MILAVIA > Air Shows > Royal International Air Tattoo 2017 Last updated: 29 July 2017

Air Show Report : Royal International Air Tattoo 2017

USAF 70th Anniversary Logo

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.

USAF B-52H Stratofortress
USAF 2BW B-52H Stratofortress
USAFE 52FW F-16C Fighting Falcon
USAFE 100ARW KC-135R Stratotanker
USAFE 48FW F-15C Eagle
USAFE 48FW F-15C Eagle
USAF Thunderbirds take-off
USAF Thunderbirds full formation
USAF Thunderbirds solo
USAF Thunderbirds formation
USAF F-22A Raptor Demo take-off
USAF F-22A Raptor Demo take-off
USAF F-22A Raptor Demo climb
USAF F-22A Raptor Demo weapons bay
USAF F-22A Raptor Demo knife-edge pass
USAF F-22A Raptor Demo slow pass
USAF F-22A Raptor Demo high speed pass
USAF F-22 Heritage Flight with P-51D Mustang
USAF F-22 Heritage Flight flypast

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.

USAF F-22 Heritage Flight
USAF F-22A Raptor afterburner
USAFE 100ARW KC-135R Stratotanker fly-over
USAFE 100ARW KC-135R refueling boom
USAFE 37AS C-130J-30 Hercules flypast
USAFE 48FW F-15C and F-15E formation
USAFE 48FW F-15C and F-15E formation flypast
USAFE 52FW F-16C formation flypast
USAF B-2A Spirit escorted by F-15C Eagle
USAF 509BW B-2A Spirit flypast
USAF 9RW U-2S Dragon Lady
USAF 28BW B-1B Lancer
USAF B-1B Lancer in the static display
USAF B-1B Lancer nose
USAF 352 Special Operations Wing MC-130J Commando II and CV-22B Osprey
Armée de l'Air Couteau Delta Mirage 2000D take-off
Armée de l'Air Couteau Delta Mirage 2000D desert camo
Armée de l'Air Couteau Delta Mirage 2000D with 100 ans SPA 95 centenary markings
Armée de l'Air Couteau Delta Mirage 2000D display
Armée de l'Air Couteau Delta Mirage 2000D display
Finnish Air Force Midnight Hawks take-off
Finnish Air Force Midnight Hawks formation

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!

Royal Australian Air Force E-7A Wedgetail with No. 2 Squadron centenary markings
Royal Canadian Air Force CH-147F Chinook
Royal Canadian Air Force CC-177A Globemaster III
Hellenic Air Force F-4E-AUP Phantom II
Hellenic Air Force F-4E-AUP Phantom II 338 Mira Air Tattoo 2017 markings
Hellenic Air Force F-4E-AUP Phantom II 338 Mira markings
Hellenic Air Force F-4E-AUP Phantom II 338 Mira Spooky
Ukrainian Air Force Il-76MD
Ukrainian Air Force Su-27UB1M two-seater
Ukrainian Air Force Su-27UB1M static
Ukrainian Air Force Su-27UB1M IRST
Ukrainian Air Force Su-27UB1M close-up
Ukrainian Air Force Su-27UB1M
Ukrainian Air Force Su-27UB1M markings
Ukrainian Air Force Su-27UB1M tail markings
Ukrainian Air Force Su-27UB1M stencils
Ukrainian Air Force Su-27UB1M in the sun
Ukrainian Air Force Su-27UB1M AL-31F engine
Ukrainian Air Force Su-27UB1M centreline
Armée de l'Air Alpha Jet E with commemorative markings for 100 years since the United States entered WWI
Royal Navy Merlin HC3
Royal Navy Merlin HM2
Marineflieger Sea King
Spanish Air Force EF-18M Hornet with NATO Tiger Meet 2016 markings
Luftwaffe Tornado ECR with NATO Tigers markings
Luftwaffe EF2000 with NATO Tiger Meet 2017 Atlantic Tiger markings
Belgian Air Force F-16AM with 'Stinger' squadron centenary markings
Czech Air Force L-159A in Second World War RAF(CZ) c/s
Luftwaffe C-160D Transall 6LTG61 60th anniversary
Pakistan Air Force C-130E Hercules with PAF aircraft history mural
Pakistan Air Force C-130E Hercules humanitarian/peacekeeping mission tail
Royal Jordanian Air Force C-130H Hercules
Qatar Emiri Air Force C-130J-30 Hercules
Turkish Air Force F-16C SoloTürk display
Turkish Air Force F-16C SoloTürk topside
Turkish Air Force F-16C SoloTürk brake parachute
Swedish Air Force JAS 39C Gripen demo
Italian Air Force T-346A Master
Italian Air Force T-346A display
Belgian Air Force Sea King SAR demo
Belgian Air Force Sea King SAR demo
Italian Air Force Tornado IDS in RSV 311° Gruppo 1956-2016 Anniversary c/s
Italian Air Force Tornado IDS 'RS-01' 60 Years 311° Gruppo markings
Italian Air Force Tornado IDS (A-200C) 'RS-01'
Patrouille Suisse
Italian Air Force C-27J Spartan display
Italian Air Force C-27J landing
Army Air Corps WAH-64D Apache Attack Helicopter Display Team
Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster
Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Hurricane and Spitfires
Battle of Britain Memorial Flight full formation
P-51D Mustang 'Tall-in-the-Saddle
B-17G Flying Fortress 'Memphis Bell'
B-17G Flying Fortress 'Sally B'
B-17G Flying Fortress battle damage
Airbus A400M take-off
Airbus Defence and Space A400M propeller vortices
Airbus Defence and Space A400M demo steep descent
Czech Air Force JAS 39C Gripen demo
Royal Air Force Typhoon display
Belgian Air Force F-16 Demo take-off
Belgian Air Force F-16 Demo
Spanish Air Force Hornet Demo
Ejército del Aire C.15 Hornet

Report and photos by George Karavantos ( view portfolio )

First Published: 29 July 2017
Last Modified: 29 July 2017