It was that time of year again, when the quiet village in the Cotswolds was woken up by high speed passes, reheat take-offs and the smell of good old Kerosene, it could only be, the Royal International Air Tattoo “Twenty ‘oh Nine”. Michael Buckle reports for Fighter Control with the highlights from the six day event.
Thousands of aviation enthusiasts and families gathered at RAF Fairford on July 18th and 19th for Europe’s largest military air show. With the disappointing washout that was RIAT 2008, both the enthusiasts and the team at Douglas Bader House (DBH) were praying that there wasn’t going to be a repeat of last year.
The RIAT team had taken out extra measures to ensure that RIAT 2009 would go ahead regardless of the weather conditions. First, it was announced that admission to the show would be advanced ticket holders only and as with last year the majority of tickets were day specific allowing the organisers to calculate the maximum number of people they would need to handle each day if the worst happened.
The next step was courtesy of the United States Air Force Europe (USAFE), more specifically Colonel Joseph Dill who is the Base Commander from the 420th ABG at RAF Fairford. He kindly permitted RIAT to use a number of Fairford’s many hardstands for on base parking, which for security reasons was previously not done since the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
Despite the weathers best attempts to spoil the show with rain down pours on Thursday and Friday, the show on Saturday was blessed with blue skies in the morning and the odd bit of sunshine come the afternoon. Sadly, Sunday was the opposite, with torrential rain throughout the show – but RIAT wasn’t going to be beaten by weather again and the show went on.
Unlike previous years when the stealthy USAF visitors arrived on the Tuesday, this year the fun began on Wednesday with the first arrival being a B-1B from Dyess AFB, Texas. This year, the B-1 Lancer only attended the show as a static piece – to the disappointment of some enthusiasts, who have always enjoyed viewing the mighty ‘B-one’ perform it’s reheat take-off. Luckly for those at Park and View West for departures, the crew didn’t disappoint!
Aircraft then steadily arrived throughout the week, with Friday being prominently filled with display rehearsals. The arrival and departure days allowed the crowd to see the many special schemes that were on static at RIAT airborne and preview most of the displays during the validation and practice displays. This year’s show saw 33 air arms representing 22 nations with a total of 269 aircraft. The Algerian Air Force made their RIAT debut with a C-130H from 322 Sqn / 2nd Tactical Airlift Wing – Algerian Air Force based at Boufarik which raised the total of countries who’ve attended RIAT to 51.
There were many special schemes featured this year; the Jordanian Air Force C-130H, the Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16 displaying a very striking 55 Years of 313 squadron tail and the usual ‘Phabulous Phantom Phorever’ scheme displayed on the Greek Air Force RF-4 Phantom to celebrate 50 years of the F-4 Phantom II and also 30 Years of Hellenic RF-4E.
It wasn’t just the special scheme statics that the enthusiasts turned up to photograph arriving; there were many special and reasonably rare aircraft for the UK in attendance. Two A-10C Thunderbolts arrived for show on Friday, much to the surprise of many enthusiasts due to them being a late addition to the show therefore not appearing on the participation list. Also arriving in the damp on Friday were two French Air Force Mirage F.1’s from ER 01.033 at Reims Airbase, with one of the aircraft carrying a dummy load of two GBU-12 bombs.
To celebrate the 60th Anniversary of NATO, both a 707 and E-3 from NATO attended the show. Unfortunately both aircraft were minor disappointments for the hardcore enthusiasts; the 707 was at the show as a VIP Transport aircraft so was unable to be placed in the static park and remained ‘live side’ throughout the course of the show. The E-3 was a static piece; however wasn’t the stunning special scheme aircraft that was expected to attend.
The big event began at 07:30 on Saturday morning, when the gates were opened and the crowd’s ascended on RAF Fairford to line up opposite its huge 10,000ft runway in preparation for the flying display. The RIAT weekend was a sell-out crowd in excess of 160,000 people, with the Vulcan no doubt having a huge influence.
Blessed with beautiful skies and sunshine the flying display began at 09:00 with one of the three F-18 Hornet’s that displayed over the weekend – The Spanish EF-18A+ Hornet was taken to the skies to perform a display that clearly had a lot of thought and planning put into it to perform the aircraft differently to three other displays. Capt Ruben Porras de la Huz carried out a breathtaking high speed pass resulting in a vapour cone forming around the aircrafts rear and was perfectly located spot on crowd centre – which caught even the best photographers off their guard. Capt Porras de la Huz also carried out a touch and go into a steep ‘dirty’ vertical climb to finish it off with a roll. He definitely opened the show in style.
Following the EF-18 display was the C-27J Spartan from Alenia flown by test pilots Enrico Scarbotto and Marco Venanzetti. The Spartan is developed from the G.222 and incorporates both the systems and engines from the C-130J Hercules. The two AE2100 turbo prop engines output a total of 9,300 shaft horse power allowing it to carry a maximum take-off weight of 30,500kg.
The display was designed to show the ability and manoeuvrability of the aircraft by performing a very short take-off into a steep climb, and included manoeuvres such as a knife edge pass and an aileron roll down the crowd line. Of course, a STOL (Short Take-off and Landing) display wouldn’t be complete without a Khe-Sanh approach to land. The aircraft was then hastily brought to a stop and backed up Fairfords huge runway using reverse thrust.
Next up was the display that many enthusiasts were itching to see – the RIAT debut of the French Air Force Rafale and it was undoubtedly worth the wait for many. Its practice display on Friday and display on Sunday could only be described as “vapour-tastic” when at times the jet was bathed in vapour.
Capitaine Cédric ‘Rut’ Ruet put the Rafale through its paces whilst performing the aircrafts party piece – the 9 G manoeuvre known as the Square Dance, where the aircraft carries out four 450kts Barrel Rolls into 90° turns to create a perfect square in the air.
Cédric won two awards for his stunning display over the weekend; his first award was the Sir Douglas Bader Trophy for the Best Individual Flying Display which was presented by Shell UK. His second award was courtesy of The Friends of RIAT (FRIAT) known as the As the Crow Flies Trophy and was presented by a FRIAT member Pete Dixon.
A RIAT regular took to the skies next, although no-where near as agile as the Rafale it’s just as impressive, the mighty B-52 ‘Buff’ from Barksdale AFB, Louisiana carried out several smoky flypasts down the display line. On Sunday RIAT arranged for the B-52 to carry out a flypast down the runway as the Vulcan lined up for departure – Making a fantastic photo of two very much loved cold war bombers together. It’s a real disappointment for many that it wasn’t possible for a formation flypast to take place.
The second Hornet display of the show followed the Buff, the Finnish Air Force F/A-18C of HävLLv 11 (Fighter Squadron 11) based at Rovaniemi, Lapland. Compared to the other two Hornet displays, the Finnish full display on Saturday was a little distant from the crowd line. However, from the North Side of the airfield during Thursday’s practice display it was much more impressive display with lots of burner throughout the display and very low turns – by far better than the other Hornet rehearsals that day. Strict airshow rules stop a loose display like this being performed over the crowd for obvious reasons, so really doesn’t do the display justice from the crowd line.
As well as the Hornet competition, two nations brought their JAS39C Gripens to the show. First to display was the Hungarian Air Force display. The display was one that surprised throughout; first the aircraft was kept very low on takeoff before going vertical up into the clouds above, but the real surprise was about a minute into the display when the pilot performed a stunning ‘Dump & Burn’ – A manoeuvre when the pilot dumps some of the aircrafts fuel and lights the afterburner to cause a fire trail. It’s a manoeuvre that’s often associated with F-111’s but it was fantastic to see it performed in the skies over the UK. The final unusual twist to the display was a Touch and Go, but using the non-active runway (Runway 09), to give the crowd at the other end a chance to get that perfect touchdown photograph.
It wouldn’t be RIAT without the world famous RAF Red Arrows in attendance, as always they put on a magnificent display, performing several new formations for this season, including; Concorde, Eagle, Typhoon, Chevron, Nine Arrow and Feathered Arrow. It was announced earlier this year that the Red Arrows first female pilot will be joining the team next year, Flt Lt Kirsty Moore successfully passed selections earlier in the year, where the best of the best fighter pilots get put through their paces but only two make the team.
The Swedish JAS39C Gripen put on a much more aggressive display than that of the Hungarian Air Force, showing the real ability of the Gripen. Although a quick and aggressive display, pilot Captin Henric Holm kept the aircraft very close to the crowd line most of the time. High speed displays are often subject to being loose and distant from the crowd.
The final Hornet took to the skies next, the Swiss Air Force FA/18C which didn’t take off directly into his display, instead he took off following the PC-7 display team of the Swiss Air Force to perform a special formation fly past.
Once the formation was complete, the PC-7 team positioned themselves in the hold while the Hornet carried out its spectacular display. Its take-off was into virtually a 90° vertical climb pulling plenty of vapour, a manoeuvre which he performed several times throughout the display showing the raw power that the two General Electric F404 engines deliver ultimately providing a climb rate of 50,000 ft per minute. The tight display by Captin Thomas ‘Pipo’ Peier won the Paul Bowen Trophy for the third time in a row this year at RIAT 2009, the Trophy is for the Best Jet Demonstration and the Swiss F/A-18 defiantly deserved it.
After Pipo landed the Hornet the PC-7 Team ran in for their display, the team consist of nine Pilatus PC-7 trainer aircraft and fly a variety of formations some of which are fairly similar to those flown by the Red Arrows – The Diamond, Viggen, Delta and Apollo all feature in the display.
As well as the 60th Anniversary of NATO, another theme of the show was ‘Fly Navy 100’ to celebrate 100 years of the Royal Navy. The theme involved a mass flypast of over 40 Royal Navy aircraft both fixed wing and rotary. Types including the Hawk, Falcon 20, Sea King, Merlin, Lynx, Jet Stream, Harrier and Sea Vixen all filled the airspace above Fairford in a spectacular flypast. Fairford is one of three places that this rare flypast will have taken place, the others being Culdrose and Yeovilton.
A display that’s always loved by the crowd at RIAT is the Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16AM display, the team always insure that their display aircraft is one of the best painted of its type and is always maintained to pristine condition. Piloted once again this year by Ralph “Sheik” Aarts from Volkel Air Base, it was a tremendous display showing the sort of manoeuvres that would be often be used during a normal operational mission – but not always at such low level with a minimum height of 300ft for his display.
Sadly, the last two years the display’s party piece has been banned in the UK, so Sheik was unable to deploy flares throughout his display, which is a huge shame as it was one of the most loved features of the display among the photographers.
Undoubtedly, one of, if not the, biggest star of the show was the Avro Vulcan – XH558, which is the only remaining flying Vulcan in the world. Restoration on the Vulcan began in 2005 as part of a multi-million pound project known as the Vulcan to the Skies (VTTS). Two years later on the 18th October 2007 the mighty Vulcan took the skies of Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome and VTTS had completed what many people said would never happen – their dream to get XH558 in the air.
Since, the Vulcan has been displayed throughout Europe in front of millions of people, but one place the Vulcan hasn’t displayed since her restoration is RAF Fairford for the Royal International Air Tattoo. The last time that XH558 was seen by thousands gracing Fairford’s airspace was over 15 years ago, but RIAT 2009 saw the beautiful lady return to Fairford’s skies.
The perfect atmosphere was set by the tone of Sean Maffet’s voice with Clannad – Theme from Harry’s Game playing peacefully in the background. XH558 was flown by pilot Martin Withers as he displayed beautiful topsides of the Vulcan’s striking Delta Wing shape against the stormy skies. It was without doubt a spectacle that many will never forget.
Like with all the shows that XH558 attends the “Vulcan Effect” occurred, as soon as the Vulcan was mentioned by the commentator the entire crowd, young and old, rose to their feet in anticipation to see the magnificent Vulcan take to the air. Once the display was over, thousands of people left the show ground causing chaos in the car parks. The “Vulcan Effect” illustrates what a wonderful aircraft it is, so much so that people will travel up and down the country, just to see her fly.
The final ‘heavy’ to perform was an unusual one, a Boeing 757 of the New Zealand Air Force put on a remarkable display showing what these big airliners can really do. The display begins with a short take-off into a steep climb while the wheels of the airliner are retracting. The aircraft is then brought in for several approaches with both ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’ landing gear configurations. Sadly, a lot of the display shows the underside of the aircraft to the crowd – a huge improvement on the display would unquestionably be a few topsides for the crowd which are more than feasible to implement.
That, for many, was RIAT 2009 over with for another year. A huge thanks to the DBH team for putting on a great show and ensuring that steps were taken so that RIAT 2009 would go ahead. See you again next year! – Saturday 17 & Sunday 18 July 2010.