Spectacular Dambusters tribute at RIAT 2018
Welcome to this latest edition of Aerodrome and our regular fortnightly look at the fascinating world of aeroplanes and the historic aviation scene in the UK. Our edition count now stands at 99 not out and as we look forward to marking the centenary edition of Aerodrome in two weeks’ time, we can look back with immense pride at what we have achieved over the past three years or so and take heart from the fact that 2018 is certainly proving that the subject of aeroplanes and aviation in general appears to be as popular as ever. Our Centenary Edition has already been planned and we very much look forward to celebrating this significant blog milestone with all our readers – we will also be announcing an anniversary competition for you all to enter, with a spectacular aviation related prize awaiting our lucky winner and the chance to feature in a future edition of Aerodrome. Make sure you read our 100th edition for full details.
Although our next edition is clearly going to be something of an Aerodrome celebration, there is no reason why this current blog should not be equally interesting with regard to its content. Having recently attended the aviation behemoth that is the Royal International Air Tattoo and the fantastic RAF Centenary Airshow at Cosford, it has been really pleasing to see huge crowds flocking to both events, reaffirming the popularity of air displays and highlighting how the nation has united behind the centenary commemorations of the Royal Air Force. Both of these events arranged special displays both on the ground and in the air, to ensure that their 2018 shows will live long in the memory of anyone fortunate enough to have experienced them, but amongst this embarrassment of aviation riches, there was one very special formation which seemed to capture the mood of this significant year for British aviation, their evocative ‘Dambusters’ flypast. In this latest edition of Aerodrome, we will be featuring RIAT’s memorable flying tribute to the men of No.617 Squadron and how three historic aeroplanes provided arguably the most poignant commemoration of this RAF centenary year so far.
After me, the flood
The airmen of No.617 Squadron trained with a collection of standard Lancasters taken from bomber squadrons before their ‘special’ aeroplanes arrived at Scampton
For the many thousands of people all over the world who would describe themselves as avid aviation enthusiasts, this year is proving to be something very special indeed. Not only are we currently commemorating the centenary of the establishment of the world’s first independent air force, but we are also seeing several other important aviation anniversaries being marked in 2018, along with the service introduction of several new aviation types for the Royal Air Force and the recent announcement of the future Typhoon replacement project (Tempest). Perhaps of even more significance than this, aviation is being brought to the attention of almost everyone in the UK at the moment, with plenty of TV, press and social media coverage making aircraft and the men who fly them something of a hot topic and introducing a new audience to the history of flight. Hopefully, the legacy of this coverage will be increased awareness of aviation in general, a boost for Airshow attendance figures in the years to come and perhaps even a new crop of young people destined to be the Royal Air Force pilots of tomorrow. You never know, we may even increase the ranks of committed aviation fanatics by the odd one or two people as well!
Although giving up their Tornados in 2014, the Dambusters had an incredible 31 year association with the ‘Mighty Fin’
Regarded by many as the most famous bombing raid in the history of air warfare, the Dambusters raid of 16th/17th May 1943 has been commemorated over the years as one of the most audacious bombing attacks of the Second World War, carried out by a relatively small number of highly proficient airmen, who courageously took to their task having undertaken just a short period of training. With these men and their machines commanding an enduring fascination to this day, you only have to consider the many thousands of people who climbed the steep hills overlooking Derwent Dam earlier this year on a cold, wet Wednesday, just to be in with the chance of seeing Avro Lancaster PA474 flying over the dam wall, to understand why we continue to revere these men. Unfortunately, the flypast was eventually cancelled, however many who made the journey would probably have still gone had they known that in advance, just so they could say that they were there on the 75th anniversary of the Dambusters raid.
For a squadron which was only formed in the weeks prior to Operation Chastise, which took place on the night of 16th May 1943, No.617 Squadron has gone on to become one of the most famous units in the Royal Air Force, with every serving member of the squadron conscious of its rich heritage and the heroic actions of the Dambuster airmen. As astonishing as the achievements of the 133 Dambusters and their 19 specially modified Lancasters were, it could be argued that the raid had much more poignancy to Britain’s war effort than the destruction and damage of several of Germany’s great dams. At a time when the course of the war was very much in the balance and Britain had already endured almost four years of withering conflict, the raid served as inspiration to an entire nation and galvanised their resolve for a final all-out push for victory. For the German people on the receiving end of the raid, it clearly highlighted the fact that the fortunes of war were turning against them and no matter what propaganda messages their leaders continued to circulate, their enemies had the technology, capability and determination to strike at the very heart of Germany, diminishing their ability to wage war on all fronts. When taking these psychological factors into consideration, it is perhaps even more understandable to see why the ‘Dambusters’ continue to attract such interest to this day.
In keeping with the rich heritage of this squadron, the Dambusters were selected as Britain’s first operators of the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II
In the years following the end of the Second World War, No.617 Squadron has continued to uphold the proud heritage of Guy Gibson and his men, even though the aircraft they operated have successively increased in offensive capability. The Lancasters of the original Dambusters gave way to aircraft such as the Avro Lincoln, English Electric Canberra, Avro Vulcan and an impressive thirty year association with the Panavia Tornado, an aircraft which whilst being markedly smaller than the original Lancaster, possessed many times its destructive power. Bringing the history of the squadron right up to date, June this year saw RAF Marham welcome the first four Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II multi role supersonic stealth aircraft into RAF inventory and it seems somehow fitting that this famous squadron should have the honour of charting the future of the Royal Air Force in this 75th anniversary year of the Dambusters raid.
RAF Centenary tribute from the Dambusters
Europe’s only airworthy Avro Lancaster played a significant role in the Royal International Air Tattoo’s tribute to the Royal Air Force Centenary
Since the arrival of Britain’s first F-35B Lightning II aircraft, they appear to have been rather busy with various media and ceremonial commitments, as the country seems to be desperate to get their first glimpse of these capable new aircraft. Following the completion of various photoshoots at their home base, the F-35 unexpectedly took part in the spectacular RAF Centenary flypast over central London and whilst the nation marvelled at the sight of this aviation show of strength on our TV screens, most of us would have to wait for our personal introductions to Britain’s latest and most capable combat aircraft. For many, that first opportunity would be the recent Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford, the largest event of its kind anywhere in the world. For this RAF Centenary year, the show had included Friday as a full display day and as well as boasting an impressive line-up of international display acts, Friday 13th July was also scheduled to host an RAF 100 Royal Review, complete with impressive flypast with at least 50 aircraft taking part. As this was only taking place on the Friday of the show, huge crowds gathered in anticipation of what would surely be the highlight of the 2018 Airshow season and with Britain basking in some of the best summer weather we have enjoyed for many a year, what could possibly go wrong?
I suppose bearing in mind my superstitious nature and the unfortunate date this flypast was due to take place on, we should have known there were going to be problems. The fine weather in the morning supported a full flying programme from 10am, but as we approached the scheduled time of the review flypast, the skies darkened and the first rain showers began to fall. Although the airfield appeared to escape the worst of the weather, the surrounding skies were alive with electrical storms and we could see the heavy rain falling all around us. Apparently, many of the aircraft scheduled to take part in the flypast had already taken off from their home bases in preparation for this aviation spectacle, when the decision was taken to cancel the display. Clearly a major disappointment for the thousands gathered in anticipation at Fairford, not to mention the airmen hoping to play their part in this historic occasion, safety must always be the primary concern with events such as these and we all had to accept the situation with good grace. If we thought we had missed our opportunity to see spectacular commemorative flypasts in this important year for the RAF, we could not have been more mistaken.
‘Trenchard Plus’. The aircraft of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight put on a magnificent display on the Saturday of the show, with eight aircraft taking part in a memorable tribute
Once the fighters had left the formation, it was time for the two BBMF heavies to take centre stage
The finale of the display was the sight of these two historic aircraft performing a break as they headed towards crowd centre
For regular Airshow attendees of many years standing, many will undoubtedly remember the magnificent shows of years past when event organisers would put together interesting and unusual formations of aircraft for our enjoyment, seemingly without too much prior planning. Although the Airshow world has changed dramatically over recent years, the RIAT display committee appeared to be doing their utmost to transport us back to those glory days, allowing some truly memorable aircraft formations to perform at the show, all intent on making their own tribute to this special anniversary for the Royal Air Force. For me, one of the most memorable sections of the show began with the much loved aircraft of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight taking to the air, with what appeared to be every serviceable fighter leading the formation off, followed by the Dakota and the Avro Lancaster taking off last (as befits her lofty historic aviation status). For this RAF centenary year, the team had been working on a special display they had christened their ‘Trenchard Formation’, named after Lord Trenchard, the first Chief of the Air Staff and ‘father of the Royal Air Force’. The normal Trenchard formation display consisted of the Dakota leading the way, flanked by two Spitfires and the Lancaster bringing up the rear. The quartet of historic aircraft would perform a series of graceful flypasts, before the fighters split off for their solo displays, leaving the ‘heavies’ to perform their own routine and spectacular break finale. For the RIAT show and in honour of this special occasion, the Flight performed ‘Trenchard Plus’ and included two Hurricanes, three Spitfires, the Dakota and Lancaster in a thrilling series of passes, performed under blue skies on the Saturday and Sunday of the show – a quite spectacular sight.
As the majority of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight aircraft landed back at Fairford, the Lancaster stayed in the air and appeared to be holding off in the distance, waiting to rendezvous with other aircraft – she clearly had a further display appointment. In a show which could boast a great many highlights, the next twenty minutes would prove to be the most remarkable and poignant display of this wonderful event and served to commemorate the glorious heritage of the Royal Air Force more effectively than any other. As we looked into the distance, we could see the Avro Lancaster returning to the display axis flanked by two more aircraft, one stationed on either wing. Marking 75 years of aviation technology representing No.617 Squadron ‘The Dambusters’ the formation also included a Panavia Tornado GR.4 and a Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II, the latest aircraft to wear the colours of this famous Squadron. Although neither the Lancaster, nor the Tornado were wearing 617 squadron markings, the formation could not have been more symbolic – the Lancaster being the first aircraft operated by the squadron and the F-35B being very the latest mount of the Dambusters. In between the two, the Panavia Tornado had served the squadron more faithfully than any other type and was probably making its final Royal International Air Tattoo appearance, as it is due to be withdrawn from service during the spring of 2019.
Dambusters 75 – Performed on both Saturday and Sunday at RIAT, this poignant formation paid tribute to the airmen of No.617 Squadron and marked 75 years of aircraft development within the Royal Air Force
One in, one out. As the spectacular F-35B Lightning II enters RAF service, the Panavia Tornado is nearing the end of its magnificent service career
Making up for the disappointment of Friday’s cancelled Royal Review Flypast, this enigmatic formation thrilled the crowds with a number of passes, before the Lancaster was finally relieved of her duties and the Tornado and Lightning II lit the burners to show what they could do. Bidding a sad RIAT farewell, the Tornado showed that it is still and extremely capable and reliable strike aircraft, one which has represented Britain well in areas of conflict all over the world, during its RAF service. The Tornado is all about speed and power, not possessing the stealth and agility of the latest 5th generation aircraft, but having a proven track record of combat effectiveness to call upon. Always a popular Airshow performer, the Tornado made two memorable solo passes during its display, including a trademark wings swept fully back, high speed pass to show us all what we would soon be missing with its impending retirement.
With Britain’s first four F-35s only arriving in the country in June, many did not expect to see the aircraft taking part in RIAT 2018, let alone perform a display routine, but that is exactly what the appreciative crowds witnessed. Having made a single high speed pass, the Lightning II travelled the length of the display line at much slower speed, lowering its undercarriage and coming to the hover just to the right of crowd centre, with all its many doors and flaps open. With every lens on the airfield trained in its direction, the aircraft gave a stunning demonstration of its incredible power, effortlessly resting on a column of hot air, but looking as if it could blast towards the heavens at the pilot’s whim. For those of us who lamented the passing of the incomparable Harrier, this was like seeing a Harrier on steroids, an extremely capable supersonic stealth fighter possessing the ability to hover and land vertically – were we looking at the most devastatingly versatile aircraft the world had ever seen? One thing is certain, this first display definitely left us all wanting more and it is clear that Britain’s new F-35B fighters are going to be as popular at Airshows as they will be devastating on the battlefield. Whatever happened to new vehicles (and aircraft) having to be gently run in before being put through their paces, like in the old days?
With the RAF’s latest aircraft only arriving at RAF Marham the previous month, the RIAT crowds were surprised to see the aircraft giving such an enthusiastic display of its awesome capabilities
The magnificent Dambusters tribute formation and the first public display by an RAF No.617 Squadron F-35B Lightning II were two significant highlights of a memorable RIAT 2018 and although we can hopefully now look forward to this awesome new aircraft showing its capabilities at many more Airshows in the future, it is unlikely that it will take its place in such a stellar display line up as we experienced at this show. The organisers are to be thoroughly congratulated for serving up an absolute feast of aviation and with it, a fitting tribute to this centenary year of the Royal Air Force.
I am afraid that is all we have for you in this latest edition of Aerodrome, but please don’t forget to join us in two weeks’ time, when we will be celebrating our own centenary. With such an important occasion looming large, this might be a good time for readers to let us know what you think of our blog and how long you have been reading it. We would also be interested to find out how you think it could be improved and what subjects you would like to see covered in future editions. Please send any suggestions to our regular contact e-mail addresses at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com where we will be only too pleased to hear from you.
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