RIAT in the rain
Welcome to this latest edition of Aerodrome and our regular look at the fascinating world of aeroplanes and the historic aviation scene in the UK. After three consecutive weekends of Airshow indulgence, two of which were long three and four day undertakings for many, it is time to rest those weary limbs and reflect on what has been the most hectic period of activity during this current Airshow season. As we all now load up our hard-drives with thousands of images and try to smooth over the fact that we have spent lots of time away from our families over the past few weeks, this latest edition of Aerodrome takes a slightly alternative look at last weekend’s Royal International Air Tattoo and how despite the best efforts of many hundreds of people who have spent the best part of a year planning the world’s greatest Airshow, Mother Nature will always have the final say on whether any event is judged a success or not. We also look forward to a spectacular event at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre and the largest independent Airshow in Bomber County, where two icons of British aviation will be making powered taxy runs along the length of East Kirkby’s historic crowd-line, the first time this has happened at a British Airshow for many a year. Offering one lucky Aerodrome reader the chance to win two tickets to attend this magnificent restricted numbers event, we launch our latest competition, but one which will need quick action – the show takes place on Saturday 3rd August, so our competition will only be running over the weekend, leaving us enough time to post the tickets to our winner. Time is clearly of the essence this week, so we had better make a start straight away.
The best laid plans
With its reputation as one of the world’s premier aviation events and a self-proclaimed billing as nothing less than the ‘World’s greatest Airshow’, the Royal International Air Tattoo, attracts aviation enthusiasts from all over the globe, each one desperate to experience this latest celebration of flight and an impressive gathering of new and classic air power. Held annually at Gloucestershire’s RAF Fairford airfield, for one glorious week each July, this usually tranquil Cotswolds village becomes a magnet for both hardened aviation enthusiasts and huge numbers of families looking for an exciting day out, as this behemoth of an event promises aviation related entertainment which certainly has something for everyone. Everything about this Airshow is impressive, from the unrivalled eight hour flying display which is packed with the latest aircraft from the world’s air forces, to a static aircraft exhibition which quite literally seems to stretch for miles, there is so much to see and do at a RIAT show that a one day visit is simply not enough. For the duration of this magnificent show, the county of Gloucestershire can claim to possess one of the most powerful air forces in the world and as such, ensures that the Royal International Air Tattoo is the first Airshow many people add to their events schedule at the beginning of every year. Indeed, as soon as one show ends, many thousands of people have already registered their interest in securing tickets to the next year’s event and have ensured that their show accommodation is already in place – RIAT is serious aviation business.
No time for warming the bed, the queue to enter the Friends of the Royal International Air Tattoo enclosure starts to form from 5am, come rain or shine
On inspecting the generously proportioned souvenir programme, or whilst spending a few enjoyable moments browsing the official event website, you are immediately left in no doubt whatsoever as to what it takes to arrange an Airshow of this magnitude, requiring not only the organisational skills of a small army of industry professionals, but also the financial backing of large companies, support from the military of many nations and a level of international collaboration which must require an exceptional diplomatic skills. As well as calling upon established participation relationships and forging new ones with the staging of each event, the Royal International Air Tattoo can also boast a rich heritage in promoting the professionalism and effectiveness of the modern Royal Air Force, whilst at the same time raising significant funds in the name of RAF Charitable Trust Enterprises. This investment will be used to promote careers opportunities within the force and to better educate the population on the Royal Air Force and the demanding role they play in an ever changing world. Although this rather more formal aspect of the show is essential for its continued staging, for the aviation enthusiast, the Royal International Air Tattoo is all about aeroplanes and more of them than they are likely to see at any other Airshow event in Europe. From the very latest fighter jets to some of the world’s largest military transport aircraft, RIAT attracts not only a strong contingent of current Royal Air Force aviation hardware, but also an exotic selection of international participants, with some classic types thrown in for good measure and always boasting the attendance of one or two highlight aircraft which virtually guarantee yet another sell out event. Add to this several of the world’s premier aerobatic display teams, unique formation flypasts and a collection of historic aircraft and you have some idea as to why this show continues to be something of an aviation phenomenon.
From the enthusiasts perspective, RIAT is probably the first event they add to their diaries at the beginning of each new year and if they had promised themselves that they would only be attending one show in any particular year, this would invariably be that event. As a RIAT attendee of many years standing, I think I can speak from a position of experience when saying that despite its many undeniable attractions, this show does require a certain amount of commitment and if you are one of the many thousands who spend between four and six days filling your senses with the latest RIAT offering, you are probably in need of a holiday as you make your way home after attending the latest show. Requiring you to make hotel and camping pitch reservations earlier with each passing year, RIAT week means very little sleep for the true aviologist and many hours queueing outside the base, waiting for the gates to open, whilst the rest of the nation sleeps soundly in their beds. Lugging photographic equipment and all the additional paraphernalia to enjoy a day on an airfield around with you, relatively long distances have to be covered, but only after you have run the gauntlet of the obligatory security checks and if you have a guilty face like mine, you know your bags are always going to be of interest to security staff. It can be a very long day indeed, however, we know that it will all be worthwhile, with Europe’s largest collection of static aircraft awaiting our delectation, not to mention the impressive flying display, which will be commencing from 10am each day and going on until after 5 in the evening – sometimes you just have to put the effort in for this beloved hobby of ours.
Friday’s poor weather left many of the arranged aircraft displays without their usual adoring crowds, including this Swedish Air Force Saab JAS 39 Gripen
Once inside, RIAT means many things to many people. Obviously, photography and obtaining an accurate photographic record (and increasingly these days, video footage) of the latest show is important to the vast majority of show visitors and if there is an impressive number of aircraft on display at any RIAT show, this figure pales into insignificance with the number of cameras in this part of the world for the duration of the show. With almost everyone toting at least one camera and many equipped with multiple bodies and a selection of lenses, there must be more photographic equipment at Fairford during RIAT week than at any other location in Britain – camera envy is most certainly in full effect. Of course, with such huge crowd numbers at each show, RIAT means different things to different people and whilst aeroplanes will always be the common denominator, there are so many attractions on the showground that it is not just the unrivalled flying programme which grabs everybody’s attention. With flying units from all over the world bringing their own unique merchandise to sell, which is usually laid out in front of the aircraft they have brought to the show, many enthusiasts spend hours marching up and down the static aircraft display looking for the most appealing t-shirts, patches and other items to add to their collections, always managing to find something which takes them over their budget. If you have youngsters with you, RIAT is a great place to allow them to see the world’s most exciting aeroplanes at close quarters and to engage with aviation in ways which are simply not available at other shows. In years past, military Airshows were definitely seen as an opportunity for base personnel to interact with the local communities which support their continued operations and to search for the next crop of youngsters interested in a career in the Royal Air Force and whilst this may have altered slightly over recent years, RIAT is definitely the most ‘interactive’ of all Britain’s Airshow events. With aircrew stationed with their aircraft for most of the weekend and regular ‘meet the pilots’ sessions arranged throughout the duration of the show, during RIAT weekend, the pilots enjoy the sort of hero worship usually reserved for Premiership footballers – if only they could boast the same salary levels! I suppose on the other hand, no footballer would ever be handed the latest multi-million pound combat aircraft to go and fly … could you ever imagine such a thing?
Bring the aircraft and they will come. Despite a hideous weather forecast, the Friday crowds still turned up, at least until the heavens unleashed their full fury
Again from the perspective of aircrews, RIAT has to be considered one of the highlights of their year too, with not only the opportunity to show their skills off to the largest Airshow crowds in the country, but also the chance to meet their international counterparts, renewing existing friendships and forming new ones with each passing show. With formal award ceremonies for the best displays to look forward to and something of a party atmosphere for the support crews who ensure everything is as it should be over the weekend, it is not just the aviation enthusiasts who look forward to attending the Royal International Air Tattoo.
Despite the ability to call upon the services of an exceptional group of people who ensure the smooth running of each RIAT show and a small army of helpers and volunteers putting these meticulous plans into place, their efforts can still be undermined by two significant variables – aircraft serviceability and weather. Unquestionably, safety has to be the primary concern at any Airshow event and whilst crowd barriers and display lines are highly visible features of this aspect, aircraft serviceability is the unseen enemy of the enthusiasts and there is nothing more disappointing than having the display you were most looking forward to seeing cancelled for technical reasons. This understandable disappointment is tempered by the fact that nobody ever wants to be present during an incident, even though it might take a couple of days to come to your usual senses. The most visible enemy of all outside events and Airshows in particular, is the weather. Possessing the potential to ruin everybody’s day and throw even the most meticulous of event planning into disarray, the weather is one thing that nobody can control and even though RIAT is scheduled to take place at the height of British summertime, we all have plenty of experience in knowing that this often counts for nothing. Requiring exactly the same effort and organisational infrastructure come rain or shine, the weather can usually dictate if any RIAT event is judged a success or a disappointment. Again looking from the perspective of the show visitor, as tickets are purchased in advance of the event, there is no possibility to be a fair weather Airshow-goer where RIAT is concerned and you simply have to go with the conditions as you find them.
One of the stars of the show, this Turkish Air Force Phantom expected to be swamped by adoring aviation enthusiasts, not staring at reflections of itself as a result of the latest rain shower
Many RIAT attendees will no doubt remember with little fondness how the public days of the 2008 event were spectacularly cancelled due to poor weather in the days leading up to the show, the first time (at that time) in the 38 year history of the Airshow that a show day had to be cancelled. Torrential rain in the week leading up to the show saw car parks and large parts of the showground waterlogged and with tens of thousands of cars and hundreds of thousands of visitors expected over the weekend of the show, the potential chaos that would have been caused by the quagmire this would have produced left the organisers with little option but the cancel not only the Saturday Airshow, but also the Sunday display. This led to a flood of refund requests and a mass enthusiast exodus to the Flying Legends display taking place at IWM Duxford over the same weekend, which whilst still suffering from the poor weather the country was enduring that year, was nowhere near as badly effected as the Air Tattoo. I remember this year particularly well, as it was one of the few years that I decided to attend Flying Legends instead of marking the 90th Anniversary of the RAF at RIAT. During one of the afternoon downpours, I was sat in my friend’s prestige car, which was the first vehicle I had ever been in which came equipped with a dash mounted TV and we were watching the events unfolding at RIAT and the cancellation announcement. What made this situation all the more memorable was that famous American Warbird celebrity Steve Hinton had seen the TV and had his head inside the passenger window, also trying to see what was going on at Fairford. That was one of the rare occasions that I had backed the right Airshow horse.
A damp Friday at RIAT
One of the few aircraft to take to the air on Friday, this Airbus A400M clearly shows how much moisture was in the air, as the RIAT weekend got underway
Although nowhere near as cataclysmic as the famous 2008 cancellation, this year’s show was once again affected by poor weather, with the Friday show day proving to be particular challenging for everyone at Fairford. With a weather forecast which offered little hope of any entertainment, let alone a classic day’s flying, everyone was hoping that conditions would nothing like as bad as those forecast and the overcautious nature of the Met Office weather app reports would prove to be nothing more than a rough guide – most people packed their waterproof clothing, just in case. Unfortunately, they got the forecast spot on and despite the best efforts of show organisers and display pilots, flying was severely restricted and as we all huddled under our umbrellas, display after display fell victim to the conditions, as the rain continued to fall and our spirits quickly followed. In a somewhat alternative look at the latest Royal International Air Tattoo, here is a selection of images taken during what turned out to be a rather flat Friday at Fairford, which was a rather inauspicious start to this year’s event and definitely brought back memories of the year RIAT was cancelled. Clearly, this magnificent event offers a wealth of review opportunities and over the course of the next few days, I was able to take plenty of pictures in recording what turned out to be an extremely enjoyable event – I will endeavour to produce several future articles from RIAT 2019 in forthcoming editions of Aerodrome, featuring some of the many aviation highlights wooing the crowds at this years show. For now though, it is grey skies, puddles and spray producing Spanish Harriers - enjoy.
Making its final RIAT appearance, the RAF Tucano display pilot was determined to give the crowds one final chance to see this distinctive training aircraft, valiantly braving the conditions on Friday. It actually turned out to be just a take-off and circuit of the airfield
Doing its best to dry out Fairford’s runway, the RAF’s Chinook display team showed why this impressive helicopter is such an important asset to Britain’s modern military
Not even the RAF’s latest jet fighter could lift the gloom on a very wet RIAT Friday
If nothing is flying, the only thing to do is to hit the static display. It is a good job that this RAF Hawk T2 had a good waxing before arriving at Fairford
Not even the rain could take the gloss off this magnificent German Air Force Eurofighter EF2000, with its stunning Manfred von Richthofen tail artwork
Wearing special D-Day markings, this Norwegian Air Force F-16AM Fighting Falcon was another highlight of the static aircraft display
Another look at the header image, this Slovak Air Force C-27J Spartan is seeing double in the puddles
The mighty BUFF is always a highlight attraction at any RIAT show and this one had travelled from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana
Taken in yet another rain shower, this Royal Netherlands Air Force Chinook picture also features a rain drop on the lens of the camera
Creating its own atmosphere, this Spanish Harrier was still one of the major attractions at the 2019 show and had its own unique way of clearing water from the runway. I am grateful to Steve Kimpton for this image, as I think I had allowed depression to kick in at this point and I missed this take off
Last one for today, this final look at the A400M shows how much moisture was in the air, but market the end of the most spirited display during the atrocious weather conditions during Friday’s flying programme, or lack of it!
East Kirkby’s aviation icons
An Airshow event on a completely different scale to the beast that is the Royal International Air Tattoo, the annual East Kirkby Airshow is a much more intimate aviation experience and takes place at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre, the former site of a Bomber Command airfield which opened in August 1943 and was previously home to the Avro Lancasters of Nos. 57 and 630 Squadrons. Billed as Lincolnshire’s largest independent Airshow, the historic surroundings of this atmospheric airfield allows those lucky enough to secure a ticket the opportunity to experience something quite unique in the world of historic aviation and once you have attended an East Kirkby Airshow, you will definitely be looking to go back in subsequent years. Unfortunately, the intimate surroundings of the East Kirkby site dictates that this event has a restricted attendance of just 5000 places and as more and more people discover the delights of this event, the scramble for tickets begins earlier with each passing year. The show will be taking place on Saturday 3rd August this year, almost 76 years to the week since the original Bomber Command airfield on the site opened for use and we are offering one lucky Aerodrome reader the chance to win a pair of tickets to this fantastic event – more on that a little later.
Two icons of British aviation. At this year’s East Kirkby Airshow, both the Lancaster and the Mosquito will be making taxy runs down the length of the crowdline
The Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre is famous in the historic aviation world as the home of Avro Lancaster NX611 ‘Just Jane’ an aircraft which was purchased by two local farming brothers, who wanted to preserve the aircraft as a memorial to the men of Bomber Command, but more specifically as a tribute to their eldest brother Christopher Whitton Panton, who was shot down on a bombing raid over Nuremberg in the early hours of 31st March 1944. He was serving as flight engineer on a No.433 Squadron (RCAF) Handley Page Halifax B.III, which was operating out of Skipton-on-Swale in North Yorkshire on a raid targeting Nuremberg, when it was believed to have been shot down by a marauding Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Bf 110 Nightfighter. Five of the crew, including Chris Panton, tragically lost their lives in the resulting crash, with the remaining men taken prisoner by the Germans. In recent years, the current custodians of the aircraft have announced their intention to return their beloved Lancaster to airworthy condition and all profit’s from LAHC events, including the annual Airshow, are put towards this ambitious and extremely costly project.
Although Avro Lancaster ‘Just Jane’ is still undoubtedly the major attraction at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre, she was recently joined by another famous northern aviation restoration project, in the shape of Tony Agar’s magnificent De Havilland Mosquito NF.ll Nightfighter HJ711. At last year’s Airshow, these two icons of British aviation were positioned next to each other which allowed visitors to take some memorable photographs of the occasion, however this year’s event holds the tantalising prospect of something altogether more spectacular. Work on the Mosquito continued apace over the winter months and her two Merlin engines are now in working order. At the 2019 show, it is planned that both the Lancaster and the Mosquito will be performing taxy runs along the length of the East Kirkby crowdline, a sight which has not been seen at a British Airshow for over 23 years and one which will definitely be amongst the highlights of this current Airshow season. With a host of additional aviation acts all scheduled to perform at this small grass airfield, tickets for this year’s show are going to be in high demand and I am pleased to say that I will be taking my place in the crowd, gathering content for a future review edition of Aerodrome. How would you like to join me? Courtesy of our friends at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre, we have two tickets to hand to one lucky Aerodrome reader, who will have the opportunity to witness this aviation spectacle for themselves. The tickets will be posted to our winner early next week, which means you will have to be quick in getting your entry to us over this coming weekend – our winner will also need to have the ability to get themselves to East Kirkby on Saturday 3rd August and I very much look forward to meeting you there.
For the first time since 1996, a De Havilland Mosquito will be taxiing under its own power at a UK Airshow event – definitely something worth seeing
As usual, all you need to do to be in with the chance of winning the Airshow tickets is to head for the Airfix Competitions Page in the Community section of the Airfix website, where you will find all the relevant competition details, along with a simple East Kirkby related question for you to answer. The competition will close in the early hours of Monday 29th July, so you don’t have much time with this one – our lucky winner will be selected at random from the list of correct entries and we will post the tickets out later the same day, to ensure they arrive in good time. Good luck to all who enter and I look forward to meeting you at the show.
I am afraid that is all we have for you in this latest edition of Aerodrome, but we will be back as usual in two weeks’ time with more aviation related content for your enjoyment. As always, if you have any ideas for a future edition of Aerodrome, or if you would like to supply a feature of your own which will be of interest to our worldwide aviation readership, please send your suggestions to our regular contact e-mail address at firstname.lastname@example.org, where we will be delighted to hear from you.
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The next edition of Aerodrome is due to be published on Friday 9th August, where we look forward to bringing you even more interesting aviation related features.
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