Royal International Air Tattoo 2014 Review

Having covered he static display in my previous review we now move on to the flying display which was an absolutely amazing spectacle with firm favourites returning and some new display items as well that commemorated the shows themes perfectly. Unfortunately there was several cancellations in the flying display with the most noteworthy being the UK flying display debut of the Lockheed-Martin F-35B Lightning II due to an earlier engine fire that led to a fleet wide grounding. I attended the show on the Friday ‘Pit Day’ and the Saturday.

Kicking off the show was the Italian Air Force’s Eurofighter Typhoon F-2000A which first displayed at the show last year and making its UK debut. This jet returned with a much improved routine which although lacking the smoke system from before incorporated more power and noise. This display was the first of four displays provided by the Flight Test Centre (RSV) at this year’s tattoo.

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Eurofighter Typhoon F-2000A

Next up was the first display from the Royal Air Force with the always amazing Boeing Chinook HC.2 which put on its usual demonstration of its incredible agility and capabilities that this helicopter utilizes in the battlefield.

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Boeing Chinook HC.2

The Flight Test Centre of the Italian Air Force was then making its second appearance of the day with their aerobatic Alenia C-27J Spartan which stole the show last year and was once again on top form with its various passes, rolls and loops.

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Alenia C-27J Spartan

We then had the first aircraft to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the F-16 in the form of the Turkish Air Force’s Lockheed-Martin F-16C Fighting Falcon ‘Solo Turk’. The display was featured lots of afterburner and smoker which incorporated beautifully with the intense manoeuvres and aerobatics and further enhanced by some fantastic commentary. It was great to see the Turkish Air Force back at the show and with such a spectacular display aircraft.

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Lockheed-Martin F-16C Fighting Falcon

However, it was the Polish Air Force who stole the show this year for providing the stars of the flying display. They bought over not one, but two cold war era Sukhoi Su-22M4 ‘Fitter’ strike aircraft. The pair flew in formation to demonstrate the various wing positions they employ before going straight into a tactical demonstration which concluded with several missed approaches before landing and deploying the break chutes. There was no aerobatic elements to their performance, it was all about the noise and raw power of these aging but nonetheless important aircraft. The ‘Fitters’ went on to win this year’s 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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Sukhoi Su-22M4 ‘Fitter’

This year’s show featured more display teams than usual in order to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Red Arrows. The first of these teams was the Italian Air Force’s national team, the Il Frecce Tricolori who flew an immaculate routine in their ten Aermacchi MB-339PANs with the usual dose of Italian flair and style, further enhanced with the enthusiastic commentary from the team’s commentator. The team was awarded the Lockheed-Martin Cannestra Trophy for the Best Flying Demonstration by an Overseas Participant.

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Il Frecce Tricolori

More Italian action from the Flight Test Centre came in the form of a rarely seen aircraft in the UK skies, the AMX International A-11A. The jet is used for training and ground-attack roles and demonstrated the great handling characteristics of this aircraft.

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AMX International A-11A

Air Tattoo regulars, the Royal Jordanian Falcons who were flying a trio of Extra EA-300Ls this year took to the skies next as part of the Red Arrows’ 50th Anniversary. The display was well executed but was somewhat lacking without the full fourship routine which will hopefully return in the future.

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Royal Jordanian Falcons

The Americans then took centre stage with a very noisy and powerful demonstration in a Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet from the United States Navy whilst flown by a Boeing test pilot. The display was unfortunately quite high and distant and lacked the impact that it has shown in previous years and on Friday where it was due to close the flying display, it only performed a few circuits before landing.

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Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet

Now appearing for the third time in row at the tattoo was the Airbus A400M Atlas from Airbus Military which has proved what an impressive aircraft it is with a great demonstration of its surprising manoeuvrability, steep climbing and short take-off and landing capabilities. Certainly a worth aircraft to replace the Royal Air Force’s Hercules.

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Airbus A400M Atlas

Another air arm that provided numerous aircraft for the flying display was the Swiss Air Force which was celebrating its 100th Anniversary. The first performance was by Switzerland’s national aerobatic team the Patrouille Suisse with their six Northrop F-5E Tiger IIs who displayed a fantastic routine with equal measures of speed and grace. This may well be the last time the team displays in the UK as they are due to disband as the F-5 is being retired soon but is hope the team may return in some form or another. It was also unfortunate that an ex-Patrouille Suisse Hawker Hunter F.58A from Switzerland due to fly with the team couldn’t make it to the show due to bad weather that prevented its transit. 

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Patrouille Suisse

The last of the Italian Air Force’s participants from the Flight Test Centre was up next with a familiar shape to the UK, the Panavia Tornado. This was an IDS version and put on an amazingly sleek and powerful performance and was a rare sight to UK shows and appreciated by many as the Royal Air Force’s own Tornados are not currently performing full displays at airshows.

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Panavia Tornado IDS

Training aircraft seemed to be a common them among the next series of displays with the first being the Royal Air Force’s Shorts Tucano T.1 resplendent in its scheme commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Outbreak of the First World War. The turboprop aircraft displayed a great routine that showed what pilots are expected to master in order to progress to other aircraft in the Royal Air Force inventory.

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Shorts Tucano T.1

Poland once again featured in the display with one its national aerobatic teams, the Zespol Akrobacyjny Orlik making only its second appearance at the tattoo since its debut in 1998. The team fly seven PZL-130TC-II Orlik training aircraft as part of a recent fleet wide upgrade who put on the most graceful routine of the show with some very well flown formations and solo aerobatics.

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Zespol Akrobacyjny Orlik

Jet powered trainers were the next feature in this ‘training’ sequence of displays with the Austrian Air Force returning with their SAAB 105ÖE in a stunning Tiger scheme commemorating the types 40th year in service in Austria. This tubby jet put on a great display and giving us a good look at this strikingly coloured aircraft.

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SAAB 105ÖE

With the Estonian Air Force itself debuting last year it was great to see them return with their Aero L-39C Albatross for the flying display where it flew a much improved routine even with the lack of airshows in Estonia.

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Aero L-39C Albatross

We then turned to more rotary action starting with the Army Air Corps Westland Lynx AH Mk. 7 which performed a fantastic aerobatic routine which still as amazing to watch now as it was years ago. This will unfortunately be the last time this aircraft will display at the tattoo due this being its final display season and its imminent retirement in 2015. Appropriately enough in its final season, the Lynx was awarded the King Hussein Sword for the Best Overall Flying Demonstration.

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Westland Lynx AH Mk. 7

More rotary action again with the Army Air Corps began with an explosive arrival by the Agusta-Westland WAH-64D Apache AH Mk. 1. This year’s display feature multiple pyrotechnics that massively enhanced the experience and gave a good insight into the role this attack helicopter performs out on the battlefield.

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

Another show regular then took to the air in the form of the SAAB JAS-39C Gripen from the Swedish Air Force which performed a great noisy display which seems to get better year after year.

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SAAB JAS-39C Gripen

Returning to the helicopter theme the Swiss Air Force’s second display of day was the Eurocopter AS332M1 Super Puma which showed the great handling characteristics of this utility helicopter with some impressive manoeuvres close to the crowd.

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Eurocopter AS332M1 Super Puma

It was now time for the main theme of the show, the 50th Anniversary of the Red Arrows to be properly celebrated with display by the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, The Red Arrows with their nine BAe Hawk T.1As. Friday’s ‘Pit Day’ featured a special flypast with the Red Arrows leading a formation of the leader’s aircraft from the other national jet teams, the Breitling Jet Team, the Il Frecce Tricolori, the Patrouille de France and the Patrouille Suisse. The formation though impressive was very loose at times and a great shame that with the F-35B not present left the weekend crowds without a special formation. The Reds did still put on their usual fine display of masterful aerobatics and precision. In their anniversary year it was great for the team to be awarded the Steedman Display Sword for the Best Flying Display by a UK Participant.

Next up was the second display commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the F-16 with the Belgian Air Component’s Lockheed-Martin F-16AM Fighting Falcon in a wonderfully patriotic paint scheme for a Belgian jet. The display was one of the finest jet routines of the show and certainly gave the Turkish Air Force a run for its money. The Belgian F-16AM was awarded the Sir Douglas Badar Trophy for the Best Individual Flying Demonstration.

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Lockheed-Martin F-16AM Fighting Falcon

Moving back to aerobatic team we were treated to a pair of Breitling sponsored performers. The first being the Breitling Jet Team who flew a flawless routine of skill and grace in their seven Aero L-39C Albatrosses. Flying in after the jets landed was the Breitling Wingwalkers with their fourship of vintage Boeing-Stearman Kaydets in a routine of barnstorming antics with the glamorous ladies on the wings. Both teams but on great performances as part of the celebration of the Red Arrows’ anniversary.

Another vintage aircraft then arrived for its display in the form of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Douglas DC-3C Dakota III as part of the tattoo’s commemoration to the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings where the famous transporter put on an entertaining display.

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Douglas DC-3C Dakota III

The final display to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the F-16 was another Lockheed-Martin F-16AM Fighting Falcon but this time from the Royal Netherlands Air Force. Unfortunately due to the display was done with a standard scheme jet due to cutbacks but nonetheless displayed an exciting routine.

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Lockheed-Martin F-16AM Fighting Falcon

We also came to the last aerobatic team of the show as part of the Red Arrows’ anniversary celebrations in the form of the French Air Force’s national aerobatic team, the Patrouille de France with their eight Dassault-Dornier Alpha Jet Es. The team put on some outstanding performances on both Friday and Saturday with a very much improved routine from previous years as well as being France’s sole representative at the show.   

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Patrouille de France

The Swiss Air Force’s final contribution to the show was the McDonnell-Douglas F/A-18C Hornet making a long awaited return to the UK after being unable last year. This ‘legacy’ Hornet put on one of the best performances of the day and even outclassed the more powerful Super Hornet.

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McDonnell-Douglas F/A-18C Hornet

With all the international displays completed it was now down to the home team to bring proceedings to a close which began with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Avro Lancaster B.I and Supermarine Spitfire LF. IXE where the pair flew in formation before putting on some impressive solo displays.

As a final tribute to the D-Day commemorations the Supermarine Spitfire LF. IXE (a D-Day veteran) then flew alongside the Royal Air Force’s Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4 also resplendent in invasions stripes. The Typhoon then put on a fantastic display of speed and power as the tattoo’s finale. The Typhoon was awarded the Paul Bowen Trophy for the Best Solo Jet Demonstration.

This year’s Royal International Air Tattoo was absolutely phenomenal with many fantastic displays with the Polish Air Force’s pair of Sukhoi Su-22M4 ‘Fitter’ strike aircraft being one of tops. The gathering of no less than eight amazing displays teams to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of The Red Arrows was also very entertaining as well as all three Lockheed-Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon displays to commemorate the types 40th anniversary. I feel I should also mention the fantastic support the both the Italian and Swiss Force’s provided to the flying programme. The organisers have really got their work cut out for them in order to top this show for next year and I for one am very much looking forward to RIAT 2015.

For more photos from this show check out both the Royal International Air Tattoo 2014 – Friday and Royal International Air Tattoo 2014 – Saturday albums on Flickr

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