Royal International Air Tattoo
July 17-18, 2004
Fairford once again played host to 'The Royal International Air Tattoo' (RIAT). Around 168,000 people attended the Tattoo, an increase of more than five per cent on last year. The weather was poor leading up to the weekend, but a dramatic change, produced excellent weather for the remainder of the six-day event. In these troubled times security was once again very tight. Off airfield parking combined with bag searching and x-ray machines was not a major problem, especially for the 'early birds' like myself. With reconstruction work, the static was parked south side. This enabled spectators and photographers in particular, to get close to the active aircraft, as they went out and returned from their displays.
There was a moving tribute to Tattoo co-founder Paul Bowen, who died in May, when the Royal Jordanian Falcons flew a 'missing man' formation the traditional airman's farewell to departed comrades.
|Star of the show was the Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet (165917 'NE-101') from VFA-2 of the US Navy. This larger fourth generation strike fighter and uprated version of the F/A-18 Hornet, first entered service in 1999, 165 were delivered by the end of 2003. There are two versions of the Super Hornet, the single seat F/A-18E and the two-seat F model, which has provision for a Weapon System Officer (WSO). I was not the only one to be impressed, with the high-powered tight turning display, which was almost within the confines of the airfield itself. For the first time in the history of RIAT, three of the top awards went to the same competitor, the Super Hornet. At the awards ceremony, Boeing's Chief Test Pilot for the Super Hornet program, Ricardo Traven, was presented with the King Hussain Memorial Sword (best overall flying demonstration), As the Crow Flies Award (from Friends of RIAT) and FRIAT Best Livery. "This is incredible," said Ricardo Traven, a Canadian from Niagara Falls. "I demonstrate the Super Hornet in many parts of the world but Fairford is all about great crowds and great competition|
|Once again we were told that it would not be a display as such of the Typhoon T.1 (ZJ803 'AA') of 17(R) Sqn, this point is clearly important to the RAF. The RAF are putting maximum effort into training the instructor crews for both the OEU and OCU, working up hours to become fully operational. Time and resources simply are not available to be 'wasted' on perfecting a full display. If this was not a proper display, it certainly came close to it. Nobody would have been disappointed with the brief, but spectacular flying.|
|As always, if not quite at the top for breath taking high velocity flying, the French Air Force's Mirage 2000C came close to it. The sequence of images above demonstrates the powerful and wholly spectacular take-off.|
|The high humidity atmosphere in the early mornings produced some nice photo-enhancing vortices, as in seen below when the Mirage 2000C climbed steeply away from the runway.
The B-1Bs (86-0108 'DY') Friday afternoon heart warming take-off, signalled the end of the worst weather that any hardened aviation photographer could stand (above centre).
Yet more afterburner (or reheat) shots, this time from the F-15 Eagle, continuing the theme of high octane, ear shattering fast jet displays.
|F-15C (86-0147' 'LN') of 493rd / 48th FW based at Lakenheath.|
|Different variants of RAF Tornado, the ground attack GR.4 and the air superiority F.3 version. The Tornado GR.4 (ZD843 'TG') was from 15(R) Squadron from RAF Lossiemouth.|
|The Tornado F-3 (ZE812 'XR') from 56(R) Squadron based at RAF Leuchars gave a typical display, which included a zoom climb to 10,000 feet. Flt Lts Tim Freeman and Neil Crawley won the Steedman Display Sword award.|
|The Finnish Air Forces display team, the 'Midnight Hawks' flying in their Hawk Mk.51s, were making the UK debut, indeed they seldom perform outside of Finland. Their first international display was at Air Power 2000 at Zeltweg in Austria, their second event was here this weekend. They accepted RIAT's invitation, as they were keen to support the Hawks 30th anniversary. They get their name from the displays they perform in Finland at the Midnight Summer Airshow from their base, at the Finnish Air Force Academy at Kauhava. The midnight display is held in daylight of course, due to Finland's northerly location. The four Hawk display was not particularly unimpressive, their own commentator described the display as 'classical formation flying'. The problem was their turns were so wide and slow that they were well away from the airfield for much of the time. It was still nice to be given the rare opportunity to photograph these British built trainers. The 4 FTS Hawk T.1A (XX261) from RAF Valley in the special 30th Anniversary Hawk scheme unveiled in June, gave a lively solo display.|
|The Red Arrows display, with their customary nine-ship formations shows that it is possible to put on a lively display of precision flying in the Hawk. There were some new variations to their formations for the 2004 season. The imaginative formations, ranged from the 'Typhoon' (above left) with nine aircraft to a split of 4 and 5 and also pairs with crowd pleasing cross-overs. The commentary was informative and interesting, a totally impressive performance from start to finish.|
|'A Wealth of Stealth'. The US Air Force flew their stealth aircraft on both days. Firstly, the F-117A Nighthawk (83-0808 'HO') of 9th FS/49th FW, gave a full display following its emergence from its hanger on the north side and its full escort to the runway. Secondly the B-2A Spirit (93-1086 'WM') 'Spirit of Kitty Hawk' of 509th BW flew directly from its base to over-fly Fairford at 1,000 feet to return from where it came, namely Whiteman AFB in Missouri 5,000 miles away. It was escorted by 3 or 4 F-15s from RAF Lakenheath. Whilst this might impress many of the interested spectators, it did very little for the numerous photographers, who struggled to get little more than a silhouette of this mysterious plane.|
|F/A-18C Hornet (J-5011) of Fliegerstraffel 11 based at Dubendorf.|
|The F/A-18C Hornet flew with the F-5E Tiger IIs of the Patrouille Suisse before separating for a lively solo display. The Patrouille Suisse celebrates their 40th anniversary this year.|
| Ex Swiss Air Force and Patrouille Suisse Hunter F.58 (J-4021/G-HHAC) in 30th Anniversary scheme, but now operated by Hawker Hunter Aviation Ltd, performed demonstrating its ability to capture the attention of those
nostalgic enthusiasts amongst us.
Smokey landings from the USAF's long range bombers, the 44 year old B-52H (60-0042 'BD') and the sleek and more modern B-1B Lancer. Incidentally as the B-1s are starting to be retired to AMARC, it is planned that the 50 or so remaining B-52Hs will continue for many more years than the B-1s. 24 B-1s have been withdrawn to AMARC with 14 scheduled to be cannibalised to keep the rest going. One interesting spectacle was the B-52H from Barksdale AFB, demonstrating its unusual ability to steer its under carriage in such a way, that it crabbed back down the runway after landing. This feature is required for crosswind landings.
|The TBM 700 (156 'ABT') from EAAT at Rennes flew with an RAF Tucano of 1 FTS as part of a RIAT theme to mark the centenary of the signing of the historic Anglo-French 'Entente Cordiale'. Also. On the Saturday a French Mirage flew in formation with an RAF Jaguar for the same reason. The Lynx HAS.3S pair (XZ248 '638' and ZD249 '637') of the 'Black Cats' display team of 702 NAS based at RNAS Yeovilton, performed as part of RIAT's lazy lunch hour. F-16AM (J-016) of 322 Sqn Royal Netherlands Air Force in its special scheme, displayed to the usual high and entertaining standard we have come to expect from the Dutch soloist. Fouga CM-170 Magister (MT 48) of the Belgian Air Force gave an impressive display, showing that on take off it could hold a height of just a few feet, for the entire length of the runway.|
|MC-130P Combat Shadow (69-5825) simulating air to air refuelling with MH-53M Pave Low IV (67-14994) of the 352nd SOG based at RAF Mildenhall. Harrier GR.7 (ZD407) in special scheme of 20(R) Squadron based at RAF Wittering. The Jaguar GR.3A (XZ392) of 16(R) Sqn from RAF Coltishall following a lively take-off, returned for a 690 mph pass at just 100 feet.|
Photography Note: I was using a Canon 10D with a Canon 100-400mm L IS lens. Situated at the mid-point of the runway, I was in an ideal position for all the fast jet take-offs and for the displays themselves. Fairford has an East-West runway and the crowd line in being on the South side is perfect with the sun behind you throughout the day. I set the camera with an ISO setting of 200 and for jets an aperture of around f.8. For props the setting is changed to no more than 1/350th. The notable exceptions to the settings described were made for the display team crossovers. The Red Arrow crossover in particular, the ISO setting was changed to ISO 800 which gave a speed of 1/4000th. This was quick enough to freeze the action in both directions. The skill or luck requires you to watch the aircraft coming in from both directions simultaneously, and firing off a few frames when they get close.