Air Show Report : Royal International Air Tattoo 2017
Royal International Air Tattoo 2017 - RAF Fairford
Air show report by George Karavantos from RIAT 2017. The world-renowned annual air show at RAF Fairford needs little introduction, but the U.S. Air Force's 70th Anniversary made this year's event one to remember.
During the weekend of July 14-16, the gates of RAF Fairford opened once again for the visitors to this year's Royal International Air Tattoo. 160.000 people attended over the weekend to witness one of the best air shows in Europe. Let the show begin...
Many spectacular aircraft and series of jaw-dropping displays ensured the success of this year's RIAT. In fact, it was considered by many to have been one of the best RIATs in recent years. The 2017 edition, according to its official website, attracted a record crowd of 160,000 people who met 246 aircraft from 32 air arms representing 26 nations. On the other hand, the typical English weather, with low level clouds and rain showers, was again the only downside.
This year’s main theme was the 70th anniversary of the United States Air Force. Back in 1947, the Air Force service branch of the U.S. Army became a separate branch of the U.S. Armed Forces. For this celebration, the organizers had prepared many surprises for the visitors of this year's Air Tattoo. The attendance of US military aircraft was huge. After an absence of three years from European airshows, the US military aircraft were back again at Fairford in force. Up in the air but also on the ground, the aircraft honoured the 70 year history.
The famous USAF aerobatic display team, the Thunderbirds, confirmed their schedule with participation at RIAT in December, also their only European visit. The Thunderbirds last attended RIAT in 2007 for the 60th USAF anniversary, this one was only their second visit.
The announcement was soon followed by the confirmation by the extraordinary, in terms of capabilities, F-22 Raptor solo display team of the USAF’s Air Combat Command. This unique fighter had made its first RIAT appearance in 2010 and had returned last year along with the F-35 when it made its UK debut. Unfortunately, the F-22 was not able to display on Saturday because of the low level clouds, but on Sunday it did perform its much anticipated display. The Raptor performed a powerful and superbly executed demonstration winning the "Paul Bowen" trophy for the best jet demonstration.
After its solo routine, the F-22 joined up with P-51D Mustang for the USAF Heritage Flight. The P-51D had crossed the Atlantic just for this display.
In addition to the USAF display teams there was also a special flypast of five of the main aircraft currently operated by the U.S. Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) from bases in the UK and Germany. These aircraft performed an aerial parade on all three days of the show.
- The USAF air parade consisted of the following:
- One KC-135R Stratotanker from the 100th Air Refueling Wing/351st Air Refueling Squadron at RAF Mildenhall, Suffolk, UK.
- One C-130J-30 Hercules from the 86th Airlift Wing/37th Airlift Squadron at Ramstein AB, Germany.
- Two F-15C Eagles and one F-15E Strike Eagle from the 48th Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath, Suffolk, UK.
- Two F-16CM Fighting Falcons from the 52nd Fighter Wing/480th Fighter Squadron at Spangdahlem AB, Germany.
But the highlight of the USAF celebration was the unexpected visit by the B-2A Spirit on the last day of the show. The stealth bomber, which was conducting an epic 23-hour transatlantic "Global Power" training flight from Whiteman AFB in Missouri, performed two flypasts escorted by two F-15C Eagles before its return-leg.
On the ground, the presence of the USAF was also huge. Visitors had the chance to see and admire a variety of bombers, fighters, tankers, helicopters. These included the B-1B, B-52H, MC-130J, C-17A, KC-135R, F-16CM, F-15C, F-15E, CV-22B, HH-60G. The main attraction amongst the statics was the rare attendance of the U-2S Dragon Lady, a legendary example of an old design still relevant in the modern theatre of warfare, in fact the plans for its retirement from the USAF were thwarted not too long ago.
Other jet formation displays included the newly founded French Air Force's Couteau Delta team flying two Mirage 2000D fighter aircraft, following in the footsteps of the Ramex Delta. Another highlight was Finland's aerobatic display team, the Midnight Hawks, celebrating Finland's 100 year anniversary this year.
In the static display other noteworthy aircraft were the Royal Australian Air Force E-7A, a Boeing 737 Airborne Early Warning & Control aircraft, the Royal Canadian Air Force Boeing CH-147F Chinook Helicopter which had been airlifted by the CC-177 Globemaster airlifter, and the Greek Phantoms on their second consecutive appearance at the RIAT. This time 338 Squadron "Aris", the other squadron of the 117 Combat Wing, attended with two F-4E (01508 and 01619). 01508 was carrying two specially painted external fuel tanks and nice artwork on its vertical stabilizer.
The most "exotic" visitors came from the Ukrainian Air Force reappearance. Two Su-27 ‘Flankers’ (one single-seat and one two-seater) supported by an Il-76 ‘Candid’. This participation was only announced at the start of the final week of preparation. The single seat Su-27P1M, a domestically upgraded Su-27P air defence fighter, stunned the crowd with its unique capabilities and won the "As The Crow Flies" trophy for the best overall flying demonstration judged by the Friends of the RIAT. Flankers made their first appearance at RIAT in 1996. The last time the Ukrainian Su-27 provided a flying display at RIAT was back in 1999.
The greatest disappointment came with the cancellation of an A-4N Skyhawk from Discovery Air Defence, which operates a fleet of A-4s from Wittmund to provide contracted services ranging from threat simulation, target towing, to flight test support. The ex-Israeli Air Force airframe modified by Discovery Air Services was cancelled at the very last minute, one day before the show.
Next year's RIAT is going to celebrate the 1918-2018 centenary of the Royal Air Force. It is expected that RIAT 2018 will break every record of attendance. If you want to visit the show next year, you should start planning your journey early. RIAT 2018 will take place over the weekend of July 13-15 and ticket go on sale in the Autumn.
We will make sure we’ll be there, see you there!
Report and photos by George Karavantos ( view portfolio )
Last Modified: 29 July 2017