2012 was a time of change for the Air Tattoo; now entering it’s 41st year of operations and recently facing consistent criticism from enthusiasts. The team at Douglas Bader House pulled out all of the stops to put this year in the history books. Michael Buckle reports for AeroResource.

In the year of both the Diamond Jubilee and London Olympics, RIAT had a lot to compete with, as with most mid-July events being staged this year, the show was brought forward to avoid a conflict with the Olympic opening ceremony, slotting the show into the first week of July.

As ever, during the months leading up to the show all of the Internet forums were filled with wish lists and theories, and the much-loved “Moley” clues as to “star” aircraft participation were posted by RIAT. In addition to the clues, RIAT’s public relations really appeared to improve, with a new traffic light system for all countries that have been invited, to show whether they’ve accepted (green), were still undergoing negotiations (orange) or had declined (red). RIAT’s Twitter and Facebook pages were also updated in the run up to the event and throughout the weekend of the show. The team has brought in a dedicated digital and online executive to handle their online PR, and have acknowledged its great success this year.

Skylift was the predominate theme of the airshow, quickly filling the static with star attendees. Making a return to the static after a five-year break was the mighty Lockheed C-5B Galaxy, which provided a great shelter for the public during the unfortunate downpours of Saturday. Another American star item was making a return visit to both the static and flying display – the MV-22B Osprey tilt-rotor. The Osprey made it’s UK debut  at RIAT 2006, under the control of Bell-Boeing test pilots, but for the 2012 season was displayed by US Marine Corps pilots. A year later in 2007 the tilt rotor aircraft were operationally deployed to Iraq with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).

They have since carried out combat sorties in Afghanistan bringing their unique capability to the Marines fighting on the front line. Although the display seemed somewhat short, it did provide some great photography opportunities at crowd center. Hopefully, the sight and sound of the V-22 will become a familiar sight in UK skies as the USAF CV-22B is due to be based at RAF Mildenhall within the next year.

The Japanese Air Self Defence Force made their European Air Show debut by sending one of four KC-767J’s from 404 Hikotai to the event. The crew of fourteen made the long journey via Elmendorf AFB, Alaska arriving in beautiful sunshine on Thursday 5th July, marking the first time that a JASDF aircraft (VIP and Diplomatic flights aside) has landed on UK soil. Their attendance amongst other debuts this year brings the number of nations that have attended RIAT up to 53. Attending with the KC-767 were the JASDF Taiko Drummers, who performed in the TRI@RIAT enclosure during the show.

One of several aircraft at the show originating from Russia, the stunning whale scheme Polish Air Force Mil Mi-14 ‘Haze’ pleased photographers as it arrived on Thursday evening and performed in front of Park and View West. The helicopter has been painted to celebrate 50th Anniversary of Naval Aviation in Darlowo (1962-2012). Operated by 29 Eskadra MW at Darlowo it looked great in the static park, and was an excellent addition by the RIAT team. The show awarded the scheme the Best Livery award at the ceremony on Sunday.

As part of the Sky Lift theme the UK’s future transport aircraft, the A400M was officially named during a ceremony on the Friday prior to the show. The first ‘Atlas’ as its initial customers will know it, is expected to be delivered to nearby RAF Brize Norton in mid 2014. The Airbus test aircraft was scheduled to participate in the flying display, however due to unknown metal chips appearing in one of the four Europrop TP400s engines a precautionary cancellation was carried out.

Although unable to partake in the flying display, the A400M did get airborne to formate with it’s future colleagues from RAF Brize Norton. The aircraft joined the unique formation of VC-10, C-17, C-130J, TriStar and Voyager to demonstrate the RAF’s present and future airlift capabilities. Whilst the A400M operated from Fairford, the other aircraft launched from RAF Brize Norton. The A400M will bridge the gap between the C-130J Hercules and C-17A Globemaster, replacing the aging Tristar and C-130K fleets which are due for retirement in the next few years.

RIAT has always had a reputation for staging unique flypasts, and another special formation joined the overhead during the show. The “EIIR” flypast has graced the skies of the UK several times already this year in celebration of  Her Majesty The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Consisting of 27 Hawks, some of which are the latest T.2 model, the pilots fly a very precise EIIR formation. Sadly, a smaller formation was flown on the Saturday show – as the aircraft need approximately 90 miles to form up and run in over the show, inclement weather along the route prevented the full formation from forming. Luckily the full 27 aircraft formation managed to fill Fairford’s airspace for a single flypast on Sunday.

The lethal looking Northrop B-2A Spirit excited the public and enthusiasts alike when it was announced only a week before the show was to start. The “stealth bomber”, as it is commonly known, last appeared in RIAT’s static park over 10 years ago in 1993. The crew of two (flying B-2A “Spirit of New York”, from the 509th Bomber Wing) made the 10 hour direct flight from Whiteman AFB, Missouri touching down on Fairford’s damp runway only an hour before the airfield closed on Friday. The crew were fantastically open in talking to the public on both days of the show. Whilst their 10 hour journey sounds long, this particular crew had flown missions up to 36 hours in length. In 2002 two purpose built climate controlled hangars were constructed at RAF Fairford for the stealth bombers, the huge structures were part of a $100 million strategic upgrade to the airfield. Upon arriving the aircraft was quickly placed into one of the two highly secure hangars, and towed into it’s static position each morning. The heightened security around the B-2A over the weekend just added to the air of mystery surrounding this secretive aircraft – a real coup for RIAT once again!

The newly formed Al Fursan team “The Knights” from the United Arab Emirates brought their colorful Aermacchi MB-339NAT trainer aircraft to the UK to make a European debut. The aircraft are painted in a striking gold and black scheme – marking the sand and oil of the UAE. The team of seven was formed in 2010 ready to mark the UAE’s 40th anniversary in 2011, with their first display opening the Dubai Air Show. Having been trained by the Frecce Tricolori who also pilot the Italian built MB-339A, the display was very much comparable (but on a slightly lower par) to that of the Italian team, however for a team in their early stages their performance cannot be knocked.

Alongside Al Fursan, the Republic of Korea “Black Eagles” display team also made a European display debut in 2012. The Black Eagles aircraft were carried on board Korean Air B747 cargo freighters to Manchester Airport, prior to being taken by road to RAF Leeming, where they were reassembled and flight tested. Before RIAT the team dropped in at the Waddington International Air Show to carry out their debut display in England. Originally formed as the “Black Eagles” in 1967 flying Northrop F-5As, they now perform using the supersonic KIA T-50B advanced trainer, designed for the ROKAF in collaboration with Lockheed Martin (indeed, elements of the F-16 can be seen in the T-50’s design). The highly maneuverable aircraft allows for a great 30-minute display, with precision timed synchro rolls and a Republic of Korea symbolic smoke finale. The Black Eagles have a very unique display style – owing in part to their aircraft – with graceful precision flying similar to the style of the Red Arrows, as well as using the raw power of the T-50’s F404 turbofan to present plenty of speed and sound! The Koreans flew away from RIAT with two well-deserved awards, the King Hussein Memorial Sword presented in memory of the late HM King Hussein of Jordan, and the As the Crow Flies Trophy presented by the Friends of RIAT.

As well as the great Mi-14, Poland sent one of their Soviet built MiG-29A Fulcrums to perform at the show. The aircraft is operated by the 1st/41st Tactical Squadrons based at Minsk Mazowiecki and Malbork respectively; in total the Polish Air Force operate twenty-eight of type. Both aircraft attending the Tattoo were specially painted with a 303rd Squadron emblem on the top surfaces, as well as profiles of famous Polish WWII aces on the inside of the twin fins. The MiG-29 was last seen at RIAT in 2006 in the form of the thrust vectoring MiG-29OVT demonstrator. Whilst the MiG-29A cannot compete with such a display, being a much earlier version of the aircraft, it was still one of the most vigorous (and smoky!) displays of the weekend. For fans of this classic Cold War fighter, there was also a twin seat MiG-29UB Fulcrum in the static display, from the Slovakian Air Force.

In 2011 due to the RAF’s on-going commitments in Libya, it was announced there would be no RAF Typhoon display on the air show circuit. Luckily for RIAT, BAe and their chief test pilot Mark Bowman attended the event with their ‘tooled up’ Typhoon IPA5. This year, the RAF was back. The aircraft for this years display was provided by the RAF’s latest Typhoon squadron – No 6 Squadron stood up in 2010 at RAF Leuchars, as Scotland’s first Eurofighter Typhoon squadron. Later in March 2011 the squadron took over Northern Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) duties from the aging Tornado F.3 fleet, putting them on the frontline of the United Kingdom’s air defense.

The huge responsibility of performing the mighty Typhoon was once again assigned to Squadron Leader Scott Loughran who formally piloted the 2010 season, and was the acting CO of 6 Squadron whilst they stood up. The ‘vapour-tastic’ 10-minute display shows the real agility and maneuverability of the Eurofighter, and the raw power and noise produced by its two EJ200 powerplants. As fantastic as the BAe display was, it’s great to see the RAF display back in the air. Scott managed to scoop The Paul Bowen Trophy for his display this year.

Another RAF display on the circuit this year is the Tornado GR4 Role Demonstration, with a full pyrotechnic display. Only a matter of days before RIAT began the UK was devastated when news broke that two Tornados from RAF Lossiemouth had collided over the Moray Firth. A rescue operation was quickly scrambled and the crew from one aircraft was quickly recovered by search and rescue teams. Sadly the other aircraft and its crew could not be located and have been declared missing, presumed dead.

Despite the difficult week, in memory of the pilots and their families, the Role Demo went ahead as planned. Due to mechanical problems, the Saturday display was carried out by a single Tornado GR4, and on Sunday both aircraft performed with a very moving ‘missing man’ tribute.

Feedback from the 2012 show has been glowing, with a great flying display and static line-up, RIAT have certainly succeeded in pleasing the public. The Air Tattoo’s Head of Public Relations, Richard Arquati commented to AeroResource on the success of participation for this years show and whether RIAT 2013 can compete…

Each year, our aim is to feature some rare or particularly interesting aircraft but this year we seem to have struck lucky. It's been quite incredible! We will be trying just as hard to attract aircraft to RIAT 2013 but we'll need a bit of luck too! - Richard Arquati - Head of PR for RIAT

RIAT 2013 will be taking place over the weekend 20-21st July 2013. Keep a close eye nearer to the time on our new dedicated airshows section on Fighter Control, for the latest news and rumors in the run up to the show.

If you’d like to give the team at the Royal International Air Tattoo feedback on this year’s event, we’d urge you to complete their online survey, which can be found here.