Royal International Air Tattoo
July 18-19, 2009
|Philip Stevens reports: This year more than any other, it was important for the RIAT organisers to put on a successful show. Last year’s event ended in huge disappointment, when the effects of poor weather could not be overcome and the weekend shows had to be cancelled for the first time in its 38 year history. Rain during the week had made the car parks unusable around the air base, resulting in a £4 million insurance payout with full refunds to all ticket buyers and traders.
Taking no chances this year £200,000 was invested in improving the infrastructure of Fairford, including on-base parking, to ensure the event could survive the weather. Indeed Saturday and particularly Sunday was again not free of rain, but as is often written, the weather did not dampen the enthusiasm of the spectators.
I am pleased to say Air Tattoo Chief Executive Tim Price and his team was once again able to pull off a world class air show with a first ever sell-out crowd of over 160,000, that surely would have enjoyed of every minute of the action packed weekend. RIAT 2009 was flying display that included the Vulcan Operating Company’s Avro Vulcan B2 (XH558/G-VLCN) which many would have paid the entrance fee alone, having missed the opportunity last year for a RIAT debut. 269 aircraft attended this year’s show from 33 air arms and 22 countries, including Algeria for the first time, and so living up to its billing as the largest military air show in the world. In these troubled times there are considerable demands on many nation’s forces, none the least for the United Kingdom The Royal Air Force were under represented when comparing their participation with previous years.
The Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm celebrating 100 years of Naval Aviation more than made up the numbers and were rewarded by the RIAT judges with the top prize, the King Hussein Memorial Sword for the Best Overall Flying Demonstration. The highlight of their display was the Royal Navy Balbo, a formation of almost 20 helicopters including Merlins, Lynx, Sea Kings and DHFS Squirrels. A fixed wing contingent consisted of Hawks in special ‘1909-2009 Fly Navy 100’ and ‘100 Years of Naval Aviation’ markings and Jetstreams from RNAS Culdrose with Naval Strike Wing (NSW) Harriers from Cottesmore. Also commended were the Royal Navy helicopter display team the ‘Black Cats’ with their synchronised flying of a pair of Westland Lynx.
A second theme was NATO’s 60th anniversary, but that was only marked with a static appearance of an E-3A Sentry from Geilenkirchen in Germany. A third theme for this year was ‘Sea Search’ and was better represented with a good range Search and Rescue (SAR) helicopters and other maritime and coastguard agencies aircraft. The prototype Nimrod MRA.4 making only its second appearance at RIAT fitted very nicely into this theme and this year displayed with an RAF crew. Sadly some of the more interesting aircraft such as the Brazilian Air Force CASA C-105A was on show in the static area only.
Another display highlight was the French Air Force Dassault Rafale B which was making its first appearance at RIAT, replacing the Mirage 2000 as the main representative of the Armee de l’Air. The Rafale solo display piloted by Capt Cedric Ruet deservedly won the Sir Douglas Bader Trophy for the best individual flying display.
A selection of formation display teams were performing during the weekend. The Red Arrows and Frecce Tricolori were joined by the Breitling Jet Team, with seven L-39 Albatross for the first time, in competing to impress the spectators with their coloured smoke enhanced formation aerobatics. The Frecce never cease to amaze me with the close proximity of their formation take-offs and tight manoeuvres. The Swiss Air Force as usual supported the show with fast jet action from an F/A-18C Hornet which initially combined with the nine strong formation of the Swiss PC-7 Display Team. The Swiss Hornet picked up the Paul Bowen Trophy for the best jet demonstration.
Complimenting the Rafale’s, Hornet’s and RAF Typhoon’s solo were individual flying demonstrations by a Saab JAS-39C Gripen from the Swedish and Hungarian Air Force. The Hungarian Gripen was appearing for the first time at RIAT. These jets are frequently in competition with each other around the world for sales, this was a good opportunity to see them in competition for the shows prizes. It’s a pity that the F-22A Raptor could not show off its supreme capabilities this year after attending for the first time at the aborted show last year.
Over a number of years the Italian Air Forces Test Squadron (RSV) from Pratica de Mare threw the G-222 around the Fairford skies, this year they were flying for the first time the equally agile Alenia C-27J Spartan.
The weather may have been changeable throughout the weekend, as the rain showers came and went. The light at certain times was extraordinary, lending itself to some spectacularly contrasting photographs, combining grey painted aircraft and bright grey clouds with some colourful aircraft markings. The RAF solo Hawk with its striking Union Jack tail paint scheme when it took off just after a rain shower on the Sunday produced some wonderful images. Sunday’s heavy showers did not spoil the show, the spray produced by the departing Barksdale B-52H Stratofortress on its way to display at Vigo Air Show in Spain was one of the day’s highlights, even though many were shooting from under their umbrella’s at the time. The display of the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s Boeing 757-200 demonstrated an agility seldom seen by an airliner. The grey rain shower laden skies combined with the extraordinary light during Sunday’s display for more stunning images.
RIAT remains the premier air show of the year a billing which is difficult to live up to each year. The organisers will already be looking for themes and anniversaries to commemorate in 2010. A date for the diary for next year’s RIAT is July 17-18. Look out for the early bird ticket offers in January 2010, if it is like this year, tickets could be sold out well before the gates open. Visit the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) website.
It was flown by 2009 solo Hawk display pilot Flt Lt Matt Barker of 208(R) squadron based at RAF Valley.
|The Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm celebrate 100 years of naval aviation to steal the show.
|Left to right: Sea King HC.4+ (ZD625 'P') of 846 Naval Air Squadron (NAS), Sea King HC.4 (ZF115 'R') of 848 NAS, Lynx HMA.3S (XZ727 '635' and XZ690 '301') of 702 NAS and Sea King HC.4 (ZD476 'WZ') of 848 NAS.|
|Left to right: Merlin HM.1 (ZH861 '84') 'Gawaine' of 824 NAS, Sea King HU.5SAR (ZA137 '20') of 771 NAS, Lynx HMA. 8 (XZ690 '301') of 815 NAS and Hawk T.1 pair (XX157 and XX337) of FRADU.|
|Left to right: Looking east and west from the centre of the static display.
|The Fast Jet Solo Displays|
|Left to right: The Saab JAS-39C Gripen (30) of 1 Vadaszrepulo Szazad Hungarian Air Force and Saab JAS-39A Gripen (39204 '204') of F 7 Swedish Air Force.|
|Left to right: Typhoon FGR.4 (ZJ924 'DD') of 11 Squadron and Rafale B (321 '113-HQ') of EC 01.007 Armée de l'Air.
|The Display Teams
|Left to right: MB-339A MLU's of the Italian Frecce Tricolori display team.|
|Left to right: The Red Arrows were joined this year by the Breitling L-39 Albatross display team.|
|The Swiss Air Force PC-7 Display Team and the F/A-18C Hornet (J-5004) of Fliegerstaffel 11 from Payerne.
|Left to right: The display at RIAT of the new Nimrod MRA.4 (ZJ518 '18') from BAE Systems at Warton, it first appeared at RIAT in 2007.|
|Left to right: The Vulcan Operating Company’s Avro Vulcan B2 (XH558/G-VLCN) which last displayed at Fairford in 1991.|
|Left to right: Boeing 757-200 (NZ7572) of 40 Squadron Royal New Zealand Air Force.|
|Left to right: Early Sunday morning take-offs in the rain an B-52H Stratofortress (60-0058 'LA') of 20 BS, 2 BW and the rare KC-135R Stratotanker (63-7980) of 412 FLTS from Edwards AFB.|
|Left to right: One of the few RAF display aircraft the Chinook HC.2 (ZA670 'AA') of 27 Squadron.
The French Army Light Aviation TBM700 (156 'ABT')
The Stearman's of wing walking Team Guinot