Royal International Air Tattoo 2005 Review
Saturday 16th July - Sunday 17th July
Once every 12 months, a quiet sleepy airbase turns into a Mecca for aviation enthusiasts and the general public alike, as the largest military airshow in the world hits town. The main themes for 2005 were Surveillance, NATO Tigers and 60 years of the United Nations. Although the show is a two day affair the real action starts on the preceding Wednesday, when the first aircraft descend on Gloucestershire for the greatest show on earth.
spent a week in the sun-kissed Cotswolds. Photography from the .
The first arrivals to RIAT started on Wednesday and included some notable juicy items such as the US Coast Guard C-130J, Greek RF-4 and Corsair and possibly the star of the static the Polish tiger scheme Su-22.
The arrivals continued on Thursday with Lithuanian Mi-8 and some very welcome Italian rarities in the form of Italian Customs AB412s and ATR. It was also the beginning of the display validations, the highlight being the Dutch AH-64D which on first sight looks like the A variant as it doesn't carry the Longbow 'Edam' shaped radar above the rotor head like the British and American variants do.
Roll on Friday when the last of the aircraft arrive and there are more display validation flights. The static park is also opened in the afternoon for special guests and FRIAT members. The most talked about incident for perhaps the whole show was the display by the RAF Typhoon which even made the national press. At the end of one manoeuvre the aircraft pulled out extremely low, estimated by some at under 30 feet! Not surprisingly this caused many hearts to skip a beat, not least the pilot's!
He immediately recovered with a quick handful of throttle and continued the display but was told to abort by the validation committee. As he still had a considerable fuel load he had to burn it off at altitude so spent several minutes in full afterburner to get the weight down to land. As he landed the speculation started as to what happened. Was there a fault with the aircraft or the pilot? Did he forget to lower the undercarriage?
Several people managed to take photos of the event as well as video and were posted on the UKAR board and others that very evening. Our very own Karl Drage had his take on what happened published in the Daily Telegraph. The display was flown again late Friday afternoon in the spare ship without further incident.
The arrival days were blessed with almost unbroken sunshine and thankfully this continued for the show days. Its always a tough one to call when to arrive and what car park to go for but the gods were smiling on me at least as we got to the green car park and were directed on to the concrete at the end of runway 27. It was a mere hop, skip and jump to the entrance gates for the 7.30 opening.
Being a FRIAT member also gets you your own dedicated entry lane although for the blue car park in particular there was trouble when people who had recently arrived tried to merge into the queue that had been there from the start. Luckily it didn't come to blows but FRIAT members had difficulty getting to the dedicated entry lane, it seemed staff had not been told and so many had to join the regular queues. The situation had been sorted out for the Sunday however.
Despite the London bombings there was never any doubt the show would go ahead. Security was as tight as ever with bags being searched for any prohibited items. With checks out the way you were free to enter the airfield after first negotiating the programme sellers begging for their £7.50.
Once on base the world is your oyster. Should you bag a spot of real estate on the crowd line or trawl round the static park while there is less people about. Or should you find the nearest beer tent and take a mortgage out on a pint to quench the thirst, as the display doesn't start until 10.00 the choice is yours.
For the early birds it can be worth observing the arrivals. No BA 747 this year but two DHL 757s arrived, one for the static and one for the display. A handful of small commuter airliners made it in before the display was to start as well as a number of private aircraft.
The show starts off as ever with a parade of the emergency vehicles, the number of vehicles exceeding those of even Heathrow. We all hope they're never needed but with them being dispersed to all parts of the airfield they would be on the scene of any incident in seconds.
First air display of the day kicked off with the RAF's C-17 from nearby Brize Norton. Not the best ever display of the aircraft I've seen but it performed some unfeasibly tight turns at a very high angle of bank. She then came in for a landing and discharge out of the rear ramp its cargo of…. pipers! There I was expecting a tank or at least a Land Rover but no, the marching band, who must have felt slightly queasy at least, marched out and proceeded to the disused taxiway. Good job they did too as once they were off the runway the aircraft throttled up and took off, visibly blowing the grass behind the pipers. Had he departed with them still on the runway there would have been a drum roll of a different kind!
Time for some fast jet noise and you don't get much louder than the Mirage 2000 burning up the azure blue skies with its usual French flair. A highly manoeuvrable aircraft it's no wonder it won the award of best overseas flying display at RIAT.
The Blue Eagles paired up with the AAC historic flight with the latter displaying first in a much more sedate sequence. The Blue Eagles were in fine form with seemingly a more energetic display from the Lynx, one of the few helicopters able to roll and loop. Back to the jets with the RAF's Tornado F3 followed by the Hercules tac demo using a C-130J and discharging it's contents of two Land Rovers that did their usual act of trailing copious amounts of green smoke. With a wind from the north the smoke drifted towards the crowd (cough) and obliterated the Herc from view.
The Chinook won UKAR's Best RAF Solo Display last year and it hasn't disappointed this year. It's rare to see such a huge beast being flung around the sky with such abandon. By the end I don't think there's an angle you haven't seen it. The mighty Wokka was followed by the best car alarm trigger on the block, with the exception of the B-1, the RAF Harrier display.
One of the stars of the flying display was without doubt the RNAF Apache. The agility of the aircraft is all too apparent when you see how it can loop and roll effortlessly. We'd been treated to a release of flares on the Thursday and Friday and the show days were no exception. On reaching the top of the looping manoeuvre inverted there was a release of flares from both sides which must surely be one of the definitive images of RIAT 2005. The helicopter then came in low, nose on to the crowd to show off the wizardry up front by swinging the 35mm canon from side to side just by the movement of the crew's head.
No RIAT would be complete without another Dutch performer, the F-16 in what must surely be the best paint scheme of any fast jet. Airliners are a rarity at any show which is a shame because they are usually huge and visible for miles so wherever you are on the crowdline it appears as more than just a dot. Making its RIAT debut was the DHL 757. When an airliner doesn't have large amounts of cargo, passengers or fuel it can show some surprising manoeuvrability.
Time for some top aerobatic action from the Honda Dream Team's Will Curtis in the Sukhoi Su-26. Will performs an amazing display, made even more remarkable in that the commentator talks to Will during the display and his voice is unwavering despite pulling and pushing some very uncomfortable amounts of G. The display was topped off with a record breaking attempt to cut as many ribbons while flying inverted as possible. Saturday's attempt was hindered by the wind but Sunday he managed to pull it off in style with very little room for error.
While I slipped off for the UKAR meet outside the information point the display carried on over the lunchtime period with displays from the RAF Hawk, Patrulla Aguila, Tucano, a rare appearance by the Mangusta, Black Cats Lynx duo and a sprightly performance from The Purple Violet Pitts Special from Turkey. By sound alone you can tell it's no ordinary Pitts Special, it has a more powerful engine and impressive display as a result.
The Royal Navy put up a formation of no less than four Jetstreams. In fact I'd seen around six or seven RN Jetstreams land over the last couple of days so it was like a mini deployment for the type. Fresh from the gossip of Friday was the Typhoon, now flying a full display with an RAF crew. It flew a superb display showing off the extreme manoeuvrability it's capable of. Despite being the new kid it didn't pull any punches.
There was a unique formation from the Red Arrows with two reconnaissance Spitfires (three on Sunday). Interesting to see the Reds with air brakes out and the Spits at full chat. Props and jets usually don't mix! The formation then broke with the Spitfires doing some nice formation passes followed by a rare full height display from the Reds.
Fairford played host to a first display outside the US but also something of a let down. The aircraft in question? A ScanEagle UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle or as commentator Sean Maffet kept saying, in the interests of political correctness, an Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle). Had the ScanEagle flown at a venue such as Biggin Hill it would have been fine, it would have been visible but in the vastness of an arena such as Fairford it appeared as nothing more than a spec, heck I've seen larger bumble bees! It wasn't helped that the 'display' was flown above the airspace to the north of the field completely so even with binoculars or a meaty camera lens it did little to fill the viewfinder.
The ScanEagle has a camera at the front which beamed back live pictures to screens at either end of the airfield although its doubtful many people would have seen them as they would have been on the crowdline watching the display. After a few distant circuits and many calls from the watching public of “where is it?"it came in for a landing, or should that be capture as it's flown into a net suspended from a folding arm. Through my zoom lens it looked like a helpless fly stumbling into a spider's web as it dangled in mid air. A potentially interesting display had it not been so distant but it's a start. Please give us a Global Hawk or at least a Predator next time.
The RAF Merlin is certainly after the Chinook's crown this year as best RAF Solo Display and like the Chinook it gets thrown around the sky and even drops off a Gator six wheel vehicle from its cavernous hold. The RN put up four Hawks who formated with a pair of FR Aviation Falcons and acted out a scenario where the Falcons played an aircraft and the Hawks Exocet missiles.
Another RIAT award winner came from Finland in the form of the F-18 who won the Paul Bowen Solo Jet Trophy. Following on was an aircraft on the verge of retirement, the venerable Jaguar. It's sad to see so many types from the British forces being retired, some before their time. This brings us nicely on to the Sea Harrier which performed a great four ship display.
Displaying next was another Tornado, this time a GR4 followed by the USAF East Coast Demo Team displaying a Spangdahlem based machine. Now for the real heavy metal. The B-1 and B-52 never fail to impress as their sheer power and size fill the Gloucestershire skies. They may only give short flypasts but considering the lack of US aircraft they were very welcome.
Going back in time were displays from a Hunter in Swiss AF colours and the BBMF Lancaster. A more humbling display followed, a missing man formation from four RAF Hercules in a tribute to the downed crew of a Lyneham based Hercules in Iraq earlier in the year. It drives home that the aircraft you see displayed do perform a serious task and crews often lay their lives on the line.
The final item were those stalwarts of team aerobatics, the Frecce Tricolori. The last item is usually a cue to pack up and run before everyone else does! I'd long since gone, years of experience tell you to leave as early as possible. Sunday's display was pretty much the same with acts moved around here and there and the odd cancellation.
It's difficult to do both the static and flying display in one day so I like to do flying for one day and static for the other. This year's static display contained some very fine and unusual visitors with the best contributing nation being Italy in my opinion.
Starting at the eastern end was a nice trio of Apaches, two AAC and one Dutch. There were several formations of the static aircraft, an arrow formation of F-16s being another one. It was an impressive layout but some are obviously going to want everything laid out in a line, you can't win them all!
The tiger Su-22 was in a good position to take photos from all sides which was good, you wouldn't want something so photogenic boxed in by other aircraft. What's this I see, an RAF Phantom? Yes but it obviously didn't fly in, its been sitting at Fairford since the 100 Years of Flight Display and the more interesting blue paint scheme underneath can be seen in places. Two Romanian MiG-21s were placed here with the other two being at the other end of the runway. These were positioned much better than they had been at Waddington only two weeks before.
Another star item for this end was the Greek RF-4 complete with a special painted tail making it even more essential to photograph. A pair of Italian Navy AV-8s continued the interesting items for the public's perusal.
Continuing west there were two American items of the latest hardware, a Global Hawk UAV and F-35 with a model of the complicated VTOL engine arrangement alongside. Looking closely at these two aircraft you realised they were 1:1 scale plastic kits but from a distance they do look convincing.
There were plenty of anniversary Tornado tails about which I'd seen previously at the Marham event but they were good to see again. For the Surveillance theme the Italians sent a handsome (if they can be handsome) ATR of the Italian Customs Service. Making a nice formation were two Nimrods, an MR2 and R1 with a Canberra PR9 in between.
About half way now with a shiny US Coast Guard C-130J glowing in the sunshine with a German A310 behind, also glowing white along with a E-6 Mercury in - you guessed it, white. There can be no better aircraft to represent surveillance than the U-2, a rather common aircraft to Fairford of late as they pass through to unknown locations.
Coming to the end of the static were another load of interesting aircraft tucked away. A Greek A-7, tiger tailed Lynx and 'tigered' KC-135 which bring back memories of my wife in the FRIAT stand when a tiger painted KC-135 took off on the departure day one year but that's another story!
The western end is also a haven for the helos and the organisers had attracted some beauties. Two Danish Fennecs, Italian HH-3, Italian Customs AB412 and Lithuanian Mi-8. Well that about wraps up the static park and the show days.
Monday is the most popular day for the enthusiast as that's the day the majority of aircraft depart. The odd one departs after the show on Sunday and some go Tuesday or later if there is a technical problem.
The departures must be the most testing time for any controller as clearances have to be made for all the aircraft to pass through other countries on their way home to their respective countries and bases. Usually this goes fairly smoothly with the exception this year of the Greek RF-4 which was refused clearance by the French as the aircraft was on the runway ready to go! It forlornly taxied back to its parking position to await further news. Luckily it did take off later but with no real thanks to the French. Weather for departures sadly didn't produce the clear blue skies of the previous five days and a rather persistent shower in the afternoon ended the event for many, me included.
This year's flying display was perhaps lacking a real speciality and there were more British acts than foreign but there was still a good mix. The static was in my opinion top notch with some real rarities and some good layouts although they wouldn't be to everyone's liking. Attendance numbers were apparently up although there seemed less people about which could be down to the increased ramp space or people sitting on the crowdline.
Overall a thoroughly enjoyable show for both public, enthusiasts and UKAR members! The weather must have been a deciding factor in many people's decision to attend, the show days were glorious but Sunday was a scorcher. As the last aircraft departs Fairford's sweet tarmac the planning for next year's Royal International Air Tattoo is already underway.