Wall to wall aeroplanes – RIAT 2019 review Part 2
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.
As we currently find ourselves just about clinging on to the month of July and therefore very much within the traditional high-point of the UK Airshow season, we must still be perfectly within our rights to bring readers the second instalment of our ‘World’s Greatest Airshow – RIAT 2019’ review. As we are all aware, this year’s show was unable to take place due to the nationwide restrictions imposed to try and keep us all safe from this dreaded virus and whilst we might all be taking an enforced sabbatical from live Airshow action at the moment, that doesn’t mean we can’t obtain a little aviation enjoyment by other means.
In this landmark 150th edition of Aerodrome, we will be heading back to RIAT 2019 to sample more of last year’s atmosphere and in an attempt to kick start our preparations for a triumphant return of the show in 2021. This time around, we will be looking at an aircraft which has to be regarded as one of the most versatile and widely used aircraft of the post war years, before moving on to feature two Eastern Bloc designs which qualify for the coveted ‘Most Exotic Performer’ label whenever they attend a UK Airshow. We will be adding a welcome splash of colour to proceedings by including contributions from two national aerobatic display teams, with one team providing an aviation escort for a real ‘Queen of the Skies’. Before we begin though, we have a fascinating update to a blog we published only recently, one which brought back happy memories for one Aerodrome reader.
Ju 88 feature stirs service memories
Thanks to reader Peter Lane, this image of Cosford’s Junkers Ju88 D5+EV before it was on museum display is being published for the first time
Even though I remain ever grateful for the tremendous blog readership support Aerodrome continues to enjoy, it has to be said that you never really know how well any particular blog is going to be received until a few weeks after it is published. When the latest readership figures were circulated recently, it was clear that the edition which featured Cosford’s historic defecting Junkers Ju 88 nightfighter was of interest to a great many people, as it posted some of the best readership figures we have ever seen. In addition to this, the feature stirred some particularly fond memories for one Aerodrome reader and compelled him to drop us a line with his own link to this famous aeroplane – we are really glad that he did.
When Peter Lane saw our feature on Cosford’s defecting Junkers Ju 88R-1 (W.Nr.360043), it reminded him just how significant this aircraft turned out to be during his formative years and importantly, how he managed to get closer to it than most. Peter wrote:
‘Many thanks for the feature on Cosford’s Junkers Ju88 D5+EV - it brought the memories flooding back! This was actually the first aircraft that I worked on when I joined the RAF back in 1974. At that time, I was only 2 weeks into my trade training, however, I was allowed to start working on aircraft in the reserve collection at RAF St Athan. We stripped the Junkers to bare metal and as we did, I remember we only found evidence of the previous RAF markings applied to her. I went on to work in the museum for several years as their painter in my spare time, where I resprayed many of these historic exhibits. Interestingly, I used Humbrol Enamel paint to match the colours!
The photo (above) was taken using the camera’s self-timer and I am pictured in the centre. At the time, we were told the amazing story of this aircraft’s defection, but were not allowed to tell anyone until after the 35 year rule had expired’.
The picture Peter sent in is absolutely fascinating and one which has probably never been seen by anyone outside of his family and friends – we are so grateful that he allowed us to share it with fellow Aerodrome readers. It makes for an unusual follow up to our popular Cosford Ju 88 feature.
RIAT 2019 – ‘Herky Bird’ convention
An aircraft which has been a Royal International Air Tattoo regular over the years, the Lockheed Hercules may now be firmly in the twilight of its service career, but it has definitely proved itself to be one of the most versatile and widely used aircraft of its kind in the post WWII era. An aircraft which can trace its development back to experiences which resulted from conflict in Korea, it was found that existing WWII transport aircraft were now totally inadequate for modern warfare and forced the US Military to immediately look for a more modern replacement.
Built around a large, unobstructed fuselage and featuring a full width rear loading ramp, the new Hercules adopted a high mounted wing design which enabled the four powerful turboprop engines to be kept as far away from the ground as possible, allowing the aircraft’s operation from unprepared landing strips and short field sites. Possessing incredible power and load carrying capacity, the Hercules would revolutionise the art of airborne supply and transportation, becoming the aircraft against which all other similar types would be judged in future.
With qualities which were unmatched by any similar aircraft, the Hercules would also prove to be a spectacular success on the world export market and would see operation in the colours of over 60 different nations, making the aircraft quite unique in the aviation world. From the perspective of the enthusiasts, obtaining decent photographs of a Hercules in the colours of every military operator it has served would be a challenge for anyone and one which could take a number of years to complete – if such a project appeals to you, then RIAT is always a good place to start as far as this aviation classic is concerned, as there are usually plenty of Hercules’ about.
Still as relevant today as when it first entered USAF service back in 1956, the C-130 Hercules performs the role of tactical airlift and transport support, and possesses the ability to operate from poorly equipped airfields and grass strips, making it invaluable during times of conflict and when responding to worldwide humanitarian emergencies. In addition to delivering palletised cargo, small combat vehicles and field weapons, the aircraft can also be used as a platform to deliver troops either on foot or by parachute and provide essential casualty evacuation support when required. In essence, when an army needs to move quickly and efficiently, the Hercules and its experienced crews will never be too far from the front lines.
Without doubt one of the most useful transport aircraft of recent years, the Lockheed Hercules is definitely a RIAT favourite and several examples from a number of different air arms can always be relied upon to attend any show
The Royal Air Force have been operating the mighty Hercules since 1967 and as you would expect, its many load carrying qualities have been used extensively in numerous operational situations. Replacing such aircraft types as the Blackburn Beverley, Armstrong Whitworth Argosy and Handley Page Hastings in the military transport role, the Hercules could carry greater loads more effectively, at faster speeds, higher altitudes and over much greater distances – it provided a significant capability upgrade over those previous aircraft types.
In RAF service, Hercules squadron’s would regularly take part in massed JATFOR exercises, where up to 36 aircraft fully laden with troops and supplies would fly in formation at low altitude and aften at night, before delivering their loads at drop zones in continental Europe – what a magnificent sight this must have been. Wherever the British Army have been deployed on operations over the past five decades, the Lockheed Hercules has been there to support them and during that time, it became apparent that the only aircraft capable of replacing the Hercules was another Hercules.
With the new Airbus A-400M Atlas C.1 now scheduled to replace the venerable old Hercules, it is interesting to note that the RAF are still finding it difficult to sever ties with a classic aircraft which has proved so useful over the years. Fourteen RAF Hercules C.4 aircraft have been cleared to remain in service until at least 2030 and if the old warhorse makes it until that date, the Hercules will have been in Royal Air Force service for an incredible 62 years – quite some achievement for this magnificent aircraft.
Over the years, RIAT shows have always been a popular meeting place for operators of the Hercules, with some aircraft making significant journeys to take their place in the static aircraft display. With US operated machines being of particular interest to UK enthusiasts, other aircraft at the 2019 show came from such diverse air forces as Canada, Italy, Jordan and Pakistan. This is most definitely a transport aircraft of significant pedigree.
Soviet Cold War hammer a headline RIAT act
The consummate Airshow performer, the Ukrainian Air Force Flanker display pilot always ensures his display is one of the most memorable of the day and even manages to get a good look at the crowdline during his inverted pass
An aircraft which has become a regular visitor to RIAT shows over recent years, the awesome Sukhoi Su-27 ‘Flanker’ is very much a headline act when it comes to British Airshows and when it is time for this aviation heavyweight to take to the runway, it is very much a case of standing room only along the entire crowdline. A Cold War heavy air superiority fighter, the Soviet designed and produced Su-27 is one of the highly capable combat aircraft NATO fighters would come up against should Europe descend into conflict and as we all know, in aviation terms, the enemy’s (or potential enemy’s) aircraft are always far more interesting than our own, when it comes to Airshows. In this case, it is difficult to think of the Ukrainian Air Force as a potential enemy, as they now have such close ties with NATO, however, their aircraft still have that incredibly appealing Eastern Bloc appeal to them.
The Sukhoi Su-27 ‘Flanker’ was designed and developed in response to the latest US fourth generation fighters, such as the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle and Grumman F-14 Tomcat and as it is keeping such exalted aviation company as this, it will come as no surprise to hear that wherever the Flanker performs, it is very much a headline act. Introduced in the mid 1980s, the aircraft quickly demonstrated that Soviet aviation technology was much more advanced than the Western nations had thought and when the Flanker performed at a number of Airshows in the late 1980s, it thrilled spectators and astounded military officials with its display of power and agility. It’s awesome capabilities immediately initiated the development of a new generation of Western combat aircraft.
The Flanker’s appearance at Fairford is always viewed as a real coup for the show organisers and even though the aircraft did make its triumphant reappearance at a RIAT show back in 2017, this was the first time since 1999 that this magnificent event could boast a Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker on its flying display programme. Representing the Ukrainian Air Force, the aircraft which thrilled the crowds at RIAT 2019 was a Sukhoi Su-27P1M Flanker from the 831st Guards Tactical Aviation Brigade based at Myrhorod, in central Ukraine. It arrived in the UK in company with a second Sukhoi Su-27UB1M Flanker and an Ilyushin Il-76MD heavy transport aircraft, both of which took their places in the extensive static aircraft display.
The Ukrainian Air Force are equipped exclusively with Soviet designed and manufactured aircraft, with their Flanker multi-role fighters being arguably the most capable fighting aeroplanes in service. With around 30 Su-27s to call upon, the aircraft the UAF send to RIAT are attractively presented in a blue, digital camouflage and with their display being all about speed, power and agility, it isn’t difficult to see why these beautiful aeroplanes are viewed as real crowd pleasers. If only we could look forward to even greater participation by aircraft from former Eastern Bloc nations at future Airshows in the UK, we might see a return to the huge crowd numbers which were a feature of events during the heyday period in the 70s and 80s.
The Pride of Italy
One thing a RIAT show is always guaranteed to feature on any given year is the latest instalment of the ‘Battle of the National Aerobatic Display Teams’. Clearly, us Brits are fiercely proud of our own Red Arrows, however, it is always a treat to enjoy the aircraft and displays performed by some of the world’s other premier aerobatic display teams. The vast expanse of available airspace around RAF Fairford allows these teams great latitude when performing their displays and on blue sky days, their graceful formation manoeuvres and dynamic opposition crosses add a welcome splash of colour to Airshow proceedings.
Ready for action – the Frecce ground team prepare to film the latest display performance at Fairford, no doubt to provide constructive feedback where required, or maybe just to enjoy the adulation of the crowd for twenty minutes or so. A Frecce Tricolori display is all about Italian style and colourful skies
One of the teams making a welcome return to RIAT last year, the Frecce Tricolori are the famous national aerobatic display team of Italy and one of the best loved acts on the European display circuit. The mount of the team is the Italian produced Aermacchi MB-339 PAN jet trainer, with each of their aircraft attractively presented in the colours of the Italian flag. The team is an autonomously operating unit within the Italian Air Force, representing the 313th Aerobatic Military Training Group, based at Rivolto, in Udine and it is interesting to note that all Frecce pilots have to be under 30 years of age – they also have to have a minimum of 1,000 flying hours under their belts and must maintain training to be ‘Combat Ready’, should such a deployment be deemed necessary.
When the weather allows it, a Frecce Tricolori display is always amongst the highlight acts of any Airshow lucky to have them on the programme, particularly as their graceful manoeuvres are accompanied by the extensive use of red, white and green smoke, as these little jets perform aerial ballet in the sky. A real treat for the eyes, on still days, this spectacle really can present some stunning image opportunities for the photographers, whilst everyone else on the airfield just stares skywards to marvel at the sight before them. A treat for enthusiast and casual visitor alike, the Frecce Tricolori always bring a welcome touch of Italian style to RIAT’s extravaganza of aviation excellence - 'Wel ha fatto l'Aeronautica Militare Italiana'!
When you have something to commemorate, who do you call?
When Britain has something to celebrate, commemorate, or just want to make a ceremonial statement, there is one high profile group of people who can always be relied upon the make sure everything is done ‘the right way’ and with meticulously planned military precision, our beloved Red Arrows. Usually major contributors to any Royal International Air Tattoo show, the team not only had their busy display schedule to negotiate during last year’s event, but also had an impending overseas deployment on their minds. Following their attendance at the show, the Red Arrows would be embarking on an ambitious, high profile eleven week tour of North America and a punishing schedule of flypasts and displays, allowing millions of US and Canadian people the opportunity to experience one of their polished displays.
Despite making this their final UK Airshow appearance of the year, they were determined that they would not be leaving before making another significant display contribution which would live long in the memories of everyone lucky enough to see it, lending their meticulous formation flying expertise to provide an escort for an iconic civilian show participant.
The majestic Boeing 747 Jumbo is now very much in the twilight of its passenger flying career, however despite this, the good people at British Airways were in no mood to allow their centenary commemorations to pass without marking them in style and what finer aviation canvas could there be than the fuselage of a Jumbo. At some significant expense, the company sent Boeing 747-436 G-BYGC into the paint shop, from where it emerged wearing a smart new retro BOAC livery, one of several aircraft to benefit from the application of commemorative retro liveries. With its Red Arrows guard of honour, this graceful aeroplane made a couple of memorable, sweeping passes along the length of the RIAT crowd-line to the absolute delight of everyone on the airfield, just one of the many highlights of the 2019 show.
Little did we know it at the time, but this magnificent formation tribute was the final time RIAT crowds would have the opportunity to admire a British Airways operated Boeing 747 at a Royal International Air Tattoo
Although the aviation enthusiast has been aware for some time that British Airways were planning to retire their fleet of Boeing 747 jets over the next couple of years, those of us who were fortunate enough to see this special formation could hardly have contemplated the fact that this may have been our one and only opportunity to see this beautifully presented jet performing at a UK Airshow. Over the past few days, British Airways have announced the rather distressing news that they have decided to bring forward the retirement date of their 31 remaining Jumbos, which will now be withdrawn with immediate effect – it seems as if the aviation reign of the mighty Jumbo has finally come to an end.
As this news has only just been delivered and enthusiasts are still coming to terms with it, it remains to be seen if British Airways will allow one, or several of their 747s to perform final flypast events to mark their retirement, but if not, there can surely have been no finer way to pay tribute to an aircraft which totally transformed world civilian aviation than to have the massed RIAT crowds staring in awe and admiration at this beautifully presented aircraft – farewell Jumbo!
An aviation ‘Beast from the East’
We end this latest RIAT 2019 review by looking at a real post war aviation classic and one which really does prove that the very latest aircraft types entering service are not always the ones enthusiasts flock to come and see. Tracing its history back to the mid 1950s and the very early days of supersonic jet aviation, the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 has to be considered as one of the most important jet aircraft ever produced. Amongst its many achievements and accolades, the MiG-21 has the notable distinction of being the most heavily produced combat aircraft since the end of the Korean War. An aircraft which went on to be used by the air forces of around 60 countries worldwide, it is astonishing to think that some of these distinctive early generation jet fighters are still in front line service – indeed, no fewer than four European air forces still rely on the capabilities of this historic aircraft.
As a proud member of NATO since 2014, the 2019 show was not the first time that the Romanian Air Force had sent one of their MiG-21 LanceR C air defence fighters to thrill the crowds at RIAT, but every time they do attend, they are an undoubted highlight of the flying display programme. Considering the vintage of these aircraft and the fact that many of the world’s air forces are now re-equipping with the latest Fifth Generation combat aircraft, most enthusiasts would admit to having the feeling that every time they see a MiG-21 in the metal (so to speak), it could very well be the last time they have that opportunity.
An association which goes back to the first Russian built MiG-21s they received back in February 1962, the Romanian Air Force have been heavy users of this historic aircraft over the years, upgrading its capabilities regularly in order to retain their operational effectiveness and threat potential. Unfortunately, the last remaining aircraft in service are scheduled for imminent replacement, which will be a sad loss for Europe’s army of aviation enthusiasts, who simply love these classic old jets. Developed at a time when stealth technology was nowhere in sight and the most feared fighter aircraft were all about speed, noise and power, is seemed to everyone that the jet fighters of that early era actually wanted their adversaries to know they were there, so they knew who was trying to shoot them down.
One of the most important jet aircraft of the post war era, the MiG-21 might now be in the twilight of its service career, but it is still very much a favourite with aircraft enthusiasts the world over
For thousands of people, the MiG-21 era of aviation is much more interesting than the rather sterile contemporary aviation fare we usually see at many of the world’s current Airshow events, so when one of these magnificent aircraft is added to any display schedule, you can guarantee that the crowds will flock to the venue to fill their senses with classic jet action. A real coup for the RIAT 2019 show organisers, the aircraft which most definitely proved to be one of the highlights was this Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-21 LanceR C from Escadrilla 861 of the Romanian Air Force, based at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base in the south east of the country.
Adorned with a snarling wolf’s head on the tail and a camouflage scheme which really was reminiscent of Cold War era Eastern Bloc aircraft, the MiG gave a stunning display of brute power and showed all the more modern aircraft types just what it takes to win the hearts of an Airshow crowd. For those of us lucky enough to see it, even though the MiG display will live long in our memories, the current world situation and the aircraft’s impending retirement mean that it could quite possibly have been the last time one of these classic Cold War warriors are seen in Gloucestershire skies – well, at least I will be able to say that I was there to see it.
For anyone who has been fortunate enough to have attended a Royal International Air Tattoo show, you will be fully aware that there is just so much to see and do over show weekend that you always end up missing something, be it a formation flypast, an aircraft in the static display, or simply a photo opportunity overlooked. With our feet taking an absolute pounding over show weekend and our bodies aching from carrying so much stuff about, we probably also have sun-burn, wind-burn and clothing drenched from four days of the usual ‘sunshine and showers’ experienced whilst negotiating our latest RIAT event. Despite this, we always look forward to going back for more of the same next year and probably wouldn’t have it any other way.
From a blog review perspective, no single article could ever do this magnificent event justice, particularly as we will have all had pretty unique RIAT experiences, along with our own personal standout moments. As it will be at least another year before we can all visit this hallowed aviation ground once again, it is highly likely that Aerodrome will be paying a further visit to last year’s show before this year is out and I can already think of several untouched subjects which will hopefully make for another interesting edition. Until then, I hope you have enjoyed this latest selection of Royal International Air Tattoo aviation goodness.
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. If you would like to send us a selection of your own pictures, or suggest an aviation related subject you would like to see covered in a future edition, please use our firstname.lastname@example.org address, where we will be delighted to hear from you.
In between new editions of our blog, the aviation related conversation continues over on the Airfix Aerodrome Forum and we can also be contacted on either the Airfix or Corgi Facebook pages, in addition to Twitter for both Airfix and Corgi - please do get involved in the discussions and let us know what you think about Aerodrome.
The next edition of Aerodrome is due to be published on Friday 14th August, where we look forward to bringing you even more interesting aviation related features.
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Model link selection
Over the past few months, we have received many requests for our Aerodrome blog to include links to Airfix and Corgi products which may have associations to the subject of that particular edition. Aerodrome has always set out to be an enthusiast publication first and foremost, a place where aviation enthusiasts can share their love of aeroplanes and whilst we certainly don’t want that to change, we think there may be a workable solution.
For those who are interested, each future edition will include a link suite at the very bottom of the blog, where a small selection of appropriate product links for Airfix and Corgi products will be available, if they are of interest – we hope this will fit the bill.