ROYAL INTERNATIONAL AIR TATTOO 2022 - RAF Fairford / UK
Update: 2022/09/30 by Will Moore / CHK6
After a two year absence due to Covid protection measures the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) made its comeback in style. The three day event held over the weekend of 15th,16th and 17th of July was well worth the wait especially for military fast jet fans. In the background to the event were a couple of factors that cast a shadow on the mood of the show. The weather is always a concern for the organisers, participants and folks attending but not usually for the reason on everyone’s mind this year. The UK was having a heat wave with temperatures in the mid 30 degree range all week, and the forecast for the show days was getting higher raising questions of audience safety particularly for the Sunday. The Meteorological Office predicted temperatures of 40 degrees plus for the Monday with the Government announcing a red alert for all emergency services. Fortunately the heat didn’t peak until Monday and Tuesday with the UK recording its highest temperatures ever recorded on both days, closing down most rail transport and even Luton Airport and RAF Brize Norton due to runway problems. The other spectre on the horizon was of course the war in Ukraine. The organisers paid tribute to the Ukrainian Pilot Col Oleksandr Oksanchenko who was killed in action during the war. In 2017 he won the “As the crow files Trophy” for the best overall display in the Sukhoi Su-27P1M.
The final shadow over the gathering was of course Covid 19 and tributes were made to many people who lost their lives and to the people who acted to protect the public over this period. The overall themes of the show this year were the United States Air Force 75TH Anniversary and the 80th Anniversary of the United States Army Airforce “ The Mighty 8th” . This year there were over 60 international delegations attending and over 300 combined on static and flying displays and with an expected 170,000 spectators over the 3 display days it was one of the biggest in RIAT’s history.
The first day of the flying display was the Friday, a short display programme starting at 11am and running until 2.30pm. The following two days saw flying start at 9.45am and run until after 6pm with no breaks in the display. Opening the show was the Eurofighter F-2000A TYPHOON of the Reparto Sperimentale Volo Italian Air Force at Practica di Mare, the first of the four Eurofighter TYPHOON´s displaying each day over the Saturday and Sunday. And a rip-roaring opening it was too, straight into lots of high energy flying start to finish setting the pace for the other fighters following on. The Austrian Air Force displayed a pair of Eurofighter TYPHOON´s in a QRA (quick reaction alert) role demo with a Lockheed C-130K HERCULES. The C-130 playing the part of an unidentified aircraft entering national airspace. A well scripted commentary set the scene with the intruder failing to respond to air traffic control and the fighters being brought to readiness to intercept. As the intruder maintained its heading and continued to be none responsive the fighters were ordered to Scramble!!
One fighter making a very steep take off to intercept the intruder with the other taking a less dramatic climb to position behind the intruder to take the kill shot if required. The intercepting TYPHOON positioned alongside of the C-130 to assess the threat and then give verbal instructions to the crew. The commentary talked us through the instructions, leading up to the TYPHOON lowering his undercarriage to instruct the intruder to land. All the while the second TYPHOON maintained position behind the C-130 ready to shoot it down, “check your six!!” As the C-130 lined up to land as instructed both TYPHOON`s formed up just behind and as the intruder landed they accelerated to perform a high speed run and break, mission accomplished. This demonstration was very entertaining and made for a great display showing both high energy performance and a close to life regular task for a QRA unit
The final Eurofighter TYPHOON display was the Royal Air Force (RAF) TYPHOON FGR4 (Black Jack) from No 29 Squadron at RAF Coningsby. The custom livery of the RAF display TYPHOON is a “love it or hate it” scheme but against the clear blue sky of the heat wave it was very striking indeed. As reported on from the RAF Cosford display earlier this year this was another aggressive display from Flight Lieutenant Adam O’Hare meeting the challenge set by the Italian Air Force TYPHOON display earlier in the day. And still more fighters to come!
Making the point of no interference of performance during the display the pilot will be subjected to 9.5g of acceleration forces and reach Mach .94. The other F-16, a Lockheed Martin F-16AM VIPER of the Belgian Air Component has been reported on already by Check-Six at the RAF Cosford Air Show in June. As then the plan was to display in the “DREAM VIPER” with its outstanding bespoke livery with VIPER´s head tail fin. Unfortunately on the days it was intended to display the DREAM VIPER had technical issues and the reserve aircraft the “X Tiger“ was rolled out to take its place. A great many people were waiting to see the DREAM VIPER aircraft as the livery scheme has been much talked about in the run up to the show, and although disappointed not to see it they were not disappointed with the display of the X Tiger. Captain Steven “VRIESKE” De Vries gave us an impeccable display of speed, power and agility.
The final actual fighter displays were from the Swiss Air Force and the Spanish Air Force. The Spanish displaying a Boeing EF-18M HORNET as a solo display and the Swiss with a Boeing F/A-18C HORNET flying with the Pilatus PC-7 Team. The Spanish display EF-18M HORNET sporting a bespoke tail decoration offered an outstanding performance of brute force and aerial agility setting a high bar for the Swiss team later in the day.
The Swiss display started with the Boeing F/A-18C HORNET joining up with the nine Pilatus NCPC-7 Turbotrainers of the Swiss Air Force to undertake a formation flyby before breaking out of the formation to start the solo display. The display itself was another outstanding fighter solo to add to an already outstanding collection of fighter displays. As airshow audiences have come to expect from the Swiss team it was a flawless display that matched any during the show. Flown by Captain Yannick Zanata “Fonsi” from Fliegerstaffel 17 based at Payerne Air Base near Bern the combined Swiss Teams closed the show on the Saturday and Sunday. The RAF also had the Lockheed Martin F-35B LIGHTNING II from No 617 Squadron at RAF Maram on the display list, alas it wasn’t an actual full display to match the other fighter displays. It was however interesting to see the RAF’s latest fighter running in and then returning to show the hovering abilities of the aircraft. The No 617 Squadron will be familiar to aviation fans everywhere as it was of course the “Dambuster” Squadron of WWII. The Squadron had been disbanded in 2014 but was re-formed in 2016 in preparation to receive the new Lockheed Martin F-35B LIGHTNING II at its base at base at RAF Marham.
Helicopters were well represented at the show, the first being the Leonardo AW149 from the Leonardo manufacturing site at Yeovil on the South coast of England. Leonardo is hoping to win a contract from the UK Ministry of Defence for a new helicopter to replace among others the ageing Aerospatiale Puma fleet, a contract worth between GBP900 million and GBP1.2 billion (between USD1.1 billion and USD1.5 billion), during a seven-year contract timeframe. Leonardo is counting on the commonality of parts with other Leonardo Helicopters and having the production line ready at Yeovil in 2023 to give them an edge on the contract that requires first delivery of aircraft in 2025. The display clearly showed that the AW149 would have no problems fulfilling the operational role of the PUMA. The Boeing CHINOOK HC.Mk6 display was provided by No 27 Squadron at RAF Odiham in Hampshire, a firm favourite with aviation fans in the UK and a regular contributor to RIAT. As we have come to expect from the CHINOOK Display Team an excellent display was delivered showcasing the abilities of the heavy lift aircraft including the now traditional wave from the rear ramp from the load master with huge orange gloves. The crowd responded in kind especially the children.
Transport aircraft were hardly represented in the flying display, we have already mentioned the Austrian Air Force Lockheed C-130K HERCULES in the role demo, only two other transports displayed this year. One being the US Air Force Bell Boeing CV-22B OSPREY from the 7th Special Operations Squadron RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk England. A short display of a run in and number of slow hover passes with 360 degree rotations. This is one type that would be great in a role demonstration instead the display relies on the uniqueness of the design to captivate the audience. An opportunity missed especially as this was the only flying display from the US Air Force in a show with one of its main themes being big anniversaries for US Air Forces. It was of course well received by the audience as one would expect. The transport aircraft that stole the show was the Italian Air Forces Leonardo C-27J SPARTAN of Reparto Sperimentale Volo at Practica di Mare.
Before embarking on the development of the original BELUGA ST Airbus evaluated several other aircraft before deciding on designing their own. The BELUGA XL is one of a fleet of six that are replacing the original BELUGA ST’s and is based upon the Airbus A330-200F. The BELUGA XL has in increased capacity of 30% and can carry two A350XWB wings in its longer by 23ft and wider by 5ft 7in hold. A common site around airbus facilities but rarely seen elsewhere, the aircraft was impressive by its size and heavily modified design and clearly made an impression on the audience. Training aircraft were mostly represented in the team displays but there were two outstanding solo displays from training aircraft that were generations apart. The Leonardo T-346A MASTER came from a joint development between Alenia Aermacchi and Yakovlev. That joint development was ended in 2000 with both companies proceeding with their own version of the aircraft Yakovlev built the Yak-130 and Alenia Aermacchi building the M-346 MASTER. The company is now under the banner of Leonardo as of 2017 and the T-346 MASTER first flown in 2004 is now in use with the Air forces of Italy, Israel, Singapore, Poland, and Qatar. The aircraft gave a very good display, one wonders if the FRECCE TRICOLORI would ever receive this type to replace their aging Aermacchi AT-339As?
The other solo training aircraft to make an impression was the British Aroespace HAWK MK.51 of the Finnish Air Force. In the UK we see the British Aroespace HAWK T1/T1As as used by the RAF RED ARROWS at many airshows so they are very familiar to us. But what we don’t see is the type being displayed as a solo. What the Finnish Air Force did for us today was to remind us of why the British Aerospace HAWK type has been so successful. Presented in grey with white engine cowlings and a blue cross it really stood out against the clear blue sky with smoke generators on the outer wing hard points, the display seemed much better than we have come to expect from the type. First flown in 1974 as the Hawker Siddeley HAWK a whole 30 years before the T-346 MASTER, an advanced training and low cost strike aircraft the type has been in operation with 18 operators around the world with over 1000 of the type sold. The Royal Air Force (RAF) has retired its HAWK T1/1As leaving the RAF RED ARROWS as the only operational HAWK T1/1As user in the RAF. The type is still in production under licence by HAL Hindustan Aeronautics Limited in India.
Jet teams were represented by The RAF Red ARROWS of course and the firm favourites and regular attendees The Pattuglia Acrobatica Nazionale (PAN) FRECCE TRICOLORI of the Italian Air Force at Rivolto in Northern Italy. The RAF’s RED ARROWS were displaying with a reduced team as two pilots had been reassigned to other duties leaving not enough time available to train replacements. Hawk instructors did fill the gaps for general fly-bys but were not cleared for display flying. This reduced the programme for the team and left the display somewhat short of its usual impact. The team have had some serviceability issues this year and a very serious bird strike that could have been disastrous. We look forward to seeing them back to full strength next season when they will be based at RAF Waddington as RAF Scampton one of the historic RAF bases from WWII closes. Still a formidable act to follow but this year there were two teams that could. One being the FRECCE TRICOLORI and the other being the team from The Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) the BLACK EAGLES. The FRECCE TRICOLORI flying 10 Aermacchi AT-339As are an outstanding aerobatic team and we have reported on them many times from RIAT and shows all over Europe.
VERDICT: RIAT is back with a bang! Overall it was a great show with many highlights, but the weekend belonged to the fighters. Their displays seemed to be louder and more aggressive than previous years or perhaps it was just because of the absence for two years making the heart grow fonder? Either way a great event displaying to a capacity crowd, well done to the organisers and volunteers whose work delivered an event that set a very high bar for next year.
Will Moore / CHK6 UK