The flying display at the Royal International Air Tattoo 2016 featured one of the best line ups in recent years with plenty of fast jets including four Lockheed-Martin F-16 Fighting Falcons and Eurofighter Typhoons alongside the UK debut of the Lockheed-Martin F-35 Lightning II which fitted in well with the ‘Next Generation’ theme. I attended all three days of the show and this review is based on Saturdays running order.
Opening the three days of flying on Friday was the United States Marine Corps with one of their Lockheed-Martin F-35B Lightning II from VMFAT-501 which demoed its short take off capabilities. The jet was joined in the air by a Lockheed-Martin KC-130J Hercules from VMGR-252 where the pair flew a single formation flypast, demonstrating the role of air to air refuelling.
The Polish Air Force opened Saturday’s show with the UK debut of their Lockheed-Martin F-16C Fighting Falcon from the 6th Tactical Air Squadron in a tiger camouflage scheme. The jet put on a great display of power with some great fast passes and tactical manoeuvres.
Next came the Spanish Air Force with a spectacular display in the Eurofighter Typhoon EF-2000S which was full of noise and afterburner and was certainly one of the best displays of the weekend. The aircraft is part of 142 Squadron as part of 14 Wing.
It was great to welcome the Italian Air Force’s Il Frecce Tricolori back to the show. The team’s ten Aermacchi AT-339PANs flew a rolling displays which was highly entertaining despite the low cloud preventing some of the more dynamic manoeuvres being performed.
The Hellenic Air Force were another welcome returnee with Lockheed-Martin F-16C Fighting Falcon which flew a great display in the spare jet, though not as dynamic as some of the other F-16 displays. The aircraft is from 340th Fighter-Bomber Squadron “Fox” and part of the 115th Combat Wing.
We then came to a change of pace with the spectacular Boeing Chinook HC.4 from No. 18(B) Squadron with its near impossible manoeuvres which was on top form as always and is always a great addition to any air display.
BAe Systems provided the next aircraft in the form of a Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4 which was loaded with dummy weapons. This was probably the best of the four Typhoon displays with some stunning manoeuvres and resulted in this display being awarded the Steedman Display Sword for the Best Flying Demonstration by a UK Participant.
Belgium has always been a big supporter of the show and once again provided their Lockheed-Martin F-16AM Fighting Falcon from the Belgian Air Component’s 350th Squadron with its usual dynamic display that has become a welcome and regular sight at the tattoo.
Another rotary aircraft to wow the crowds was the Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow from No. 301 Squadron of the Royal Netherlands Air Force. The attack helicopter performed a highly entertaining aerobatic routine including some amazing barrel rolls.
Air Tattoo regulars, the Royal Jordanian Falcons were also on point to entertain with a series of formation and unlimited aerobatics with their four Extra EA-300Ls. The team has been highly supportive of the show and its charity foundation and is jointly operated by Royal Jordanian Airlines and the Royal Jordanian Air Force.
Next up was perhaps the most highly anticipated display act of the show besides the F-35s, the Lockheed-Martin F-22A Raptor from the 1st Fighter Wing of the United States Air Force making a welcome return since its last appearance in 2010. The stealth fighter put on truly phenomenal performance with some incredible manoeuvres and subsequently awarded the ‘As The Crow Flies’ Trophy as voted for by the Friends of the Royal International Air Tattoo. This wasn’t the end of the F-22 which was then joined by the United States Air Force’s latest acquisition, the Lockheed-Martin F-35A Lightning II from the 56th Fighter Wing for a series of flypasts as part of the United States Air Force Heritage Flight. Unfortunately the North American P-51D Mustang “Miss Helen” couldn’t join the two jets on Friday and Saturday due to bad weather at its airfield. The Mustang was able to fly on Sunday but the F-22 had to abort its display due to a technical fault leaving the F-35A and Mustang to fly together as a pair. It was great to see old and new American hardware being flown together especially on the Sunday where we were treated to clear blue skies.
Some more classic aviation was displayed exclusively on Friday in the form of the BAC Strikemaster Mk. 82A from North Wales Military Aviation Services Ltd which but on a short and punchy routine.
One of the other highlights of the show was the debut of the Krila Oluje (i.e. Wings of Storm), the national aerobatic team of Croatia and part of the Croatian Air Force & Air Defence. The team fly six Pilatus PC-9Ms in a series of graceful formations and some stunning aerobatic manoeuvres leading to the team being awarded the King Hussein Memorial Sword for the Best Overall Flying Demonstration which was greatly accepted by the 56th nation to join the air tattoo.
The Royal Air Force came back into focus with the historic pair of the Supermarine Spitfire Mk. IIA and Hawker Hurricane IIC of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight which put on a sedate series of flypasts before putting on solo routines before re-joining for a final flypast.
We then came back to fast jet action with another regular attendee, the SAAB JAS-39C Gripen from the Swedish Air Force which was missed last year due to technical worries throughout the entire Gripen fleet. The fighter from F 7 Wing put on a very fast and noisy performance leading to being awarded the Sir Douglas Badar Trophy for the Best Individual Flying Demonstration.
The Polish Air Force took centre stage once again with one of their national aerobatic teams, Zespol Akrobacyjny Orlik with their seven PZL-130TC-II Orliks turboprop trainers where the team flew a spirited display with some very graceful formations and aerobatics.
More action came from Breitling, another strong supporter of the show with two aerobatic displays. First up was the Breitling Wingwalkers with a trio of their classic Boeing-Stearman Kaydets along with the glamourous wingwalkers on the wings and provided an entertaining spectacle. This was closely followed by an Extra EA-330SC flown by Aude Lemordant in a display of unlimited aerobatics.
The last item contributed by the Polish Air Force was their Mikoyan MiG-29A ‘Fulcrum’ fighter from the 1st Tactical Squadron which displayed a typically entertaining display featuring manoeuvres such as the tail slide and a very noisy flypast with wheels down.
The biggest aircraft to display was the impressive Airbus A400M Atlas from Airbus Military which has become quite a regular performer with some incredible manoeuvres which would be impossible for most large aircraft.
The Turkish Air Force returned with their fantastic Lockheed-Martin F-16C Fighting Falcon Solo Turk which was certainly the best F-16 demonstration of the weekend with some great aerobatics and tactical manoeuvres as well a ‘bow’ to conclude the display.
Germany also made a rare contribution to the flying display with possibly the last UK flying appearance of the German Army Aviation’s Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm Bo 105P from the School of Army Aviation. The little training helicopter performed a highly aerobatic display with some great looping and rolling manoeuvres.
The major theme of the show was the ‘Next Generation’ and the next items showcased this theme perfectly with a special formation with the Royal Air Forces Aerobatic Team, The Red Arrows. The nine BAe Hawk T.1As led the Royal Air Force’s latest acquisition, the Lockheed-Martin F-35B Lightning II from No. 17 Squadron which was flanked by a pair of Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4s (one on Saturday) from No. 1(F) Squadron. After the flypast the Lightning performed a somewhat reserved display with some fast flypasts before concluding with a demonstration of its hovering and slow flying capabilities finished with a vertical landing. The Red Arrows then came in overhead with their usual aerobatic performance with great formation flying and synchronized aerobatic manoeuvres.
More fast jet action came in the form of the Eurofighter Typhoon F-2000A from the Italian Air Force and demonstrated by the Reparte Sperimentale Volo. The jet was also equipped with smoke winders that enhanced the high but dynamic display.
The French Air Force’s Dassault Rafale C also made a very welcome return after some years absence with a spectacularly noisy performance with lots of afterburner. The jet hailed from 02.092 Rafale Conversion Squadron and was awarded the Sir Paul Bowen Trophy for the Best Solo Jet Demonstration.
After debuting last year, it was great to see the Bell-Boeing CV-22B Osprey from the United States Air Force Special Operations Command return for another demonstration of this tiltrotor’s capabilities. This aircraft arrived from RAF Mildenhall for its display and is from the 7th Special Operations Squadron and part of 752d Special Operations Group.
The Royal Air Force’s final display of the day was from the Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4 from No. 29(R) Squadron with an entertaining display full of noise and aerobatic manoeuvres.
The Royal Navy was also represented in the flying display with the Royal Navy Helicopter Display Team, The Black Cats. This was the team’s first display back at the show with their new Agusta-Westland AW159 Wildcat HMA.2s from 825 Naval Air Squadron and they put on a tight formation display before performing some close crossovers.
The French Air Force also provided the show with a pair of Dassault Mirage 2000N nuclear strike aircraft from the Ramex Delta team who were performing their last UK flying display as the team will be disbanded at the end of the 2016 season. The pair made their UK debut at the show last year and returned with their fast paced tactical display with lots of noise and afterburner. They were awarded the RACFTE Trophy for the Best Flying Demonstration by an Overseas Participant as well as the Best Livery Award for the scheme displayed by one of the aircraft.
The United States Navy provided their Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet from VFA-106 for the display in the hands of a Boeing test pilot. The carrier-based jet put on a tight if high display with some great manoeuvres such as a square loop.
Saturday’s flying display was closed by the Swiss Air Force’s national aerobatic team, the Patrouille Suisse. The team normally fly six Northrop F-5E Tiger IIs but this was reduced to five ahead of the show due to an accident earlier in the season and then to a fourship display due to an injury. The team put on a great display despite lacking some of their iconic and signature manoeuvres.
This year’s Royal International Air Tattoo flying display was full of fantastic highlights including the UK debut of two versions of the Lockheed-Martin F-35 Lightning II and the return of the United States Air Force’s Lockheed-Martin F-22A Raptor and the Heritage Flight. It was also fantastic to see the Ramex Delta again before their disbandment and the displays by the BAe Systems Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4 and Turkish Air Force Lockheed-Martin F-16C Fighting Falcon were also worthy of mention. The show was absolutely excellent and I look forward to returning for the 2017 show where they will be celebrating the 70th Anniversary of the United States Air Force.
For more photos from this show check out both the Royal International Air Tattoo 2016 – Friday and Royal International Air Tattoo 2016 – Saturday & Sunday album on Flickr
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