Royal International Air Tattoo 2013 Review

The Royal International Air Tattoo is indeed one of the largest shows in the world and although budget cuts and segregation meant that one of the shows high points, the static display was somewhat smaller than previous years it had a wide variety of items. The show’s operational theme for this year was SkyGuardian which explores the part that aviation plays in protecting and supporting communities on the ground. Although these aircraft are often unseen, their work is vital and is undertaken by civilian and military aircraft alike in jobs such as policing and fire fighting to coastal patrols and airborne interception.

Opening the flying display on the Sunday was the Belgian Air Component with their ever familiar Lockheed Martin F-16AM Fighting Falcon which performed a flat display in the grey and cloudy skies but with plenty of noise. This aircraft is use as a multirole fighter are used to defend Belgium’s airspace and thus highly appropriate for the theme.

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Lockheed-Martin F-16AM Fighting Falcon

Next up was the first display from the Royal Air Force in the form of the advanced trainer, the Shorts Tucano T.1 which for this year is wearing desert camouflage scheme. This display was quite tame and didn’t reflect the true dynamics of this aircraft. The Tucano went on to win this year’s Steedman Display Sword for the Best Flying Demonstration by a UK Participant.

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Shorts Tucano T.1

Another themed aircraft arrived to display in the form of the shows first rotary item, the Army Air Corps Westland Lynx AH Mk. 7. This nimble helicopter performed a flawless aerobatic routine with some impressive rolls and back flips despite the low cloud base. The Lynx is used by a variety of countries for a wide range of roles, with this Lynx being used as a Battlefield Helicopter by the Army Air Corps which is soon to be replaced by the more advanced Agusta-Westland AW159 Wildcat AH Mk. 1 in 2014.

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Westland Lynx AH Mk. 7

Taking off next and bringing the noise was the first of two SAAB JAS-39C Gripen displays, this one being demonstrated by the Hungarian Air Force. Despite being a forced into a flat display, the Gripen performed brilliantly and was great to see this fighter under a different air arm other than Sweden. Unfortunately we were unable to witness the trademark ‘dump and burn’ usually seen during this particular display.

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SAAB JAS-39C Gripen

The first display team of the day is not always the most popular with the ‘enthusiast’ but I myself and many others enjoyed their stylish presence. This was of course the Breitling Wingwalkers who were flying a fourship of their Boeing-Stearman Kaydets and began their display with series of flypasts before splitting into two segments which each went onto perform their typically glamorous performances including loops, crossovers and rolls whilst the ladies on the wings enthralled the crowds in the tricky conditions.

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Breiltling Wingwalkers

Moving back to military aircraft we got to see a rarely seen event at an airshow, a refuelling demonstration which was courtesy of the Royal Air Force and Italian Air Force. First to take off was the tanker in the form of a Boeing KC-767A from the Italian Air Force which was swiftly followed by the pairing of Eurofighter Typhoons with an Italian F-2000A making its UK debut and an FGR.4 from the Royal Air Force. All the more impressive was the ‘performance’ takeoffs from the trio which isn’t often seen at and airshow. The formation returned with the fighters being refuelled by the huge tankers for a single flypast before returning later on and splitting off to land.

Classic types weren’t to be missed with the presence of the mighty Avro Vulcan B.2 which gave a mighty impressive takeoff to kick start its display. Although we did get to hear the infamous ‘howl’, it lacked any real impact as the Vulcan was fairly distant from the crowd line. In spite of this another treat was to see the V-Bomber use its own wing to slow down upon landing and allowing for some great photo opportunities.

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Avro Vulcan B.2

Next up was another rotary aircraft and the first of several debutants at this year’s show. This helicopter was from the Finnish Army which itself was making its first appearance in the flying display with a NHIndustries NH90 TTH which is used as a Tactical Transport and thus very appropriate to the show’s theme. The NH90 performed a good routine despite the weather which did impact the potential of this large aircraft and is certainly one of the better looking helicopters currently being used in modern military forces and was a great addition to the show.

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NHIndustries NH90 TTH

The Royal Air Force ‘Heavies’ that used to frequent regularly at shows is now unfortunately a rarity and we were treated to a single wheels down pass by a Lockheed TriStar K.1 from nearby RAF Brize Norton. This particular aircraft is unlikely to be flying airshows again as it is being retired in March 2014.

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Lockheed TriStar K.1

Whilst Saturday’s show gained an extra pair of warbirds for the flying programme, the Sunday that I attended had the French Air Force’s Patrouille de France who fly eight of the Dassault-Dornier Alpha Jet Es. They performed a great formation display but did have to cut their routine short due to technical problems which hindered there display.

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Patrouille de France

Due to the United States forces being unable to contribute to this year’s Air Tattoo, several warbirds used by the Americans displayed in the flying programme. First up was Plane Sailing’s Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A which was used as a maritime patrol aircraft as well as for search and rescue roles during the Second World War making it the oldest SkyGuardian aircraft displaying at the show. Sunday’s display was also further enhanced with next pair of warbirds flying top cover during the Canso’s performance.

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Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A

These were of course, the pairing of the Vought F4U-4 Corsair which was making its first display at the show and was joined by the North American B-25J Mitchell which was making its first UK airshow appearance. Once the pair had finished flying with the Canso, they flew a series of formation passes before performing solo routines. The Mitchell wore a bare metal finish instead of a typical ex-military scheme and looked fantastic in the bright sunlight as it performed several steep wingovers and fast passes. The Corsair came in next with some glorious passes and rolling manoeuvres to conclude this warbird segment which I felt made a refreshing change to the usual heavy metal that dominates the Air Tattoo.

The Italian Air Force were next to bring us back to modern technology with their award winning display from there Alenia C-27J Spartan which last appeared at the show in 2001 where it won two of the awards. Thankfully the low cloud from earlier had cleared significantly which allowed this transport aircraft perform several manoeuvres not usually seen in such a large aircraft including barrel rolls and loops which really wowed the crowds, myself included. The aircraft also demonstrated how little of the runway it needed to land at the end of its display before taxiing off. The Spartan was awarded the As The Crow Flies Trophy as voted for by the Friends of the Royal International Air Tattoo for the Best Overall Flying Demonstration.

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Alenia C-27J Spartan

More rotary action came in next with the second display from the Army Air Corps with their Agusta-Westland WAH-64D Apache AH Mk. 1. This attack helicopter is still currently being used in Afghanistan to support British troops with its wide array of weaponry. The role demonstration perfectly showed this helicopters amazing agility as well as how some of its internal technology operates such as the helmet operated gun and was very entertaining.

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Agusta-Westland WAH-64D Apache AH Mk. 1

The second classic jet of the day took to the skies to perform a very graceful display. This was the Classic Air Force’s Gloster Meteor T.7 which made its static debut at the show last year after being restored to flight at the end of 2011. This aircraft is one of the oldest jets still flying and performed a very stunning display and was a very welcome addition to the show.

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Gloster Meteor T.7

Graceful displays were also present when the Swiss Air Force took centre stage next with one of their two national aerobatic teams, the Swiss PC-7 Display Team which flies a total of nine Pilatus NCPC-7 Turbotrainers. Though the team lack smoke systems they make up for this with some spectacular formation flying with near impossible precision which stood them apart from the other more intense teams. Due to their phenomenal display, the team were awarded the King Hussein Memorial Sword for the Best Overall Display.

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Swiss PC-7 Display Team

Next up was a display segment representing the civilian side of the SkyGuardian theme. This featured a trio of helicopters that are used by the emergency services and included a Devon Air Ambulance Eurocopter EC135 P2, a Chiltern Air Support Unit Eurocopter EC135 T1 and a Eurocopter EC145 from Eurocopter UK that was used by the fire service. All three helicopters participated in a demonstration of their use by the emergency services. Unfortunately, this display fell flat and was probably one of the worst displays in the history of the Air Tattoo due to being far too centralised meaning anyone not at crowd centre couldn’t see much at all and the endless hovering just dragged on and on. I fully support the idea for representing different side of the show’s theme but something a bit more entertaining would be great.

Stepping up a gear in both display quality and size was the fantastic display by the Airbus A400M Atlas which we got a brief glimpse of at last year’s show. This aircraft showed off its impressive manoeuvrability which also goes to show that the Royal Air Force have made the right choice with making this aircraft the replacement of the soon to be retired Hercules. The high point of the routine was the stunning climb after a slow pass which was a real treat for the eyes before the aircraft departed the sky until it returned later on in the programme. The A400M was awarded the Lockheed-Martin Cannestra Trophy for the Best Flying Demonstration by an Overseas Participant.

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Airbus A400M Atlas

The French Air Force returned to the display front once more with one the noisiest displays around in the form of their Dassault Rafale C which is used by the French as their standard multirole fighter. This fast and furious fighter performed an incredible display as always with no shortage of speed and agility and was defiantly worth of an award in my opinion.

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Dassault Rafale C

We then shifted back to the Royal Air Force which their own multirole fighter, the Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4 which like the Rafale packed plenty of speed and agility in its stunning display. The Typhoon was awarded the Paul Bowen Trophy for the Best Solo Jet Display.

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Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4

Returning from earlier, the Airbus A400M Atlas was joined in the formation with the Royal Air Force’s Aerobatic Team, The Red Arrows for two flypasts to celebrate aviation excellence in Britain (the Reds having flown with the Airbus A380-841 on the Saturday). Once the Atlas broke to land, the team went straight into their full routine in excellent conditions with all nine aircraft and were a truly great representation of the Royal Air Force as well as British Aviation.

We stuck with the Royal Air Force for the next display but focusing on the historic elements with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. The display featured the Supermarine Spitfire LF. XVIE which was making its first appearance at the show and being the newest aircraft in the historic fleet alongside the Hawker Hurricane Mk. IIC and the famous Avro Lancaster B.I. The routine was as polished as ever starting with formations before the fighters performed a synchro display which preceded the Lancaster’s solo display before rejoining to perform a final pass. This time though there was a new feature to conclude the display. As it was the 70th Anniversary of the Dambusters Raid the Lancaster flew in formation with its modern counterpart the Panavia Tornado GR.4 from the Royal Air Force for single flypast as a tribute to all the bomber crews who flew during these raids. The Tornado then flew a final solo pass before landing while the Lancaster headed home to Coningsby.

Moving back to fast jets with the second Typhoon display of the day with the Italian Air Force’s Eurofighter Typhoon F-2000A making its debut UK display. The most obvious different between this display and the Royal Air Force’s routine was the presence of smoke winders to enhance the manoeuvres. The display was visually entertaining but was outclassed by the Royal Air Force in terms of speed and agility.

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Eurofighter Typhoon F-2000A

Belgium’s second and last display was up next and we went back to the rotary theme with the Belgian Air Component’s Agusta A109BA which is used for both attack and reconnaissance duties. Although not as aerobatic as the Lynx, this helicopter performed some interesting steep turns and twists throughout the routine.

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Agusta A109BA

Unlimited aerobatics became the focal point of the next display which featured the most loyal supporters of the Air Tattoo. They were of course, the Royal Jordanian Falcons and their quartet of Extra EA-300Ls which are operated by both the Royal Jordanian Air Force and Royal Jordanian Airlines. This year the team outdid themselves with a stunning array of intense and enthralling aerobatic manoeuvres which looked fantastic with the backdrop of perfect weather.

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Royal Jordanian Falcons

The Polish Air Force wasn’t initially going to attend the show, but later this changed and we were treated to the return of the award-winning Mikoyan MiG-29A ‘Fulcrum’ display. This cold war icon performed a great display with lots of smoke and afterburners with the noisy touch-and-go being a particular highlight. Despite not being as smooth a display as more modern jets it was great see an older jet of this calibre being thrown about the sky.

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Mikoyan MiG-29A ‘Fulcrum’

It was now the Royal Netherlands Air Force’s turn to shine with a pair of fantastic displays starting with the second Apache display with the Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopter which unlike the Army Air Corp who flew a role demonstration, flew a fully aerobatic display much like the Army Lynx we saw earlier. It was unfortunate that we couldn’t see the flares that are often deployed during this display. The second display in the form of the Netherlands’ frontline fighter, the Lockheed-Martin F-16AM Fighting Falcon was soon to be underway, but first both the Falcon and Apache formed up for a single formation flypast before performing an impressive and noisy break to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of Military Aviation in the Netherlands which was properly celebrated at Volkel Air Base. The Falcon performed a lengthy and noisy display full of intense speed and manoeuvrability in the bright orange and black scheme which stood out well in the blue sky.

Several debuts occurred at the Air Tattoo this year but it was this item that was the most unique as it was also the debut of the Air Arm. This was the Estonian Air Force’s static (with the An-2) and flying display debut at this year’s show with one of their two Aero L-39C Albatross jet trainers which was in the guise of the Baltic Bees Jet Team from which the aircraft is leased. Being a newcomer to the display circuit, the routine was rather tame but despite this it was enjoyable to watch.

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Aero L-39C Albatross

The final display from the Royal Air Force was also the last rotary display of the day with the always excellent display by the Boeing Chinook HC.2. This large helicopter put on a stunning demonstration of its surprising agility and some awe-inspiring manoeuvres. The Chinook was awarded the Sir Douglas Bader Trophy for the Best Individual Flying Demonstration.

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Boeing Chinook HC.2

The Swedish Air Force had once again returned with their impressive SAAB JAS-39C Gripen which was the second Gripen to display at the show. The display was very entertaining and has incorporated more speed and agility and thus far outclassed last year’s display.

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SAAB JAS-39C Gripen

As the show was now drawing to a close it was left to the Italian Air Force to end the proceedings with a fantastic aerial presentation from their national aerobatic team, Il Frecce Tricolori. The team fly ten Aermacchi MB-339PAN jet trainers and a major highlight of their routine is the take off, with five of the jets taking off in formation and then flying parallel to the other five aircraft as they also take off. They filled the sky with red, white and green smoke and there was never a dull moment during their display with formation aerobatics and some crazy flying from their solo pilot. The big finale was nine of the jets painting the Italian flag with their smoke with the tenth jet piercing the smoke and ascending into the sky and thus signalled the end of the day’s flying at the Air Tattoo.

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Il Frecce Tricolori

The show in my opinion was on top form. It may not have had many international debuts but there were plenty of little gems in the programme including the Dambusters tribute, Best of British Flypast and the tanker demonstration. The best solo displays were definitely the Royal Air Force’s Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4 and the French Air Force’s Dassault Rafale C whilst the Il Frecce Tricolori was probably the best team at the show. Special mentions should also go to the Gloster Meteor T.7 from the Classic Air Force and the Swiss PC-7 Display Team for putting on some of the most fluid and graceful displays. Despite the successes, the show should certainly avoid putting on a display like the Eurocopter Demo again as that really did bring the standard down. In conclusion, SkyGuardian 2013 was a great show and I look forward to attending Partnership 2014.

For more photos from this show check out the entire Royal International Air Tattoo 2013 – Sunday album on Flickr

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