The Royal International Air Tattoo is the biggest aviation extravaganza of the year and this year marked the 70th Anniversary of the United States Air Force. Within the current UK airshow calendar there is no better place to celebrate the anniversary and the strong partnership between the UK and US as Fairford remains an important forward operating base for the USAF. But there was far more to RIAT 2017 than the USAF theme with many aircraft converging on Fairford from across the globe. In all 246 aircraft took part in the Air Tattoo from 32 air arms representing 27 nations.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
The Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford is easily was one of the most highly anticipated events of the airshow calendar with a build-up that is keenly followed by huge numbers of people. 2017 saw an estimated crowd of 160,000 attend over the three days with more watching online. It is also an event of global significance bringing together military delegations for one of the most important annual networking events for governments and the aerospace industry.
For the public, there is no better exhibition of aerospace in all its forms. As well as all the aircraft, there many aircrew to meet, major Exhibition Zones highlighting military heritage, the work of industry, youth organisations and charity. For the Royal Air Force, it is an event that offers the chance to show off all facets of the service with a large exhibition village centred on a 70 Squadron Airbus DS A400M Atlas C1. Both the Royal Navy and British Army also have large turnout on the ground.
21st Century Partnerships
The operational theme of this year’s Air Tattoo was 21st Century Partnerships. The theme marked the high level of cooperation between different countries and air arms in going operations and also the development of new aircraft. The aircraft gathered for this theme included everything from training types right through to fast jets, reconnaissance aircraft, transports and fast jets.
It certainly was not the easiest weekend for the Air Tattoo air operations team. Firstly, one of their planned stars of the show, a Douglas A-4N Skyhawk from Discovery Air pulled out on the Thursday and then Saturday’s weather proved to be very marginal for flying displays with low clouds and poor visibility at times. However, on all three days there was some very spectacular flying right from a very special opening flypast on Friday through to a jaw dropping surprise on the Sunday. It will certainly go down as one of the most memorable Air Tattoos to date.
UK Military Flying Training System breaks cover
A notable part of this year’s Air Tattoo that passed many by was the first public exhibition of the new Military Flying Training System aircraft for the UK armed forces. The Royal Air Force’s BAE Systems Hawk T2 and Royal Navy’s Beechcraft Avenger T1 were the first steps in the development of MFTS. 2017 has seen Affinity Flight Training Services received the first of the RAF’s other fixed wing training aircraft and all these were all on show at crowd centre. These included the Grob 120TP Prefect T1, the Beechcraft T-6C Texan T1 and the Embraer Phenom T1. Also on show ere both rotary types that will take over duties from the Squirrel and Griffin, namely the Airbus Helicopters H135 Juno HT1 and the H145 Jupiter HT1.
For the most dedicated of Air Tattoo attendees, the event is a six day marathon of early stars and late finishes. Arrivals for the Tattoo (officially) start just after 8am on the Wednesday before the weekend and the last departure occurs late Monday afternoon. Some aircraft do arrive and depart outside of these days, though they do so under normal USAF control of the airfield. On the Wednesday, Thursday and Monday, people can view the action from the dedicated Park and View areas and the Western and Eastern ends of RAF Fairford. These proved very popular this year and for the first time ever during departures day the Western End “sold out!”
United States Air Force 70th Anniversary
The main theme of RIAT 2017 was the 70th Anniversary of the United States Air Force. As well as the headlining display acts in the flying display, the largest gathering of USAF aircraft for some years was seen in the static display
The last few years have been difficult for military air arms as they support more operations with less personnel, equipment and financial support. This has hit the United States Air Force particularly hard which didn’t attend any events in 2013 thanks to sequestration. Ever since 2013, though the USAF has slowly returned to airshows including the Royal International Air Tattoo the level of support from the air arm has never been the same. However, the months of dedicated work by the Air Tattoo organisers was realised by perhaps the best USAF involvement for many years than went much further than just regular flying and static displays. Firstly it was good to see both examples of the Boeing B-52H Stratofortress and Rockwell B-1B Lancer back in the RIAT static displays and both deployed especially for the event from their bases in the continental US. They were joined by a selection of aircraft drawn from European based USAF squadrons including Boeing F-15C Eagles, a F-15E Eagle and Sikorsky HH-60M Pave Hawk from RAF Lakenheath, Lockheed Martin F-16CM Fighting Falcons from Spangdahlem in Germany plus a Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker, Lockheed Martin MC-130J Commando II and CV-22B Osprey from RAF Mildenhall. There was also a Boeing C-17A Globemaster III from the 315th AW at Charleston AFB on show alongside the combat types.
For the United States Air Force 70th Anniversary, the 9th Reconnaissance Wing based at Beale AFB, California really did go above and beyond to support the Air Tattoo with something truly unique. Firstly, they took part in the Static Display with one Lockheed U-2S, but during the arrivals and departure they coordinated many of the arrivals and departures to take place during normal airfield operating hours for the first time.
However, it was another USAF type that created the biggest buzz in the static display and during days before and after the Air Tattoo. One of RAF Fairford’s roles for USAF is that of a “change-over” stop for the Lockheed U-2S high altitude reconnaissance aircraft from the 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force base. These secretive aircraft normally avoid being seen during the RIAT week but this year the Air Tattoo organisers managed to secure one for the static display. Furthermore, the 9th RW scheduled a number of change-overs to occur during the RIAT week meaning those attending the arrivals and departures got to see a number of different airframes. Huge thanks must go to the 9th RW for really getting into the spirit of RIAT.
Return of the Ukraine
The Ukrainian Air Force had last appeared at RIAT 2011 so their return was long overdue. This time, the Ukrainian Air Force contributed a Su-27P1M to the flying display supported by a Su-27UB1M in the static display alongside a supporting Ilyushin Il-76.
For the Royal Air Force, RIAT 2017 really was about looking into the future, particularly for No 22 Group who oversee the Military Flying Training System (MFTS). Affinity Flight Training Services are starting to bring into service three new types for fixed wing training which include the Grob G120TP Prefect T1, Embraer Phenom T1 and the Beechcraft T-6C Texan T1. RIAT 2017 provided the first opportunity to see the new training types together and wearing RAF markings (Albeit with civilian delivery registrations). The new Rotary types, the Airbus Helicopters H135 Juno HT1 and H145 Jupiter HT1, equipping the Defence Helicopter Flying School were also on show alongside the Eurocopter Squirrel HT1 which they will replace. Though not yet in RAF Service, a US Navy Boeing P-8A Poseidon represented the RAF’s future maritime patrol aircraft in the same week it was announced that 120 and 201 Squadrons would reform on the type from 2020.
Other Static Display Aircraft
As ever, the static display covers more than just the major themes with a number of aircraft supporting Industry, Heritage and Charity exhibits.
RAF Brize Norton were able to send a 10/101sqn Airbus DS A330MRTT Voyager KC2 and two of the new Airbus DS A400M Atlas C1s to Fairford. One Atlas as previously mentioned provided the centrepiece to the RAF Village and the other parked tail-to-tail with a further A400M from the German Luftwaffe. The RAF also had one aircraft making its final ever public appearance in the form of Panavia Tornado GR4 ZG450. This particular Tornado was painted in “Desert Pink” in 2016 to mark 25 years of RAF Tornado operations as well as the 25th Anniversary of the First Gulf War. In a little over two weeks after RIAT, the aircraft was due to be retired from service.
RIAT participants often need support from other aircraft to enable their participation. This year saw the likes of a Swedish Air Force Lockheed Tp.84 Hercules, Turkish Air Force KC-135R Stratotankers plus Czech and Spanish Air Force CASA 295Ms supporting aircraft. Their are also a multitude of VIP aircraft involved. An unusual support aircraft this year was a Dassault Alpha Jet E from the French Air Force’s Patrouille de France team which brought “Athos 15” in to provide live commentary for French TV of the Thunderbirds and F-22 launching for the Bastille Day flypasts.
The Army Air Corps celebrated its 60th Anniversary in 2017 and had its own section of the static Park highlighting the incredible development of helicopters the Corps has seen with the SARO Skeeter AOP12 parked alongside the Leonardo Wildcat AH1 and WAH-64D Apache AH1. Similarly, the Royal Navy took part in a Naval themed part of the static with examples of the Leonardo Merlin iHC3, Merlin HM2, BAE Systems Hawk T1 and Beechcraft Avenger T1 lined-up alongside the German Navy’s Westland Sea King Mk41 and Westland Lynx Mk88.
The Empire Test Pilots School at Boscombe Down has always played a big role at the Air Tattoo and 2017 was no different. Their familiar Agusta A109E Power returned once again, but they also brought their BAE Systems Avro RJ70 to RIAT for the first time. We’ve seen the larger RJ100 for many years, but the shorter RJ70 has proved elusive so it was great to finally see it!
As well as the United States, there were plenty of other international stars. It was wonderful to see participation from the Royal Canadian Air Force back at the Air Tattoo. Perhaps the Boeing CC-177 Globemaster III was always a likely candidate for a RIAT appearance, but an example of the Boeing CH-147F Chinook was certainly a very rare treat having been transported over from Canada in the hold of another C-17 the week before RIAT. The aircraft was re-rigged at nearby RAF Brize Norton and flown in and out of Fairford for the show. Furthest travelled participant to the show was the Boeing E-7A Wedgetail from No 2 Squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force. Like RAF units, 2 Sqn are celebrating their 100th Anniversary this year having been formed in Europe forming the First World War. The aircraft was in the UK to visit the RAF’s ISTAR base at Waddington conducting some demonstration missions.
After a 15 year absence, the Israeli Air Force returned to the Royal International Air Tattoo with one its newest aircraft, the Lockheed Martin C-130J-30 Shimshon transport from No 669 Squadron. The unit performs transport duties and also takes part in Humanitarian operations. For the latter, the Shimson can be re-roled into a flying hospital with specialist medical equipment and rescue personnel. The aircraft arrived with a 40 strong crew which mounted an exhibition in the rear cargo hold. Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hecht, Head of Israel Air Force Foreign Affairs, said: “It is our 70th birthday and we are discovering common interest and values with the British military. We are pleased to be part of such a big air show and are enjoying every minute of it. We are definitely enjoying the cooler British weather as it is 40C in Israel at the moment!”
Another nation returning to RIAT after a short absence was Ukraine. As well as participating in the flying display, the Ukrainian Air Force had a Sukhoi Su-27UBM1 Flanker-C and Ilyushin Il-76 Candid on static display towering over some more familiar western types!
As ever there were plenty of fast jets in the static park including a quartet of Lockheed Martin F-16AM Fighting Falcons from the Belgian and Royal Netherlands Air Forces, a pair of Eurofighter EF2000s plus a Panavia Tornado IDS from the Luftwaffe, a Spanish Air Force EF-18M Hornet, a Swedish JAS-39D Gripen and a Austrian Air Force SAAB J105ŐE.
The Hellenic Air Force have become firm favourites as the Air Tattoo and this year returned with a pair of McDonnell Douglas F-4E(AUP) Phantom IIs for the static display. The Greeks take a lot of pride in attending major events with plenty of social media interaction and adding special “Air Tattoo” markings to the tail and fuel tanks to one of their jets.
Historic types always play an important role at RIAT. The BAE Systems Exhibtion always showcases British Aviation Heritage and this year saw the debut of the Historic Aircraft Collection’s incredible Airco DH9 from the First World War. This aircraft has been restored to flying condition, but is yet to make its first flight. It was joined by Hurricane Heritage’s Hawker Hurricane I R4118, the Shuttleworth Collection’s Percival Provost T1 and Mark Petrie’s BAC Strikemaster Mk82a.
Parked alongside the French Air Force’s pair of Dassault Alpha Jet Es was a beautiful example of the Fouga CM170 Magister from France. It wore typical L’armee de l’air training colours, though the bear metal surfaces were extremely well polished!
The weekend saw 20 hours of flying displays which started on Friday. Opening the show was one of those moments only RIAT can muster; a joint flypast by the RAF Red Arrows and the USAF Thunderbirds who were returning from participating in the Bastille Day flypasts over Paris. It was a special weekend for both teams who clearly revelled in each other’s company. During the arrivals, the Thunderbirds pilots flew in the back seat of the Red Arrows Hawks during an “In-Season Practice” and on Friday, Red 4 flew in the Thunderbirds two seat F-16D Fighting Falcon during their Friday display at RIAT. The teams also held a conference sharing their training and safety procedures with each other.
The Thunderbirds fly a formation of six Lockheed Martin F-16C and F-16D Fighting Falcons were the headline act of the RIAT flying display. They are a big team and have a large cohort of support crew covering everything from engineering to public relations. RIAT was a big deal for the team and they clearly were having a lot of fun performing at event that is very different to those they attend regularly back home. On the Friday, members of FRIAT were even treated to their “T-Shirt Cannon” which was highly entertaining! Their display is very different to that performed by European teams- Flying six frontline jets means they cover a lot of sky and make an incredible amount of noise. It was certainly good to see that the Military Aviation Authority and RIAT organisers allow the team to fly much more of their normal, well-rehearsed routine which had often been highly modified at past UK and European appearances. The Thunderbirds were honoured at the post-show hangar party with an award from Air Tattoo CEO, Andy Armstrong, for their outstanding contribution to the event. Thunderbird 7, Lt Col Kevin Walsh, the team’s director of operations said: “It’s a huge honour. With the field of other participants you have at this airshow, we couldn’t be happier. There was a great team effort just to get the whole team overseas and in the air – to get us to put on a different demonstration out here we had to change our rules and change our display a little bit to fit the mould here. We thought we did well with it.” The Team last appeared at RIAT 10 years ago and were last seen in the UK in 2011 – we hope we do not have to wait so long for their next UK show!
The presence of the Thunderbirds seemed to bring out the best of the Red Arrows who performed some very tight flat and rolling shows over the RIAT weekend. RIAT also saw the public debut of the “Names on a Plane” Red Arrows BAE Systems Hawk XX322 which was flown in various positions during the weekend. At the end of their final RIAT performance, the Reds got into the US theme with a special flypast trailing the colours of US flag along Fairford crowdline – a nice touch that was greatly appreciated by their Thunderbirds compatriots!
Three other national teams also took part in the weekend flying. The Royal Jordanian Falcons deserve special mention for their efforts during Saturday’s poor weather where they managed to put on a very precise display of formation flying under the clag. It was also great to see the Patrouille Suisse back at RIAT and at full strength with a complete six-ship of Northrop F-5E Tiger IIs. The team, who also put on an eye-catching display, will be flying the F-5E for a few more years yet as the type is to be retained by the Swiss Air Force for training and aggressor duties.
The Finnish Air Force Midnight Hawks made a very welcome and long overdue return to RIAT this year flying a fourship of BAE Systems Hawk T.Mk.51s. The team last appeared at RIAT in 2004, but there has been quite a bit of change for the team. 2017 marks the 100th Anniversary for the Republic of Finland and last month a special airshow was held in Helsinki. To mark the centenary, the team’s aircraft have been adorned with Finnish colours on the tailfins and engine intakes. Also new since their teams first appearance 13 years were wig-mounted smoke pods which greatly enhance the show and also help the team stand-out from the other teams using more traditional jet exhaust based systems.
The Royal Air Force made up a sizeable part of the flying display. On top of the Red Arrows, the service fielded the solo Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 display by Flt Lt Ryan Lawton and the Boeing Chinook HC4 display from RAF Odiham. Honours for the best UK display went to the Typhoon team who picked up the Steedman Display Sword for best display by a UK participant. Ryan said: “I’m absolutely thrilled and honoured. It was a tough weekend at RIAT with the weather, but I’m really pleased to have been able to display on the Sunday and to win best UK participant. I couldn’t do it without the team as well. They’ve worked really hard all weekend.”
Complementing the three static examples of the Airbus DS A400M was the manufacturers own dramatic flying demonstration. Flown by a British crew of test pilots, the giant transporter put on its usual jaw-dropping display of agility, low and high speed landing plus impressively short take-off and landing runs.
It was a special weekend for the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight who for the first time were able to present their full “Thompson Formation” routine to mark their 60th Anniversary with Avro Lancaster B1 PA474, Hawker Hurricane IIc LF363, Supermarine Spitfire IIa P7350, Spitfire LFXVI TE311 and Spitfire PR XIX PS915. The Fighter element had been seen at RAF Cosford Air Show a month earlier but the Lancaster had only just returned from deep servicing at the Aircraft Restoration Company at Duxford by the beginning of July. It made performed a few flypasts the weekend before RIAT but the crew only got their full public display authorisation in the days leading up to RIAT. The sight and sound of seven Merlins and one Griffon sweeping around the Cotswold skies was certainly one of the outstanding memories of the Air Tattoo weekend.
Completing the UK contribution to the flying display were the Army Air Corps with the Attack Helicopter Display Team. The team demonstrate the capabilities and the tactics used by the crews of the AgustaWestland WAH-64D Apache in operations around the world with the support of impressive pyrotechnics from Event Horizon.
The range of international acts at RIAT this year was impressively diverse with everything from basic trainers and helicopters through to fast jets and large transport aircraft. One of Europe’s smallest air arms, the Slovenian Air Force, sent its solo Pilatus PC-9M Swift flown by 1st Lt Andrej Fiorelli. Andrej flew a very tidy routine on all three days regardless of the cloudbase or the breezy conditions experienced on the opening Friday. For his efforts he was awarded the Sir Douglas Bader trophy from RAFCTE Chairman, Alan Smith. “It’s a great, great, honour to win a prize again and to be a part of the biggest airshow so far for me“, Fiorelli said. “I have no words – what can I say? It’s unbelievable; the biggest award I can get as a pilot.” The training theme continued with a spirited display from the SAAB J105OE of the Austrian Air Force.
The Italian Air Force’s Reparto Sperimentale Volo continued the training theme with the RIAT debut of the Leonardo T-346 Master. The advanced trainer put on a typically punchy routine to highlighting the ability of the aircraft to prepare pilots for the latest front line jets aswell being a light strike fighter. The RSV also had three other displays in the display. The Leonardo C-27J Spartan made a welcome return to Fairford with its incredible fully aerobatic routine while their Panavia A-200A Tornado display appeared in the UK for the second time this year. The eye-catching special livery worn by the Tornado to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the RSV (or 311º Stormo) picked up the award for best livery as judged by FRIAT Members. Col Paolo Fiorella, the displays Weapon Systems Opertaed said “We painted this aircraft for the 60th anniversary of our squadron. Winning this award here is a dream come true. A lot of magazines around the world are talking about us, and it’s important so people know how the Reparto Sperimentale Volo works and what we do.”
The Spanish Air Force’s McDonnell Douglas EF-18M (C.15) Hornet made a long awaited return to the RIAT flying display on the Sunday with a very dramatic routine of slow speed figures and the Hornets raw power. Further exotic jets came from The Turkish Air Force with the “SoloTurk” display team which returned to Fairford with their beautifully presented Lockheed Martin F-16C Fighting Falcons. Their flamboyant solo routine is very distinctive and presents some amazing aerobatics paired with a very enthusiastic commentary.
The older F-16AM Fighting Falcon was displayed by the Cdt Tom ‘Gizmo’ de Moortel of the Belgian Air Force. After three seasons, it was Gizmo’s final RIAT before the display baton is handed on to another pilot within the Belgian Air Force. Sadly, low clouds and poor visibility prevented him displaying on the Saturday, but on both Friday and Sunday Gizmo managed to make the best of the gaps in the cloud to present the best possible flowing display in the cloudy conditions. The Belgian Air Force is contributed a further display over the weekend with a rare UK appearance by a Westland Sea King Mk48 from 40 Squadron based at Koksijde performing a search and rescue demonstration. The Sea King is in the twilight of its career in Belgian service and its role will soon be completely taken over by the newer NH90NFH Caiman.
The French Air Force had an impressive contingent in the flying display with both of their fast jet demo teams in attendance. For Couteau Delta, the French Air Force’s newest tactical demonstration team, RIAT was their first appearance outside of France. The team have taken over from Ramex Delta and flying the Dassault Mirage 2000D. All of their aircraft wore special centenary schemes for the teams host squadrons, Escadrons de Chasse 2/3 ‘Champagne’ and 3/3 ‘Ardennes.’ These included a striking desert camouflaged aircraft that really stood out against the grey clouds. The team’s routine following closely of that flown by Ramex Delta the previous year which show off the charismatic lines of the Mirage 2000D as well as highlight many of the tactics crew employ on operations. One of the most outstanding solo displays of the show came from the Dassault Rafale C flown by Capitaine Jean-Guillaume ‘Marty’ Martinez who picked up the King Hussein Memorial Sword for the best overall flying demonstration. The judges called his “a faultless, flowing and dynamic flying display” despite Marty having to cope with some poor weather at times. On picking up his award, ‘Marty’ said: “I’m really happy because it’s a wonderful prize. It was difficult due to the weather, but I tried to do my best. We have a nice jet and I’m well-trained to do it.”
Completing the collection of 4th generation European fast jets were two displays of the SAAB JAS-39C Gripen. The Swedish Air Force Gripen Solo is a RIAT regular and always presents a very clean and powerful display of the jet. However, it was the display from Czech Air Force that really stood out. Capt Ivo Kardoš from the 211th Tactical Squadron at Čáslav opened Saturday’s show in perhaps the worst weather of the weekend with a very exciting and well flown performance under the laden skies. For his outstanding performance, Ivo was awarded the RAFCTE Trophy for best flying demonstration by an overseas participant. “It was a wonderful, amazing airshow“, remarked Ivo. “It was the best one I’ve ever been to, and the best show in the world. Of course it’s a great honour with the prize to represent the Gripen, and to represent Saab as well.”
The Czech Air Force also sent their Aero Vodochody L-159A ALCA duo for the flying display. Rather like Couteau Delta, their display is mixture of role demonstration and synchronised aerobatics though they were supported by some impressive pyrotechnics on the ground simulating strafe and bombing runs. While the L-159A may lack the presence of the larger, nosier fighters the duo’s routine was very pleasing to the eye and well flown.
However, the biggest star from Eastern Europe was the Sukhoi Su-27P1M Flanker-B from the Ukrainian Air Force. A great deal of effort from both sides went into securing the mighty Su-27 for the flying display. In the weeks before the show, RIAT’s Flying Control Committee Chairman Wing Commander Jon Nixon travelled the Myrhorod Air Base to meet the display crew, validate their display and help the crews prepared for RIAT. Flown by Col Oleksander Oksanchenko of the 831st Guards Tactical Aviation Brigade, the display was kept via tight with the powerful jet hardly leaving the airfield boundary showing off its incredible agility through steep turns and quick rolls. It is rare exotic aircraft like the Su-27 which RIAT so special, and it was no surprise Oleksander picked up the “As the Crow Flies” trophy for the best display as voted for by members of FRIAT. Speaking through an interpreter upon receiving the award from RAFCTE Non-Executive Director Dr Jim Glover, Oksanchenko said “Thank you very much for your hospitality, your partnership and to all the guys who organise the Royal International Air Tattoo. A very high standard is set, and we are very happy to be here. Everything is well organised. God bless your Queen!”
However, it was the United States Air Force 70th Anniversary that took top billing in the flying display with a special sequence than closed with the Thunderbirds display. The full USAF tribute seen over the weekend started with a look to the genesis of USAF with solo displays from Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress ‘Sally-B’ from Duxford and Peter Teichman’s North American P-51D Mustang ‘Tall in the Saddle.’ Both were types operated by the USAF predessor, the United States Army Air Force and were amongst the first USAF types. The P-51, later the F-51, continued to serve for a long time after the Second World War with USAF being one of the service’s stalwarts during the Korean War.
The tribute then moved very much towards the current USAF. USAF Special Operations Command was represented the flying on Friday and Saturday by the Bell/Boeing CV-22B Osprey of the 352nd Special Operations Wings at RAF Mildenhall. The tactical tilt-rotor transport is used for various special operations tasks including Combat Search and Rescue. The crew gave an impressive account of the aircraft showing off the ability of the aircraft to get to and away from small landing sites very quickly.
The United States Air Forces in Europe & Air Forces Africa supported the show very well with an “Air Power Flypast.” This involved aircraft based both in the UK and Germany in five elements though the actual order of appearance changed each day. USAFE’s Air Mobility was represented by a 351st Air Refulling Squadron/100th Air Refuelling Wing Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker from RAF Milidenhall and a Ramstein based 37th Airlift Squadron/86th Airlift Wing Lockheed Martin C-130J-30 Hercules II. The two heavies were joined by three fighter types. RAF Lakenheath and the 48th Fighter Wing’s contribution was a pair of Boeing F-15C Eagles from the 493rd Fighter Squadron and a F-15E Strike Eagle from the 48th Fighter Wings. Completing the flypast were a pair of Lockheed Martin F-16CM Fighting Falcons from the 52nd Fighter Wing/48th Fighter Squadron from Spangdahlem AF, Germany. The fighter elements all performed three passes concluding with a fast past and zoom climb to depart back to RAF Lakenheath in style.
For the second successive year, RIAT welcomed back the Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor from the F-22 Demo Team. The team are drawn from the 1st Fighter Wing based at Langley, Virginia and like the Thunderbirds flew across the Atlantic to participate at RIAT and in the Bastille Day flypasts over Paris. The Raptor demo is an incredible display of power of technology demonstrating the F-22A’s incredible thrust vectoring agility. The Air Tattoo flying control committee, like the audiences on Friday and Sunday clearly enjoyed what they saw awarding Major Dan ‘Rock’ Dickinson the Paul Bowen Trophy for best overall solo jet demonstration. “This is just absolutely awesome“, said ‘Rock’, “especially on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the Air Force. Again, to be representing the United States Air Force and the F-22 Raptor, our team is just humbled and honoured to win such an outstanding award, and especially to see some of the past names that are on that trophy.” Sadly, like last year though it was not all smooth sailing for the Heritage Flight part of the F-22’s display. Friday, technical issues grounded the participating P-51 and on Saturday the cloud-base was just below the USAF display minima preventing the F-22 getting airborne at all. However all came good on the Sunday and at the end of his solo display ‘Rock’ joined with Comanche Fighter’s Dan Freidkin flying North American P-51D Mustang “Frenesi.” Frenesi is one of two P-51s brought across the Atlantic from Comanche Fighter’s stable in the US to participate at the Flying Legends airshow at Duxford. Technically, the aircraft is a F-6K Mustang, a photo-reconnaissance variant of the famous fighter. Sold as surplus immediately after the Second World War, it first had a career as an air racer before finding its way back into military service with the Dominican Air Force. It returned to the US in the 1980’s and was later repainted into the markings of P-51D-5-NA 44-13318 “Frenesi” as flown by Lt. Col. Thomas L. Hayes of the 357th Fighter Group . Following a major refurbishment only completed earlier this year, the aircraft has been restored to near-stock condition of the original “Frenesi.”
Perhaps the absolute highlight of USAF 70th Anniversary tribute also occurred on the Sunday with two flypasts by a Northrop Grumman B-2A Spirit from 509th Bomb Wing station at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. The aircraft was on a 23 hour long “Global Power” training mission from its base when it appeared on Sunday afternoon as a “surprise” (although it’s very hard to keep anything a surprise these days with the ease at which NOTAM information can be gleaned from the internet!) item in the flying display. With the secrecy and mystery that still surrounds the B-2, it was an incredible addition to the weekend and another one of those “RIAT moments” that makes the Tattoo so special.
It was a challenging weekend for everyone involved with the staging of the Air Tattoo with the odd very unfortunate cancellation and some difficult weather on Saturday that at times disrupted the flying. As with any large event, traffic and particularly getting out of the event was a little slow and perhaps a little worse than recent Air Tattoos. It is a shame there is no post-flying display entertainment to help stagger the crowds departure from the event. Overall though this was a really memorable Tattoo up there with the very best staged by Royal Air Force Charitable Trust Enterprises. The Air Operations team pulled together a particularly varied collection of aircraft from around the world. However it was the United States Air Force presence that really made the show special. Though USAF participation may not have matched pre-2013 levels, it was the best of any recent airshow in Europe made even better by the enthusiasm of the crews.