Fairford RIAT 96 — July 20/21

ENTHUSIASTS MUTTER the same question every year about the IAT — “how can they beat this? » But somehow, despite the large drawdown of air forces since the end of the Cold War, the organisers always manage to succeed.

Two principal themes dominated proceedings at this year’s show — now the Royal International Air Tattoo — Sea Search and the 30th anniversary of the Harrier. Sea Search certainly attracted some very intriguing aircraft, though the two Russian participants, the Beriev A-40 Albatross and the 11-38 May easily stole the limelight. Also rarely seen out of its natural habitat was the Spanish Air Force F-27M-400MPA which normally lives in the Canary Islands and was making only its second UK airshow appearance. Many of the more familiar maritime types were well represented, including the P-3 Orion, the Sea King and individual examples of the Dassault Falcon 10MER and AB412SP.

Sadly no overseas Harriers were able to attend, so it was up to the RAF and RN to celebrate the type’s 30th birthday, which was highlighted by the flying display finale involving ten 1,4 and 20(R) Sqn Harriers in a set piece attack scenario.

In among the static park were many rare items such as the Israeli C-130H, Czech An-24, South African C-130B, Ukrainian 11-76 and three seldom-seen Swedish helicopter types, the Hkp9A, HkplO and Hkpl 1. There were also a number of types making their UK airshow debut including the AC-130U of the 4th SOS USAF, Fokker 60UTA-N of 334 Sqn Royal Netherlands Air Force and the AJSH-37 Viggen from FI 5 Wing Swedish Air Force.

Photographers often complain about the tight arrangement of aircraft in the static park but this year the organisers really deserve a pat on the back for making such a concerted effort to please everyone. It is difficult to space out so many aircraft and so it is inevitable that group shots rather than individual aircraft are more often captured on film, particularly on the public days. That said, some clever arrangements created a number of very nice combinations — the two Norwegian F-5s flanking the Spanish RF-4C readily comes to mind.

This year also saw the IAT mark its 25th anniversary and yet another new display team was added to its tally, with the appearance of the Turkish Stars flying the Northrop NF-5A. Compared to last year, the number of visiting teams was down, though it was nice to see the Swedish Team 60 returning to the UK once again — it is not everyday you get the opportunity to see two teams of F-5s, the other being the Patrouille Suisse.

Overall the flying programme generally lacked outstanding or unusual items, although over eight hours of airborne entertainment certainly kept the general public happy. There were, however, two displays that did capture the attention, one being the Alenia G222 operated by the Italian Reparto Sperimentale Volo which was flown with great zeal — providing the rare sight of a transport aircraft performing a barrel roll. Stealing the honours for spectacle was the Ukrainian Air Force Su-27A Flanker whose powerful demonstration of this large aircraft’s handling capabilities was most impressive and, of course, included the obligatory tail-slides. This may also have been the last chance to see the immaculate DTEO Comet C.4 perform at an airshow as it is rumoured that this aircraft will soon be retired.

Overall the show ran very smoothly and was blessed with hot, sunny weather, which pleased the photographers, even if it did make walking the length of the static line rather uncomfortable. The problem of traffic congestion was no worse than usual and can not really be avoided owing to the location of the airfield and the narrow surrounding roads — all in all, the organisers and Police seem to have arrived at the best possible traffic flow scheme after years of experience.

So can the organisers possibly improve the content for 1997? Well if the proposal for next year’s theme comes to fruition then the answer should be a unanimous yes.

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