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Royal International Air Tattoo 2017
F-16 Fighting Falcon - 88-0032 - 141 Filo - Turkish Air Force   Tornado - CSX7041 - RSV - Italian Air Force   M346 - MM52220/61-16 - RSV - Italian Air Force   F-4E Phantom II - 01618 - 338 MDV - Hellenic Air Force
Mirage 2000D - 618/3-XC - EC 02.003 - French Air Force   Mirage 2000D - 652/3-XN - EC 03.003 - French Air Force   L-159 ALCA - 6053 - 212 Taktická Letka - Czech Air Force   Tornado GR4 - ZG750/128 - 31 Squadron - Royal Air Force
F-22 Raptor - 08-4163/FF - 111 Fighter Squadron - United States Air Force

Royal International Air Tattoo 2017

Report and photos by Stuart Freer & Craig Davies

The Royal International Air Tattoo is the biggest military aviation air show in the world and this year saw the official commemorations of United States Air Force's 70th Anniversary, also the operational theme was 21st Century Partnerships, bringing together a high level of cooperation between different countries & air arms.

With the central theme ot the United States Air Force's 70th Anniversary bringing back a large number of aircraft not seen at Fairford since post squestration. It was clear the USAF were serious about their commitment to the show with the return of Thunderbirds for just their second ever RIAT appearance, the first taking place in 2007 for the USAF’s 60th celebrations. It was also good to see the USAF Heavy Bombers return to the static with a Boeing B-52H Stratofortress fromm Barksdale AFB & a Rockwell B-1B Lancer from Ellsworth AFB which had both deplyed from there bases especially for the show. It was a real coup for the show to announce that a Lockheed U-2S Dragon Lady from Beale AFB would take part in the static display. U-2's regulary use RAF Fairford for crew rest and refuelling during airframe rotations between Beale and their forward operating locations ‘down range’, but to see one at an airshow is extremly rare. Also in the static for the anniversary celebrations were aircraft from European based USAF squadrons including Boeing F-15C's & an F-15E and a Sikorsky HH-60M Pave Hawk from RAF Lakenheath. Spangdahlem AFB contributed two Lockheed Martin F-16CM's which were actually deployed to RAF Lakenheath due to the German base having runway work done and finally RAF Mildenhall sent there assists in the name of a Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker, Lockheed Martin MC-130J Commando II and a CV-22B Osprey.

Moving on to other static highlights after a 15 year absence, the Israli Air Force returned with a C-130J this was very much a surprise for everyone visiting the show with it only being announced on the morning of its planned arrival on the daily movement list. Known as the Shimshon in Isreali service, the aircraft is operated by 103 Squadron from Nevatim AB. Making a welcome return again were the Hellenic Air Force with a pair of McDonnell Douglas F-4E(AUP) Phantom II's from 339 Mira based at Andravida Air Base. The Phantom is fast becoming a rare species & is a firm favorite with enthusiasts so fantastic to see these iconic aircraft.
F-22 Raptor - 08-4163/FF - 111 Fighter Squadron - United States Air Force   F-16 Fighting Falcon - 91-0392 - Air Demonstration Squadron   F-16 Fighting Falcon - 92-3881 - Air Demonstration Squadron   F-15C Eagle/Strike Eagle - 86-0156/LN - 493 Fighter Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe
F-16 Fighting Falcon - 90-0813/SP - 480 Fighter Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe   CV-22B Osprey - 11-0057 - 7 Special Operations Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe   HH-60G Pave Hawk - 89-26212/LN - 56 Rescue Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe   B-1B Lancer - 85-0060/EL - 37 Bomber Squadron - United States Air Force
C-130J - 667 - 120 Squadron - Israeli Air Force
F-4E Phantom II - 01508 - 338 MDV - Hellenic Air Force   E-7A Wedgetail - A30-006 - 4 Squadron - Royal Air Force of Oman   Rafale - 133/4-GL - EC 03.004 - French Air Force   SU-27P1M - 58 - Ukrainian Air Force
SU-27UB - 71 - Ukrainian Air Force   SU-27P1M - 58 - Ukrainian Air Force   SU-27P1M - 58 - Ukrainian Air Force   SU-27P1M - 58 - Ukrainian Air Force
Putting together a flying display of this magnitude takes months of painstaking planning by the team at RIAT and huge thanks should be made to them for what was a non stop and seamless array of Jets, Props and rotors that held every member of the crowd spellbound for its entirety.

The one thing that the team at RIAT do not have any control over however is the weather and in 2017 the weather, although fine for most of the arrivals week threw a few spanners in the works during the actual Display days with the Saturday having a few delayed and also cancelled items due to the inclement conditions. Needless to say the RIAT team again worked around this continuing where possible, though safety to both spectators and Aircrew must be paramount at any display.

There is always a “Special” flypast including the Reds and this year the Friday saw them join up with the Thunderbirds as they returned from a flypast over Paris to commemorate Bastille Day. With the 70th Anniversary of the USAF being celebrated by RIAT a flypast of current types operated by USAFE was performed on all three days by C130J-30 from the 86th AW, 2 F16CJ of the 52FW, 1 x F15E along with 2 F15Cs of the 48th FW and a KC135R of the 100th ARW. The Sunday hosted an extra element of the flypast when a pair of F15C's of the 48th FW escorted a B2A Spirit from the 509th BW, the Spirit being operated an a Global Power mission and performing 2 fly pasts before climbing away to continue it's mission. The Heritage flight element consisted of P51D Mustang “Frenesi” of the Commanche Fighters based in Houston Texas and flown by war bird pilot Dan Friedkin and an F22A Raptor flown by Major Dan “Rock” Dickinson of the 1st FW based at Joint base Langley, Virginia. A beautiful synchronised display of old and new was performed before both aircraft broke formation and landed. The Raptor display is something that we all look forward to and in the hands of “Rock” this years display did not disappoint. From brakes away the 2 F119-PW-100's propelled this technical masterpiece skywards with that unmistakeable Raptor pull up and climb. Generating it's own clouds the F22 was put through some of the most jaw dropping turns and climbs that are the trademark of the F22 and in doing so earned Dan the Paul Bowen Trophy for best overall solo jet display. The CV22 Osprey display is one of a Helicopter and a light twin and to all that see it it defies all previous rules of flight. The example flown at Fairford was from the 352 SOW based at RAF Mildenhall, UK.

Hornets displays again are one of those that the crowds love and the Spanish Air Force example certainly lived up to this reputation with tight turns and power to spare.
F-16 Fighting Falcon - FA-87 - 1 Wing - Belgian Defence - Air Component
F-22 Raptor - 09-41/FF - 111 Fighter Squadron - United States Air Force
CH-147F  - 147304 - 439 Combat Support Squadron - Canadian Armed Forces   A400 - 54+06 - Lufttransportgeschwader 61 - German Air Force   Hawk T1 - XX191/CC - 100 Squadron - Royal Air Force   T-6C Texan II - ZM323 - Royal Air Force
F-22 Raptor - 09-4180/FF - 111 Fighter Squadron - United States Air Force   United States - Privately Owned - United States   U-2S Dragon Lady - 80-1067 - 9 Reconnaissance Wing - United States Air Force   B-2 Spirit - 93-1067/WM - 13 Bomber Squadron - United States Air Force
F-4E Phantom II - 01618 - 332 MPK - Hellenic Air Force
Hawk - HW341 - Hävittäjälentolaivue 41 - Finnish Air Force   M346 - MM52220/61-16 - RSV - Italian Air Force   Tornado - CSX7041/RS-01 - RSV - Italian Air Force   Sea King - RS02 - Wing Heli - Belgian Defence - Air Component
Mirage 2000D - 618/3-XC - EC 01.004 - French Air Force   F-16 Fighting Falcon - FA-132 - 1 Wing - Belgian Defence - Air Component   Alpha Jet - E115/705-MR - EAC 00.314 - French Air Force   C-130 Hercules - 4153 - 12 Squadron - Pakistan Air Force
Returning to RIAT after an absence of a number of years were the Hawk T.MK.51s of the Finnish Air Force. Normally dressed in a dark Olive this years team had adorned their mounts with the national colours of Finland in a flash of Blue and White showing the Finnish cross from the intakes back and a fin flash of the same colours with the individual team numbers on.

Giving a very spirited and tight display they utilised smoke generators perfectly producing a show of grace and excellent formation flying.Slovenia were represented by a PC9M Swift of 152 fixed wing squadron and in the hands of pilot, 1st Lieutenant Andrey Fiorelli its agile display was awarded the Sir Douglas Bader trophy for best solo display. With their loud music and superb commentary the Solo Turk team and their F16C mounts performed with the aggression and style that has made them a firm display favourite over the past years. Similarly the RAF Typhoon FGR4 has always wowed the crowds and this year in the hands of Ft Lieutenant Ryan Lawson of 29 (reserve) Sqn it continued in that vein with a top performance that showed all the attributes that make the Typhoon a formidable platform. Ryan was rewarded for his display by being presented with the Steedman Display Sword.

The L'Armee De L'air have a reputation for some of the most beautiful and technical of flying displays and in the past have treated us to the delight of the Mirage F1, 2000A/B and now with the Rafale they have a display that sings of sophistication, poise and brute strength. Flown by Capitain Jean-Guillaume Martinez this years Rafale display was something special. From wheels up to wheels down this charismatic fighter was flown in all envelopes skilfully and showing all the elements that make this aircraft such a beauty to behold. “Marty” seemed to take even the dark weather on the Sunday during his display and make it sunny with his performance. The awards team thought so too as he was presented with the King Hussein Memorial Sword. Just when you thought that with the demise of Ramex Delta the days of an action packed role demo were done you need not to have worried. Couteau Delta have arrived and have continued in the way that Ramex left behind. Their high octane formation flying combined with tactical perfection is just mesmerising. With Two Mirage 2000D's from EC2/3 and EC3/3 the team has filled the void left by Ramex and filled it to the max!. This year they brought 3 aircraft including 2 being borrowed from EC1/3 Navarre painted to celebrate their anniversary. Needless to say that the crowds were wowed and what Ramex left behind these guys have picked it up, brushed it off and added their own special magic..

In the twilight of its career a Sea King Mk48 of 40 Squadron Belgian Air force performed a stoic routine showing what makes the Sea King the successful SAR platform it is. It is slowly being replace by the NH90NFM Caiman in Belgian Service and it will be a sad day when they are finally retired. A welcome new act at RIAT this year was performed by the Air force of the Czech Republic with two L159 Alcas of 212 Tactical Sqn. A high energy routine that included pyrotechnics during the straffing part part of their routine took many by surprise in the assembled masses.
F-15C Eagle/Strike Eagle - 86-0156/LN - 493 Fighter Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe
The Italian Air force have always been a great supporter of the Tattoo and the test squadron, 311 Stormo/Reparto Sperimentale Volo did not hold back this year bringing the A-200A Tornado in a striking Red,White, Black and Grey colour scheme celebrating 60 years of the unit – So good it won the best paint scheme award, a C27J Spartan and a T346 Master all in the flying display. The Spartan display is one of those that always get the heads shaking and the “oohs and ahhs”amongst the crowd assembled. The rolls and maneuvers this twin transport performs are both both breath taking and unbelievable an are the continuation of the agile nature once afforded to it's predecessor the G222. The T346 Master, the new trainer manufactured by Leonardo and affords its pupils with all digital flight systems and an advanced performance over the current aircraft employed in the training role in the Italian Air Force. Now entering service with the Aeronautica Militare it replaces the Aermacchi MB339 in it's tutorial role.

For many the higlight of the flying was the SU27P1M of the 831st Guards Tactical Aviation Brigade of the Ukrainian Air Force. Flown by Colonel Oleksander Oksanchenko. The Flanker is a beast of a fighter and in the the hands of the Colonel all were treated to a display of its sheers prowess and blatant power. An aircraft of its size shouldn't be able to do what it does but it does.. and with bags and bags of elegance to boot. On the Sunday with the weather looking decidedly grim with dark clouds hanging overhead the Flanker sat awaiting clearance to perform. The moment he started to roll the sun appeared, the light pooled upon it and it performed one of the best banking departures ever..

The Red Arrows are a firm favourite at RIAT and throughout the show days the performed as seamlessly as always. This year lead by Red 1, Sqn Leader David Montenegro, the team spent time with the USAF Display team, The Thunderbirds looking at all aspects of each others routines and operations culminating in a few cross flights for a few members of the teams. Pride of the USAF are the Aerial Display Team, The Thunderbirds were present at this years RIAT showing the UK their way of doing an Air display. The razamataz that precedes the aerial display is one of precision, timing and has all the hallmarks of a proud team. The ground crew are as important in this display as the pilots themselves as these are the guys and girls who maintain and keep the pilots mounts serviceable. Flying the F16C/D they perform their display routine with the precision we expect of the top pilots. Home based at Nellis Air Force base in Nevada they perform in excess of 70 displays a year across the US. The team operate a mix of F16C/D and fly a close formation display showing the clean lines of the Viper as a four ship along with a lead and opposing solo pair who perform close formation, high speed passes including the reflection pass with one aircraft inverted above another creating a mirror effect. The Thunderbirds performance was as polished as always and with a few technical hitches over the weekend including an unserviceable airframe they still performed an excellent routine which was warmly appreciated by all who attended.

With flying as good as this it is no wonder that The Royal International Air Tattoo maintains its position as the worlds number one Military Air show. The real stars of RIAT though are the team, mainly volunteers, who tirelessly work from early morning to evening manning car parks, marshalling the traffic to those that plan the show and flying. This is gargantuan task that brings people together from all walks of life that contribute to making the greatest Air show on Earth.
SU-27UB - 71 - Ukrainian Air Force
Touchdown Conclusion
On conclusion RIAT 2017 was one of the best RIAT’s for a number of years with the balance of a great dynamic flying display & a varied static display. We look forward to seeing what RIAT 2018 will have to offer seeing as it will celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Royal Air Force. The authors wishes to thank Richard Arquati and Ellie Webster, Press & Publicity Officers, RAF Charitable Trust Enterprises for there kind assistance over the show weekend.
Touchdown Rating - 4 out of 5
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