All the fun of the Fairford – the Royal International Air Tattoo
For one week each year, the Gloucestershire village of Fairford becomes the centre of the aviation world as it stages the largest military Airshow in the world. The sheer size of this event is breathtaking, with aircraft attending from many of the world’s air forces and huge crowds flocking to witness this unashamed aviation extravaganza. For a great many enthusiasts, the Royal International Air Tattoo is the one event in the Airshow calendar that simply cannot be missed.
The 2015 show was sold out on both of the main display days and for once, the weather was actually better than those in attendance were expecting. The Airfix and Corgi events teams were in attendance over the weekend and the latest edition of Aerodrome will try and give you a flavour of the RIAT Airshow weekend.
There is so much going on at a Royal International Air Tattoo that it is difficult to know exactly where to start. You really could spend both days viewing the massive static aircraft display and discovering the vibrant showground activities, which really do provide something for everyone in attendance. For the aviation photographer there is also the massive lure of an eight hour flying programme which is packed with rare and interesting aircraft, with many themed displays which are usually only seen at RIAT events.
This year’s show proved to be a memorable one for a number of reasons – there was a commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain, the final appearance of the much loved Avro Vulcan and a display to mark the 35th Anniversary of the Tri-National Tornado Training Establishment. Before we look at some of these displays in more detail, let’s take a look at some of the other delights on display at Fairford this year.
The highly manoeuvrable Airbus A400M Atlas transport aircraft
One of the most spritely performers at the show this year, was the Airbus A400M Atlas transport aircraft. This tactical airlift transport aircraft is just coming into service with the RAF and can do things that a large aeroplane really should not be able to do. The aircraft on display this year was an Airbus demonstration aircraft, which showed just what an Atlas can do.
Enthusiasts were overjoyed to have the US Air Force participate at this year’s show, with two aircraft proving to be particularly interesting. The Bell Boeing CV-22B Osprey was definitely one of the more unique looking aircraft at Fairford, but this slightly controversial machine finally seems to be fulfilling it’s undoubted potential. Flown enthusiastically by the 7th Special Operations Squadron, from RAF Mildenhall, this Osprey represented the US Air Force in the flying programme.
The unique Bell Boeing CV-22B Osprey ‘tilt rotor’
A quick stroll around the aircraft static park allowed me to take this really interesting picture. The Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt II is constantly under threat of being withdrawn from service, when it surely has to be one of the most useful aircraft in current USAF inventory. This particular aircraft was in need of a little TLC, as it appears to have taken a bang to the nose. Apparently, whilst taking fuel from an airborne tanker, the refuelling boom dropped suddenly and struck the nose of the A-10, causing this noticeable damage. Thankfully, it makes no difference to the rugged Thunderbolt and it flew out of Fairford as scheduled on Monday afternoon, none the worse for its encounter.
Flying out on Monday – the rugged A-10 ground attack aircraft
One of the most interesting themed displays arranged at this year's show was the commemoration of the 35th anniversary of the Tri-National Tornado Training Establishment. The Tornado strike aircraft was a collaborative project between Britain, Germany and Italy and the TTTE was an attempt to provide a cohesive training facility for airmen of all three air forces. Established in 1980 at RAF Cottesmore, in Rutland, the TTTE was equipped with aircraft from each of the three nations and retained their national insignia throughout their service with the unit. RIAT 2015 featured a colourful commemoration of the TTTE, which specially presented aircraft from the air forces of Britain, Germany and Italy.
The colourful tails of the three TTTE commemorative aircraft
The flying display also featured this unique formation of Tornado IDS aircraft from the Royal Air Force, Luftwaffe and Aeronautica Militare – the formation performed a number of flypasts on both days of the show.
The TTTE flypast was one of the highlights of the show
This beautiful German Tornado lands back at Fairford after taking part in the TTTE flypast.
The Tornado looks fantastic in German markings
Almost every RIAT show manages to produce one aircraft act, which really comes out of nowhere to captivate the gathered masses and almost steal the show from the headline acts. For many this year, the attendance of the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force Kawasaki P-1 patrol aircraft was a real aviation bonus and certainly a coup for the show organisers.
The Kawasaki P-1 maritime patrol aircraft was a real coup
In its light blue colour scheme, the P-1 is an unusual sight in European skies, but I have to say that it was easily one of the best looking aircraft at the show – importantly, we could be seeing much more of this maritime patrol sentinel.
Without doubt, one of the stars of the 2015 show – the P.1
Britain has been without an effective maritime patrol aircraft since the decision to cancel the Nimrod MR4A programme, and with many probing incursions from Russian submarines since this date it is clear that an effective replacement must be sourced quickly. The indigenous Kawasaki P-1 is being offered as a viable option for the RAF and could actually be protecting our sea lanes in the years to come. I think that I quite like this idea!
The UK could be seeing much more of the P.1 in years to come
RIAT would not be the show that it is without just a little bit of Gallic flair, and this year we had it a plenty. The fast jet enthusiasts would definitely have described a display by Ramex Delta as one of the main display acts of the show and this would probably be the only appearance by the team in the UK this year. In a display of precision, tactical combat flying, the display begins with a mirrored fly-by which shows off the delta shape of the Mirage 2000N.
This is what the jet boys wanted – Ramex Deltas in all their glory
This nuclear capable strike aircraft entered service with the French Air Force over 30 years ago, but despite its age, this display shows that it is still an extremely potent weapon, in the hands of a skilled crew.
Impressive close formation flying by the Ramex Delta team
In an exciting display of close formation flying, the RIAT crowds were treated to a full display on Saturday, with an unfortunate bird-strike causing something of an emergency on Sunday and restricting the team to a single ship routine. If this turns out to be the team’s only UK performance in 2015, I am certainly glad that I was there to experience it.
The French Air Force performing at RIAT 2015
The flair of the French Air Force was again in evidence as their national aerobatic display team, La Patrouille de France took to the air, in their annual duel with the Red Arrows for the best display team crown. It is always fascinating to see the contrasting display styles of the Patrouille and the Red Arrows, particularly as they rarely appear on the same display programme.
La Patrouille de France are all about colour and style
Fortunately, both teams had good flying conditions over the RIAT weekend and were able to perform their full shows, under predominantly blue skies, which really does add to the spectacle of these impressive aerobatic displays. Which team is better? That is a difficult one to answer and very much subject to opinion – I think that I am going to keep my counsel on this one!
Alpha Jet of the French aerobatic display team
Avro Vulcan XH558 makes her final RIAT appearance
Perhaps the most poignant display at this year’s Royal International Air Tattoo was that of Avro Vulcan XH558 – the only flying Vulcan in the world and one of the best loved UK Airshow acts of all time. This distinctive aircraft has been a firm favourite with aircraft enthusiasts since she returned to the skies in 2007 and could quite possibly be described as the most impressive Airshow act of all time. The Vulcan effect is now a well known phenomenon and will see thousands of additional spectators turn up to any display where the Vulcan is performing – unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and the UK Airshow enthusiast will not realise what they have lost until she has gone!
The mighty Avro Vulcan is still a real crowd puller
It is not difficult to see how challenging it must be to keep the Vulcan flying each year, as she is a highly complex aeroplane, requiring the support of some people who possess a very specific skill set. These skills are fast disappearing and without them she simply cannot operate. And then there is the other issue – money! The mighty Vulcan requires extremely deep pockets for her continued operation and even the generosity of the great British public is struggling to keep pace with this beast. It is a real shame, but we have to concede that the triumphant Airshow reign of the last flying Avro Vulcan is almost over and this would be her final RIAT appearance.
This picture is not altered in any way. This is the angle of bank the Vulcan performed following her take-off run. Her undercarriage is still deployed!
As the Vulcan took to the air on Sunday, there was a feeling of real sadness amongst the gathered masses, even though we were witnessing a spectacular display – was this a real swansong for the Vulcan, or just the latest round of scaremongering? Only time will tell, but official sources are maintaining that when she lands back at Doncaster in October, following the completion of her last display, she will never take to the skies again.
As the final appearance of the Vulcan at RIAT was clearly going to be a significant aviation landmark, the occasion simply had to be marked in style. In these situations, who do you call upon – the Red Arrows! On both days of the show, Avro Vulcan XH558 became the tenth member of the formation and under glorious blue skies, created the defining moment of RIAT 2015. We will definitely miss the magnificent ‘Spirit of Great Britain’.
THE image of RIAT 2015 – Avro Vulcan, Red Arrows style!
The Battle of Britain is commemorated in style at RIAT 2015
The summer of 2015 sees Britain commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain and as the UK’s largest airshow, RIAT was always going to devote a significant section of the programme to this important event. Known predominantly for fast jet action and aerobatic display teams, the sheer size of this Gloucestershire airfield can overwhelm displays by smaller, historic aircraft, which are much better suited to more intimate events. The answer was to put large numbers of aircraft into the air at the same time, which was very much reminiscent of a wartime ‘squadron scramble’.
The rare sight of four Hawker Hurricanes flying in formation
This section of the display was not without its problems however, as a strong crosswind on both days of the show made it extremely difficult for the pilots of these rare and historic aeroplanes, but with true British grit and determination they managed to produce an extremely memorable tribute to the ‘few’ of the Battle of Britain. Due to the conditions and the safe operation of these magnificent aeroplanes, the individual formations were split into smaller sections, which made it difficult for photography, so I have decided to show you some of the aircraft which took part in this tribute.
The newly restored Bristol Blenheim Mk.I performed a Battle of Britain tribute
The magnificent Bristol Blenheim Mk.I is certainly one of the aviation highlights of 2015, having only just returned to flying condition following a lengthy restoration at Duxford. Used extensively by the RAF in the early stages of WWII, the Blenheim performed an impressive solo routine on both days of the show in her own tribute to the men of the Battle of Britain. A selection of other aircraft which took part in this Battle of Britain tribute are pictured below.
Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Spitfire Mk.Vb AB910
Stalwart of the Battle of Britain, the Hawker Hurricane
Not a Battle of Britain aircraft, but still a welcome addition to this section – the newly restored Supermarine Seafire Mk. XVII
RAF Eurofighter Typhoon salutes the pilots of the Battle of Britain
The current Royal Air Force are very much committed to commemorating the events of 1940 and the monumental achievement of their forebears. It is therefore fitting that one of their current front line fighter aircraft has quite possibly become the most talked about aircraft of the year – Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4 ZK349. This magnificent aircraft has been finished in the markings of a Battle of Britain Hawker Hurricane Mk.I and is quite simply, the most attractive aeroplane in current RAF inventory.
RAF Typhoon ZK349 about to begin her display routine
A great many enthusiasts at RIAT would have been attending this year’s show with the specific aim of photographing this beautiful Typhoon before she is forced to shed her attractive plumage. In the markings of Flt. Lt. James Brindley Nicolson’s No.249 Squadron Hawker Hurricane, this Typhoon commemorates the only Victoria Cross won by a Fighter Command pilot in WWII, as well as paying tribute to the men who were simply known as the ‘Few’.
The Battle of Britain ‘Synchro Pair’ tribute from the RAF
Flying a spectacular ‘Synchro Pair’ routine with a Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Spitfire, the Camo Typhoon was having some difficulty flying slowly enough to match its 1940s counterpart, but the routine was an extremely poignant tribute to the pilots of the Battle of Britain and testament to the professionalism of the current force.
Without doubt, one of the highlights of RIAT 2015
As the Corgi Aviation Archive range have just announced their die-cast version of this distinctive RAF Typhoon, the team were afforded an unforgettable opportunity to get close to this stunning aircraft and the men who operated it so successfully over the weekend. We would like to sincerely thank the RAF for this magnificent experience.
A personal highlight from RIAT 2015
The love of aeroplanes and aviation is a really personal thing and of the tens of thousands of enthusiasts present at this years Royal International Air Tattoo, there will be any number of ‘favourite aircraft’ from amongst the display listings. Although there were certainly many highlights at this year's show, there is one aircraft that set my pulse racing above all others – the magnificent Messerschmitt Bf 109G-4 ‘Red 7’. This aircraft is actually a Spanish built Hispano Buchon, which served with the Spanish Air Force until 1965, before being transported to Britain and taking part in the filming of the Battle of Britain feature film, which was released in 1969.
The beautiful lines of the EADS Messerschmitt Bf 109G-4
The aircraft is now owned and operated by the Airbus Group (EADS) and the Flugmuseum Messerschmitt, at Manching, in Bavaria. For the enthusiast, this aircraft is made all the more appealing as it is powered by a genuine Daimler-Benz DB605A engine and is to all intents and purposes, an actual Luftwaffe Bf 109G from WWII. This aircraft operates under strict crosswind limits and is particularly difficult to handle when taking off and landing – for this reason, it was by no means certain that we would have the opportunity to see this classic aeroplane fly. Thankfully, in the expert hands of Airbus Helicopters test pilot Volker Bau, the Messerschmitt graced the skies of Fairford and allowed us all to marvel at this unique and graceful German fighter.
Highlight of the show for many historic aviation enthusiasts
Well, I am afraid that is it for this review of RIAT 2015, which I hope helped to give you just a little taste of this aviation extravaganza. I really did find it difficult to condense everything into this one blog, as there was just so much going on at this years show, but if you like this format I am sure that we can produce similar features in future editions of Aerodrome.
I would like to end this report in time honoured fashion with two pictures of the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, The Red Arrows. Displaying all the professionalism of our current RAF, the Red Arrows are magnificent aerial ambassadors for our country and a welcome addition to any Airshow display programme. In the words of Red 1 – ‘Smoke on – Go!’
Pride of the Royal Air Force – The Red Arrows
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See you next week!
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All images © Michael Clegg/Hornby Hobbies