20-21st July 2013
It is July again so the annual pilgrimage to the world’s greatest military airshow is made again. This year enjoyed excellent weather with two main display themes; ‘Sky Guardian’ featuring reconnaissance assets and all those concerned with airborne protection and the 70th Anniversary of the dambusters raid.
Many visitors feared a reduced event having grown used to the presence of American military hardware dominating the static park; this was impossible due to the limits placed on U.S. Forces by sequestration, measures that even grounded the American display teams and forbade any participation in air displays. The organisers, as ever, rose to the challenge and, thanks in part to the Royal Air Force, German and Italian forces brought significant items that easily filled those important spaces that break up the static lines and create memorable elements in the flying display.
There was considerable rotorcraft participation, most notably the presence of two Finnish Army NH90s, a type now entering service across Europe. Part of Sky Guardian involved an emergency services demonstration of a car fire rescue enacted in real time. The German Navy took the opportunity to showcase special colours for their coming anniversary and the Netherlands bought aircraft decorated for the Centenary of Dutch Aviation celebrated at Volkel a month ago.
RIAT even succeeded in bringing a new Air Force to public attention with a first visit from Estonia with an Antonov 2 making the long slow journey and an L-39 Albatross showing its agility in the flying display. The Tattoo is famous for its ‘special combination flypasts’ and this year was no exception. British Airways led a formation of Red Arrows with its new A380, soon to enter service and then Airbus provided an A-400 Atlas to lead the Arrows on the Sunday.
A combination of Tornado and Lancaster signalled the dambusters celebration, both being from 617 squadron and the Dutch teamed their Apache helicopter with the familiar orange F-16 that so excites the autofocus settings on digital cameras that an unsharp image is almost impossible.
For agility the Typhoon, Rafale and Gripen were unsurpassed with the smoke and roar of the Polish MiG-29 reminding us of how fighters used to be not that long ago. Physical agility was also aptly demonstrated by the wingwalkers of the four Breitling Stearmans whose choreography was far more exciting with a four ship set up.
Star of the flying display for me was the Gloster Meteor, not only did the sun blaze for his time slot but his topside passes and clean lines were a pleasure to watch; if only the Canberra in the static could have flown too the the nostalgia kick normally reserved for the Vulcan, which excelled as normal, would have been complete.
Resplendent in the centre of the static park was Breitlings Super Constellation. When one casts ones thoughts back to long haul in the fifties one can appreciate the elegance and adventure of simply making the journey; so very different from today’s media enabled, reliable, smooth and predictable experience entered through a sterile walkway from a shopping mall of a terminal. We embrace the present but should not forget the past.
So, Europe can safely say that not only can its airliners compete with the mighty US giants of production but its military air arms can also field a wide selection of excellence to enthrall its public in these difficult financial times. The crowds loved it and we all love the RIAT experience… cannot wait for 2014!