The Royal International Air Tattoo (or RIAT as it is commonly known) hosted annually at RAF Fairford has been on my bucket list for years and this year it was my turn to visit this famous air show. To describe RIAT I would say that the concept is pretty much the same as Aerospace and Defence (AAD) at Air Force Base Waterkloof every second year except that it is at least ten times bigger. RIAT is truly an international air show with many participants from other countries, making it much easier to host such a spectacular event. Everything is military. Jets, jets and more jets. I attended the Saturday show and on this day we saw representation from Canada, Belgium, England, Finland, France, Italy, Jordan, Poland, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and the USA. With representation like this, it is no wonder that it is so famous and well attended.
Military formation aerobatic flying is always very exciting and we sometimes wonder who the best really is. I have seen many of these teams perform but never have I seen more than one team perform on the same day and at the same event. At RIAT 2018 we saw 5 different military formation aerobatic teams performing: The Royal Jordanian Falcons, The RAF Red Arrows, the Swiss Air Force Aerobatic Team, the Italian Air Force Aerobatic Team and the Spanish Air Force Aerobatic Team.
Royal Air Force Red Arrows
The Spanish Air Force Aerobatic Team
The Italian Air Force Aerobatic Team
On the day I enjoyed the Spanish team the most. Their narrator became so excited that he started yelling "RA....TA….TA….TA…TA………FANTASTICO" over the public address system. But let me tell you when the entire formation consisting of 7 CASA C.101EB Aviojets landed in really close formation, we were stunned.
7 CASA C.101EB Aviojets landing in close formation
The F-16 Fighting Falcon is always a favourite at any air show and we saw a F-16C Fighting Falcon from the Turkish Air Force, the Polish Air Force and a F-16A from the Belgian Air force.
The McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C Hornet was showcased by the Finnish Air Force, the Swiss and the Royal Canadian Air Force.
But I did not come all the way to see the American fighters. I was here for the European fighters and the first on my list was the Eurofighter Typhoon. This aircraft is seriously agile and really easy on the eye be it solo or in formation.
The predecessor of the Typhoon, the Panavia Tornado is now taking somewhat of a backseat and is not seen that often anymore. However, it sure remains a pretty aircraft and I was happy to see one, even if it was just one on the day.
Coming from a heritage of South African fighters such as the Mirage F1 and F3, I have a weakness for French aircraft and RIAT did not disappoint. The first French aircraft in the air was a duo of Dassault Rafale fighters from the French Navy.
I saw the Couteau Delta Mirage 2000D last at the big Waterkloof Air Show in 1995 and 23 years later it is still just as impressive as it was then. The two flew a tight formation and the delta wing just has that something special that no other aircraft has.
Then MIG Sukhoi 27 from the Ukrainian Air force!! Wow what a machine!! This aircraft is at least 50% larger than a Eurofighter Typhoon but can still manoeuvre like a much smaller fighter. A tail-slide into its own smoke was something remarkable to see.
I have seen the F-35 Lightning on a number of occasions and have never truly been impressed by it. I guess it was not designed to impress and considering the fact that many European countries are now introducing them as primary fighter aircraft, there must be something they are not telling us. On this occasion I at least saw it perform a hover, dead still right in the center of the flightline. Impressive yes but I still want to see its vertical performance match the 60 year old Harrier.
The yanks surprised us all with an unscheduled appearance, a B2 Bomber escorted by two F-15s. It took off from Missouri in the USA, made one turn over Fairford and returned home again.
This year the RAF is celebrating its centenary and this remarkable event was also celebrated at RIAT. I was truly proud when the commentator mentioned "the South African Jan Smuts" as a key role player in what the RAF is today. The event was celebrated with some WWI aircraft simulating some dogfighting and the "Battle of Britten" memorial flight consisting of a Lancaster bomber in formation with Spitfires and Hurricanes. As this is more in the theme of my next air event report "Duxford Flying Legends", I will conclude my report with a photograph of two Vampires, the first aircraft type used by the RAF Red Arrows team.