RIAT 2019 - The premier airshow of modern military aviation
By Willie Bodenstein and Juri Keyter
Royal International Air Tattoo, the last leg of UK shows in our July International Airshow month before leaving for Oshkosh and AirVenture in the USA, and like Shuttleworth and Duxford, lived up to expectations. Besides the sheer numbers of aircraft and displays what really impressed us were the seamless flow of one act into the other.
The Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) that typically attracts between 150,000 to 160,000 spectators over the weekend was in 2003 recognised by Guinness World Records as the world's largest ever military air show when 535 aircraft attended. The show is a showcase for the world's military and the event has had a number of firsts, including the first display and landing of the B-2A Spirit stealth bomber outside the United States of America in 1997 and in 2008, the first landing of the Lockheed F-22 Raptor in Europe.
Tickets to Saturday's show, the only day of the three-day event we attended, were sold out well in advance. On Friday it rained and the weather forecast for Saturday also predicted some rain early in the morning and it was spot on. It started raining just as the queue we were in shortened to the entrance and it stopped almost the moment we entered the airfield. It remained overcast for most of the day with the sun occasionally showing its face. We were happy and were treated to a seven-and-a-half-hour feast of flying by aircraft from thirty military air arms from over twenty different nations.
This year marks the 70th Anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and RIAT celebrated this in style with a special anniversary flypast to showcase NATO's air power capabilities. The flypast featured current operational aircraft from a number of NATO member nations including the UK, Belgium, Germany and the USA.
A British Airways Boeing 747, painted in its iconic British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) livery, performed a dramatic fly-past with the RAF Red Arrows Aerobatic Team to celebrate the centenary of this legendary British brand. RIAT first featured a British Airways aircraft in its flying program in 1985 when Concorde flew a memorable joint fly-past with the Red Arrows.
The Red Arrows display at RIAT was the last in the UK for 2019. The team will be jetting off shortly afterwards on a high-profile tour of the US and Canada.
The Breitling Jet Team, the largest civilian aerobatic display team in Europe, operating seven ex Warsaw Pact L-39 Albatros jet-training aircraft, made its first appearance at RIAT after an absence of five years. The team's precision formation aerobatics amazed the crowd.
One of our absolute favourites at RIAT without a doubt was the appearance of the Russian-built Sukhoi Su-27 frontline fighter of the Ukrainian Air Force. Judging by the reaction of the crowd when it blasted down the runway to climb steeply into the sky, we were not the only ones left gasping in amazement. Developed in the late 1970s to combat Western opponents like the American F-15 Eagle, the Su-27 remains a potent air superiority fighter.
The argument about which formation display team is the best will probably go on for as long as there are aircraft flying. Having seen the Red Arrows before as well as the Canadian Snow Birds, the USA's Blue Angels and Thunderbirds, the Italian Frecce Tricolori frankly blew us away. Formed in 1961 as an Air Force team, the team flies the two-seat fighter-trainer Aermacchi MB-339-A/PAN. With ten aircraft, (nine in training and a soloist), the Tricolori is the world's largest acrobatics team. Their display that lasts almost thirty minutes and includes about twenty aerobatic maneuvers makes them a crowd favourite wherever they display.
We have seen Harriers before but frankly one can never get enough of the world's first VStol jet to go into service. The Harrier was after all also the jet that almost single handedly was responsible for the UK's victory in the war in the Falkland's. Two AV-8B Harriers aircraft of the Armada Espanola (the Spanish Navy) regaled the crowd at RIAT. The pair's display has not been seen at the Air Tattoo before.
The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight that always feature at least one Spitfire, one Hurricane and a Lancaster had to do with only the two fighters as the cloud base was to low for the precious almost impossible to replace Lancaster to form part of the display.
The Patrouille de France, the official display team of the French Airforce flying eight Dassault Dornier Alpha Jets was another of the European jets teams that displayed on Saturday. The team is one of the oldest display teams. Like the Italians the team have nine pilots of which one is in reserve.
A Saab JAS 39C Gripen of the Swedish Airforce was a change for us to judge how well our pilots do in the same aircraft and we have nothing to be ashamed off.
The US Air Force's Air Combat Command F-16 Viper Demonstration Team demonstrated the unique capabilities of the F-16 Fighting Falcons. Major John 'Rain' Waters, commander of the team explored the full flight envelope during his highs speed, high intensity solo display.
We have seen the Bell Boeing CV-22B Osprey flying at Oshkosh before but still are in awe when this cross between a helicopter and a fixed wing fly. Saturdays display by the 352nd Special Operations Wing of the us Air Force was, judging by the reaction of the crowd, a definite favourite.
The Shorts Tucano T1 of 72 Squadron of the RAF was one of a number of propeller aircraft that was displayed.
And so was the Beechcraft T-6A of the Hellenic Air Force
Leonardo, formely Aeromacchi , pretty little T-346A showed its mettle at RIAT.
The Falcons of the Royal Jordanian Airforce whose display in their Extra 330 LX aircraft was world class, was one of the military display teams flying propeller aircraft. I'm glad to say that our Silver Falcons are definitely up there with the best teams in the world.
Currently the UK operates the Apache helicopter under the Brittish army from an old airforce base in Suffolk called Wattisham. They regularly fly through the Mach Loop, far away from their home base, and one was dispalyed at RIAT.
Another ex Warsaw Pac fighter was a Romanian Air Force MiG-21 LanceR. The Mig 21, one of the most feared and produced fighters of the Cold War era.
We have also seen the F-35B, the short take off and vertical landing variant of the F-35 before at Oshkosh but have never seen it in hover mode. Although its display at RIAT was rather brief it did show its full flight envelope including a hover. The RAF is currently undertaking its first overseas exercise with the F-35B.
Amongst the aircraft that formed part of the static display was a Hungarian Air Force JAS-39 Gripen, a Royal Norwegian Air Force pair of F-16 Fighting Falcons and an Austrian C-130K Hercules. Also present was a Royal Canadian Air Force CP-140 Aurora, CC-130 Hercules, two F-16AMs and an ERJ regional jet hailing from Belgium.
The crowd on Saturday was treated to one of the best military airshows that we have ever attended. RIAT lived up to its name as the prime airshow of modern military aviation with a spattering of historic aircraft thrown in for good measure.