Alan Warnes visited this year’s Royal International Air Tattoo and gives an overview of events.
DURING A summer that brought both torrential downpours and glorious sunshine, the weekend of July 16-17 was blessed with blue skies and warm weather for the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT). Having seen the weather forecast, most families must have decided to make the trek to RAF Fairford. Gloucestershire, on the first day of the weekend, preferring to relax elsewhere on Sunday. That must be the assumption if we take into account the startling difference in the number of people at Fairford on the two days. The number of Saturday visitors was probably three times that recorded on the Sunday, when RIAT seemed deserted compared to previous years. RIAT organisers claim that the total attendance for the weekend was 160,000 people, around 7% up on last year’s figures, though still some 100,000 short of the glorious totals recorded in the mid-1990s. If they are right, then RIAT 2005 only pulled in 35,000 more people than RAF Waddington, which held its (smaller) show on July 2 and 3.
You could argue until the cows come home about the reason for the general declining trend in the attendances, but I believe it is being caused by the British public’s weariness of war. Afghanistan, Iraq and the ongoing threat from terrorism, which claimed 56 lives in London just a week before the show, have combined to make events such as RIAT a no-go area for many families and individuals. Perhaps they fear that an event such as this, which they may perceive — wrongly — as glorifying war could be targeted by terrorists.
The main talking point at RIAT was the drama that surrounded the 29 (R) Sqn Typhoon flying display on Friday, the day before the gates opened to the public. Sqn Ldr Matt Elliott, with some 200 flying hours in Typhoons, was putting his aircraft through its routine when, according to one observer, «the jet lost height at the bottom of a manoeuvre and with only about 20 feet to spare, the pilot managed to get the aircraft into afterburner and pull away. It was very close». The RAF issued a statement saying it was a «sequencing error», while — not too surprisingly — an angry Eurofighter spokesman did not understand what the fuss was about! Later that afternoon Sqn Ldr Elliott climbed back in to the aircraft and went through the routine again without incident. One positive note to emerge from the incident was that the Eurofighter’s high degree of carefree handling and thrust was very much in evidence!
The three main themes of this year’s event were ‘NATO-Tigers Roar’, ’60 years of the United Nations’ and ‘Surveillance’. Fourteen aircraft took part in the static display which featured in the Tiger get-together — though, sadly, not too many were wearing tiger markings. According to an MOD spokesman, this was always going to be the case. «The Tiger Association has now grown up and become more serious — a far cry from the 70/80s when it was regarded as ‘just an excuse for a piss-up’. Today, due to dwindling budgets, the Tiger Association only supports one function — the Tiger Meet, held this year at Balikeshir in Turkey. The main philosophy of the Tiger Meet is for the tiger squadrons to work and train together for a couple of weeks each year. It is up to the squadrons themselves to decide where they go and whether they can afford the cost of painting their aircraft in tiger markings». Obviously many units heeded that advice and either did not attend or flew to Fairford in their usual tactical colour schemes.
A Polish Air Force Su-22UM Fitter from 6 ELT (Eskadra Lotnictwa Taktycznego — Tactical Air Squadron) based at Powidz was the star of the ‘NATO-Tigers Roar’ theme, but was separated from the rest of the Tiger aircraft. This meant that getting a good photograph of the Fitter was hindered by the many blue bollards in the static display and by the hundreds of spectators, while the rest of the Tiger aircraft sat on the relative tranquillity of the ramps further up the display line, near the trees. The 671 Sqn/Army Air Corps Lynx also looked pretty impressive, and the French Navy’s 11 Flotille should be congratulated for sending two armed Super Etendards. One carried an AS-30L short-range laser-guided air-surface missile under the port wing and an Atlis laser designator pod on the centre-station; the other boasted an AM-39 Exocet anti-shipping missile. Unfortunately, the former was parked in such a position that the AS-30L could not be seen as it was on the blind side of the aircraft facing the trees! I feel that if units make the effort to place weapons on their aircraft, spectators should be able to see them. Another welcome visitor was the Hellenic Air Force TA-7C (156768) from 335 Mira Vomvardsmou (Fighter-Bomber Sqn). It had departed its home base of Araxos with another two-seater, which dropped into Kleine Brogel, Belgium, for that base’s 60th Anniversary Airshow on July 20. The aircraft visiting RIAT left on July 18 to join up with its wing-man at Kleine Brogel for the return to Greece.
‘Surveillance 05’ was a great success, with the RAF contributing nine aircraft. Apart from the more obvious types such as the Canberra PR.9, Jaguar GR.3A, Nimrod MR.2/R.1, Sentry AEW.1 and Tornado GR.4A, there was a 1 Sqn Harrier which, fitted with its Joint Reconnaissance Pod (JRP), can be used for tactical recce. The Royal Navy’s 849 Naval Air Squadron showed one of its Sea King ASaC.7 command and control helicopters, which have only been in service some three years. The eaves-dropping 51 Sqn Nimrod R.I, used for Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) and Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) missions, was making only its second appearance at an airshow, due mainly to its ‘de-missionised’ status but due to the sensitivities of equipment on board — the doors were kept locked to keep out any unwanted visitors. However, most of the general public would have made a bee-line for the U-2S. After all these years, this aircraft still attracts a great deal of attention and is still very much in the thick of providing surveillance to the Commanders on the ground in locations such as Afghanistan and Iraq. Three U-2s had arrived on the Tuesday before the show (July 12), with two continuing on to the Middle-East early on Wednesday, leaving the third aircraft in the static display. The U-
2s were en-route to Al Dhafra in the UAE to replace the two aircraft out there (the third jet crashed on June 22. Close to the U-2 was a mock-up of an R0-4A Global Hawk, the aircraft that will eventually succeed it and which is already operating from the same base in the UAE, flying surveillance missions in the region.
Some of the more interesting foreign types included a French Air Force C-160G Gabriel from EE 00.054, based at Metz-Frescaty — its operations being of a secret nature in a role similar to that of the Nimrod R.I. One such aircraft is known to have been operating from Akrotiri, Cyprus, a well-known haunt for spies during the spring, presumably looking after French interests in that region. The French Army also sent an AS 532UL Horizon battlefield surveillance radar helicopter which, with the aid of an antennae leading from the back of its rear fuselage, and other electronic equipment on board, can be used as a ‘mini-AWACS’. The French Army has four Horizons all based at Phalsbourg, France with the 1 RHC (Regiment de Helicopteres Combat). As far as I am aware, this was the first time that either type has visited these shores. The Italian Customs Service brought along an ATR-42-400MP — a regular sight at industry airshows but making its debut at RIAT. One aircraft which did not escape the notice of the crowd in the static display was the specially-painted Hellenic Air Force RF-4E Phantom from 335 MV, a very rare visitor here in the UK. The Greek participation at RIAT was particularly welcome and is likely to be linked with the three-day show at Tanagra (referred to as Archangel 05) from September 16-18, in which the Red Arrows are due to take part.
The ’60 years of United Nations’ theme attracted a collection of aircraft from Europe, most of which are ‘regulars’ at RIAT, so there were no big surprises there.
Competitors for UK Programmes
It is noticeable that nowadays many aerospace companies are starting to visit national airshows as well as international industry-based events in an attempt to focus and meet personnel from the local military. In the wake of the UK’s decision to examine new combat and surveillance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) systems for its future strategy, Boeing Unmanned Systems demonstrated its ScanEagle UAV at RIAT, although you might well have been among the many who missed the event, which took place in the south-west corner of the airfield. The ScanEagle is one of three systems — the others are the Predator-B and the EADS Eagle — which are being evaluated as part of the UK’s Strategic Unmanned Air Vehicle (Experiment) SUAV (E) by the Joint UAV Experimental Team (JUET) at RAF Waddington, Lines.
The Aermacchi M-311 and the turboprop Pilatus PC-21, which was visiting RIAT for the third consecutive year were present because both aircraft are candidates in the UK’s new MFTS (Military Flying Training System), expected to be fully functional by 2012. The other candidates for a new elementary flying trainer are the Raytheon T-6A JPATS (Joint Primary Air Training System) and the Embraer Super Tucano, which were not present. Aermacchi believes a jet aircraft can be used in this role, as the Jet Provost was when in service with the RAF between 1960-1989. The M-311 is basically an upgraded S-211, which has served the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) over the past 20 years. Given that Aermacchi is also developing the Aermacchi M-346 (another candidate for the MFTS), in the basic trainer category, many of its characteristics have been passed on to the M-311, such as the modern cockpit avionics, wing-tips and fences on the wing. The aircraft at RIAT is actually the S-211A demonstrator, cloned as an M-311, though Aermacchi says the real aircraft will have better access panels to its systems and stronger landing gear. Most impressive is its eventual capability to simulate different radars, and thus train pilots of air forces flying varying types of combat aircraft. All the contenders have also been short-listed by the RSAF to replace its S-211s, and Turkey and the Royal Australian Air Force are also interested.
From the number of chalets now occupying the crowd-line, it is clear that RIAT is now a major factor for many aerospace companies in maintaining their interest in UK programmes or, like Pilatus and Aermacchi, to try to gain a foothold in the UK.
Flying Display Awards
The flying display was up to its usual high standard, and the Italian Air Force Frecce Tricolori won this year’s award for the best overall display. Other award winners were the French Air Force Mirage 2000 pilots, Captain Yannick Vallet and Captain Fabrice Camliti, who won the Lockheed Martin Cannestra Trophy for the Best Overseas Flying Demonstration.
RAF/18 Sqn pilot Fit Lt Carl Zareckey received the Steedman Display Sword for his Chinook HC.1 display; Captain Olli Siivola, flying the Finnish Air Force F-18C Hornet, was awarded the Paul Bowen Solo Jet Trophy, while surprisingly the RIAT 2005 Best Livery award went to the 77th Air Refuelling Squadron KC-135R. My vote would have gone to the Polish Air Force Su-22 but having learnt that they applied the tiger markings while at RIAT they deserved something! However, it was Major Wandent Brawdsen of the Royal Netherlands Air Force 301 Sqn, flying the AH-64D Apache, who won over most of the judges with an excellent display. He came away with two prizes — the Sir Douglas Bader Trophy for Best Individual Flying Demonstration and the As The Crow Flies Trophy, awarded by the Friends of RIAT for the Best Overall Flying Demonstration.
Despite the fact that both the US and UK are heavily involved in high-tempo operational commitments and budgetary constraints it was encouraging to see so many aircraft from both nations, and shows their support for RIAT and its fund-raising efforts. All in all, RIAT came up with two days of entertainment which was enjoyed as much by the die-hard enthusiast as by the general public, and which — hopefully — put some extra cash into the coffers of the RAF Charitable Trust!