Royal International Air Tattoo 2008 Review
Saturday 12th July - Sunday 13th July
The Tattoo of 2008 is one that will certainly be jotted down in the annals of history: A Hungarian Fulcrum, a pair of P-3s, a trio of Raptors, a quartet of Portuguese Alpha Jets and a show that never happened. For the first time in its 38-year history the Air Tattoo was cancelled, on account of torrential rain in the days prior to the show.
takes a look over what was and what could have been. Photography by the .
Once again proceedings were kicked off a day earlier than the official arrivals days and once again the perpetrators hailed from the former British colony of America, their early arrival perhaps a belated Independence Day present for their erstwhile masters. The arrival of Raptors in triplicate along with support, in the shape of a KC-10 from Travis AFB, saw the start of what should have been a bumper week of aviation anchored with a weighty participation list marred with few cancellations, the recent Display Authorisation given to the Vulcan and pure unmitigated filth - if display teams are your thing - with nine teams representing as many air arms from as far afield as Chile and India billed to display over the show weekend.
Sadly, as we all now know, this was not to be and an indication of the show's fate could be derived from the near biblical proportions of rain that fell on the Wednesday. This old testament drenching left the schools of enthusiasts pondering whether instead of a tent an ark might have been a more appropriate form of accommodation, if any of Noah's descendants were in the maritime construction game and if current CAD/CAM technology allowed the expeditious manufacture of said vessel could current facilities be sufficiently converted into a viable Moor & View - with suitable pontoon meterage, lifeguard coverage and depth under keel for family-sized arks? These are the questions that all the meerkats were thinking in between periodically jumping up to take photos of passing aircraft before diving back down into the dry of their network of interlocking umbrella-fashioned warrens.
After the poor conditions of the previous day, which of course fate saw fit to deliver the MiG and mouth-watering tiger marked Fregate on, the Thursday looked like an altogether more promising day, cloudy but dry, and saw a plethora of aircraft arriving including F-16s under many guises and a welcome return to the Royal Air Force of Oman BAC 1-11. Another highlight of the day was the MB-339CD pair from 61 Stormo, 212 Gruppo. The attendance of these advanced trainers from Lecce-Galatina in the heel of Italy made a welcome change to the usual MB-339 participation in the form of the Frecce Tricolori.
Normal RIAT operations were reduced on the Friday to accommodate the Queen's Colours Parade, which saw Her Majesty review the colours of the entire RAF as well as presenting the service with new colours. The review lasted approximately one and a half hours and after a pause for lunch the ceremonies were concluded with an historic flypast of 90 aircraft that stretched some 35 miles and consisted of aircraft from all aspects of RAF operations.
The flypast was led by the RAF's support helicopter fleet - a Chinook followed by a Merlin/Puma four-ship, which consisted of both a HC3 and HC3A model of the RAF's newest support rotorcraft - preceding RAF Rescue representation with a 22 Squadron Sea King HAR3. The Defence Helicopter Flying School with two Squirrels and two Griffins and an elementary flight training formation of two Tutors and two Fireflys in turn followed this.
The second segment of the flypast was led with a look to the past in the form of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight's Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane. 12 engines and five aircraft followed as a Hercules C3 joined in with a King Air hanging off either wing which in turn had a Dominie of their own just off their outside wings. After this multi-engine formation with an aircraft to engine ratio of one came nine Tucanos from RAF Linton-on-Ouse.
An arrow-shaped Hawk seven-ship preceded the unique sight of a VC-10 with drogue hoses deployed and a Sentry receiver just short of sealing the deal. Behind this was a Sentinel accompanied with two 32(TR) Squadron HS125s, a Nimrod and a Tristar, both of which were flanked by a pair of Hawks. This section was then finished off with a solitary 99 Squadron C-17A Globemaster III.
Time then for some fast jet frontliners and leading the way a nine-ship of Typhoons in Typhoon formation chased by four Harriers. Diamond Nines always seem to be the formation of choice for the Tornado fleet and today was no exception as 43[F] and 9 Squadron each showed off their nine-ships with accompanying noise. With the count now at 81 there was only one way to finish off this spectacle and that way trailed red, white and blue smoke - the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows.
During the quiet time between the Queen's arrival and the flypast part of the static was opened up to those on base. The 90th anniversary of the RAF was to be a major theme for this year's tattoo and the RAF must be applauded for its participation. Sightings of RAF heavies in the static at an airshow are rarer than reports of Yetis playing polo on unicorn-back but this year's show featured not only a Sentry but a VC-10 as well, an aircraft that the airshow enthusiasts' lifelong enemy - operational commitments - has denied them for some time. A cluster of jet trainers sat in a six-pronged star with examples from the past, a pair of Jet Provosts and a pair of Hunters, and present, a pair of hawks - one of which was the stunning 19 Squadron special scheme in its earthy Spitfire tones.
Other treats to be found in the static included GR4 ZA400 "Scud Hunter", which sat along with a 41[R] Squadron aircraft and a Goldstar marked example, Treble-One Squadron's 90th anniversary F3 "JU" and the Gripen currently on loan to the Empire Test Pilots' School, accompanied by a Boscombe Down Alpha Jet.
Getting another, most welcome, airing in public was RAF Akrotiri's Griffin HAR2 "Spades", standing out in its glossy grey and red search-and-rescue scheme from the DHFS helicopters it was sitting next to.
Whilst the western end of the static, where most of the more exotic aircraft where laying in wait, wasn't open to the public on foot it was viewable by those who joined the buses that followed the Green Cone Road. Those that took the trip to this enchanted area could see a line of no less than nine Fighting Falcons and some of the stars of the static, such as the Italian AMXs and Hellenic Air Force RF-4E, laid out in photographer friendly positions. The criticisms of last year's static had obviously been heeded and it was evident that an effort had been made to improve the positioning of both aircraft and cones. That more could not appreciate this success was a true shame, not just for the public but also for the engineering teams who had manoeuvred the aircraft into place.
Friday saw a number of practice displays many of which were standard European airshow fair, although a couple came from further afield. The Indian Air Force returned to the Cotswolds with the Sarang Helicopter Display Team and their colourfully painted HAL Dhruvs. Putting on a dynamic display is always a challenge for a helicopter display team and with the exception of perhaps one or two crosses the Sarang display just seemed somewhat pedestrian. All right as a one off but not something you'd loose much sleep over not seeing again.
Completely the opposite of this was the F-22A in the hands of Major Paul "Max" Moga from the Raptor East Demo Team. Whilst their remit is to perform "precision aerial manoeuvres to demonstrate the unique capabilities if the worlds only operational fifth generation fighter aircraft" the flying is less like the Air Combat Command demonstrations of old and has begun to evolve into a more European style display. Using an unfeasibly short length of runway "Max" got his ride into the air and skimming along the tarmac before an abrupt pitch into the vertical saw the start of 10 minutes in which the normal laws of physics were suspended. At one point Moga actually defied Zeus by holding the Raptor stationary and erect in the sky before casually sliding earthwards, flicking about and flashing his petalled arse at the ancient, sky-possessing deity.
With the heavy rainfall of the prior couple of days and the strong downpours that hit Fairford over the Friday, which drew none too complimentary comments from the visiting personnel who had attended the parade - although who can now claim the accolade of having been 'royally' soaked, the organisers were left with no choice but to cancel the Saturday show on account of the car parks and areas of the showground not being fit for purpose - FRIAT and its surrounds were being affectionately referred to as 'The Somme' by its inhabitants. Despite a gargantuan effort by all involved the situation had not improved sufficiently to allow the public access on the Sunday either. The real irony of the situation was that the weather over the weekend by itself would have been fine for a show to take place, with the odd shower on Saturday and the sun even making an appearance the following day. At the time, however, for those who had made the journey this irony whilst realised was more overwhelmed by a level of depression akin to that suffered by a galaxy hitchhiking robot.
After the disappointment of show weekend sans show it was clear from the departures that the pilots wanted to do their bit to put on somewhat of a show and strangely it wasn't so much the fast jet crews as the transport ones that would do this. While the majority of the pilots elected to stay low it was the truckies that added some extra panache by waving goodbye as they rocked their wings, even a Lynx joined in as it passed the FRIAT enclosure and demonstrated its high roll rate.
The last movement for many was once again Major Moga as he returned from his display at Farnborough alongside a Strike Eagle. After splitting from his Lakenheath escort "Max" performed two low circuits for the crowd, breaking just before and then just after FRIAT. These circuit bashes really gave the enthusiasts a chance to see the Raptors ability to pivot around its nose in an instant, more so than in the display due to its closer proximity. Ever the showman "Max" kept his nose up on landing and rolled the whole length of the runway, to ensure everyone got a sight of him and his mount, before backtracking along it.
RIAT 2008 had looked like it was going to be a modern classic, the flying display was jam packed and the static was large, varied and even more importantly well laid out. That the show didn't take place was bad enough for the enthusiasts but it must have been even worse for the organisers and volunteers, after all those months of planning, and for the visiting aircrews, after all those flight hours getting to Fairford and the disappointment of not being able to display for the public. So on behalf of all the enthusiasts: Thank you for all your efforts, happy planning and hopefully we'll see you back next year.