NARRATIVE BY MARK ROURKE, & IMAGES BY MARK ROURKE AND ODESSA MUNCADA
After a gap of a few years the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford returned with a bang. From Friday July 15th until Sunday July 17th a total attendance off over 200,000 people witnessed the best pilots in the world perform aerial demonstrations, an evocative and exotic static display, numerous family entertainment, added with a sprinkling of Hollywood razzmatazz in the form of Pete Maverick himself, otherwise known as Tom Cruise.
Where to start? 266 aircraft alongside 1,500 crew to support and fly them? British astronaut Tim Peake? The amazing displays? Well, this is an aviation web page so you’re having the aircraft….
United Kingdom – Past, Present and Future
The Royal Air Force (RAF) was of course the main contributor to the show, RIAT raising money for the RAF Benevolent Fund for several years now. At the early part of the flying display the Chinook Display Team showed the full capabilities of the Boeing Chinook HC.6A, which rightly earned them the Steedman Display Sword for best UK air display. The RAF have been showing off the Chinook at air displays for some time now and have a very polished and spectacular routine that thrills the crowds.
Dominating the skyline at the eastern end of the static park was Airbus A400M Atlas C.1 ZM419 of 70 Squadron from nearby Brize Norton, this base also supplying Lockheed Martin Hercules C.4 ZH869 of 47 sqn in the static park and Airbus Voyager KC.2 ZZ336 in its Union Flag livery for a formation with the Red Arrows before returning to base.
It was also the first time for the RIAT crowd to see the RAF Typhoon display in its striking colour scheme that it received last year. Flight Lieutenant Adam O’Hare of 29 Squadron impressing with a noisy dynamic acrobatic performance. Of course since the last show in 2019 before COVID hit, there has been some changes in the RAF, highlighted by a Boeing P-8 Poseidon in the static park on its RIAT debut. And to show that RIAT is not just about the present and future, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight from RAF Coningsby delighted the spectators to the sound of six merlin engines provided by the Avro Lancaster, Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane.
The British contingent at RIAT was also well supported by Her Majesty’s Coastguard with an AgustaWestland AW.189, Piper PA-31-310 Navajo and Sikorsky S-92A in the static area. It was good to see the one of the aircraft that the Coastguard that took over the Search and Rescue (SAR) mission from the RAF, the Westland Sea King HAR.3, also grace its presence in its distinctive yellow colour scheme, much missed around our coastline.
Colourful Irish and Middle Eastern Exotica
Twenty-five years after they last attended the International Air Tattoo the Irish Air Corps (IAC) display team ‘The Silver Swallows’ returned with four Pilatus PC-9M to wow the crowds, it was good to see them back. In the static park, the IAC won the Concurs d’Elegance with the Pilatus PC-12NG Spectre from 104 Squadron.
Another Concurs d’Elegance winner was the Lockheed C-130H Hercules of the Royal Jordanian Air Force. Jordan is a big supporter of RIAT and has been for many years, and Jordanian culture was celebrated in an area near the Hercules. The Middle East was also represented by a C-130J from Bahrain, which used to grace the skies of this part of England when it was a Hercules C.5 based at RAF Brize Norton before being sold to the Gulf State. Kuwait provided one of the highlights for the thousands of aviation enthusiasts from around the globe in the form of a Eurofighter EF2000T, again in the static. Oman and Qatar completed a strong showing from the region with a CASA C.295MPA Persuader from the former and two British Aerospace Hawk mk.167s of 11 Squadron from the latter. The Hawks are currently based at RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire.
In relation to the Hawks, one of the themes of RIAT 2022 was ‘Training the Next Generation Air Force’, so as well as all the interactive and inspiring ground displays on the showground, future aviation pilots or engineers got to see not only the latest aircraft they will fly operationally but also the aircraft that will get them there. Ranging from the microlight to the sophisticated trainers that are equipped with similar avionics as the latest fighters, there was plenty to see.
USAF 75th Anniversary
The main theme of RIAT 2022 was the United States Air Force (USAF) 75th Anniversary. Formed after separating from the United States Army under the National Security Act became law on July 26th 1947. This created the Department of Air Force, which in turn established the USAF. Its first Chief of Staff was General Carl A. Spaatz. Due to operational requirements, as for example, the war in Ukraine and unrest in other parts of the globe, the USAF is heavily committed at the moment, so the number of aircraft that could attend curtailed slightly before show dates, but the line-up was still impressive. A debut from the Boeing KC-46A Pegasus, the aircraft now fulfilling needs previously filled by McDonnell Douglas KC-10A Extender and Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker in-flight refuellers, was welcome. But the real scoop for RIAT this year was the Boeing E-4B, nicknamed ‘Nightwatch’. The E-4B is an Advanced Airborne Command Post, of which four in service with the 1st ACCS, and it is thought that this is the first time this aircraft has attended an airshow outside the USA. RAF Fairford is of course an active USAF air base when RIAT is not in attendance and the base supplied a Lockheed U-2S ‘Dragonlady’, another rarity outside the continental United States.
The 48th Fighter Wing is a regular at tattoo and this year had the chance to show off a Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II currently re-equipping the newly re-formed 495th Fighter Squadron at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk. It was good to see ‘The Valkyries’ back at Fairford whose last appearance would have been when the unit flew General Dynamics F-111F Aardvarks over 30 years ago. USAF Special Operations was also represented by the 352nd Special Operations Wing Bell-Boeing CV-22B Osprey, of which an example flew in the air display, and a Lockheed Martin MC-130J Commando III, and both had their own special guest on Saturday when Hollywood superstar Tom Cruise paid them a visit. The more modern USAF aircraft were joined in the static park from their predecessor as RIAT also celebrated 80 years of the ‘Mighty Eighth’, the United States Army Air Force Eighth Air Force. Europe’s only airworthy Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress ‘Sally B’ shared the static line with two North American P-51D Mustangs and a single Republic P-47D Thunderbolt.
As mentioned before, the war in Ukraine hung a shadow over the show, more so because a great RIAT legend of the modern era paid the ultimate price defending his homeland. Colonol Oleksandr Oksanchenko had won the ‘As The Crow Flies’ award for best overall display in 2017 flying a Sukhoi SU-27P of the Ukrainian Air Force. Sadly killed in action above Kyiv earlier this year, Col Oksanchenko was awarded posthumously the Order of Gold Star by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The medal makes him an official Hero of Ukraine (military). In the static park a poignant memorial for the pilot which included empty chocks to show the missing aircraft was well respected by the crowds. The show also remembered Captain Jennifer Casey, a Royal Canadian Air Force photographer who had attended the show previously, who was unfortunately killed in a RCAF Canadair CT-114 of the famous Snowbirds team in May 2020.
Very much in the forefront in the news now due to the war in Ukraine is the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) of which the United Kingdom is an integral part. NATO has been keeping the peace in Europe since being formed on April 4th 1949 in Washington D.C. and in recent times has expanded to include countries in Eastern Europe and more recently, the imminent arrival of Sweden and Finland.
The Belgian Air Component General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcons have been pre-eminent at the Tattoo since being delivered in the 1980s, and a spirited performance by Captain Steven ‘Vrieske’ De Vries in the F-16AM was full of noise, reheat and manoeuvrability. One of the F-16AMs’ at RIAT won the Best Livery Trophy but due to a technical issue stayed firmly on the ground whilst ‘Vrieske’ used the backup aircraft, which was painted in a great scheme nonetheless.
Best Solo Jet Demonstration – The Paul Bowen Trophy – was won by Captain David Szenrendrei in the Hungarian Air Force Saab JAS-39C Gripen. This air arm also showed of its Mil Mi-24P ‘Hind’ attack helicopter in the flying display and in the static show. Germany sent no less than twelve aircraft from the Air Force, Navy and Army. Debut for RIAT was the Airbus A340- 313X 16+02 from FBS which was joined by an Airbus A400M, Sikorsky CH-53GS, Airbus H-145 LUH and two of each of Panavia Tornado ECR and Eurofighter EF-2000.
It was good to see a Westland Sea King mk.44A of MFG 5 as all British Sea Kings are now retired, with the Navy also sending a Lockheed P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft. The Army sent two NH-90 TTH helicopters which included one in the flying programme.
And in yet another debut the French Air Force sent over the Mustang X-Ray demo team which consisted of two Pilatus PC-21 flying a sometimes tight but all the while exciting routine in this advanced trainer built in Switzerland. Switzerland itself brought along its PC-7 team which included a formation with a Swiss Air Force McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C Hornet.
A spectacular performance from Austria was one of the displays that stopped the audience in their tracks, so it was unfortunate the display was cut short on Sunday due to a technical issue. Two Eurofighter EF2000s intercepted a C-130K Hercules and showed how the Austrian Air Force would deal with an intruder in their airspace, after which, with the Hercules safely on the ground, the EF2000s did a Air Combat Manoeuvres (ACM) performance which was incredible to witness.
Scandinavian air forces were also very much in attendance which included the Royal Danish Air Force Baby Blue display team Saab T-17 Supporter trainers, Finnish Air Force British Aerospace Hawk mk.51 aerial demonstration and Swedish Air Force Saab JAS-39C Gripens amongst the aviation assets sent from this region. Also, from Northern Europe was the debut of the Estonian Air Force PZL M-28 Skytruck, with one of the aircraft purchased from USAF stocks in the static display, and Lithuania sent a Aerospatiale AS.365N3+ Dauphin and Alenia C-27J.
To add to the European contingent the Royal Netherlands Air Force showed for perhaps the final time the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon as the fighter is quickly being replaced by the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II. The Hellenic Air Force had a welcome return of ‘Zeus’ and the F-16C block 50, and Portugal was represented by two SOCATA TB-30 Epsilon in the static. Romania returned with an Antonov An-30 ‘Clank’, the Slovakian Air Force with a C-27J and Slovenia with the Pilatus PC-9M.
Italy was keen as ever to display at the show with new and old at RIAT. The old, an AMX A-11B, for perhaps the final time, and three Alenia Aermacchi T-346A jet trainers representing the new. The famous Italian Air Force aerobatic team, Freece Tricolori, flew a faultless display in their Aermacchi AT-339As, as did the C-27J with its display showing again you don’t have to be small to do death defying aerobatics! With a FT-339A in the static and a F-200A air display the Italians are to be congratulated on their support for RIAT.
Famous for their appearance in 1991,( two MiG-29s, a MiG-23 and two L-39Cs will do that!), the Czech Republic was showing the Mi-35 ‘Hind’ for that last time before retirement, with a display alongside a Mil Mi-171 ‘Hip’. A rarer PZL W-3A Sokol (Falcon) was also shown in the air. The Polish built helicopter showing off its Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) credentials.
With Spain and its McDonnell Douglas EF-18AM flying and EF-18BM in the static and NATO itself represented by a Heavy Airlift Wing Boeing C-17A Globemaster III the European representation at RIAT cannot be beaten anywhere else on Earth.
Long Distance Visitors
The global reach of RIAT has always been what stood the show out from the rest and 2022 was no exception as aircraft flew in from all four corners of the Earth. Brazil has sent the Embraer KC-390 tanker/transport before but this was the first time for the UK to see an in service example in the form of FAB2857 from 1/1 GT. Asian countries were also represented with a welcome return of the Kawasaki C-2 from 402 Hikotai of the Japan Self-Defence Force. The aircraft, serialled 18-2125, was only recently delivered to the unit. The Republic of Korean Air Force first appeared in 2012 with the Black Eagles aerial demonstration team, and it was this team again which thrilled the spectators with their pin-point accuracy and thought out formations. Equipped with the Korean Aircraft Industries T-50B supersonic trainer, the team richly deserved the King Hussein Trophy for best overall flying demonstration.
Its not all military!
Civilian aviation is well represented at RIAT and the diversity of size was shown to full effect with the Fly Fano Team on show with microlight aircraft such as the Alpi Aviation Pioneer 200 and Airbus displaying on Saturday the outsized Airbus Beluga XL. Airbus Helicopters are bidding for the future RAF helicopter transport to replace the Puma and had a H175M on show, Pilatus was showing the latest PC-24 executive jet alongside its more familiar but updated PC-7X, and Rolls Royce had on static the ACCEL, an electric aircraft demonstrator.
Off course with a show as big as RIAT it means unfortunately some things get missed off in an article, for which the author apologises! So sorry to the Top Aces A-4, the USAAF marked Spitfire, The Royal Navy, the Royal Canadian Air Force, the amazing looking Sabre 6, the Swedish Air Force Historic Flight, and the many others which I hope you enjoy in the photographs.
Perhaps the last word should be given to Paul Atherton, the Chief Executive of the RAF Charitable Trust Enterprises, the organisers of RIAT, “I’ve been blown away by the support we have received for the long-awaited return of RIAT. Around 200,00 people have been here this weekend – visitors, volunteers, partners and all those involved in the build. I’d like to personally thank every single one of them for helping RIAT to return with such success.”