RIAT 2017, RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire, England 14-16 July 2017
Report by Peter Davison and Colin Coulthard
RIAT prides itself on being the largest military airshow in the world and, this year, certainly lived up to that claim. RAF Fairford, being a major US Air Force staging post, was an appropriate venue to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the USAF; the dominant theme of this year’s event. The 75th Anniversary of the RAF Regiment was also commemorated. The enhanced USAF participation included the ‘Thunderbirds’ display team and the rare appearance of all three strategic bomber types; B-52 and B-1 on static display and a rare visit from a B-2 Spirit on the Sunday afternoon.
A further theme was ’21st Century Partnerships’. This was well represented by the variety of Air Forces from across the globe plus the engagement with young people with a number of STEM related activities in the various ‘villages’ around the site. A runway side crowd line stretching over a mile and numerous corporate hospitality areas ensured a spectacular view of the day long flying display. Particularly improved this year was the positioning and number of public lavatories almost completely removing the need to queue; thus ensuring visitors could pay attention to the flying and static displays without interruption. As ever, parking was prompt and professionally handled by well trained volunteers, an example to smaller events around the world.
In addition to the ‘Thunderbirds’ and the RAF ‘Red Arrows’ teams from Finland ‘Midnight Hawks’, the Jordanian ‘Falcons’ and ‘Patrouille Suisse’ were precise and entertaining plus the French ‘Couteau Delta’ with a pair of Mirage 2000s in different operational colour schemes.
Solo fast jet displays by the F-22 Raptor, Typhoon, Gripen and Rafale showed the agility of the latest generation whilst the raw power of the Italian Tornado, Turkish F-16 and F-18 Hornet plus probably a final appearance in the static of two Greek F-4 Phanthoms attracted great interest.
Transport types focussed on the C-130 Hercules with examples from Qatar, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan and the USA plus the newcomers, a Canadian C-17 which brought a CH-47 Chinook with it and examples of the A-400M from Spain, Germany and the UK whose increasing fleet is based at nearby Brize Norton. Lighter types from Casa, PZL and Alenia showcased the variety of transport options now available.
Rotary types included a new NH-90 from Finland, RAF and Canadian Chinooks plus an inspired British Army Apache display complete with pyrotechnics. The new RAF Eurocopters made a static debut as did the new fixed-wing trainer types from Embraer and Pilatus that will be entering RAF service in the coming years. Light trainers were also present from other European nations plus a selection of vintage types including the return of the Avro Lancaster with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and the B-17 Flying Fortress as part of the significant contributions from across the US Air Forces in Europe.
More unconventional types included a recently restored DH-9, a Short Skyvan, Rockwell OV-10, modified Islanders, Dornier 228 and a fairly worn example of the Lockheed U-2 spyplane. This year’s event was coincident with a deployment changeover that saw four examples of the famous U-2 pass through the base the previous week, a real boost for the thousands of enthusiasts that see the Air Tattoo as an annual pilgrimage.
Almost the last ingredients in the Air Tattoo mix, as they confirmed only days before, were the Ukrainian Air Force. A giant Ilyushin 76 transport suitably ‘flanked’ by two Su-27s became the stars of the show with one Flanker in static and one performing an impressive, and noisy, aerobatic display to the delight of spectators; a welcome return to the show after many years away.
For those concerned with long distance visitors the star attractions were a Boeing E-7 ‘Wedgetail’ from RAAF Williamtown near Sydney and a JASDF Boeing 767T from Nagoya, Japan that carried an impressive band of drummers who performed to great acclaim in the sometimes inclement weather. That these Nations are willing to coordinate operations to attend RIAT is testament to the global reputation of this event. A fitting tribute to the RAF Charitable Trust, its commitment and dedication to international cooperation.