Royal International Air Tattoo 2018

The Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) celebrating 100 years of the formation of the Royal Air Force (RAF) was held at RAF Fairford over 3-days from the 13th-15th July 2018, with a scheduled full flying display on each day, which for the first time included the Friday as a public day. The week leading up to the display days brought the participants, their aircraft and support to the Gloucestershire Air Base as the air and ground crews prepared themselves for the static and flying displays.

The RAF 100 theme was evident in the ground displays, the aircraft static park and also in the flying display that was set to celebrate some of the aircraft types flown by the RAF since its inception on the 1st April 1918. The RAF was formed when the air arms of the Royal Navy – The Royal Navy Air Service (RNAS) and the Army – The Royal Flying Corps (RFC), were absorbed into the new separate service.

In November 1918 as World War One (WW1) came to an end the RAF possessed 200 operational Squadrons, with a similar number of training ones and it total operated 22,647 aircraft. Some examples of aircraft from that era were evident at the show with replicas of the Royal Aircraft Factory BE2c and Sopwith Camel in the static park and with a flying display from the Bremont Great War Display Team that included not only a BE2c, but also another type from the Royal Aircraft Factory Company with 3-examples of the SE5a. To add realism to the flying display the aircraft are engaged in “combat” with WW1 German replica examples of the Fokker Dr1 Triplane and the Junkers CL1.

The RAF shrunk during the period between the end of the Great War and the start of World War Two (WW2), to the point where in September 1939 the first line strength of the RAF had fallen to around 2000 operational aircraft. There are not many aircraft from the inter war years outside of museums but the static park had an example of 2 types of training aircraft that were from that period. The AVRO 621 Tutor was introduced into service in 1933 as an initial pilot trainer and continued in that role until 1941, the RAF ordered a total of 381 of the type that served with the RAF College at Cranwell, the Central Flying School (CFS) and with 2, 3, 4 & 5 Flying Training Schools (FTS). The de Havilland DH.82 Tiger Moth was from the same period entering service a year earlier in 1932 and by 1939 the RAF had around 500 in service. The need for pilots was so great during the war years that aircraft operated by civilian flying clubs were also “conscripted” into the RAF both in the United Kingdom and in the Commonwealth FTS’s in Canada and Australia.

WW2 was the RAF’s coming of age in terms of its combat capability and it saw action in all theatres of the conflict. The RAF Battle of Britain Flight based at RAF Coningsby operates the Supermarine Spitfire, Hawker Hurricane, AVRO Lancaster and Douglas Dakota to celebrate and remember the operations and sacrifice from that conflict. At the end of WW2 the RAF again shrunk in size and with the coming of the Cold War formed an integral part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) with bases in the United Kingdom and overseas, principally as part of the 2nd Allied Tactical Air Force (ATAF) in what was then West Germany.

Examples from the cold war period came in the form of cockpits from the Boscombe Down Aviation Collection’s Supermarine Swift F7, and Hawker Hunter F6, as well as a number of full airframes that have been preserved in flying condition in private ownership. Aircraft included the Auster V, British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) Jet Provost T3 & T5, de Havilland Chipmunk T10, Folland Gnat T1, Percival Pembroke C1, Scottish Aviation Bulldog T1, Bristol Sycamore HR52 ( a formed West German Air Force example in RAF colours) , and a Westland Whirlwind HAR10. There were also aircraft that have spanned the transition from the Cold War into the current era with examples of the Airbus Puma HC2, British Aerospace (BAe) Hawk T1 and Panavia Tornado GR4.

The Tornado is coming to the end of its operational life with the RAF having been the backbone of the strike force following its introduction in 1979. It has served in all the conflicts that the RAF has been called upon to participate in, having been deployed for both Gulf Wars with Iraq, the policing operation in the former Yugoslavia over Kosovo, the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan, and war against Daesh in Iraq where it has been forward deployed with the Eurofighter Typhoon at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus. The UK government has announced that 2 further Typhoon squadrons are to be formed using aircraft that were scheduled for disposal; this has prolonged the service life of 12 Squadron  which has already relinquished its Tornado’s and 9 Squadron that will continue until 2019.

The final RAF Squadron to convert will be 31 Squadron which will reactivate in the future operating the Gereral Atomics (GA) MQ-9B. The MQ-9B is an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and will become the Protector in RAF service, it will be the first of the family to comply with National and International Airspace & Safety Regulations and this will allow flight within normal airspace.

An example of the MQ-9C variant was flown by GA from the USA to RAF Fairford for RIAT where it was seen in the “Gold Star” markings of 31 Squadron in the static display area. The mainstay of the RAF attack force is now the Typhoon, the single seat FGR4, and 2-seat T3 now equip 5 front line squadrons (1, 2, 3, 6 & 11), an Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) (29) and a Test & Evaluation Squadron (TES)(41).

The RAF has been upgrading its training and transport capability with the introduction of the Airbus Voyager KC2/KC3 in the tanker/transport role and the Airbus Atlas C1 for Strategic/Tactical transport. All transport aircraft are based at RAF Brize Norton where the Lockheed Martin Hercules C5 forms the 3rd element of Transport operations. The Hercules C5 is based on the C130J model and is the only mark of the type that remains in service.

Helicopter training is now undertaken by 2 further Airbus types, the Juno HT1 and Jupiter HT1 that have replaced the Squirrel and Griffin at RAF Shawbury. Today the UK Air Arms are more integrated that they have ever been with the crossover of operations a necessity of the modern combat and humanitarian requirement. The Juno and Jupiter are used to train pilots for all 3-services before they progress to their own operational aircraft.

Latest fixed wing training aircraft are the Embraer Phenom 100 from 45 Squadron and the Grob Prefect T1 from 3 FTS, the final upgrade in the training role will be the impending replacement of the Shorts Tucano T1 with the Beechcraft T6 Texan II which will be used to prepare pilots for advanced training on the BAe Hawk T2, currently operated by 4 Squadron at RAF Valley.

The latest combat aircraft to enter service is the Lockheed Martin F35B Lightning II, delivered to RAF Marham only a few weeks before RIAT it initially forms the famous Dambuster Squadron – 617, and will also be the mount of 809 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) in a joint RAF/RN force that will operate from the 2 new Aircraft Carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.

As part of the RAF 100 celebrations a Royal Review took place on the Tuesday before RIAT where 100 aircraft flew in timed formations across London and over Buckingham Palace. This was scheduled to be repeated with 50 aircraft on the Friday display day including 22 Typhoon aircraft in a 100 formation, after a long period of fine weather this was the day that it changed and unfortunately the fly-past along with some of the flying displays were cancelled as Thunderstorms made their way across Southern England. The weather did not detract from an excellent flying programme that was completed in full on both the Saturday and Sunday, however the RAF element was reduced to include the fast jets of the Typhoon, Lightning II and Tornado on the final 2-days.

The Air Arms of Europe were well represented as always and the General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin F16 Fighting Falcon was the main combat type with F16AM’s from the Belgian Air Component, Royal Danish Air Force, Royal Netherlands Air Force, Royal Norwegian Air Force; F16C’s from the Hellenic and Turkish Air Forces; and F16CM from the Polish Air Force.

Another Cold War legacy type on display was the McDonnel Douglas Hornet, the F/A18C was displayed by the Finnish and Swiss Air Forces while the CF188 from the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) formed part of a 4 type exhibit that also saw the Bell CH146 Griffon, Boeing CC177 Globemaster III, and Lockheed Martin C130J-30 Hercules in the static arena.
It has become a RIAT tradition that France would provide a dynamic flying display and again this year the Armee de l’Air (AdlA) and the Aeronavale did not disappoint with excellent routines from the AdlA Couteau Delta team flying the Dassault Mirage 2000D, the Rafale B/C and the Aeronavale Rafale M.

Regular features of the Tattoo are the aerobatic display teams and this year it was the Royal Jordanian Falcons with their new Extra EA330LX, Frecce Tricolori with Italy’s Aermacchi AT339A, the Spanish Air Force Patrulla Aguila in the CASA C101EB Aviojet, the Swiss Air Forces PC7 team using the upgraded Pilatus NCPC7, and of course the RAF Red Arrows in the BAe Hawk T1. The United States Air Force (USAF) always supports the tattoo with static displays from the US and its bases in the UK. RAF Mildenhall provided a Boeing KC135R Stratotanker from the 351st Air Refueling Squadron (ARS), Lockheed Martin MC130J Commando II from the 67th Special Operations Squadron (SOS), and a Bell-Boeing CV22B Osprey from the 7th SOS all of these types are due to move to mainland Europe when the planned closure of Mildenhall happens during the next decade. The 48th Fighter Wing (FW) at RAF Lakenheath added the McDonnell Douglas Eagle with the F15E from the 492nd Fighter Squadron (FS) and an F15C from the 493rd FS completing the lineup.

From the US we had the Boeing C17A Globemaster III, Lockheed HC130N Combat King, McDonnell Douglas KC10A Extender, Sikorsky HH60G Pave Hawk and Rockwell B1B Lancer. In the flying display the USAF heritage flight paired the Lockheed Martin F35A Lightning II from the 56th FW with a WW2 vintage North American P51D Mustang, the F35A also displaying a solo high energy routine. For the Saturday visitors the Northrop Grumman B2 Spirit carried out a fly-past having flown the Atlantic from its base at Whiteman Air Force Base (AFB) in Missouri. Air Flight Refueling was carried out allowing a return trip to Whiteman after the pass.

At the beginning of the planning for the Tattoo the organizing team request the attendance from Air Arms from all over the world and this year more than 25 nations attended, the furthest to travel was the Air Self Defence Force from Japan with a Kawasaki C2 transport, and the Royal Australian Air Force with a Boeing E7A Wedgetail. The E7A was delayed en route arriving on the Saturday evening; RIAT being a stopover for a working deployment based at RAF Waddington with the ISTAR aircraft that are based there

Visiting again was the Air Force of Ukraine that displayed the Sukhoi SU27PM that carries the NATO code name of Flanker, a 2-seat example SU27UBM appeared in the static with their transport/tanker support of the Ilyushin IL76MD, NATO code name Candid. The other design from the former Soviet Union design bureaus was Antonov An 2, NATO code name Colt, from Estonia.

As usual this was a premier aviation event and as the sun set on the aircraft on Sunday evening preparations were already underway for 2019. Celebrating 70 years of NATO the airshow returns between the 19th and 21st July at RAF Fairford.