Air Show Report : Royal International Air Tattoo 2019
Royal International Air Tattoo 2019 - RAF Fairford, UK
The annual Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) at RAF Fairford is the biggest air show when measured by the number of displayed military aircraft. Report and photos by Niels Hillebrand from Saturday July 21st.
RIAT 2019 Saturday July 21st
Every military aviation enthusiast should be familiar with the annual Air Tattoo held at RAF Fairford in the United Kingdom every July. The sheer number of different military aircraft put on display is rarely rivalled by any other events. Even though spending cutbacks, retired and reduced fleets, disbanded units and display teams, and so on, all have taken their toll on the variety of aircraft present at airshows, RIAT continues to put on a great show. Unfortunately, the presence of U.S. bombers once regularly deployed to RAF Fairford is no longer a given and the number of RAF airframes and displays at RIAT continues to decline as well.
The main theme for this year was 70 Years NATO, with an unique flypast in the planning to celebrate it, so I thought it was time to attend RIAT again this year!
The following is a short summary and my impression of the 2019 edition and highlights in the flight programme of Saturday July 21st. As most of you know, RIAT nowadays starts on Friday with a short programme in the afternoon, with the full programme taking place on Saturday and Sunday with some differences in terms of displays. And of course, many photographers make use of the opportunities provided by the arrival and departure days. The weather apparently had not been so good on the days prior, but Saturday turned out to be OK for the most part.
This year’s line-up of aircraft on static display seemed to me to be dominated by several modern heavies and a large number of support aircraft, although perhaps it was the lack of fighters or the presence of a number of maritime patrol aircraft that gave me that impression. The fighters on display did include some interesting specially painted aircraft, as shown in the images. I was happy that there was a B-52H present this year, arriving early on site and leaving the fighter line-up aside for a moment, enabled me to take some unobstructed shots of the wide BUFF. The Turkish paid tribute to 70 years NATO in terms of decorating a F-4E for the display joined by the 2018 anniversary special of the squadron. Although a strictly national theme, none of the specially marked aircraft could rival the Pakistan Air Force C-130 Hercules depicting the history and future of the PAF. As a final note on the static displays, I should mention that the British next generation fighter Tempest mock-up was present of course, but I am rarely impressed by these kind of show models and did not take a photo.
The flying got underway with a D-Day commemoration formation by the Belgian Air Force. The Dark Falcon demo aircraft was joined by two F-16s with 75 years D-Day markings and tail art. The formation passes were great and I wished more of the 75 year D-Day marked jets would have flown displays as well, or at least attended the static, the awesome Norwegian F-16BM D-Day special sat a bit lonely in the line-up. Of course, most D-Day commemorative events had already taken place in the month prior. The KC-135 wearing D-Day markings was included in the line-up.
The USAF F-16 Viper Demo pilot Maj. Garret Schmitz performed his Air Combat Command F-16 demo using a jet from Spangdahlem AB in Germany. The take-off was amazing with a low level high G turn generating the biggest vapour cloud of the day, and after the first high speed past seemingly it was impossible to slow down the jet. The ACC demo is very different compared to the Belgian Air Force F-16 Demo, although the colour scheme of the latter is hard to beat. It would have been nice to compare the demo with the HAF F-16 Demo, but the Greeks attended with their T-6 Daedalus display team this year. The 2019 show featured two F-18 Hornet displays courtesy of the Swiss and Finnish Air Force, and the Gripen demo this year was a Swedish Air Force example.
70 Years NATO flypast
NATO was founded in 1949, so this year presented the 70 anniversary of NATO. The flypast was marred by technical issues with the E-3 and Tornado, leaving the contingent from Germany up to a sole Eurofighter. Also, the typical British weather of the day took a turn for the worse right at the start. The flights of RAF Typhoons, EPAF F-16s, and USAFE F-15Es were also quite separated, so in all the flypast did not impress. Although not having been in NATO for all years, France provided a sole KC-135 for the flypast, unfortunately not accompanied by some Mirage 2000s. Unfortunately, the Tornado was thus missing from the flypast, and with the RAF having retired its Tornados in March this year, I surely missed the type.
Unfortunately, no Italian Tornado in the flypast either, but one was in the static display, joined by two German examples. That said, the Italians again greatly contributed to RIAT’s flying programme with the Frecce Tricolori, T-346 Master, and C-27J Spartan II demo. Having flown its display earlier in the day, the Patrouille de France joined the RAF Red Arrows in the afternoon to pay tribute to the Concorde with both teams in their Concorde formation together. British heritage was a major pillar in the programme with a Boeing 747 in classic BOAC livery being presented joined by the Red Arrows, and courtesy of the Spanish Navy, the Harrier was back in British skies again, this year with a paired display. When they presented the hover flight, the British audience was real pleased and many applauded. Even though these were AV-8Bs, they’re seemingly more British than the UK F-35B Lightning II that followed. Although the F-35B did only perform a few passes, it included a pass with weapon bay open and a vertical flight element before heading back to RAF Marham. Nevertheless, the showing of a British F-35B was much appreciated, even though it was not a full demo as display teams perform.
With the RAF Chinook display having been cancelled, the British Army Apache display was the only helicopter display, unless you also want to count the CV-22B Osprey. Apparently, another airshow icon was hindered, as the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight only featured a Spitfire and Hurricane, and not the Lancaster. The RAF Tucano was back, although for its last display year, as the type is being retired and replaced by the T-6 Texan II. But, of course, at RIAT we expect more spectacular display anyway, so fortunately the RAF Typhoon Display did not skip this year. The take-off of the A400M named Atlas in RAF service was very impressive, the Airbus' test pilots proved you don’t need afterburners to put on a good show.
Romanian MiG-21 and Ukrainian Su-27
The organisers of RIAT continue to invite air forces that are still flying fighters from the east. The Romanians are nowadays converting to F-16s procured from Portugal, so I felt lucky to be able to witness the Romanian Air Force MiG-21 demo once more. Of course, this LanceR-C that is still flown today is a big step from the original MiG-21, but that didn’t keep them from keeping the belly in a blue that you’ll never see on a Western fighter. The flown display did not disappoint and provided good long passes for the photographers to take advantage of. Saturday’s closing act of the flying programme was the highly anticipated Ukrainian Air Force Su-27 ‘Flanker’ demo, of course it was not the first time we’ve seen the Ukrainian Flanker display in western Europe, but leaving the show during its display felt very wrong and this report now doesn’t seem complete. Hopefully it will return next year.
RIAT 2020 is scheduled for 17-19 July.
Report and photos by Niels Hillebrand ( view portfolio )
Last Modified: 8 September 2019