RAF Tornado GR4 at RIAT 2018
Royal International Air Tattoo 2018 Review
The Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) at RAF Fairford attracted around 185,000 people over three days, from Friday 13th to Sunday 15th July 2018. In total, 302 aircraft took part in the Air Tattoo, from 43 air arms, representing 30 nations, with 121 aircraft taking part in the flying displays.
This year, the Air Tattoo had a full three days of air displays, starting at 10am until about 6pm each day, unlike last year when Friday had a shorter air display.
As well as the air display, there is plenty of entertainment on the ground which includes the Techno Zone
, RAF Village
, Vintage Village
and Activity Zone
. There are also three 'Service Stations' in the Red, Blue and Green Zones which provide food & drink, toilets, cash points, free wi-fi, information points and official Air Tattoo merchandise. There are also plenty of stalls at the show selling a huge selection of gifts and souvenirs.
This year the Air Tattoo along with the RAF Cosford Air Show and the Northern Ireland International Airshow at Portrush, were selected to celebrate 100 years of the Royal Air Force
. The Royal Air Force was formed on April 1st 1918, after the amalgamation of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS), making it the world's oldest independent air force.
On Friday, to celebrate the centenary of the Royal Air Force there was a parade of the Queen's colour (ceremonial flag) for the RAF which had previously been presented to the RAF On 10th July in front of Buckingham Palace and was part of the national celebration. There was also a Royal review of the aircraft of the Royal Air Force at RIAT with his Royal Highness The Duke of Kent and the Chief of the Air Staff RAF taking a tour of the static line of RAF aircraft.
The weather was superb over the weekend with very hot and sunny conditions, although Friday experienced a thunder storm which unfortunately managed to disrupt the planned RAF Flypast. It was however good to see free public drinking water points where you could refill water bottles, which was really needed in the hot weather over the weekend.
To celebrate 100 years of the Royal Air Force there were a series of flypasts, with the largest planned for Friday, although as already mentioned, the weather caused the flypast to be cancelled on that day. The Friday RAF flypast was planned to include a Puma
, 3x Chinooks
, BBMF (Lancaster, 4x Spitfires & Hurricane)
, A400M Atlas
, 5x Tornado GR4s
, 3x F-35B Lightning IIs
, 22x Typhoons
in RAF100 formation and the Red Arrows
On Saturday and Sunday there were a series of smaller RAF100 flypasts planned which included 9x Typhoons
and a Lancaster with a Tornado GR4 & F-35B Lightning II
which was also a celebration of the famous 617 Squadron (Dambusters).
The 16th May 2018 was the 75th anniversary of 617 Squadron's raid on the German dams in the Ruhr Valley - Mohne, Edersee and Sorpe (Operation Chastise) using Lancaster bombers with Sir Barnes Wallis's bouncing bombs, destroying two dams and damaging a third. In 1990, 617Sqn operated the Tornado and were deployed to Saudi Arabia, following the invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi forces and subsequently took part in Operation Granby in January-February 1991. They were the first squadron to carry out a TIALD sortie and scored 229 hits with Paveway precision laser-guided bombs. 617 Squadron reformed with the new F-35B Lightning II aircraft in April of this year and four of these aircraft are presently at RAF Marham
. This is a fifth generation single-seat, single-engine, all-weather stealth multi-role combat aircraft which has advanced avionics, sensors, displays and communication systems that collect and share data with the pilot and other friendly forces which provides unmatched situational awareness. The F-35B is also a short-take off and vertical-landing (STOVL) aircraft which can operate from the new Queen Elizabeth class of aircraft carriers.
This year the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight
(BBMF) have displayed with their Lancaster
, a Spitfire
and formed up into 'Trenchard' formation, for this special RAF Centenary year. The new 'Trenchard formation' is named after Hugh Montague Trenchard, a British officer, who was instrumental in establishing the Royal Air Force. On Saturday, at RIAT, the BBMF performed a unique 'Trenchard Plus' formation comprising the Dakota, Lancaster, two Hurricanes and three Spitfires, and on Sunday the BBMF displayed with the Dakota, Lancaster and two Spitfires instead of the usual Spitfire and Hurricane. The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight won the 'King Hussein Memorial Sword' for the best overall flying demonstration.
It was good to see the Bremont Great War Display Team
at RAF Fairford with their replica World War One aircraft. The aircraft included a Sopwith Triplane
, Royal Aircraft Factory BE2c
, three Royal Aircraft Factory SE5as
, Avro 504K
, two Fokker DRIs
and a Junkers CLI
. The display included pyrotechnics and despite the length of RAF Fairford's runway and the long crowdline they managed to put on an entertaining display.
The US Air Force Heritage Flight
included the F-35A Lightning II
with a P-51D Mustang
. The F-35A Lightning II is the conventional take-off and landing variant of this aircraft. The P-51D Mustang 'Hun Hunter/Texas', N351MX and the Spitfire, a Mk.Vc (JG891), are both owned and operated by Comanche Fighters LLC in Houston, Texas.
Several Display Teams took part in the flying display including the Spanish Air Force Aerobatic Team Patrulla Aguila
in their seven CASA C-101EB Aviojets and a very enthusiastic commentator, the very impressive Italian Air Force Aerobatic Team Freece Tricolori
in their ten Aermacchi AT-339A aircraft, the Swiss Air Force Aerobatic Team PC-7 Team
in their nine Pilatus NCPC-7 Turbotrainers, the Royal Jordanian Falcons
in their four new Extra EA330LX aircraft and of course the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team Red Arrows
in their nine BAe Hawk T1/T1As.
The Freece Tricolori are the largest military aerobatic team, operating ten Aermacchi AT-339A aircraft. They fly in a tight formation and a solo aircraft shows off the manoeuvrability of this aircraft type. It has been announced that the team is soon to convert to a new aircraft, the M-345 HET (High Efficiency Trainer).
The Royal Jordanian Falcons, a regular display item at RIAT, are flying with brand new Extra 300LX aircraft this year, which is a more modern and capable version of the Extra design. These new aircraft also wear a new colour scheme which features a prominent falcon design. The Royal Jordanian Falcons won the RAFCTE Trophy, awarded to the best flying demonstration by an overseas participant. Its director of operations, Col Ghazi Sadoun, reflected, "We are always honoured to participate, let alone to be received by such great crowds. To be given an award is an even greater honour."
The Red Arrows won the 'Steedman Display Sword' for best flying demonstration by a UK participant. Red 1, Sqn Ldr Martin Pert, commented, "It's an incredible achievement for both myself and the whole team to win the award this year. We've had a pretty dramatic and quite tough year in places, and at one stage it looked like we weren't going to be displaying at all. To win the sword at RIAT is quite emotional."
There were plenty of fighter jets in the air display again this year with the Hellenic Air Force F-16C Fighting Falcon
(Demo Team Zeus), Turkish Air Force F-16C Fighting Falcon
(Soloturk), Italian Air Force F-2000 Typhoon
, Czech Air Force JAS 39C Gripen
, French Air Force Rafale C
, two French Navy Rafale M
aircraft, two French Air Force Mirage 2000Ds
(Couteau Delta), USAF F-35A Lightning II
, RAF Typhoons
, RAF Tornado GR4
, RAF F-35B Lightning II
, Royal Canadian Air Force CF-188
, Finnish Air Force F/A-18C Hornet
, Belgian Air Component F-16A MLU Fighting Falcon
, Swedish Air Force JAS 39C Gripen
and a Ukranian Air Force Sukhoi Su-27P
The 'Paul Bowen Trophy' was won by the Turkish Air Force's F-16C Fighting Falcon display, Soloturk for the best solo jet demonstration. The 'Sir Douglas Bader Trophy' for the best individual flying demonstration was won by Capt Lauri Makinen in the Finnish Air Force F/A-18C Hornet. The 'As The Crow Flies Trophy' awarded by the members of the Friends of the Royal International Air Tattoo (FRIAT) went to Couteau Delta, the French Air Force two Mirage 2000D strike aircraft. The Royal Canadian Air Force won an award for the best livery and also the 'Chief Executive Trophy' for an outstanding contribution to the show. Capt Jenn Howell, public affairs officer for the CF-18 Demo Team, commented, "There are so many other amazing displays, and it's incredible to be here. Certainly it's an extreme honour to take home some hardware."
This was probably the last chance to see an RAF Tornado GR4, in the air display, at the Air Tattoo, as this aircraft will retire early next year. The ground attack Tornado has been a very successful, combat-proven aircraft, which made its combat debut as part of the British contribution to the Gulf War in 1991. It has been used in subsequent military actions since then, providing a precision strike capability using a large variety of weapons as well as providing intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR). With the retirement of the Tornado GR4 next year, the Typhoon FGR4 will take over its role and the new F-35B Lightning II will help provide a fifth generation capability.
It was good to see the Royal Canadian Air Force CF-188 in the air display this year, in their colourful livery, however those attending RIAT on Sunday just saw the standard grey jet. Every year the Royal Canadian Air Force selects a new theme and paints their display aircraft with a new livery. This year the theme was the 60th anniversary of NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command). The RCAF CF-188 is used for air defence, air superiority, tactical support, training, aerobatic demonstration and aerospace testing and evaluation.
Unfortunately the Romanian Air Force MiG-21 LanceR-C which had planned to take part in the air display had to cancel before the show. The Polish Air Force Su-22 Fitter was also planned to be at the show on static display but also had to cancel.
For those that attended the show on Saturday there was a surprise item in the flying display. A Northrop Grumman B-2A Spirit
(82-1068, Spirit of New York) made a single flypast accompanied by two Lakenheath F-15 fighters
. The B-2A had made the round trip from its base in Missouri, USA. This also happened last year but on Sunday only.
On Friday and Saturday it was planned to display the USAF CV-22B Osprey
but it had to be cancelled on Saturday, however there was an Osprey on Static display. The Osprey is an American multi-mission, tiltrotor military aircraft with both vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL), and short takeoff and landing (STOL) capabilities.
The Norwegian Air Force Historical Squadron
(NAFHS) brought along their de Havilland Vampire T55
and Vampire FB6
to display at RIAT. These aircraft are wearing RAF markings for the 2018 airshow season to help celebrate the centenary of the Royal Air Force.
Helicopters in the flying display included the Finnish Army NH90 TTH
, Belgian Air Component Agusta A109BAi
and a RAF Chinook HC6A
. The NH90 is available in two main versions, the TTH (Tactical Transport Helicopter) and NFH (NATO Frigate Helicopter). The Agusta A109BAi is a light attack and reconnaissance helicopter and the Chinook is a twin-engine, tandem-rotor, heavy-lift helicopter which are primarily used for trooping, resupply and battlefield casualty evacuation.
Trainer aircraft in the flying display included the Italian Air Force Leonardo T-346A Master
and Grob Tutor
. The T-346A Master is a military twin-engine transonic trainer aircraft. It was originally co-developed with Yakovlev as the Yak/AEM-130 but the partnership was dissolved and Alenia Aermacchi proceeded to separately develop the M-346 Master. This aircraft is operated by the Italian Air Force, Israeli Air Force and the Republic of Singapore Air Force. The Grob Tutor is used for elementary flying training by the Army Air Corps, Fleet Air Arm and Royal Air Force. This aircraft is currently being replaced by the Grob Prefect which provides turboprop power, digital avionics and a retractable undercarriage to elementary flying training.
Transport aircraft in the flying display included the Italian Air Force Leonardo C-27J Spartan
and Airbus A400M
. The C-27J Spartan is equipped with the engines and various other systems also used on the larger Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules. This aircraft is used for transport as well as maritime patrol, search and rescue, C3 ISR (command, control, communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance), fire support and electronic warfare and ground-attack missions. Th A400M in know as the 'Atlas' in RAF service and provides tactical airlift and strategic oversize lift capabilities complementing those of the Hercules and C-17 fleets.
An interesting aircraft in the static display was the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems' MQ-9B SkyGuardian
Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA). This unmanned aircraft took off from Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota and flew over the Atlantic Ocean, landing at RAF Fairford on Wednesday 11th July to take part in the static display at the Royal International Air Tattoo.
During the non-stop 3,760 mile journey, which took over 24 hours, the MQ-9B SkyGuardian was piloted by an operator located at the aerospace company's Flight Test and Training Centre in Grand Forks, North Dakota. This aircraft is the first RPA that is certified to NATO and UK safety standards, allowing it to fly in UK airspace.
The Royal Air Force currently operates the MQ-9A Reaper RPA but they will eventually be replaced by the MQ-9B Protector which offers a greater range and endurance, greater weapon capabilities, and will also be certified to fly in UK airspace.
There were debut appearances in the static park by the Embraer KC-390
from Brazil, the Kawasaki C-2
from Japan and the HH-101A CaeSAR
tactical helicopter from the Italian Air Force.
There was a good selection of Royal Air Force aircraft on the ground as well as the new training aircraft which included the Grob G120TP Prefect
, the Embraer 100 Phenom
, Airbus H135 Juno
and H145 Jupiter
. It would have been good to see some of these new training aircraft in the air display or displayed better on the ground.
Other notable aircraft on the ground were the Bristol 171 Sycamore
and Westland Whirlwind HAR10
helicopters, as well as the Ukranian IL-76 Candid
, United States Air Force CV-22B Osprey
, MC-130J Commando II
, B-1B Lancer
, and US Navy E-6B Mercury
and P-8A Poseidon
, to name just a few. It was also good to see so many aircraft that were open to the public.
The Royal International Air Tattoo is held in support of the Royal Air Force Charitable Trust which has had a significant and positive impact on the lives of many people. The money raised is used to support Royal Air Force personnel, both regular and reservists, and also to encourage young people to develop an interest in aviation and aerospace.
Thanks to the organisers for putting on a superb air show in this RAF100 centenary year, and the dates for next year's Royal International Air Tattoo are the 19th-21st July 2019
at RAF Fairford.
Article and photographs by Dave Key - www.militaryairshows.co.uk