Royal International Air Tattoo, RAF Fairford, England
13-15th July 2018
Report by Peter Davison and Colin Coulthard
Now that’s what we call an airshow! Three full days of co-ordinated aerial excellence in near perfect weather shows what can be done when over forty nations gather to help celebrate the centenary of the Royal Air Force. Add hundreds of willing volunteers working with industry and service experts and you get the largest military airshow in the world. Thanks to all concerned.
The RAF centenary was commemorated in style over central London on 10th July with a flypast of 100 aircraft from Lancaster to a formation of Typhoons scribing ‘100’ in the sky plus three of the UK’s new F-35 Lightning IIs on their first public outing. Unfortunately a local shower rained off a partial repeat on RIAT Friday but other themed demonstrations more than compensated. The early years were aptly demonstrated by a selection of replica biplanes and triplanes reenacting the missions over the trenches and world war two was highlighted by the unique ‘Trenchard Formation’ bringing new shapes to the traditional Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.
A biplane also marked the gathering of air forces with the Estonian Air Force making a show debut with an Antonov 2, parked beside a Sukhoi Flanker from Ukraine, partner to probably the loudest fighter performance seen for many years. The supporting Il-76 jet transport made an interesting static comparison to the western C-17, A400M and Brazil’s little brother, the Embraer KC390.
Star long distance exhibits were a Boeing E-7A Wedgetail from the Royal Australian Air Force and, making its international debut, the Kawasaki C-2, still under test by the Japanese Air Self Defence Force; another high wing jet transport competitor.
The United States Air Force and Navy gave great support with a variety of heavy types, fighters, bombers and control assets, highlights in the flying were the Osprey and F-35 and, on Saturday, a round trip from Missouri by a B-2 stealth bomber. As a tribute to the RAF, the heritage flypast of F-35 and Mustang was joined by a Spitfire. Both versions of the Lightning II were demonstrated though the RAF F-35B merely hovered rather than the vertical landing shown in 2017.
As is often the case, the hundreds of thousands of scorched spectators were thrilled by a varied selection of fast jets. F-16s and Typhoons from European Air Arms vied with Dassault’s Rafale in both French Air Force and Naval variants for their aerobatic skills highlighting extreme rates of turn compared to the French Mirage 2000Ds whose close formations and topside passes caused many sharp intakes of breath.
Helicopters were not neglected, the Chinook excelled whilst the pair of Finnish NH-90s showed how developed the science of rotary flight has become. New types from Italy were present in the static display that included a selection of the more modern training aircraft entering service across the continent.
Mention must also be made of the sterling work in highlighting career opportunities and STEM subjects to the younger audience as well as the variety of related retail and entertainment on offer. Considering the very hot weather the service zones dealt well with catering, toilet provision and free shade areas with none of the queues seen some years ago.