Royal International Air Tattoo 2016

The Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) was held at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire between Friday 8th July and Sunday 10th July 2016. It combines an intense and thrilling flying display that lasts in excess of 7 hours, with a varied static park to showcase the visiting aircraft not only from NATO forces in Europe, but from the air arms of the shows global partners.

As well as the aircraft, the showground boasts military ground displays, entertainment sections, and opportunities to eat, drink and shop. Before we go into the nitty gritty of the amazing show at Fairford here are some facts on the base itself.

RAF Fairford is a NATO funded station that has no assigned flying units. It is designated as a stand-by airfield and is therefore not in everyday use. Used by the United States Air Force as a forward operating location it is the only base in Europe that supports the heavy bombers, and has seen deployments of the Boeing B52H Stratofortress and the Northrop B2A Spirit in the recent past. It also acts as a staging post for the Lockheed U2S of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing on their way to undertaking missions in the various hot spots of the world.

During the period of the US space shuttle launches RAF Fairford was the only TransOceanic Abort Landing Site, and as such it had NASA trained fire and rescue crews stationed on the airfield. With a runway of 3,046m (9,993ft) that has an unrestricted load bearing capability it can support any aircraft, with any type of payload.

The Show
RIAT is staged by the Royal Air Force Charitable trust that supports a wide range of projects and initiatives that benefit not only serving RAF regulars and reserves, but also the Air Cadets and RAF veterans. The Air Tattoo is the largest and most visible project that they undertake each year. The theme of the 2016 show was “The Next Generation: Inspiring Innovation” and included celebrations to mark the 75th anniversary of the Air Cadet organisation. Aircraft start to arrive at Fairford during the week leading up to the show, and will include the participating aircraft as well as the support units bringing the engineering equipment and ground crews. While some of these aircraft will stay and be displayed in the static park others will leave and return in the days following the show to transport the crews and kit back home.

The 2016 air show had many highlights and none more so than the display given by the Ramex Delta Team from France’s Armee de l’air (AdlA). Flying as a pair with the Dassault Mirage 2000N nuclear strike aircraft they received the RAFCTE trophy for the best flying demonstration by an overseas participant. Ramex Delta has been a favourite display at air shows since it took over the tactical demonstration for the AdlA in 2011. The display symbolises fighter patrol formations, tactical manoeuvres, and attack profiles used by the crews in both the nuclear deterrence and ground attack roles. The sleek profile of the Mirage combined with some very fast passes in tight formation make this an exhilarating display, sadly 2016 is the final year for Ramex Delta, and RIAT was there last ever public appearance. The accolade they received is a fitting tribute for the last 5-years of display flying.

US 5th Generation Participation
Following on from the abortive attempt to bring the Lockheed Martin F35 Lightning II to RIAT in 2014, no less than 6 examples graced this year’s show. The United States Marine Corps (USMC) and Royal Air Force demonstrated the F35B short take off/vertical landing (STOVL) variants from the Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 (VMFAT-501) based at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. There were 2 aircraft in the markings of the USMC, and one giving Europe its first look at an RAF example of this innovative 5th generation stealth fighter aircraft.

The USAF also gave us the Lightning II with the F35A from the 56th Fighter Wing/61st Fighter Squadron based at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. A vision of the future of US Air Power was the display of the F35A with the Lockheed Martin F22A Raptor from the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, giving the opportunity to contrast and compare the latest aircraft technology available to NATO and US forces worldwide.

Display Teams
RIAT is not all about fighter aircraft, with participation from precision flying demonstrations from display teams across Europe. Appearing in this year’s display were the Pilatus PC9M of the Krila Oluje of the Croatian Air Force, Aermacchi AT339A the mount of the Frecce Tricolori from Italy, Team Orlik from Poland with the PZL-130TC-2 Turbo Orlik, The Northrop F5E Tiger II from the Patrouille Suisse, The Royal Jordanian Falcons flying the Extra EA300L, and of course the RAF’s own Red Arrows with the Bae Hawk T1.

Static Park
The static display gave visitors the chance to look at aircraft that provide global support for anti-submarine operations, mission deployment and for transport and humanitarian aid. In the anti-submarine and anti-shipping role the German Navy brought the Lockheed P3C Orion from MFG 3, The Irish Air Corps showed the CASA CN235-100MPA from 101 Squadron, A Lockheed CP140M Aurora from the Royal Canadian Air Force’s 415 Squadron, and the United States Navy with the Boeing P8A Poseidon from VP-30. The P8A is the latest military version based on the Boeing 737 airliner family and has been purchased by the United Kingdom to fill the gap since the retirement of the Nimrod MR2 Maritime Surveillance platform. Support for fighter operations in the tanker role was also demonstrated with the following on display, an Airbus Voyager KC3 of 10 Squadron Royal Air Force, A Boeing KC767J from the Japanese Air Self Defence Force 404 Hikotai, The Royal Australian Air Force’s 33 Squadron brought an Airbus KC30A, and last but not least the venerable Boeing KC135R Stratotanker from the USAF 100th ARW/351st ARS that arrived from its base at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk.

Transport Bonanza
Global transport was also on view with 3 examples of the striking Airbus A400 military transport aircraft. The Royal Air Force displayed the Atlas C1 from 70 Squadron, the German Air Force had the A400M from LTG 62, while Airbus Industries flew there demonstrator aircraft in a display that would not have been out of place for a much smaller aircraft. Other transport visitors included the German Transall C160D, and the Lockheed C130 Hercules with examples from the Belgian Air Component (C130H), Royal Jordanian Air Force (C130H) Royal Air Force (C130J C5), and Pakistan Air Force (C130E). Also on display were Airbus C295M’s from the Polish Air Force, and the Royal Air Force of Oman, and a Boeing 757-22QC from the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s 40 Squadron.

Industry participation
Every other year RIAT coincides with the Farnborough International Air Show, and while there is a public display element to this event it is primarily a trade show to demonstrate the latest in aviation and space technology. The plus for visitors to RIAT is that they will see demonstrations from aircraft that are due to be showcased at Farnborough. I have already noted the Airbus A400M and Boeing P8A Poseidon but Industry also provided the SAAB JAS39C Gripen from Sweden, A Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 from Bae Systems that displayed in a fully armed configuration, and a Boeing F/A18F Super Hornet in the markings of the United States Navy.

Aircraft art was shown with some innovative designs on view in the static park and flying display, celebrating the rich history of squadron and air arm conflicts and actions over the last 100-years, as well as the special markings applied to the display aircraft. Let us hope that this is a trend that continues long into the future. RIAT also had a large number of civilian, ex-service and warbird participants to showcase the development of aviation from the Bristol Scout C from the 1914-1918 Great War, through World War II and onto the training aircraft that were common in the United Kingdom in the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s. Special mention should go to the DHC Chipmunk T10, first flown in 1946 it has served with Air Forces around the world to provide basic flying training for pilots as well as air experience flights for Air Cadets. There were 6 military marked aircraft to see as well as a civilian example of a modified Mark 1a, which is the oldest example of the type still flying. It is an aircraft that has stood the test of time with the last examples in military service still flying with the Royal Air Force to provide training and flying hours for the pilots of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, and the Royal Navy’s Historic Flight.

Another key element to the training theme were aircraft and gliders that showed the evolution of Air Cadet flying. 621 VGS (Volunteer Glider Squadron) had on display gliders that they had operated since there formation as 87 GS (Glider Squadron) in 1943. The aircraft were the Slingsby Grasshopper TX1, Slingsby Sedbergh TX1, Slingsby Cadet T3, and Slingsby Venture T2. They brought the display right up to date with their current glider the Grob Viking T1.

As RIAT 2016 came to a close the excitement has already started to build towards the 2017 event that will be held again at RAF Fairford from the 14-16 July2017. Celebrating the 70th Anniversary of the Unites States Air Force this will definitely be one for every enthusiast’s calendar.