The Royal International Air Tattoo finds its origins in the Air Tattoo organized at North Weald in 1971. In 1976 the name changed again to International Air Tattoo and in 1996, the year the 25th edition was organized, Queen Elisabeth II, recognized the organization by allowing them to use the title 'Royal' for its future editions.
By many RIAT is considered to be the biggest Airshow in Europe, and can only be confirmed by some numbers : 140000 visitors over the weekend, 7,5 hour display program and aircraft attending from all four corners of the planet, many of which you will never see at an Airshow in Europe.
Unfortunately the announced and long-awaited participation of the Lockheed-Martin F35 Joint Strike Fighter, was cancelled a few days before the event because of engine problems during the test program. But there was much more to make trip to Fairford in Gloucestershire.
The static is huge and spread out along virtually the full length of the runway at RAF Fairford.
A few highlights of the 2014 edition were for example a Boeing KC767J air-to-air tanker aircraft from the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force, an Alenia C27J from the Lithuanian Air Force. Another première for Fairford was the participation of the Textron Airland Scorpion, which is being marketed as a low-lost fighter aircraft. Traditionally several examples of the Lockheed C130 Hercules are present, with this year aircraft from Algeria, Jordan, Oman and Sweden amongst the participants. One of the other themes this year was the 40th anniversary of the first flight of the Lockheed-Martin F16 Fighting Falcon which brought a visitor from Norway. A real operational oldtimer that could be found on the static display a Ling-Temco-Vought A7 Corsair II from the Greek Air Force.
Off course also a lot of British hardware is on display at Fairford. This year we saw Folland Gnat T1, the former mount of the Red Arrows, a BAE System Hawk T1 of QinetiQ, the test and evaluation unit at Boscombe Down and a Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 in a special colorscheme to commemorate the start of the First World War exactly 100 years ago.
As said the biggest attraction for many is the 7,5 hour flying display, which again in 2014 had a number of special items on hand for the spectators. 2014 was the year that the RAF Aerial Demonstration Team, the 'Red Arrows', celebrated their 50th display year. To participate at the festivities a number of other European display were present, the Italian Air Force Frecce Tricolori with their Aermacchi MB339s and the French Air Force Patrouille de France with the Dassault Alpha Jet. Poland send their 'Team Orlik' with the PZL130 Orlik and from Switzerland the Patrouille de Suisse was present with their Northrop F5E Tiger IIs. The last jet team at Fairford was the civilian 'Patrouille Breitling' with their Czech-build Aero L39 Albatrosses.
Traditionally the display also features a large number of fast jet solo displays. As part of the F16 celebrations we saw display from Turkey to name one, but also the F16s from Belgium and the Netherlands were featured. Italy was this year a large contributor as they send their Panavia Tornado IDS and a Aeritalia-Embraer-Aermacchi AMX from the Reparto Sperimentale Volo, the Italian Air Force test-unit, based at Practica di Mare. This unit also performed with a Alenia C27J transport aircraft, which is one of only aircraft that performs a full roll during a flying display.
Another aircraft that was well-represented was the Boeing F18 Hornet, with three different variant present. Spain send a EF18BM double-seater from Ala 15, their Tiger-unit, for the static display. Switzerland displayed their FA18C single-seater during the flying display and as part of a sales tour in Europe manufacturer Boeing showed of the latest version of the Hornet, the F/A18F 'Super Hornet'.
Fairford is the place where you see some 'rare' displays and 2014 was no exception. From the Estonian Air Force we saw a display from their Aero L39C Albatross, they only have four on their inventory, amongst which this example which was leased from the civilian Baltic Bees demonstration team, hence the unusual colorscheme. The Polish Air Force send their Sukhoi Su22 Fitter team, who really puts us back in time with this Cold War Era fighter bomber. Several decades more modern is the Airbus Military A400M transport aircraft, which was displayed by a team of test pilots from Airbus.
RIAT traditionally takes places spread over 4 days. On Friday the arrivals can be witnessed from dedicated areas on the airbase, the show itself is on Saturday and Sunday and on Monday the enthusiasts are given the opportunity to photograph the departures.
The Royal International Air Tattoo is still a great venue to visit, although one has to admit that the volume of aircraft present has decreased over the last few years. Cutbacks in virtual all Air Forces have meant that participation levels at events like RIAT had to be decreased as well, but it still remains one of the highlights of the European Airshow season.
Text : Laurent Heyligen
Photography : Andy Patzelt, Dirk Geuns, Laurent Heyligen, Tim Van den Boer, Lien Lamberts