Tracing its roots back to North Weald in the year of 1971, the first Air Tattoo saw just 100 aircraft from across Europe descend on the Essex found airfield – the idea of the show having been the brainchild of two Air Traffic Controllers. Fast-forward four and a half decades, adding a royal decree along with a permanent home, and the show has become the largest military airshow in the world. With a long and distinguished history of providing the first look at many a new type and display while celebrating key anniversaries in the aviation world, The Royal International Air Tattoo 2017 saw no less than 160,000 people pass through the gates of RAF Fairford for a look at the pinnacle of the UK airshow scene. Jamie Ewan and the AeroResource team were on hand for a look at this year’s weather driven edition.
A USAF Affair…
Until fairly recently, the so-called ‘lack’ of US participation at RIAT had been a gripe for many – especially given the ‘special’ relationship between the two powers. And yes, whilst the show has always had US support more commonly from the USAFE (United States Air Forces in Europe), the question of ‘when will we see some Continental United States (CONUS) based assets – particularly their heavies – back at RIAT?’ has been often asked. While that was answered in many ways at last year’s show with the sight of so many fifth-generation aircraft on the ground being something to behold, this year was a completely different story altogether. With 2017 being the United States Air Force’s 70th anniversary which was also the main theme of RIAT 2017, it was no surprise that they were out in force with numerous types from across their fighter, bomber, reconnaissance, transport and special duty fleets on display both on the ground and in the air – the airfield seeing the largest USAF gathering in many, many years.
From the onset, it was clear the USAF were serious about their commitment to the show with the return of Thunderbirds and their six elegantly painted F-16s for just their second ever RIAT appearance, the first taking place in 2007 for the USAF’s 60th celebrations. Making the transatlantic crossing for their only European show of the year, the inclusion of the team helped cement the incredibly strong links between the Air Tattoo and the USAF, links stretching as far back as 1972. As Air Tattoo Chief Executive Andy Armstrong said “The history – and success – of the Air Tattoo is inextricably linked to the US Air Force, on whose base the event takes place each year”. With displays on all three days, the team flew an incredibly choreographed display of both formation and solo flying, showcasing the maximum capabilities of the USAF’s frontline, legacy multi-role jet along with stereotypical American commentary and musical background. Prior to the Friday display, there was a unique chance to see the USAF’s ‘Ambassadors in Blue’ join up with the Red Arrows for a single flypast as the Thunderbirds returned from taking part in the Bastille Day flypast over the Champs-Élysées in Paris. It is great to see this tradition of unique Red Arrows formations continuing at the show, although no doubt many would have been disappointed that it only took place on the quieter of the three show days, despite it only being made possible by the Thunderbirds aforementioned commitment over France.
For their outstanding contribution to the show, the team were presented with the ‘RIAT CEO Award’ by The Royal Air Force Charitable Trust Enterprises (RAFCTE) Chief Executive, Andy Armstrong. The team’s director of operations, Lt Col Kevin Walsh – callsign Thunderbird 7 – said, “It’s a huge honour. With the field of other participants you have at this airshow, we couldn’t be happier. There was a great team effort just to get the whole team overseas and in the air” adding “to get us to put on a different demonstration out here we had to change our rules and change our display a little bit to fit the mould here. We thought we did well with it.”
The fifth-generation thrust vectoring antics of the F-22A Raptor were welcomed back to the skies of Gloucestershire with another physics defying display in the hands of Major Dan ‘Rock’ Dickinson. Having won the ‘As the Crow Flies’ trophy last year for the best overall flying demonstration as judged by FRIAT, the team from the 1st Fighter Wing walked away with the Paul Bowen Trophy for the shows best fast jet demonstration this year for a “consistently accurate, powerful and superbly executed solo jet demonstration” as the judges put it. Sadly, the weather on Saturday was ‘out of limits’ for the jet to display and it remained on the ground, the days Heritage Flight also cancelled as a result.
Planned to have been showcased on all three-show days, the Heritage Flight was jinxed yet again by the weather and technical gremlins – Friday seeing the P-51D Mustang falling foul to the latter and, as mentioned, the weather causing the loss of the Raptor on Saturday. Having been originally been billed as Comanche Fighter’s 357th marked P-51D Frenesi, it was soon changed for their similarly marked P-51B Berlin Express after its mammoth transatlantic journey from Texas to the UK. Sadly, the aircraft was removed from the line up after it was damaged at Duxford during the Flying Legends show the weekend prior – a huge shame given the sheer effort and determination to get it across the Atlantic. With Frenesi reinstated, the crowd on Sunday were treated to the two machines flying a number of passes in formation with Dan Friedkin leading the way in the Mustang – a contrast to the sheer ‘shock and awe’, agility and power seen during the Raptor’s solo. Unlike the somewhat patriotic commentary that accompanied both the Thunderbirds and the Raptor, the Heritage flight was left to perform to the background sound of Dwayne O’Brien’s wonderfully emotive We Remember.
With B-17G Flying Fortress Sally B and Hangar 11’s P-51D Tall in the Saddle showing two of the very first and iconic aeroplanes operated by the USAF – both flying displays to their usual high standards – the modern day service was represented with a 70th Anniversary flypast provided by two ‘heavies’ and five fast jets. Taking place on all three days, the flypast saw four stalwart types of the United States Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa operate from various bases to take part in the commemoration. Making up the heavy element was a C-130J from 37th Airlift Squadron based at Ramstein, Germany and a KC-135R from 351st Air Refuelling Squadron at RAF Mildenhall whilst the fast jets came in the form a single F-15E and two F-15cs from RAF Lakenheath along with two F-16CMs of the 480th Fighter Squadron normally based at Spangdahlem but operating out of RAF Lakenheath for the duration of the show whilst runway works were completed at the German base.
While both the C-130J and KC-135 flew a single pass on each day, the latter with the boom extended, the fighters flew a number of fast passes down the line before climbing away with the ‘burners plugged in. Examples of the types could also be found in the static park, the F-15Cs and F-16CMs sporting numerous ‘kill’ and plentiful mission marks. A rare static appearance from a C-21A on the strength of the 86th Airlift Wing at Ramstein, Germany along with a HH-60G Pave Hawk combat rescue helicopter operated by the 56th Rescue Squadron along and CV-22 Osprey, MC-130J and KC-135 from RAF Mildenhall all helped bolster the USAFE assets on the ground.
However, those attending on Sunday were treated to a special addition to the commemoration flypasts with the inclusion of a Northrop Grumman B-2A Spirit making a ‘surprise’ appearance. Escorted by two F-15Cs, the jet had flown directly from its home base of Whiteman, Missouri during an epic 23-hour transatlantic Global Power Mission in the hands of a crew from the 509th Bomb Wing. With a B-2 last attending the show in 2013 when it was one of the stars of the static display, this was the first time since 2007 a ‘Spirit’ – this one being the Spirit of Pennsylvania – had been seen in the air, the jet flying two curving passes before heading turning to make its 11 hour return trip.
Given the fact that the B-2 made its only appearance on the Sunday, it did sound a few grumbles from those at the show on the Saturday only – as did the joint flypast between the Reds and the Thunderbirds on the Friday – which has brought up the age-old question of advanced tickets only. In a world where no one can control the weather or aircraft availability – operational factors meaning the B-2 was only available on the Sunday while the Red Arrows and Thunderbirds flypast only took place due to the F-16s Team arriving back from their Bastille Day at the right time – it is a gamble.
While this year’s flying programme saw just two rotary types taking part – those being the Royal Air Force Chinook and a Belgian Air Component Sea King – the USAF were in the middle as such with a type that has become a regular in the display in recent years – the CV-22B Osprey. Provided by the 7th Special Operations Squadron at RAF Mildenhall, the crew flew a display showing off the capabilities of the Osprey in both helicopter and fixed wing flight including a number of spritely low fast passes.
Although they have become a more frequent sight in the skies of Fairford as of late during various deployments including that of BALTOPS and Exercise Sabre Strike just a few weeks earlier (for further information on that deployment, check out our article – http://www.aeroresource.co.uk/operational-reports/usaf-bomber-deployment-raf-fairford/), an example of both a B-52H Stratofortress and B-1B Lancer made a most welcome return to the static park with the jets making their way across from their home bases Barksdale, Louisiana and Ellsworth, South Dakota in the United States. Like the B-52 and BONE, U-2s from Beale Air Force Base’s 9th Reconnaissance Wing are a regular at RAF Fairford with the base being used for crew rest and refuelling during airframe rotations between Beale and their forward operating locations ‘down range’. That said, despite the type being kept away from the public eye as such, it was a coup for the show to announce that one would take part in the static display, the jet taking the top trump spot of all US assets on show for many an enthusiast. While the U-2 is more in demand now and reports suggesting that the type is flying twenty-four hours a day seven days a weeks in its Area Of Responsibility, it was clear to see how hard they are working with the ‘lady’ on static looking somewhat worse for wear; the jet having arrived on it way back to the US. Topping off the US participation at RIAT 2017 was a C-17A from the 701st Airlift Squadron.
With this year’s operational theme being 21sT Century partnerships, it was quite clear to see that the USAF’s contribution was just a small part of RIAT 2017 with 32 air arms representing 26 different nations bringing nearly 250 airframes to Fairford. In a time where financial constraints and operational needs are at the forefront of almost every air arm around the world, and understandably so, it is inevitable that the days of packing the static park to the rafters is on a hiatus as such therefore numbers are reduced as an effect. That said, 2017 saw one of the largest static displays in recent years – 115 aircraft, both military and civilian – it is fair to say it was a case of ‘quality over quantity’ with a smorgasbord of types taking their place on the line.
When it comes to fast jets, there is one type that many linger over – the mighty F-4 Phantom. Having made a starring return last year with two jets from 339 Mira at Andravida Air Base, the Hellenic Air Force once again sent examples of the legendary jet to the UK – 338 Mira given the honours with two jets with one wearing special marks on the the tail and ‘Air Tattoo’ titles on the drop tanks.
As expected with most European air forces operating either the Eurofighter Typhoon, Gripen or F-16, there were numerous examples dotted around the airfield, the Belgians sending two specially painted AM versions of their aging F-16 and the Luftwaffe sending their ‘Atlantic Tiger’ marked EF2000 Typhoon, while the sole Gripen – a D variant – came from the Swedish Air Force. The Austrian Air Force ‘reinforced’ their enduring friendship with the Air Tattoo with an example of one of their diminutive Saab J105Öe’s from their Jet Trainer Squadron based at Linz-Hörsching in static and another example taking part in the flying display. Alongside these was a Spanish Hornet with a special Tiger Meet tail and special schemed Czech L-159 Alca in a scheme representing a Spitfire flown by Lt. Lieutenant František Peřina during the war. With the loss of the display jet pan at the western end of the static area, an item that has been a standout highlight of the last couple of years, the additional space gave the opportunity to park these fast jets with a more pleasant background with minimal distraction behind. It may not be the revered west end backdrops of five or so years ago, and many may mourn the loss of the display jet parking and the ability to spectate the preparation activities, but credit should be given for trying to give the best possible views of these particular aircraft.
Other stars of the static were heavies from around the world including the Royal Canadian Air Force with one of their five CC-177 Globemaster IIIs, the aircraft joined by one of the air arms CH-147F Chinook operated by 450 Tactical Helicopter Squadron at Petawawa, Ontario. With the Chinook flown across the Atlantic to RAF Brize Norton the week before, it was the first time Canadian examples of either type has attended a British airshow. Making another RIAT debut, as well taking the prize for furthest distance travelled to attend, was an E-7A Wedgetail of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). Having supported the show last year with the UK airshow debut of a 33 Squadron KC-30A, the Wedgetail is one of six in service with 2 Squadron at RAAF Base Williamtown, New South Wales. Wearing special marks to commemorate 2 Squadron’s centenary, RAAF E-7As have been a key element in the multi-national mission efforts countering the so-called Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria. Richard Arquati, an Air Tattoo spokesperson, said, “Given the tempo of overseas operations, we are especially pleased that the Royal International Air Tattoo is able to send the Wedgetail to RIAT 2017 – it’s a perfect addition to the line-up of aircraft for our Partnerships theme this year”. With the Boeing 737 being the basis of numerous military applications such as the Wedgetail, it was a great piece of planning to see another such application which was positioned alongside the RAF’s future Maritime Patrol Aircraft in the form of the US Navy’s sole attendee, a P-8 Poseidon.
Both Pakistan and Japan made popular returns with a C-130E and KC-767J respectively – the latter making its way from its home base of Komaki to Brize Norton initially where it carried out a ‘local’ sortie. Like 2016, the Pakistani Air Force marked up their transport workhorse with a special tail, the aircraft coming from their sole Hercules unit 6 Squadron based at Islamabad International Airport. Further examples of the venerable Hercules came from the Royal Netherlands and Jordanian Air Forces while two paradigms of the types legacy, the J variant, came from Qatar and Israel. The attendance of the Israeli C-130J was a true surprise for everyone visiting with it only being announced on the morning of its planned arrival on the daily movement list. Known as the Shimshon in Isreali service, the aircraft which is operated by 103 Squadron from Nevatim Airbase, was the first from the Middle Eastern country at RIAT in 15 years and the crew were more than happy to show the internals of the aircraft – once additional security had been cleared.
One of the most striking transport aircraft in the static was a C-160D Transall from the German Air Force, LTG-61 (Air Transport Wing 61) finishing the high-wing type with ‘retro-styled’ silver scheme to celebrate the unit’s 60th anniversary. While the type has gained a short stay of execution in German service while issues with their A400M fleet are ironed out, only a small number of them will remain in service to perform missions that require their self-protection suite. An example of one of their A400M was also present on the ground from LTG-62 (Air Transport Wing 62), as were two Royal Air Force examples, known as the ATLAS C1, from the RAF’s air mobility fleet – the two machines making the short hop from RAF Brize Noton. The German Navy provided three rotary types with one of their newest assets, the EC135 P2, being joined by a Lynx Mk88 and a Sea King Mk41.
Other RAF assets on static included a 10/101 Squadron Voyager, a Hawk T1 from 100 Squadron, 72 Squadron’s centenary marked Tucano T1, two Typhoon FGR4s from RAF Lossiemouth, a seldom seen Benson based Puma HC2, a Griffin HT1 from 60 (R) Squadron and a Squirrel HT.1 from the Central Flying School. The RAF highlight for many was what transpired to be the last public appearance of the one and only ‘Pinky’ – Tornado GR4 ZG750 wearing its 25th anniversary of Operation GRANBY scheme. By the time these words are read, the jet will have flown for the final time to RAF Leeming and joined the Reduce To Produce (RTP) line.
Although we have already alluded to the great positioning of the jets at the western end, unfortunately, many of the RAF participants fell foul of the RIAT backdrop curse – the dreaded portaloo lineup. As is the case each year, there is no escaping this reality for some of the aircraft participating with items such as the positioning of the F-16s during the 40th Anniversary Meet in 2014, the RAF Sea King HAR3’s last appearance in 2015 or the Japanese P1 again in 2015 all suffering during recent shows. There is no doubt that the organisers are more than aware of the situation but the reality is that there is little to be done given the size of the show and the number of visitors involved and some items will always be affected. A lot has also been said about the RAF and their so-called ‘marginal’ effort this year, but here is hoping next year sees a triumphant return with 2018 being their centenary year and the main theme for the show.
With a change afoot in the way the military is to provide their flying training, RIAT gave the first chance to see the five new aircraft types that will take on the role. Provided by Affinity Flying Training Services the Grob G120TP Prefect, Embraer 100 Phenom and Beechcraft T-6C Texan II were joined by H135 Juno and H145 Jupiter helicopters from Airbus Helicopters, the first time both helicopters and all five of these new types have been seen together in public.
BAE Systems exhibited a number of types representing British aviation heritage – those on display spanning an incredible 77 years! With Old Warden providing their Piston Provost alongside one of their resident Battle of Britain veteran Hurricane, the RAF provided a Typhoon and Mark Petrie his Omani marked Strikemaster to add to the display. It was, however, the public debut of the Historic Aircraft Collection’s 1918-built de Havilland DH.9 that captivated most. Having been found in an Elephant stable in India, the aeroplane, which has undergone an immense restoration to airworthy condition (its first post restoration flight due in the coming weeks) and rightfully took home the prestigious Concourse trophy for best civilian restored aircraft at the show.
In the days leading up to last year’s show, RAF Coningsby became the focus for many with the arrival of no less than four SU-30MKI Flankers of the Indian Air Force leading many to ask would we see a Flanker at Fairford once again? Having provided a static example and a fly through when last here in 2007, it wasn’t a daft question as such however with the jets, staying firmly planted on the ground in Lincolnshire it was sadly not to be. 2017 was however to be the year of the Flanker, the ‘Beast from the East’ taking the show by storm. With the internet awash with rumours that the Ukrainian Air Force was to make a return, many couldn’t have believed it when the country ‘self-confirmed’ with a press-release reporting it was sending a Flanker to RIAT to join the flying display! Having been the first airshow in the West to welcome the Ukrainians back in 1996, the return of the Flanker saw their first display in the UK with the type since 1999, although an example was seen in the static at the 2011 show. Provided by the 831st Guards Tactical Aviation Brigade, based at Myrhorod in central Ukraine, two Flankers were sent to the show which included a twin seat variant for static display with both being supported by an Ilyushin Il-76, which also appeared in the static.
RIAT chief executive Andy Armstrong said, “The return of the Ukrainian Su-27 this year is the result of a lot of hard work by the Air Tattoo team. I am delighted that the Ukrainian Air Force has made such a commitment to the show, and know that the ‘Flanker’ will be a major highlight in 2017.”
When compared to those flown by the much smaller Typhoon, Rafale, F-16 or Raptor, the Su-27’s display was nothing special, but the sheer size of the type its raw power was made apparent as Colonel Oleksander Oksanchenko put the Russian jet through its paces in a showing that gained him the ‘As The Crow Flies’ trophy for the best overall flying demonstration as judged by members of FRIAT. Speaking through an interpreter, Oksanchenko said, “Thank you very much for your hospitality, your partnership and to all the guys who organise the Royal International Air Tattoo. A very high standard is set, and we are very happy to be here. Everything is well organised. God bless your Queen!”
What goes up…
Unlike last year which saw a total of eight displays from just two different aircraft types leading some to complain about the lack of variety, 2017 saw a wide mix of aircraft from across Europe, including a number of expected regulars during the impressively large 20 planned hours of flying over the three days.
With the Thunderbirds showing off the F-16 as a team, two of Europe’s best F-16 displays were on hand with commendable solo efforts. Flying their stunning black and gold jet from 141 Filo, the now legendary SOLOTÜRK was accompanied by ‘that’ commentary while the Belgian Air Component solo saw ‘Gizmo’ De Moortel’s make his last RIAT appearance in his last season as the demo pilot. With both jets ripping the sky apart with plenty of noise, afterburner and high-g manoeuvres – Captain Erhan GÜNAR doing the honours in the Turkish built F-16 – it was a surprise that neither walked away with an award. That said, with two Gripen C’s joining the line up from the Czech and Swedish Air Forces it was superb to see both jets being flown aggressively and tightly showing off the capabilities of the SAAB built machine to the audience. With the Swedish taking The Sir Douglas Bader Trophy for the best individual flying demonstration last year, 2017 was the turn of the Czech’s with Capt. Ivo Kardoš from the 211th Tactical Squadron at Čáslav Air Base awarded the RAFCTE Trophy for the best flying demonstration by an overseas participant. Judged to have been a “consistently well flown and accurate fast jet demonstration”, kudos must go to the pilot especially for opening the show on the Saturday in quite possibly the worst weather possible. Commenting on his display “It was a wonderful, amazing airshow. It was the best one I’ve ever been to, and the best show in the world. Of course, it’s a great honour with the prize to represent the Gripen, and to represent Saab as well”.
That weather on Saturday sadly saw the likes of the Spanish F/A-18C Hornet and RAF Typhoon stuck on the ground, both jets, however, taxiing the length of the runway for the sodden crowd to see – a fine touch by the crews and organisers. Despite the visibility and cloud base constantly changing, the Midnight Hawks from the Finnish Air Force, the Italian Air Force Tornado IDS and the Royal Jordanians in their four Extra 300s made their way into the brooding skies battling the elements in order to entertain the masses.
Having last displayed at RIAT in 2004 the Midnight Hawks, with an added stylised Finnish flag painted on their four grey Hawk Mk 51s in celebration of the countries centenary since independence, are made up of instructors from Hävittäjälentolaivue 41, the Finnish Air Force’s fighter training school based at Kauhava Air Base. Led by Captain Marc Fuss, the team were sadly beaten by the weather managing just a single flypast in diamond formation although unbelievably the team took off and landed as a four-ship having not broken formation at all during their short flight. Thankfully, the team were able to fly a full display on Sunday (as did the RAF Typhoon and Spanish Hornet) with a fine example of close aerobatic formations and some well thought out opposition work.
Unlike those beaten by the weather, the Italian Tornado IDS, operated by 311° Gruppo as part of the Reparto Sperimentale Volo, or RSV, managed to fly its flat show. Wearing a striking colour scheme celebrating 60 years of 311° Gruppo, members of FRIAT voted the machine as the best-painted jet at the show, earning the RSV crew the prize for best livery. Having been seen during the Tri-national Tornado Training Establishment celebration flypasts in 2015, it was a sight for sore eyes to see a Tornado flung around the sky in a display of sheer power, noise and a bit more of each from the moment it took off, the Saturday slot accompanied by huge amounts of vapour pouring off the jet.
When it comes to the Royal Jordanian Falcons, there are many ‘negative’ comments about the team and more often or not their part in the display is played down time after time. But, on the Saturday of this year’s show, they demonstrated to the crowds why they are they are one of the top teams in the world. Cementing Jordan’s long lasting relationship with the Air Tattoo, the team flew flawlessly in some very testing conditions that would have grounded many other display teams.
Acquiescently, apart from the aforementioned F-22 and Heritage Flight, the weather remained within limits for the rest of the display.
On with the show…
Given that RIAT is a UK military show, it was no surprise to find all but two of the Royal Air Force’s official displays being fielded. Flown by Flight Lieutenant Ryan Lawton of 29(R) Squadron, this year’s Typhoon FGR4 display has thus far received mixed reviews this season, especially when compared to that of other fourth-generation fighters such as the Gripen and Rafale. That said, the powers that be awarded the team from RAF Coningsby the ‘Steedman Display Sword’ for the best flying demonstration by a UK participant and, while the display does show off the Typhoon accompanied by ample amounts of ‘burner and noise, it just seems to be missing something. What it is, no one seems able to determine, but this year’s effort, principally when compared to those of recent years, is lacking that defining edge.
The RAF Chinook Display Team were on hand once more this year with another strong display featuring crowd favourites such as the Quick stop, ‘Gorni’ climb and ‘Roller Coaster’ intertwined between numerous spiral climbs and dives thrown in for good measure.
Like the Chinook, the Red Arrows are of course a crowd favourite and rightly so. With the Team having gained some negative press as of late due to use of different display axis at both the RAF Cosford Airshow and Duxford’s Flying Legends, it was superb to see the team on top form flying a mixture of flat and rolling displays over the three days to their usual high standard. During the show, the team took the chance to debut Hawk T1 XX322 – better known as ‘Desmond’ – following the addition of some 6,000 plus names from the ‘Names on a Plane’ campaign with both Red 1 and Red 5 flying the jet across the weekend. As previously mentioned, the team also flew with their USAF counterparts on the Friday of the show but those there on Sunday were treated to a ‘special’ flypast at the end of the Red’s slot in salute to the USAF’s 70th Anniversary – the team trailing their own version of the US flag in red, white and blue.
However, it was the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight in this their 60th year, and their ‘Thompson’ formation that many thought deserved the ‘Steedman Display Sword’ with their evocative and emotive five-ship formation. With the four-ship of fighters having debuted at RAF Cosford the month before, the team’s appearance on Friday saw the Lancaster join them for the first time in public, the bomber having returned to the air in the preceding weeks following lengthy maintenance work at Duxford. To see five aeroplanes with incredible history – one of the Spitfires and the Hurricane having been founder members of the team six decades ago – cavorting through the skies is something, but to see them battle the blustery conditions was something else, especially with a well thought out display.
Another RIAT ‘regular’ that has been at every show since its debut in 2010 was the A400M from manufacturer Airbus. Flown by an all-British crew, the behemoth was quite literally chucked around the sky in a startling display of agility and speed. With the type now in RAF service, one has to wonder if we will see an RAF demo with the type in the near future, albeit unlikely to be displayed with such gusto.
Thrown around in a similar fashion was the Italian C-27J Spartan – the machine and crew coming from the RSV – the display (Akin to the Dutch F-27 displays of yesteryear) was quite literally jaw dropping. To see a transport machine flying a tight and vigorously energetic aerobatic display including loops, rolls, a knife-edge pass the length of the airfield and even a number of Derry-Turns is truly awesome!
Also provided by the RSV was the nimble and futuristic looking T-346A Master with a snappy display showing off the type to the RIAT crowds for the first time. When compared to the relatively sedate-style display from the Austrian J105Öes, the Master showed what is expected of a modern day fast jet trainer in ‘mimicking’ the flight performance of various fighter aircraft effectively.
1st Lt Andrej Fiorelli of the Slovenian Air Force was on hand with another trainer that needs no introduction – the sprightly Pilatus PC-9M multi-role turboprop. Flying a precise display the machine, named the Hudournik in Slovenian service(which translates to Swift), comes from the 152nd Fixed-Wing Squadron at Cerkjle ob Krki Air Base. Having won ‘The Lockheed Martin Cannestra Trophy’ for the Best Flying Demonstration by an Overseas Participant in 2015, 1st Lt Fiorelli scooped the Sir Douglas Bader Trophy for best individual flying display. “It’s a great, great, honour to win a prize again and to be a part of the biggest airshow so far for me”, Fiorelli said. “I have no words – what can I say? It’s unbelievable; the biggest award I can get as a pilot.” A very worthy winner in the eyes of many!
The French Air Force was on hand with two of the finest fast jet displays seen in recent years with the Rafale C out flying every other fast jet on display and Couteau Delta making their RIAT debut with a pair of colourful Mirage 2000Ds.
Capitaine Jean-Guillaume ‘Marty’ Martinez from Escadron de Transformation Rafale 3/4 ‘Aquitaine’, was awarded the ‘King Hussein Memorial Sword’ for the best overall demonstration of the show for his solo Rafale display with what was said to have been “a faultless, flowing and dynamic flying display”. Having taken the award for best solo jet demonstration last year as well, many could only but agree with that statement. After receiving the award, ‘Marty’ commented, “I’m really happy because it’s a wonderful prize. It was difficult due to the weather, but I tried to do my best. We have a nice jet and I’m well-trained to do it.”
Formed just prior to the 2017 season, Couteau Delta are the legacy of RAMEX Delta who flew their final ever display at RIAT last year. Flying a superbly coordinated and choreographed pair’s tactical demonstration is considerably similar to that flown by their predecessors and showed the crowd just some of the tactical abilities of the 2000D. It’s clear to see already that Couteau Delta already have a firm fan base and will no doubt be a much sought after display at future UK events.
No strangers to RIAT, the Patrouille Suisse were on hand with their six stunning red and white F-5E Tiger IIs in a display showing off the very best of Swiss precision. With the team having been expected to give up their Tigers and transition to the F/A-18C Hornet by the end of last year, it would seem that the sleek looking jet is sticking around for a few more years to come.
Another pair making their Fairford debut came from the Czech’s and two of their smart looking L-159 ALCAs in a display highlighting the punch the type has in the ground attack role, analogous to the RAF’s now defunct Hawk T2 demo. Like the Mirage’s of Couteau, the two jets flew a well thought out display with fast passes, close formation and opposition work, pyrotechnics adding to their demo. Provided by the air arms sole L-159 unit, the 212th Tactical Squadron at Čáslav, another example of the type could be seen in the static display wearing a Spitfire-esque style scheme commemorating Second World War ace Lt. Lieutenant František Peřina.
It has to be said that this year’s edition of RIAT was one of the best in recent years – a ‘spectacle’ if you will – with some 160,000 people streaming onto the airfield over the three days. With the shows being held in support of the hugely impactful Royal Air Force Charitable Trust, it is a superb chance to see not only the past, present and future of aviation both at home and abroad celebrated but people aswell – in particular the encouragement of young people and developing their interest in aviation and aerospace.
While the organisation of the show was to its incredibly high standard, as we have come to expect from the experienced from the team behind it, one has to question an issue that crops up year after, year – the closing of the the showground so soon after the final display. It has been widely suggested that the showground should remain open later to allow people to have a better look at the static and to reduce the traffic rush at the end of the flying display. One hopes that the organisers can find a way to make this possible at future shows.
In conclusion, RIAT 2017 lived up to the ‘hype’ that surrounded it – fast jets galore, UK debuts, returning types now missing from the skies of Britain, new nations and all the stars and banners you could wish for. While RIAT 2017 will be hard to top, we here at AeroResource are sincerely looking forward to what 2018 brings. Next year see the show fall across 13-15 July 2018 – now can the RAF match the USAF’s effort from this year? After all, it is the centenary year of the Royal Air Force – we will be there to see!