The Royal International Air Tattoo 2017 turned out to be one of the most varied and entertaining shows in its history, which spans for over forty years. This review will cover the static display divided into the main theme of the show, the 70th Anniversary of the United States Air Force and the operational theme of 21st Century Partnerships.
The main celebratory theme of the show was the 70th Anniversary of the United States Air Force which saw a variety of American aircraft types on display including types not seen at RAF Fairford for a number of years.
A small selection types on display came all the way from the United States of America, a rarity at UK shows in recent years. Air Force Global Strike Command returned with two of their jet bombers in the form of a Boeing B-52H Stratofortress from the 96th Bomb Squadron as part of the 2nd Bomb Wing and the supersonic swing-wing Rockwell B-1B Lancer from the 34th Bomb Squadron as part of the 28th Bomb Wing. Air Force Reserve Command also contributed one of their Boeing C-17A Globemaster III transport jets from the 701st Airlift Squadron from the 315th Airlift Wing. There was also a rare treat from the United States Air Force’s 9th Reconnaissance Wing with a Lockheed U-2S reconnaissance jet from the 99th Reconnaissance Squadron as part of the 9th Operations Group.
There was also a large contingent of aircraft from the United States Air Force in Europe from both UK and European air bases. A now familiar sight at the show in recent years is the Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker from the 351st Air Refuelling Squadron as part of the 100th Air Refuelling Wing. Transportation was represented by a Learjet C-21A from the 76th Airlift Squadron as part of 86th Airlift Wing. Combat jets were also featured on display with strong support from the 48th Fighter Wing with a pair of McDonnell-Douglas F-15C Eagles from the 493rd Fighter Squadron and a single McDonnell-Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle from 494th Fighter Squadron. There was also a pair of Lockheed-Martin F-16CM Fighting Falcons from the 480th Fighter Squadron as part of the 52nd Fighter Wing. Rotary types were also featured with a sole example of a Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawk search and rescue helicopter from the 56th Rescue Squadron again as part of the 48th Fighter Wing. We were also once again gifted with the presence of the Air Force Special Operations Command with a pair of aircraft from the 352nd Special Operations Wing, a Bell-Boeing CV-22B Osprey and a Lockheed-Martin MC-130J Commando II from the 7th Special Operations Squadron and the 67th Special Operations Squadron respectively.
This year’s operational theme was ‘21st Century Partnerships’, showcasing the bonds between the air forces around the world which was well represented in the static display with a total of 27 nations taking part.
The United Kingdom provided a wide variety of types from all three armed forces. The Royal Air Force sent over some big aircraft from RAF Brize Norton including an Airbus A330-243 Voyager KC.3 tanker jet from No. 10 Squadron and a pair of Airbus A400M Atlas C.1 transports from No. 70 Squadron. Frontline jets were also on display with a pair of Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4s from No. 6 Squadron and No. 29(R) Squadron along with a Panavia Tornado GR.4 from No. 12(B) Squadron in a special ‘Desert Pink’ scheme commemorating 25 Years of Operations. There was also a large contingent of training aircraft featuring some glider types from No. 2 Flight Training School, a Grob G-103A Viking TX.1 and a Grob G-109B Vigilant T.1 alongside a pair of Grob G-115E Tutor T.1 basic trainers from Bristol University Air Squadron. More advanced trainers were also on show with a Shorts Tucano T.1 from No. 72(R) Squadron in a special ‘Spitfire Camouflage’ scheme to commemorate the squadron’s 100th Anniversary. There was also a Beechcraft B200GT King Air from No. 45(R) Squadron in a subtle ‘Poppy’ scheme to commemorate its World War One history and the squadron’ 100th Anniversary in 2016. Fast jet training was also represented with a pair of BAe Hawks featuring a T.1A from No. 100 Squadron and a T.2 from No. IV(R) Squadron. Helicopter training had a strong showing with a trio of rotary types from the Defence Helicopter Flying School including a Eurocopter AS350BB Squirrel HT.1 as well as some new types including a Eurocopter EC135 T3 Juno HT.1 making its first appearance at RAF Fairford and a Eurocopter EC145 T2 Jupiter HT.1 making its UK airshow debut. The Juno and Jupiter will soon be in UK service to replace the Squirrel and Griffin helicopter currently performing the helicopter training roll. We also treated to the seldom seen Westland Puma HC Mk. 2 from No. 230 Squadron on display inside the RAF Village.
The Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm made a very strong contribution to the show including some fixed wing types in the form of a BAe Hawk T.1A from 736 Naval Air Squadron and a Beechcraft B350CER Avenger T.1 from 750 Naval Air Squadron. Rotary types were also present with a pair of Agusta-Westland AW101 Merlin helicopters with a HC Mk. 3i from 846 Naval Air Squadron and a HM Mk. 2 from 824 Naval Air Squadron. One of the latest helicopter types in naval service was an Agusta-Westland AW159 Wildcat HMA.2 from 815 Naval Air Squadron.
The British Army’s Army Air Corps provided a pair of current rotary types including the Agusta-Westland AW159 Wildcat AH Mk. 1 battlefield reconnaissance helicopter from No. 661 Squadron and an Agusta-Westland WAH-64D Apache AH Mk. 1 attack helicopter from 4 Regiment.
The furthest travelled nation, Australia, provided a rare UK debutant in the form of a Boeing E-7A Wedgetail from No. 2 Squadron where it is used in the role of ISTAR (Intelligent, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) by the Royal Australian Air Force.
The Austrian Air Force also made a welcome return to the show with a SAAB 105ÖE training from the Dusentrainerstaffel.
The Belgian Air Component are regular attendees at the show and this year sent over a pair of special painted Lockheed-Martin F-16AM Fighting Falcons. One was wearing a scheme commemorating the 75th Anniversary of No. 349 Squadron which is part of the 10th Tactical Wing whilst the other was wearing a scheme commemorating the 100th Anniversary of No. 1 Squadron which is part of the 2nd Tactical Wing.
The Royal Canadian Air Force also made a return to the show with a Boeing CC-117 Globemaster III from 429 Transport Squadron which also transported a second aircraft over from Canada in the form of the tandem-rotor Boeing CH-147F Chinook from 450 Tactical Helicopter Squadron.
The Czech Air Force was also present with a solo Aero L-159A ALCA from the 212th Tactical Squadron resplendent in a special scheme depicting a Supermarine Spitfire Mk. VB flown by General Frantisek Perina, an ace fighter pilot and patron to the squadron.
The Royal Danish Air Force also participated with one of their Bombardier CL-604 Challengers from Eskadrille 721 (721st Squadron).
Finland were also taking part in the show with the Finnish Air Force’s EADS-CASA C-295M transport which also acted as a support aircraft for the Midnight Hawks. There was also the Finnish Army Aviation’s NHIndustries NH90 TTH from the Utti Jaeger Regiment. It was great to see some Finnish participation as the Republic of Finland is celebrating its 100th Anniversary this year.
The French Air Force also returned to the show with a pair of Dassault-Dornier Alpha Jet Es from EAC 00.314 with one of the jets being painted in a special scheme to commemorate the squadron’s 100th Anniversary.
Germany once again provided a great selection of their operation types. The German Air Force brought over two of their larger transport types including Germany’s latest acquisition the Airbus A400M Atlas from Lufttransportgeschwader 62 and the long serving Transall C-160D from Lufttransportgeschwader 61 commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the squadron. German fast jets also made a return to the show with a pair of Eurofighter Typhoons featuring an EF-2000S in a special ‘Tiger’ scheme from Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 74 and a standard grey EF-2000T two-seater from Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 73 “Steinhoff”. There was also singular Panavia Tornado ECR on display from Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 51 “Immelmann”.
The German Navy’s Marinefliegerkommando provided a trio of rotary types for the static park which featured a Eurocopter EC135 P2+, a Westland Sea King Mk. 41 and a Westland Super Lynx Mk. 88A which were all part of Marinefliegergeschwader 5.
Greece’s Hellenic Air Force also made a welcome return one again with a pair McDonnell-Douglas F-4E Phantom IIs from 338th Fighter-Bomber Squadron “Ares” as part of the 117th Combat Wing. One of the Phantoms sported a special scheme on the tail and ‘Air Tattoo’ markings painted onto the fuel tanks.
The Irish Air Corps are regular visitors to the show and provided a Pilatus PC-9M turboprop trainer from the Flying Training School of the Air Corps College.
The Israeli Air Force made a rare trip to the UK as a late addition to the show with one of their Lockheed-Martin C-130J-30 Hercules from 103 “Elephants” Squadron.
Japan has been a regular supporter of the show in recent years and this year the Japan Air Self-Defence Force sent over a Boeing KC-767J from 404 Hikotai. The larger tanker-transport jet also brought over the Taiko Drummers who performed throughout the weekend.
The Royal Jordanian Air Force are big supporters of the show and provided a Lockheed C-130H Hercules from No. 3 Squadron for static display which also served as the support aircraft or the Royal Jordanian Falcons.
The Royal Netherlands Air Force are also regular visitors and this year provided one of their Lockheed C-130H-30 Hercules transport aircraft from 336 Squadron and a pair of Lockheed-Martin F-16AM Fighting Falcons from 322 Squadron. There was also a Dornier Do-228-212 on display courtesy of the Netherlands Coastguard.
The Pakistan Air Force returned once again with a beautifully schemed Lockheed C-130E Hercules from No. 21 Squadron.
Another regular attendee, the Polish Navy returned with their PZL M28B Bryza 1R from the 44th Naval Air Base and was painted as a Vickers Wellington bomber from No. 304 (Land of Silesia) Polish Bomber Squadron.
The Qatar Emiri Air Force appeared at the show with one of their Lockheed-Martin C-130J-30 Hercules from the Transport Squadron of the Transport Wing.
The Slovenian Air Force & Air Defence have become fairly regular visitors to the show and this year they sent over their solo example of a Let L-410UVP-E Turbolet transport aircraft from 107. Letalska Baza.
The Spanish Air Force was also present with a ‘Tiger’ schemed McDonnell-Douglas EF-18A Hornet from Ala 15.
The Swedish Air Force returned with their SAAB JAS-39D Gripen twin-seater from F 7 Satenas complete with replica armaments on display.
A very late addition to show was the return of the Ukrainian Air Force who provided some iconic shapes of the Soviet era. These were the Ilyushin Il-76MD ‘Candid’ heavy transport jet from the 25th Transport Aviation Brigade and a Sukhoi Su-27UB ‘Flanker-C’ two-seater multirole fighter jet from the 831st Tactical Aviation Brigade.
The United States Navy returned for the fourth year in a row with one of their Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol jet with this particular aircraft hailing from VP-16.
A new sight to the show was the future of Royal Air Force training courtesy of Affinity Flying Training Services which featured a Grob G-120TP Prefect, a Beechcraft T-6C Texan II and an Embraer EMB-500 Phenom 100E in RAF markings. These three aircraft types will soon replace the Tutor, Tucano and King Air in the next few years.
There was a number of other static exhibits on display that weren’t part of the main themes.
The Empire Test Pilots’ School sent over two of their test fleet for the show in form of the rotary Agusta-Westland AW109E Power Elite and the Avro RJ70 jet from QinetiQ.
The Army Historic Aircraft Flight also made an appearance with their seldom seen Saunders-Roe Skeeter AOP.12 helicopter.
BAe Systems always put on a small display of various aircraft depicting the history of British aviation. This year’s display featured Hawker Heritage’s Hawker Hurricane Mk. I, the Historic Aircraft Collection’s De Havilland DH.9, the North Wales Military Aviation Services’ BAC Strikemaster Mk. 82A and the Shuttleworth Collection’s Percival P.56 Provost T.1. The DH.9 was a particularly good to see as it was making its UK airshow debut since its restoration and will hopefully be taking to air again soon.
A few classic jets were also present including a brilliantly maintained and polished Fouga CM.170 Magister owned by H. Boukharouba and familiar sight of the BAC Jet Provost T.5 from Jet Aerobatics. The Boscombe Down Aviation Collection also provided an English Electric Canberra T.4 cockpit and an Auster AOP.IV airframe currently awaiting restoration on display. Other cold war types on display included the Bronco Demo Team’s North American-Rockwell OV-10B Bronco and a pair of trainer aircraft in the form of De Havilland Canada DHC-1 Chipmunk Mk. 22 from the Redhill Tailwheel Flying Club and a Scottish Aviation Bulldog T.1 from Pitbull Formation.
Warbirds were represented by a regular visitor, a Beechcraft Model G18S owned by Carlo Ferrari who often brings over this shining example of the twin engine taildragger. A replica Avro Lancaster B.I forward fuselage was also open for tours in the vintage village raising funds for restoration of another Lancaster.
There was also a number of aircraft brought over by corporations to promote the latest in aircraft technology. Bombardier Aerospace sent over one of their Bombardier Global 5000 business jet. Britten-Norman provided a Britten-Norman BN-2T Islander with a distinctive nose shape and a Britten-Norman BN-2T-4S Defender 4000 in an all-black scheme. Gulfstream Aerospace also sent a business jet over in the form of a Gulfstream G550. Leonardo S.p.A. provided an Alenia-Aermacchi M-346FA Master, a multirole variant of the M-346. Textron Aviation returned to the show with a pair of their assets including a Cessna 208B Grand Caravan EX plus potential armaments and equipment on display alongside the Textron AirLand Scorpion attack and reconnaissance jet.
Civilian and general aviation types were also on show from a variety of organisations and private owners. AirBourne Aviation supplied a trio of aircraft including a Diamond DA20-A1 Katana and a pair of Ikarus C42 FB80s. Bruno Stocker, a regular support of show provided a further trio of aircraft which featured a Diamond DA40-180 Star, an Extra EA-400 and a Socata TB20 Trinidad. There was also a pair of Evektor EV-97 Eurostars and a Tecnam P2002 JF Sierra from the RAF Halton Microlight Club and RAF Halton Aeroplane Club respectively. Professional Flight Training sent over a Piper PA-28-151 Cherokee Warrior and a Piper PA-28-180 Archer. The Royal Air Force Flying Club’s Association brought over a pair of Tecnam P2008 JCs and the Georgia Williams Trust displayed their Rans S-6ES Coyote II whilst there was a Shorts SC.7 Skyvan 3-100 on show from Eureka Aviation.
There were far too many highlights in this year’s static display but it was great to see a very strong American presence especially with the Boeing B-52H Stratofortress, the Rockwell B-1B Lancer and the Lockheed U-2S spy plane alongside the great return of the Ukrainian Air Force with the Ilyushin Il-76MD ‘Candid’ and Sukhoi Su-27UB ‘Flanker-B’. Also worthy of mention was the Royal Australian Air Force’s Boeing E-7A Wedgetail and the Royal Canadian Air Force’s Boeing CC-177 Globemaster III and its special cargo of a Boeing CH-147F Chinook. I hope next year’s static display has the same quality for the Royal Air Force’s 100th Anniversary celebrations.