Royal International Air Tattoo 2017 (Flying) Review

The flying display at the Royal International Air Tattoo 2017 was held over three days with pretty good weather throughout although Saturday had several cancellations due to the cloud base being too low for safe displaying and Sunday did suffer a downpour near then end of the flying display. All three days featured special displays which highlighted the major theme of the show, the 70th Anniversary of the United States Air Force as well as a few other celebrations.

The show kicked off on Friday with a special flypast by the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, The Red Arrows and the United States Air Force Demonstration Team, The Thunderbirds who formed up with the Reds upon returning to a commitment in France for the Bastille Day. Once the American visitors landed, the nine BAe Hawk T.1As opened the show in grand style and also performed on the weekend with a special smoke laden flypast on the Sunday, depicting the American flag.

The Czech Air Force made a welcome return to the show with their frontline jet fighter, the SAAB JAS-39C Gripen from the 211th Tactical Squadron of the 21st Tactical Air Force Base which put on a very tight and dynamic display which also opened Saturday’s show in the gloomy weather. The well flown routine resulted in the display pilot, Captain Ivo Kardos being awarded the RAFCTE Trophy for the Best Flying Demonstration by an Overseas Participant.

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SAAB JAS-39C Gripen

Finland’s national aerobatic team The Midnight Hawks made a very long awaited return to the air tattoo since their first appearance in 2004. The team flew a full display with their four BAe Hawk Mk. 51As of the Havittajalentolaivue 41 on Sunday with Saturdays being curtailed by the weather, which featured some incredible close formation flying, unique smoke artistry and aerobatic manoeuvres and even a formation landing at the end.

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The Midnight Hawks

The Italian Air Force’s first contribution to the flying display came in the form of the brilliantly schemed Panavia Tornado IDS from the Reparte Sperimentale Volo and put on an awesome display of power and manoeuvrability. The swing-wing bomber was given the Best Livery Award for its striking colour scheme that commemorated the 60th Anniversary of 311 Gruppo as voted for by FRIAT members.

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Panavia Tornado IDS

Show favourites the Belgian Air Component were also present with the ever impressive Lockheed-Martin F-16AM Fighting Falcon from the 31st ‘Tiger’ Squadron of the 10th Tactical Wing which put on its usual entertaining and noisy display on Friday and Sunday. This was followed a search and rescue demonstration by a Belgian Westland Sea King Mk. 48 from the 40th Squadron Heli, a rare display in the UK due to the retirement of most of the Sea Kings in Royal Air Force and Royal Navy service.

The Royal Air Force’s combat jets were also represented in the display by the Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4 from No. 29(R) Squadron with a great demonstration of its power and agility despite not being able to fly on Saturday due to the weather conditions. This great performance resulted in the display pilot, Flight Lieutenant Ryan Lawton being awarded the Steedman Display Sword for the Best Flying Demonstration by a UK Participant.

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Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4

Sunday saw the only chance to see the Spanish Air Force in action with an extraordinary performance by the McDonnell-Douglas EF-18AM Hornet from Ala 15. The jets demonstration featured some impossible looking turns and kept remarkably close to crowd centre.

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McDonnell-Douglas EF-18AM Hornet

Regular attendees to the show, the Royal Jordanian Falcons performed on the weekend but only got a full display going on Sunday. The four Extra EA-300Ls put on an immaculate aerobatic performance in tricky conditions and is a great sight see as it represents the support the show receives from the Royal Jordanian Air Force and Royal Jordanian Airlines.

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Royal Jordanian Falcons

More rotary action came from the Royal Air Force on all three days with the spectacular Boeing Chinook HC.4 from No. 18(B) Squadron which put on an entertaining display that demonstrated this helicopters amazing manoeuvrability and versatility.

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Boeing Chinook HC.4

A different type of rotary display came in the form of the Air Force Special Operations Command’s Bell-Boeing CV-22B Osprey which gave a great tactical demonstration of the tilt-rotors’ capabilities on Friday and Saturday. This fascinating aircraft provided the first display to celebrate the American theme and is from the 7th Special Operations Squadron as part of the 352nd Special Operations Wing.

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Bell-Boeing CV-22B Osprey

The Austrian Air Force returned to the show and once again bought over a SAAB 105ÖE from the Dusentrainerstaffel which flew a well-polished routine, showcasing the types agility and handling characteristics.

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SAAB 105ÖE

One of the smallest air forces, the Slovenian Air Force & Air Defence displayed their Pilatus PC-9M Hudournik turboprop trainer in a finely flown routine with some great aerobatic manoeuvres. This fantastic display of airmanship resulted in the display pilot, 1st Lieutenant Andrej Fiorelli being awards the Sir Douglas Badar Trophy for the Best Individual Flying Demonstration.

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Pilatus PC-9M Hudournik

Another special celebration that was represented in the flying display was the 60th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight who provided a special display with the Avro Lancaster B.I, returning to the show for the first time since 2014 and was joined by the Hawker Hurricane Mk. IIC and three Supermarine Spitfires including the Mk. IIA, the LF. XVIE in an all-black primer and the PR. XIX in a new silver scheme. After the performing a series of formation flypasts, the bomber and fighters put on their own mesmerizing routines before reforming for a final pass.

Airbus Military have become regular contributors to the show and once again returned with another awe-inspiring display by the Airbus A400M Atlas and showcased this aircrafts tactical merits in its roles as a military transport and air-to-air tanker.

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Airbus A400M Atlas

It was then time for the start of a series of displays to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the United States Air Force. This was kicked off with sublime display by the Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress “Sally B” and followed by a solo display by Peter Teichman in the North American P-51D Mustang “Tall In The Saddle” from the Hangar 11 collection, representing the aircraft used by the United States during the Second World War.

Sunday crowds got a very special treat with the very rare appearance of a Northrop-Grumman B-2A Spirit from the Air Force Global Strike Command. The imposing stealth bomber from the 393rd Bomb Squadron of the 509th Bomb Wing performed two amazing flypasts alongside a pair of McDonnell-Douglas F-15C Eagles. This was an incredible surprise addition to the programme as the bomber was on a 23 hour long ‘Global Power’ training mission before arriving at the show and then departing back to Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri.

The main tribute to the United States Air Force was seen on all three days, a flypast featuring various aircraft currently used by the United States Air Force in Europe

Leading the flypast was a Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker (a KC-135T on Saturday) from the 351st Air Refuelling Squadron of the 100th Air Refuelling Wing based at RAF Mildenhall which flew a single pass.

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Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker

Next was a Lockheed-Martin C-130J-30 Hercules from the 37th Airlift Squadron of the 86th Airlift Wing based at Ramstein Air Base which also gave a single flypast.

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Lockheed-Martin C-130J-30 Hercules

Then came a trio of frontline jets from the 48th Fighter Wing in the form of a pair of McDonnell-Douglas F-15C Eagles from the 493rd Fighter Squadron and a McDonnell-Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle from the 494th Fighter Squadron, both based at RAF Lakenheath.

The final section of the flypast consisted of a pair of Lockheed-Martin F-16CM Fighting Falcons from the 480th Fighter Squadron of the 52nd Operations group based at Spangdahlem Air Base.

The jets then came round again for a two more fast passes, including some impressive departures with full afterburner.

The second part of the tribute came from the United States Air Force’s frontline air superiority fighter, the Lockheed-Martin F-22A Raptor from the 1st Fighter Wing. The stealth fighter put on an amazing performance on the Friday and Sunday with some incredible manoeuvres. Sunday also saw the jet form up with Commanche Fighters LLC’s North American P-51D Mustang “Frenesi” for a series of formation flypasts as part of the United States Air Force Heritage Flight. The jets performance saw the display pilot, Major Dan ‘Rock’ Dickenson being awarded the Paul Bowen Trophy for the Best Solo Jet Demonstration.

The third and final part of the tribute was the awesome display by the United States Air Force Demonstration Team, The Thunderbirds and their six (five on Friday) Lockheed-Martin F-16CM Fighting Falcons, returning to the show for the first time since 2007. The display featured some great formation flying, solo aerobatics and some very close cross over manoeuvres. The team were awarded the Chief Executive Trophy for their Outstanding Contributions to the Royal International Air Tattoo as well as their fantastic performances and hopefully they will return to the UK again soon.

The Italian Air Force become the centre of attention with an aircraft type not seen at the show before, the Alenia-Aermacchi T-346 Master. This jet trainer, again from the Reparte Sperimentale Volo put on a surprisingly noisy display and excellently showcased this aircraft’s manoeuvrability.

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Alenia-Aermacchi T-346 Master

The Turkish Air Force also made a welcome return to show with their Lockheed-Martin F-16C Fighting Falcon which performed their usual highly entertaining display with some spectacular aerobatics that also opened Sunday’s show in great style.

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Lockheed-Martin F-16C Fighting Falcon

Another regular fast jet to display was the Swedish Air Force’s SAAB JAS-39C Gripen from F 7 Satenas which displayed a potent, high octane demonstration of this modern fighter that is now employed by several air forces around the world.

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SAAB JAS-39C Gripen

The Swiss Air Force’s Patrouille Suisse returned to the air tattoo with a full contingent of six Northrop F-5E Tiger IIs who flew a very tight and entertaining display over the weekend which was helped along by the fantastic commentary. The F-5s in Swiss service may see retirement in 2018 but hopefully the team will be able to carry on in some form another.

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Patrouille Suisse

The Italian Air Force’s final contribution to the display was the Alenia C-27J Spartan with its spectacular aerobatic manoeuvres and tactical flying demonstrations. The aircraft was once again flown by the Reparte Sperimentale Volo and was a welcome addition to the show despite being unable to perform its trademark loop due to the cloud base over the weekend.

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Alenia C-27J Spartan

The French Air Force retired the Ramex Delta last year due to the Mirage 2000N nuclear strike jets being phased out of service. But this year they rolled out their replacement, the Conteau Delta who flew a tactical demonstration with a pair of Dassault Mirage 2000D attack jets which was full of manoeuvres that would be used in an attack scenario. The team’s aircraft are from both 02.003 Fighter Squadron “Champagne” and 03.003 Fighter Squadron “Ardennes”.

France also bought over their frontline jet fighter, the Dassault Rafale C from Escadron de Transformation Rafale 3/4 “Aquitaine” where it performed a truly awesome display full of power and precision which also showed of the striking scheme of the aircraft. The stunning performance resulted in the display pilot, Capitaine Jean-Guillaume ‘Marty’ Martinez being awarded the King Hussein Memorial Sword for the Best Overall Flying Demonstration.

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Dassault Rafale C

The penultimate display on the weekend was the long awaited return of the Ukrainian Air Force with their Sukhoi Su-27P1M ‘Flanker-B’ from the 831st Tactical Aviation Brigade which put on a noisy demonstration of its raw power and outstanding agility with a very liberal use of its afterburner which looked great in the gloomy grey skies. The outstanding demonstration resulted in the display pilot, Colonel Oleksander Oksanchenko being awarded the As The Crow Flies Trophy for the Best Overall Flying Demonstration as voted for by FRIAT.

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Sukhoi Su-27P1M ‘Flanker-B’

Saturday’s flying display was closed in explosive style by the Army Air Corps’ Agusta-Westland WAH-64D Apache AH Mk. 1 with a tactical demonstration showcasing the Apache assisting ground troops who are under enemy fire with some help from some pyrotechnics. The attack helicopter then demonstrated its amazing manoeuvrability before bowing to crowd in front of the ‘wall of fire’.

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

Sunday’s flying display and the whole of the air tattoo was closed with a performance by the Czech Air Force’s pair of Aero L-159A ALCAs from the 212th Tactical Squadron of the 21st Tactical Air Force Base. The jets flew some formation passes before splitting and demonstrating some tactical manoeuvres alongside some pyrotechnics before closing their display with some aerobatics along the crowd line and thus closing the show for 2017.

The flying displays this year have been absolutely phenomenal with so many highlights to choose from. All the displays that payed tribute to the 70th Anniversary of the United States Air Force were fantastic but the appearance of the Northrop-Grumman B-2A Spirit, the Lockheed-Martin F-22A Raptor and The Thunderbirds were particularly entertaining as well as the French Air Force’s UK debut of the Conteau Delta and the Ukrainian Air Force’s Sukhoi Su-27P1M ‘Flanker-B’. Special mention should also go to the Spanish Air Force’s McDonnell-Douglas EF-18AM Hornet and the Italian Air Force’s Panavia Tornado IDS and Alenia-Aermacchi T-346 Master. This year’s Royal International Air Tattoo has certainly been one of the best in recent years and I hope it has the same calibre of flying display for 2018 where the show will be celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the Royal Air Force over three full airshow days.

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