NARRATIVE & IMAGES BY MARK ROURKE, KEVIN SKILTON AND MANOLO ACOSTA ZAPATA
ROYAL INTERNATIONAL AIR TATTOO 2019
The quiet countryside of Gloucestershire was reverberating with the sound of jet noise in July, as the annual Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) got underway in spectacular style at RAF Fairford for the biggest military airshow in the world. 245 aircraft from 39 air arms representing 25 nations made sure that RIAT retains its place as the aviation event to be seen at, with cold war classics sharing the sky with the latest in military hardware, World War Two veterans and even the Queen of the skies, the Boeing 747 ‘Jumbo Jet,’ casting their shadows over the glorious landscape of the Cotswolds.
RIAT took place over three days. Friday 19th July through to Sunday 21st July, though the days preceding saw all the arriving aircraft for the static display and air display, plus practice/rehearsals for the participating air displays, and off course the mass exodus and spectacular take offs of the departing aircraft on Monday.
The main theme for RIAT 2019 was Air and Space, with a remit to inspire youngsters into the aviation and space industry, in what RIAT calls the Next Generation Air Force. Over the three days 170,000 people visited RAF Fairford to witness the startling array of different activities taking place at the show, which included British astronaut Major Tim Peake. Major Peake spent a lot of his time in the Techno Zone at RIAT, where he told RIAT, “It was satisfying to see the wonderful impact that the Techno Zone is having promoting STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) and inspiring youngsters”
Another theme at this year’s event was the 70th anniversary of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Credited with keeping relative peace in Europe since its inception in 1949, NATO now has twenty nine members from an original number of twelve. The milestone was celebrated with a flypast which included a formation of four General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcons from Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands and Norway. A French Air Force Boeing C-135FR Stratolifter of Grupe de ravitaillement en vol 2/91 (GRV 02.091) flew all the all way from its home base of Istres in the south of France to take part. Other aircraft involved included Eurofighter Typhoons from the Royal Air Force (RAF) and McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagles from the 48th Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath.
A RIAT spokesman said of the formation, “What a sight to see so many nations coming together to mark the anniversary of such an integral alliance. Not only is it an opportunity for us to pay tribute, it also creates opportunities to further strengthen and create relationships through airpower.”
With so many aircraft taking part in RIAT 2019, what were the highlights? For many it was two icons from the recent past, still flying with their respective air arms. After the retirement of the British Aerospace Harrier from the Royal Air Force and Fleet Air Arm in 2011, many people wondered if they would ever hear the noise of its Rolls Royce Pegasus engine over the United Kingdom again. Luckily this fantastic aircraft is still in service with the Italian Navy and United States Marine Corps, as well as the Spanish Navy which bought over two of its McDonnell Douglas/BAe EAV-8B+ Harrier IIs for the air display. One of the pilots, Navy Commander ‘Moro’, flew his last ever sortie on the Sunday at RIAT. After the obligatory water cannon arc salute as he taxied in, Moro, who has flown 2,200 hours in the Harrier, said, “ I am very happy to have my last flight here, not many pilots get to have their last flight at an airshow”. The other aircraft greatly appreciated by many at RAF Fairford is in service with the Romanian Air Force, the venerable Mikoyan Guervich MiG-21. Two LanceR versions appeared at RIAT, one in the static and one doing a very spirited air display.
The public were also able to view for the first time all seven training aircraft used by the UK’s Military Flying Training System operated by the Ascent Flying Training consortium.
Manufacturers were evident in the static park, including debuts from Embraer with the Super Tucano and Northrop Grumman with an optionally manned surveillance aircraft called the Firebird.
A rundown of the aircraft appearing at RIAT 2019 would be impossible without writing a book instead of an article! So here are some snippets of what can be seen from the 25 nations taking part.
Being in the United Kingdom means RIAT will always attract a strong British presence at the show. The RAF contingent included the Shorts Tucano T.1, which with imminent retirement could be the last chance for the public to witness the fine display of this training aircraft. The latest combat aircraft in the RAF, the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II, did three fly-bys in various flight modes, the 617 Squadron jet flying direct from its home base of RAF Marham in Norfolk. The Red Arrows and their nine British Aerospace Hawk jet trainers took centre stage three times during the display, flying with the French Air Force Patroiulle de France Dassault Alpha Jet Es in a Concorde tribute, with a British Airways Boeing 747-436 in BOAC colours in another flypast, as well as their own dynamic display. And of course the ever impressive Eurofighter Typhoon wowed the audience on each show day.
The Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm, Army Air Corps(AAC) and QinetiQ all had a presence in the static park, as did HM Coastguard with three aircraft. The AAC also had the explosive return of their Westland WAH-64D Apache AH.1 with suitable pyrotechnics in the air display.
From Europe we had the Belgian Air Force taking part in the static and flying display and specially painted F-16s from the Royal Danish Air Force and Royal Norwegian Air Force shining in the static show. France sent aircraft from the Air Force, Army and Navy showing a strong commitment to the tattoo. German and Italian Panavia Tornado aircraft were present, a welcome after the recent retirement of this aircraft from the RAF.
From Greece, the Hellenic Air Force showed off the Beechcraft T-6A Texan II with the ‘Deadulus’ team and their special marked aircraft. Lithuania was one of several aircraft showing its Alenia C-27J Spartan transport in the static, this versatile airlifter having examples on show also from Slovakia and Italy, as well as Romania.
Finland and Switzerland supplied for the air demonstrations the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C Hornet, which both performed exceptionally well and impressively.
Last but no means least were two McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II ‘Terminators’ from 111 FILO, Turkish Air Force, which grabbed a lot of attention in the static park.
From outside Europe the show is supported strongly as well, Canada bringing a Lockheed Martin CC-130J Hercules and Lockheed CP-140 Aurora maritime patrol aircraft. Jordan and Qatar represented the Middle East, the latter with the remarkable paint job done to one of their Boeing C-17A Globemaster III transports. Another paint job exceeding expectations, and done just for RIAT, was from a Pakistan Air Force Lockheed C-130B Hercules from 6 Squadron.
As usual the United States Air Force supported RIAT to a large degree, as well as supplying RIAT RAF Fairford itself, no less than 13 USAF assets took part, including the huge Boeing B-52H Stratofortress from the 2nd Bomb Wing and Boeing CV-22B Osprey tilt-rotor special forces aircraft from the 21st Special Operations Squadron at RAF Mildenhall. The United States Navy sent a Boeing P-8A from VP-9 at NAS Jacksonville, though next year could see the debut from an RAF example as they come into service with the British air arm.
RIAT sent out on its website on July 22nd the winners of the various trophies and awards and the article is repeated here;
A memorable three-day Royal International Air Tattoo 2019 concluded with the traditional Sunday night prizegiving, during which trophies were presented to several of the show’s top displays.
The Paul Bowen Trophy for the best solo jet display – named in honour of the late Paul Bowen, co-founder of the Air Tattoo – went to Lt Col Yurii Bulavka, pilot of the Sukhoi Su-27P1M from the 831st Guards Tactical Aviation Brigade of the Ukrainian Air Force. “I will say only one thing”, commented Bulavka. “Thank you for your attention, wonderful Air Tattoo. See you next time!”
The Italian Air Force’s Frecce Tricolori aerobatic team of 10 Aermacchi AT-339A jet trainers, regulars at the Air Tattoo, scooped the RAFCTE Trophy, awarded to the best flying demonstration by an overseas participant. Team leader Maj Stefano Vit said, “It is really a great honour for me and for all the team, because it’s a special trophy. The Air Tattoo is the biggest airshow in Europe, and winning this trophy is a big reward. It’s nice to leave an occasion like this.”
Following a triumphant event, including flypasts with the British Overseas Airways Corporation-schemed Boeing 747-436 of British Airways as part of the BA100 events and the French Air Force’s Patrouille de France team as a salute to the 50th anniversary of Concorde’s first flight, the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows, won the Steedman Display Sword for best display by a UK participant. Team manager Sqn Ldr Doug Smith commented, “This is absolutely fantastic. We adore coming to RIAT every year – it’s a tremendously well-run airshow – and to come away with the trophy for best display from the UK is stunning. To do the flypasts with the 747 in BOAC livery and the ‘double Concorde’ formation was really, really good.”
The evening’s double winner was Capt Arto Ukskoski, who flew the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C Hornet from Fighter Squadron 11 of the Finnish Air Force. He took home the Sir Douglas Bader Trophy for best individual flying demonstration and and the As The Crow Flies Trophy for best display as judged by the enthusiast members of Friends of RIAT. “I am quite surprised”, said Ukskoski, “because there are so many good aircraft and so many good pilots. It’s amazing, especially for the Finnish Air Force because we don’t do so many airshows internationally every year.”
One of the most regular performers at recent Air Tattoos, Swedish Air Force Saab JAS 39C Gripen pilot Maj Peter Fallén from F 7 wing of the Swedish Air Force, received the King Hussein Memorial Sword for best overall flying demonstration. An emotional Fallén said, “This means so much to me. I’m almost in tears now, because RIAT has been a big part of my career as a display pilot. I’ve been flying here for six years, and it’s been the main event every year. I’m so grateful.”
The RIAT Chief Executive Trophy, presented by outgoing Air Tattoo CEO Andy Armstrong, went to the Spanish Navy’s EAV-8B Harrier II+ duo. Mr Armstrong referred particularly to the initiative shown by the squadron’s commanding officer following a brake fire suffered by one of the two aircraft on arrival, which led to repairs being affected and participation in the weekend displays.
Finally, the trophy for best livery was presented to the Eurofighter EF2000 operated by Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 71 ‘Richthofen’ of the German Air Force, stationed at Wittmund.
Much has been said over the years about RIAT, which has been a victim of its success in some ways. Budget cuts and force reductions globally are not the fault of RIAT, and congratulations have to be said to the organisers who continue to bring annually a diverse and eclectic display for the public. For a few years now, RIAT has been more open about its processes in bringing as much international participation as possible to RAF Fairford, and cannot be blamed for no shows, cancellations and aircraft unserviceability. RIAT cannot also control the weather, so what we get over the three day extravaganza is no doubt the best that can be achieved, and should be supported by all enthusiasts as well as the general public. Costs have to be taken in context, this is a charity based show, not put on by the military as you get in Europe at tax payers expense, and the early bird scheme, children tickets free and others are a welcome chance to get a value for money experience.
Alas, with a bit of hindsight, could there have been improvements to RIAT 2019? Photographers do complain of having no neutral backgrounds for the static aircraft at RIAT. With the layout it’s easy to see why this is so hard to achieve. With such a long display line, and the needs of different members of society visiting the Tattoo, this will be next to impossible. You need the bus route behind the line, and the techno zone and others are now an integral part of the show. But are there spaces available to put some of the more exotic aircraft on pans which have a neutral background such as at the southern loop side of the airfield? And was the Big Wheel at this show ideally placed?
The support aircraft visiting RIAT are obviously there to do a job, as are the VIP aircraft, and have to be parked accordingly to their role. But could a VIP area be set up on the public side so these aircraft are close enough to be photographed? And as said, the aircraft supporting the show are parked where they are needed if they stay, but it must have crossed a few minds that the brand new Lockheed C-130J of the French Air Force and Turkish Air Force KC-135R were mocking them being just out of reach of a nice picture!
But these points aside, RIAT has done it again, another great show, roll on 2020!