The Royal International Air Tattoo is quite rightly regarded as one of the premier airshows in the World. In the run-up to the show day, the participation list was mouth watering. Usually in any show you can pick out a couple of highlights, a couple of unusual items that you’d look forward to seeing. No matter what your fancy, modern or old, warbirds or transports, the list had many aircraft to get your pulse racing and entice the money out of your wallet!
The highlights for the aviation community were without doubt was the Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor, displaying for the first time in the UK since 2008 (when it was due to display at RIAT 08), as well as the UK debut appearance of the Airbus A400M, the huge gathering of Spitfires and Hurricanes and many other display items.
Many of these aircraft were due to form part of a large Battle of Britain Commemoration fly-past, with 2010 being the 70th anniversary of the Battle. Numerous aircraft from nations who took part in the Second World War were due to form the flypast, including representatives of the air forces from England, France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, The USA and New Zealand.
This year arrivals began on Wednesday 14th, with the star attraction of the day being the B-52 Stratofortresses (one for static and one live-side), as well as the US Navy E-6B Mercury. The weather on Wednesday and going through to the Thursday arrivals was acceptable at best, and downright awful at points, with heavy winds and occasional cold driving rainstorms. Activity picked up hugely on the Thursday, with numerous arrivals including the majority of the USAF heavies (KC-135s, T-43A and C-17), and the highlight of the static park for many – the Polish Su-22. The highlight of the day was also the first movement – the arrival of the 525thFS F-22 Raptors. Flying from nearby RAF Lakenheath, the Raptors arrived at 08:37AM, and flew a practice display later in the day (which was cut short by the weather). Also on the Thursday were the Patrouille Suisse, a batch of F-16s, and numerous RAF jets including some special tail Hawk T1s from 19(R) Squadron at RAF Valley, painted to commemorate the 95th anniversary of the squadron.
Friday was again a busy day, with many arrivals and practice displays. The weather had lightened up somewhat and the photographers are sure to have been pleased with the sunlight on the arriving Lakenheath F-15s, another F-22A practice display (this time the full routine), a Patrouille Suisse practice display, a rehearsal of the memorial flypast, amongst others things! Unfortunately, a lot of the warbirds, such as the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and numerous other Spitfires, Hurricanes et al, were unable to fly on either practice day due to the high winds in the area. Friday ended with the arrival of two more stars, namely the F/A-18F Super Hornet, and the Airbus A400M.
With the weather forecast looking very good for the Saturday show, and not so good for Sunday, it was no surprise that the queues on Saturday morning were huge! Many complaints have been raised about the new security methods, which were blamed for extending the queues further than necessary.
Between the AeroResource team, the entire weekend was covered, but the author was able to attend the Sunday of this year’s show. An early start to avoid the inevitable queues was required as was both an umbrella and sun-tan lotion after a quick look at the weather forecast!
One of the themes for RIAT 2010 was “Training”. This can be considered to be quite a broad category, with great potential for some interesting aircraft. RIAT did pull a few gems out (such as the USAF Academy DA-40), but missed out on a great deal more. The RAF did put on a good show of training aircraft in the flying display – progressing from a Grob Tutor display, to the Tucano display, onto the Hawk display and finally a Typhoon T.1 display.
The USAF also participated in the training section, bringing a TG-10C Glider, and two aircraft from the 97thAMW, of Air Education and training command. These display items were very rare, but unlucky at RIAT. The demonstration of Air-to-Air refuelling with the 97thAMW KC-135R and C-17A had to be scrubbed due to maintenance issues on Saturday, and the low cloud base on Sunday and unfortunately the TG-10C only managed to display briefly on the Sunday morning, before being fouled by the weather.
The Royal New Zealand Air Force 757-2K2s are becoming a fairly regular sight in the UK over the last few months as they have made numerous visits into RAF Brize Norton. The display routine is something else however – a great illustration of what this “heavy” can do, when it’s allowed to. You certainly don’t see manoeuvres like that at Heathrow!
An interesting head-to-head was presented at RIAT 2010 with the Belgian F16 display going up against the Dutch F16 display. Both acts have displayed before at separate shows, but seeing them both in one day gave a very interesting comparison. Many believe that the Belgian display came out slightly on top, over the Dutch, which was the expected favourite. The Belgian pilot was a little more liberal with his use of the “loud pedal” although without doubt both displays are exceptional.
Now, one of the highlights of the show for many – the eagerly awaited first UK appearance of the Airbus A400M. It was astounding how quiet and yet manoeuvrable this aircraft is – the beginning of the routine consisting of the pilot lifting off into a very steep climb, before performing a right hand wing-over away from the crowdline. Another move you would not expect from a transport was the 120 degree wingover (only performed on Saturday) – this really shows of the agility of such a large aircraft. Compared to the C-17, the A400 does appear to be more agile, but the C-17 can still more than hold its own! Let’s hope the A400M is something we will be seeing in RAF livery in the future, bearing in mind the problems that the project has had, and the upcoming Strategic Defence Review.
Throughout the day were the usual smattering of display teams and at this years event we had the Patrouille de France, Patrouille Suisse, the Jordanian Falcons, the WeFly! Team and of course the Red Arrows. Every has their own favourite amongst display teams and there is very little to choose between them. The unexpected highlight of the Swiss display was the low and very loud surprise appearance of a single F-5E after everyone thought the display had ended; the shock of it saw numerous spilt teas and coffees!
The WeFly! Team also deserve a mention, for bringing a new dimension to formation display flying. All of the pilots comprising this three man Italian team are wheelchair users, and fly the aircraft using specially designed controls. Many people have complained that this team used up time that could be given up to more impressive displays – but it must be remembered that RIAT has supported disabled flying back to the Sir Douglas Bader days (Flying Scholarships for the Disabled, for example), and so this team has as much, if not more reason to display at RIAT than any other. It was fantastic to hear a standing ovation when they landed on Saturday, real appreciation from the crowd.
2010 is the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain and this was commemorated at RIAT with a large, multinational flypast. The first wave comprised the RAF element, a Hawk T2 leading four Hawk T1s followed closely by a Tornado F3. The second wave was led by the RNZAF 757 flanked on either side by two Lakenheath USAFE F15s. The final wave was formed from a French Air Force Mirage 2000, and the Belgian display F-16 plus wingman. On Saturday the display also included several waves of warbirds, of which the highlight was undoubtedly the EADS Me109. RIAT may have missed a trick in not flying this aircraft together with the Buchon 109 from Duxford – but the set piece was still a great addition.
The Harrier GR.9 was also present at RIAT, after it’s return to the circuit this year. The display was somewhat limited, with spectators at the crowd ends not getting a good view of the aircraft at almost any point. It was very suprising that the Harrier won the Best Individual Flying Display – perhaps down to it’s unique hover? There were many more displays that deserved this award above the Harrier, regardless of it’s unique ability.
With the sun finally completely out, and blue skies, the highlight of RIAT was taking to the runway, coupled with typical over-the-top American commentating (which may have actually added to excitement!). Major David “Zeke” Skalicky flew the aircraft this year, for the Raptor Demonstration Team. The weather on Sunday did mean that a flat display had to be flown, which unfortunately removed the most impressive parts of the display (such as the Power Loop, and tailslide). Beginning with a low takeoff, climbing incredibly hard into the vertical, the display seemed to throw away the rules of physics! Sunday’s topside pass, although further away, was argueably more impressive, with vapour shockcones almost entirely covering the aircraft! This display has been proclaimed by many to be the best individual aircraft display for many years – and it must be admitted the time certainly did fly by! Hopefully RIAT will be able to attract the Raptor for another display in 2011 – or will have to find another display to match! No easy task to say the least!
2010 also saw the return of the RAFs Tornado GR4 Role Demo after its absence in 2009. It certainly brings a bit of variety to the show, with the explosions, smoke and fire providing a nice change for the audience, who so far had been staring into the sky for the last few hours! It kept the Fire Service busy too, as the pyrotechnics set the grass alight on the Saturday!
Another aircraft to return in 2010 was the Avro Vulcan – XH558, despite the worries earlier in the year. Displaying on Saturday in possibly the best light, in the early evening, the Vulcan never fails to impress. As per last year, the B-52 was displaying before (although it’s display was no where near the level of last year), and performed a flypast over the Vulcan as it was sitting on the runway. It was just a shame that these two Cold War icons were still unable to take to the skies together.
What better way to begin to bring RIAT 2010 to a close than the Red Arrows – displaying near the end of the day on both days, although as with most other display items, Saturday invariably had the best weather. The Red’s display was flawless as usual, and proved that they still have their remarkable following, with most of the crowd leaving immediately after their display.
Finally – another Battle of Britain commemoration as a Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Spitfire and 3 Squadron Typhoon took to the air to fly a synchro display. This display was only at a limited amount of venues this year, and RIAT was lucky to bag a display. It is wonderful to see the RAF’s front-line fighters, seventy years apart in their technology, flying close formation as well as some neat, and very fast cross-over passes.
After the stalls had been packed away and the ‘acts’ disappeared back to their native homelands, what are the lasting impressions of this years RIAT?
The arrivals and the show day itself provide a spectacular variety of aircraft types and units, which you are only likely to see together at the biggest shows in the World. RIAT 2010 saw participants from the RAF, USAF, US Navy, France, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Poland, Oman, Jordan, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, The Czech Republic and New Zealand, to name but a few.
Although this year did not have the most exciting themes for an air display, RIAT did well to pull in many star items, in tough economic conditions both at home and abroad. Noteworthy items included the F-22A, F/A-18F, A400M, the WeFly! Team, Typhoon/Spitfire pair – the list goes on!
A criticism this year was that the static park seemed very empty, which was true – the worst part was that the pan with the backdrop of trees was completely unused. This must be the prime location for static photographs, and was massively underused. A minor criticism in the scheme of things, but perhaps one the RIAT team could look into for the future?
Congratulations to all who had a hand in arranging this year’s RIAT and we look forward to coming back next year, not just for the flying but also the great atmosphere between fellow enthusiasts.