RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire, England 8-10 July 2016
Report by Peter Davison and Colin Coulthard
Well, what a show this year. The long awaited UK debut for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter that cancelled at the last minute in 2015. Not satisfied with that and with it being a Farnborough year, the organisers attracted no less than six examples for our education and pleasure. Three Air Force A models from the training wing in Luke, Arizona, two B models from MCAS Beaufort , South Carolina and the first RAF B model. Combine that with an A330 tanker from Australia and Boeing 767 from Japan and you realise the extensive reach of the Air Tattoo team and the reputation of this, the largest military airshow in the world.
Firmly established as a three day event and attracting 153,000 visitors, more than 230 aircraft from 37 air arms in 24 countries were displayed either statically or in the all day flying display. The long crowd line incorporates numerous hospitality zones but still provides long swathes of public space that fills to around five deep as soon as gates open and becomes a solid mass by the start of the flying display. Numerous related sales and educational areas spread the crowd providing three days worth of interest even without the essential flying.
As ever in a British summer, the weather was variable and unpredictable. Fortunately the sunny periods outweighed the showers. It was generally warm but windy, the addition of free undercover picnic areas in the catering zones was extremely welcome. Parking and entry processing was good-humoured and professional; years of practice paying dividends. Only on Sunday morning did the flying programme get marginally disrupted by low cloud.
So, the highlights; the F-35 was joined by the F-22 Raptor which had certainly extended its display envelope since its previous attendance. The RAF F-35B ended its display with a vertical landing recalling the long lost days of the Harrier. It also participated in combination flypasts with the Red Arrows, Typhoons and vintage Mustang.
Croatia became the 56th Nation to attend the Tattoo since the first show in 1971. Their team of PC-9s featuring extensive mirror formations; a Mil 171 helicopter joined the static display. Poland brought both F-16s and MiG-29s. The MiGs, French Rafale and US Navy Hornet bringing welcome variety to the fast jet displays so heavily populated with F-16s (Turkey, Greece, Belgium) and Typhoons (UK, Spain, Italy, Germany).
On the lighter side we had Breightling wing-walkers, the Jordanian Extras, Polish Orliks and France’s world aerobatic champion. Helicopter displays by the new Lynx wildcats, Marine Corps Osprey and Chinook were overshadowed by the final appearance of the German Army aerobatic Bolkow 105. Another final appearance was from the French Mirage 2000 pair ‘Ramex Delta’ whose tight topside pass was most memorable.
With some interesting transports and further display teams from Switzerland and Italy the well positioned static display provided excellent views for photographers and opportunities to interrogate the eager crews enjoying their ‘jolly’ to England.
With the 75th Anniversary of the Air Cadets, Royal patronage and other military anniversaries this year the Air Tattoo once again, stole the season, pleased its public and celebrated the dedication and skills of today’s Royal Air Force in some style.