Saturday 7th July 2012 was a very special day for me and probably a lot of other people as well. This day was the very first time that I was attending the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire and despite the weather; it turned out to be probably the best airshow that I have ever attended. As with a many shows across the UK, RIAT had a major theme which was reflected in the flying programme. This year the theme was SkyLift 2012 which incorporated a lot of aviation’s heavyweights including the Bell-Boeing MV-22B Osprey and Boeing 757-236SF. This theme was also represented with a flypast of current and future Royal Air Force transports and tanker aircraft. RIAT 2012 was also celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with a special flypast by 27 BAe Hawks of various marks which was reduced to nine BAe Hawk T.2s on Saturday due to the low cloud. 2012 also saw multiple debut air displays. This included the Al Fursan aerobatic team of the United Arab Emirates Air Force making their UK Airshow debut as well as the RIAT debut of The Black Eagles display team of the Republic of Korea Air Force after performing at Waddington recently. Unfortunately there was several cancellations and changes to the flight programme. Due to operational commitments The Saudi Hawks would not be able to perform and technical troubles prevented the Fouga CM.170 Magister from displaying and on the Saturday one of the Panavia Tornado GR.4s was unavailable.
The static display also featured a variety of rare and fascinating aircraft. This included the Mikoyan MiG-29UBS ‘Fulcrum-B’ of the Slovak Air Force, a Lockheed C-5B Galaxy from the United States Air Force Reserve Command and a Bell-Boeing MV-22B Osprey of the United States Marine Corps. There were three major static displays which I consider to be major highlights of the show. Firstly there was the Colombian Air Force who bought their brightly painted Lockheed C-130H Hercules alongside a considerably smaller Lancair T-90 Calima which arrived inside the Hercules. Secondly, a Japanese military aircraft touched down in the UK for the first time. In this case it was a Boeing KC-767J from the Japan Air Self-Defence Force which also bought twenty six Taiko drummers aboard who performed several times throughout the show. However, the star of the static line-up for many was the United States Air Force Global Strike Commands Northrop-Grumman B-2A Spirit complete with armed guards. Another debut to the show was the Polish Navy’s Mil Mi-14PL ‘Haze’ which was awarded the Best Livery Trophy for having the Best Paint Scheme.
Due to the Royal Air Force Falcons Parachute Display Team being unable to perform due to the low cloud base meant that the honour of opening show fell to the Beechcraft B200 King Air which is operated by 45(R) Squadron based at RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire. Despite the damp weather, the King Air’s demonstration of its landing capabilities was very entertaining. A good start to a great military airshow even though I personally prefer faster and more dynamic displays.
Next up was our first taste of pure heavy metal in the form of the Yakovlev Yak 130 ‘Mitten’ from the Irkut Corporation. The Yak 130 is a duel seated advanced trainer which is in active service in Russia and orders have also been made by Algeria, Vietnam and Syria. This particular aircraft was making its UK airshow debut and unusually for a training aircraft, this Yak 130 had dummy fuel tanks, rocket pods and missiles under its wings which made the display far more aesthetically appealing. This along with its dynamic aerobatic performance made this aircraft stand out greatly as well as paving the way for what was yet to come.
Another training aircraft from RAF Cranwell took off to perform its display. But this time it is operated by 16 Squadron and is far more aerobatic than the King Air. This was obviously the Grob G-115E Tutor T.1 which got straight into its routine with an incredibly dynamic aerobatic display with plenty of flicks and tight turns. This basic trainer allows all Royal Air Force pilots to learn the basics of flying before progressing onto more advanced aerial platforms which we would see more of later on.
Coming in fast from the long concrete runway was the first of the Lockheed Martin F-16AM Fighting Falcon displays of day with this one being the Belgian Air Component example which is operated by 350th Squadron in Florennes. This specially painted display aircraft was unfortunately unavailable due to technical issues and instead the display was flown in the standard grey aircraft. The display was restricted due to the loud cloud base but was still fast, loud and thrilling.
More jet action next but this time from a RIAT regular. The SAAB JAS-39C Gripen is a highly advanced multirole fighter which is part of a long line of successful fighters including the Tunnan, Lansen, Draken and Viggen. The weather improved significantly and this really enhanced the display. This particular Gripen is based at Linkoping Airport which is partly operated by SAAB.
Performing for the crowds next was the first of many international display teams with their six Northrop F-5E Tiger IIs. The team rarely performs in the UK so it was a real treat to see them display with their precision aerobatics and formation flying. In particular their ‘shadow’ formation was really impressive as well as the pair of jets performing a barrel role with wheels down and retracting them in perfect synchronization. The team were a great addition to the show and I will be looking forward to seeing them display again.
The next item was yet another fast jet but with a very different background. This Mikoyan MiG-29A ‘Fulcrum’ was from the soviet era and is operated by the 1st Tactical Squadron of the Polish Air Force. The Fulcrum made many fast passes allowing us to get a good look at the underside and topside of the aircraft. The highlight of the display was when the Fulcrum made a touch and go pass and then went straight up with plenty of afterburners. Another striking thing about this particular jet was the artwork on its tail fin which honoured Polish fighter pilot Miroslaw Feric who fought in the Battle of Britain. This aircraft was awarded the Lockheed Martin Cannestra Trophy for the Best Flying Demonstration by an Overseas Participant.
Upon the moment that the Fulcrum touched down with its chute trailing behind, the third Royal Air Force training aircraft to display takes to the air. The Shorts Tucano T.1 in a highly appropriate paint scheme for RIAT’s Diamond Jubilee theme arrived into the display area to perform its display. This advanced turboprop training aircraft is operated by the Central Flying School at RAF Linton-on-Ouse in North Yorkshire and performed a highly professional and entertaining demonstration of the variety of skills and manoeuvres a pilot would need to learn before advancing to either fast jets or multi-engine aircraft such as the Hawk or King Air.
Some people including myself saw the next aircraft circling in the distance which was a huge sigh of relief. The Avro Vulcan B.2 had unfortunately suffered the loss of two of its engines due to ingestion of silica gel desiccant bags. The damage was restricted to just the engines which meant there was no structural damage despite the engines being beyond repair. Luckily the Vulcan To The Sky Trust had two spare engines to replace them with. The display was one of the major highlights of the show and was unusually long for such a unique and spectacular aircraft. As this Falklands War era bomber flew past the crowd, it was unusually quiet. That is until a few moments later when the noise of the famous “Vulcan Howl” filled the air with noise and vibrations which could be felt by many people. Upon the routine finishing we were treated to the sight of the Vulcan landing slowly and majestically using its delta wing to slow itself down rather than using its breaking chute.
The first of several rotary aircraft to perform at this show displayed next. The Boeing Chinook HC.2 from RAF Odiham in Hampshire was only making a few appearances in the airshow season which is a real shame since it used to be such a regular item at airshows all over the UK. The Chinook display routine is spectacular even if you are not too keen on helicopters due to the unbelievable manoeuvres and the unique sound of the rotor blades. This display was truly unlike any other performance and was defiantly one of the major highlights of the show. This aircraft was awarded the Steadman Display Sword for the Best Flying Demonstration by a UK Participant.
Next up was not an air display, but a commemorative flypast to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Unfortunately, the low cloud meant the full twenty-seven jet flypast spelling out EIIR as seen at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Celebrations in May would not be able to happen. Instead we were treated to a diamond formation of nine BAe Hawk T.2s which will be replacing the BAe Hawk T.1. The formation was not as spectacular as we had hoped but was still a great flypast.
More rotary action next, but this time we return to the Belgian Air Component for the display of the Agusta A109BA from 1st Wing at Beauvechain Air Base. This helicopter is used as both a utility helicopter as well as for Search and Rescue. The display was reminiscent of the Lynx demonstrations despite lacking the ability to loop but still demonstrating how capable this helicopter is at its job.
Another international display team was next up to display in seven black and gold painted Aermacchi MB-339NATs. This was the start of the UK airshow debut of Al Fursan (a.k.a. The Knights) which is the national aerobatic team of the United Arab Emirates Air Force based at Al Ain Air Base. The team only recently made their very first display appearance at the Dubai Airshow last November and was a real treat to have them over in the UK. Al Fursan’s paint scheme is predominantly gold and black with the gold representing the desert sands and the black representing the oil underneath while they also incorporate red, green, white and black smoke which are the colours of the national flag. Their routine began with a variety of formation flypasts with all seven aircraft which then separated to form to groups. Whilst a single jet performed solo aerobatics and manoeuvres the remaining six performed more formation passes with a heavy use of smoke which quite literally painted the sky. The display reminded me of the display routines of the Italian Air Force Aerobatic Team Il Frecce Tricolori with their ten Aermacchi MB-339PANs which is unsurprising due to not only the aircraft but also by the fact that the Italian team mentored Al Fursan. The routine was not as intense as other display teams that I have seen but was still a highly entertaining performance.
After having an air display debut we return to a RIAT regular with another national aerobatic team. This was the Royal Jordanian Falcons with their four-ship of Extra EA-300Ls who dazzled us with a highly aerobatic routine with formation passes and solo aerobatics along with many crossovers. Unfortunately the weather closed in and a sudden heavy downpour cut the display short and left us waiting for the bad conditions to pass before the show could continue.
We were incredibly fortunate that the rain passed fairly quickly which allowed the show to kick off yet again. Yet another helicopter took centre stage but with a very different role from the previous rotary displays. From the Army Air Corps, the Agusta-Westland WAH-64D Apache AH Mk. 1 began its demonstration of its role as an attack helicopter. The routine consisted of showing off how agile the Apache is as well as showing how the cannon at the front can move independently of the helicopter. This particular Apache is operated by 3 Regiment based at Wattisham Airfield.
The weather still fairly damp and somewhat miserable forced the next item to stick to a flat routine. This was the second appearance of a Lockheed Martin F-16AM Fighting Falcon but this time from 312 and 313 Squadron of the Royal Netherlands Air Force at Volkel Air Base. The bright orange livery of this aircraft was outstanding and despite the lack of sparks due to low cloud we were treated to a dynamic and thrilling performance with lots of afterburner present throughout.
Usually when a transport aircraft such as the Boeing 757-236SF you don’t expect much more than a few flypasts by a grey or white coloured commercial aircraft. This was not to be the case as the DHL Air operated Boeing 757 we had displaying for us had a fuselage painted bright yellow with red markings as well as bright white wings. The unusual coloured aircraft stood out like a sore thump which made the display all the more distinctive along with the wonderful turns that this aircraft performed with a really impressive pass with its wheels down. This aircraft was the only civilian aircraft that was part of the SkyLift theme and this particular example is based at East Midlands Airport in North West Leicestershire.
Next up was the BAe Hawk T.1A which was the final Royal Air Force trainer performing at the show. This Hawk is based at RAF Valley in Anglesey and operated by 208(R) Squadron and this will be the last airshow season in which we will be able to see an RAF Hawk solo display. The striking and patriotic paint scheme was very well liked at the show due to the Diamond Jubilee theme and the display was also very well received by the crowds.
We were treated to more afterburning fury next from the French Air Force with their Dassault Rafale C which is the single seat version of this spectacular multirole fighter. This particular example hails from St. Dizier and is operated by ETR 2/92. The display was awesomely loud and full of tight turns and aerobatics which really demonstrated the raw power and capabilities of this fighter aircraft. This aircraft was awarded the Sir Douglas Bader Trophy for the Best Individual Flying Demonstration.
I would like to give a big thank you to RAF Brize Norton for their part in the second commemorative flypast of the show. This time celebrating the SkyLift 2012 theme with a flypast of different Transport and Tanker aircraft of the Royal Air Force which are all based at Brize Norton and operated by different squadrons. Leading the procession was the Vickers VC-10 K.3 which is the RAF designation of a commercially operated BAC Super VC-10 Type 1154 which is equipped with main deck tanks and three refuelling points. The VC-10 is due to be phased out of service in March 2012. This particular example is operated by 101 Squadron. Next in the formation was the Lockheed Martin C-130J-30 Hercules C.4 which is the RAF designation of a Lockheed Martin C-130J “Super” Hercules and is used as a tactical airlifter. This aircraft is operated by 24 and 30 Squadron. Coming along next in the formation was the Lockheed TriStar KC.1 which is the RAF designation of a former commercial BAe TriStar 500 which is used for tanker, cargo and transport roles. This aircraft is operated by 216 Squadron. Another tactical airlifter was next in the flypast in the form of the Boeing C-17A Globemaster III with this particular example being operated by 99 Squadron. The next aircraft from Brize Norton was the Airbus A330-243 ‘Voyager’ KC.2 which is used for tanker and cargo carrying roles. The A330 is set replace the TriStar and VC-10 in the Tanker role. This aircraft is operated by 10 Squadron. The final aircraft in the SkyLift 2012 flypast is not from Brize Norton but from Toulouse Airport in France. The Airbus A400M which has recently been christened the ‘Atlas’ which is destined to be used as a long ranged military transport aircraft. This aircraft is also due to replace the Hercules in the Royal Air Force. Unfortunately this aircraft was unable to perform a full display routine but we did get several more passes before it landed again to take its place as one of the major static attractions.
The Royal Air Force was heavily involved with this year’s RIAT and it was therefore appropriate that The Red Arrows displaying their seven BAe Hawk T.1As would be next to take centre stage. Alas the low cloud was still playing havoc with some of the display items and restricted The Red Arrows to a flatter routine which incorporated as variety of formation passes as well as some incredible aerobatic and crossover manoeuvres. Although the performance was rather sedate it was still a major highlight of the show.
Moving on to a more historical note, we treated to a great performance by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight which is based at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire. The Hawker Hurricane Mk. IIC was unserviceable so instead we were shown the Avro Lancaster B.I and two Supermarine Spitfires with one being a Mk. IIA which actually flew in the Battle of Britain and the other being a LF. VB which flew in the Battle of the Atlantic. They performed some highly spirited flypasts before splitting up into two separate routines. One major highlight of the display was the routine by the two Spitfires performing multiple crossovers as well as a variety of solo manoeuvres which you would expect from these iconic fighters. Also performing a great routine was the Lancaster which always seems to enthrall and entertain all who witness it flying. Something we also don’t see that often is the landing of the Battle of Britain aircraft with the Lancaster being a particular rarity these days.
Next up was the final aircraft representing the SkyLift theme and maybe not a thrilling as the Chinook or as eye catching as the 757 but was by far the most unusual display item of the day. This aircraft was the Bell-Boeing MV-22B Osprey which is operated by Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 264 (a.k.a. VMM-264) of the United States Marine Corps. Having seen a practice display by two examples of this spectacular aircraft before the show started we already knew what to expect from this performance with a brilliant demonstration of the transition between helicopter functions and conventional functions.
Finally, the moment we had all been waiting for was finally upon us. The RIAT debut of the Republic of Korea Air Force aerobatic team; The Black Eagles with their eight strikingly painted and powerful KAI T-50B Golden Eagles. Having already performed at Waddington the previous week and scooping the Boeing Trophy for the most accurate and polished flying display. They use smoke generators which produce red, white and blue coloured smoke which represents the Republic of Korea’s national flag. At first it appeared the team was being restricted to a flat routine but just as they began their routine this quickly changed to the full ‘high’ show. The display started with a huge variety of formation passes which were really impressive due to the power of the eight jets which look very similar to Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcons. After performing these passes, the team looped and broke at the top and dividing into a variety of groups. Four jets formatted to perform group aerobatics along with some very intricate crossovers. Another pair of jets demonstrated a variety of close formation manoeuvres whilst the remaining jets performed solo displays as well as showing of the afterburning capability. The action never stopped with this routine as when one group finished their manoeuvres another group came speeding in to perform. After their final break the team came into land and put an end to the greatest display routine I have ever seen and I really hope the team return in the not too distant future considering the lengths they went to get their aircraft over into this country. This display team was awarded the King Hussein Memorial Sword for the Best Overall Flying Demonstration and the As the Crow Flies Trophy as voted for by FRIAT for the Best Overall Flying Demonstration
Next we witnessed the display of the last international military aircraft of the show thanks to the United States Navy Strike Fighter Squadron 122 (VFA-122). This was the Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet which went straight into its routine upon tasking off. This particular display incorporated some impossible tights turns which seemed to pull all the vapour out of the sky. An impressive display for the crowds with an incredible jet fighter.
The Panavia Tornado GR.4 role demonstration was next to display but was unfortunately reduced to a single aircraft due to technical problems with the other aircraft. We were lucky to even get a display due to the tragic circumstances when two XV(R) Squadron Tornados crashed over the Moray Firth and resulted in the loss of three crew members. The previous weekend also saw the loss of Trevor Roach after a crash at the Shuttleworth Collection. The display consisted of plenty of fast passes with the wings swept back and slower ones with the wings forward giving a perfect demonstration of the variable geometry wings that the Tornado possesses. The display was also a fitting tribute to the tragedies that have occurred so recently.
The final military jet display falls down to the Royal Air Force with the Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4 from 6 Squadron at RAF Leuchars. The fiery afterburners really stood out in the fairly grey sky and the display was very similar to the Super Hornet from earlier but was a lot more dynamic and thrilling. This aircraft was awarded the Paul Bowen Trophy for the Best Solo Jet Demonstration.
To close the show were treated to a civilian display in the form of the Breitling Jet Team with their seven Aero L-39C Albatrosses. The team weren’t going to display initially as they were going to fly in formation with the Breitling sponsored Lockheed L-1049F Super Constellation but an engine failure prevented the Constellation from flying so the team gave us a full display to close the show. The team flew a very precise and well polished routine which revolved around a lot of formation passes and creative crossover and aerobatic manoeuvres. Although not as thrilling as some of the other teams this was a great display to close the show.
Overall the show was fantastic despite the nasty weather and all the cancellations including several items that were very appropriate for the display themes. The major highlights of the flying display were the awesome display by The Black Eagles as well as the performances by the Avro Vulcan B.2 and the Boeing Chinook HC.2. I think this show was one of the best I have ever seen. I will be looking forward to the Royal International Air Tattoo next year in which I believe the theme is SkyGuardian 2013.
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