com.