2012 Airshows : REVIEW
Royal International Air Tattoo 2012For 2012 the Royal International Air Tattoo managed to pull together a superb line-up of aircraft for the static and flying displays. The line-up included the return of the B-2A Spirit to the show on static display as well an amazing mix of rare and new from across the globe. However RIAT 2012 will also be remembered for the trials and tribulations caused by some very unseasonal wet weather that came as a stark reminder of 2008 when the show was cancelled at the last minute for the first time in the event’s history!
Luckily though everything went ahead as planned and some 130,000 spectators enjoyed he annual feast of military aviation in the Cotswolds.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports from a very muddy RAF Fairford. All photography by the Author. Video Highlights courtesy of Planes TV.
There was no doubt there was a special feel of excitement of this year’s Air Tattoo. Though the event will always keep its new (and essential) corporate feel, there did seem something of a ‘back-to-basics’ feel to the way the show was put together. Gone were the music stages and there seemed to be much more concentration on bringing together the world’s air arms for a show which celebrated the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the operational theme of Skylift 2012. TRI@RIAT remained as the main ground attraction for the Tattoo with involvement from the aerospace industry and arena displays by the likes of the Swift Stunt Car team and more.
But it was the weather that became one of the biggest stories of the show. June had seen the UK lashed by unseasonable wet and cold weather and that continued well into July. Back in 2008, it was similar conditions that ultimately led to the cancellation of the 2008 Air Tattoo and the show’s then parking plan simply could not cope with the waterlogged fields the form the bulk of the show day parking. A large part of the problem then was some of the parking was used for the three days prior to the event for the park and view areas and there was a lack of metal track-way laid.
The events of 2008 led to some major changes to RIAT’s parking plans which included the provision of areas of hard standing on the air base for parking which also became the main pre-event parking area for the Park and View plus FRIAT.
It was all needed in 2012 as the rain never seemed to be very far away in the early parts of the summer leading up to RIAT. To say Fairford was damp would be a massive understatement. Members of FRIAT soon found out that areas of the showground were particularly soft with small ponds forming in the tyre tracks left by the site-build! Rain continued to plague the airfield during arrivals days even though we were spared the deluges Fairford was subjected in back in 2008. However the rain did spark fears there could be a cancellation but RIAT’s organisers seemed determined to go ahead with the event putting all their ‘weather resilience’ plans to the test! This was despite all the problems the British Grand Prix organisers faced the same weekend which led to them asking people to stay away from the Qualifying day to allow their car parks to be ready for the race day!
I can only talk from my experience of the ‘Blue’ Car Parks which are fields to the south of the airfield but things did seem to go OK with the majority of people coping with the very wet and muddy car parks. For those that did have problems there were a number of tractors helping out. Once in the showground, it was very much business as usual with only the odd small problem caused by the poor conditions.
On the ground there was plenty to too see aviation wise with some real star items. Attracting the most attention was the United States Air Force Global Strike Command B-2A Spirit from Whiteman AFB. The aircraft arrived after an eleven hour transit late on Friday to mark the first static appearance of the aircraft at the Tattoo since 1999. Back then the security for the aircraft was very heavy with razor wire and plenty of armed guards. This time however everything seemed far more relaxed; there was a barrier and a coned off exclusion zone. The mystique of the ‘Stealth’ was still there but everything seemed much more friendly with crews happy to talk about the aircraft (well, what they were allowed too!) It has to be said that few other aircraft attract quite the attention the B2 attracted throughout each day.
At the other end of the static line was another superb gem, a Boeing KC-767J tanker from the Japanese Air Self Defence Force. It was the first time a Japanese military aircraft had appeared in public in the UK apart from state visits and is a prime example of an aircraft that only the Tattoo seems to able to attract. In between there were a host of gems including an Air Tattoo debut for the Polish Navy Mil Mi-14 Haze, the return of the Slovak Air Force with a MiG-29UBS Fulcrum and a Let L-410UVP Transport plus an array of C-130 derivatives from the US, Brazil, Jordan, Denmark, Norway, the United Arab Emirates and for the first time at the Air Tattoo, Columbia. The Columbian C-130H Hercules was definitely the most attractively painted and it also brought in another aircraft in the form of a CAIC/Lancair T-90 Calima also wearing some very bright special markings and it was great to see another nation from South America join the RIAT line-up.
It was good to see a number of nods to past Air Tattoos. A number of the C-130s were parked in a long line reminding your author of the superb event in 1994 which celebrated the 40th Anniversary of the type. The parking together of the three Boeing KC-135R Stratotankers together in the centre of the showground was another reminder of the golden events held in the early 1990s as was the impressive line-up of NATO F-16s from Norway, Belgium and the Netherlands parked up next to the Slovak MiG!
The operational theme of the Air Tattoo this year concentrated on Air Transport and aerial refuelling types and on top of those already mentioned there were examples of an Italian Air Force KC-767TT, USAF C-17A Globemaster III & C-5A Galaxy and German Air Force A310MRTT. Amongst the other stars of the static park were a French Navy Super Etendard, some very exotic tiger schemed Tornados and perhaps a final appearance of a F-4F Phantom II from the German Air Force, USAF RC-135V Rivet Joint, US Navy E-6B Mercury and P-3C Orion, Irish Air Corps Pilatus PC-9M, the BBMF’s newly repainted Chimpunk T10 and Tony de Bruyn’s OV-10B Bronco. It is with sadness I must report that on the Tuesday following RIAT, the Bronco crashed at nearby Kemble injurying Tony and destroying the aircraft and Flightline UK would like to pass our best wishes on to Tony for a speedy recovery!
As ever the flying display was a marathon effort last eight hours and starring some of the world’s best display teams. The Royal Air Force naturally took centre stage to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The Red Arrows headlined all of the RAF’s team and solo displays, though sadly the Falcons Parachute Display Team were forced to cancel on both days due to poor weather and the ground conditions in the drop zone. Two of the RAF displays also took home awards, the Typhoon FGR4 flown by Sqn Ldr Scott Loughran taking the award for best solo jet demonstration and the Chinook HC2 taking the Steedman Sword for the best British display.
It was also a highly emotive display from the RAF Tornado GR4 role demonstration team. Just ahead of the show, two XV Squadron Tornados and three crew were lost in a tragic accident over the Moray Firth. The previous weekend had also seen the loss of Shuttleworth display pilot Trevor Roach in a flying accident in Old Warden and he was also a former member of the RAF Tornado force. Both displays were dedicated to absent friends and at the end of the show on Sunday the team performed a poignant missing man formation over Fairford to close proceedings.
One of the exciting elements of RIAT this year was the superb contribution from the Royal Air Force’s transport fleet based nearby at RAF Brize Norton. No less than three VC-10s appeared at probably their final RIAT starting with one aircraft, XV104, performing a flypast on the Wednesday on its way to Bruntingthorpe ahead of being broken up. A further example later appeared for the static display while a third spearheaded the unique “Skylift” flypast over the weekend. As well as the VC-10 the flypast featured the Lockheed Tristar KC1, C-130J Hercules C4 and C-17A Globemaster III. The flypast also included the RAF’s future airlift capability too with the service’s first Airbus A330-200MRTT Voyager KC1 and the Airbus A400M Atlas C1 – the latter making it’s only flying appearance at a UK show this year.
The show also included a further stunning RAF flypast with the 27 Hawks that made up the E II R formations during the Diamond Jubilee Muster at Windsor Castle in May. Saturday’s low cloud-base prevented the formation making RAF Fairford and was replaced by a diamond nine of Hawk T2 aircraft from 4[R] Squadron. Sunday however saw the full formation from RAF Valley and RNAS Yeovilton. It was probably the last time the RAF will be able to put together such a large and complex formation with just one type!
The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight flying a Lancaster and two Spitfires were joined by the Royal Navy Historic Flight’s Sea Fury T20 marking the senior service’s only contribution to the flying display. The Army Air Corps did however manage to send its WAH-64D Apache AH1 from the Attack Helicopter Display Team for a typically menacing appearance.
Further ‘Skylift’ displays came from the civilian sector with DHL displaying some its cargo aircraft in the air and on the ground. Examples of the Boeing 757 appeared on static display and during Saturday’s flying display while Sunday saw the display debut of the carrier’s Boeing 767 cargo aircraft.
Completing the ‘Skylift’ theme was the unique shape and sound of the US Marine Corps MV-22B Osprey. Three examples passed through RAF Fairford with one on static display, two performing a customer demo on Saturday and a solo flying display. 2012 marked the first year that Marines actually displayed the aircraft and in fact it was the first time ever USMC pilots had participated in any RIAT flying display. Though short, the MV-22B’s display showed off the unique abilities of the type with fast flypasts and tight hovering in front of the crowd. More traditional rotary display action from overseas came in the form of the Belgiam Agusta A109BA demo with its near aerobatic 'tiger-turns!'
Another unique shape is that of Avro Vulcan XH558 makings its comeback following a difficult start to the season after a double engine failure earlier in the year which forced it to miss various flypasts and 10 displays. It however was fixed and tested just time for RIAT and as ever it made the showground stop as it displayed.
As ever for a RIAT there was an impressive array of solo fast jets from across Europe. Both the Dutch and Belgian F-16AM Fighting Falcon demos are familiar to UK crowds, but items such as the amazing French Air Force Rafale C and the Polish Air Force MiG-29A Fulcrum were only seen at Fairford this year. Several trade visitors for Farnborough also took the chance to show off their wares in front the assembled military chiefs at the show. The Yakovlev Yak-130 was an interesting RIAT debutant displayed with a full weapons load early in each days flying programme. Boeing has been a regular participant at RIAT with the F/A-18F Super Hornet flown by Steve Schmitt and Riccardo Traven. As ever it was a master-class in impossible tight turns and high alpha manoeuvring literally sucking vapour out of the air! SAAB also displayed a JAS-39C Gripen complete with smoke-winders before heading on to Farnbnrough.
Participation by big display teams is a hallmark of a RIAT display and this year saw some very interesting first time participants alongside old favourites. The Patrouille Suisse are very much part of RIAT’s fabric and made a welcome return. It was however the last display for the team’s leader who received a ceremonial fountain of spray from two of RIAT’s fire appliances following their display on Sunday.
The Middle East was well represented with the return of the Royal Jordanian Falcons and the western display debut of Al Fursan from the United Arab Emirates. The team were making a short goodwill tour of Europe with displays at RIAT and Jeselo in Italy. The team which fly the Aermacchi MB339NAT have been trained by the Frecce Tricolori and include a number of figures from the Italian’s repertoire. They were a very colourful addition to RIAT’s flying display despite suffering from a few technical issues during their stay.
However the outstanding highlight of the flying had to the Republic of Korea Air Force’s Black Eagles display team flying eight KAI T-50B Golden Eagles. The team had already impressed all at Waddington taking the award for best display, but went one better at RIAT sealing another two awards! The combination of powerful aircraft, some very tight formation flying and some stunning skywriting (notably the Korean national symbol) makes for a superb spectacle that was fully worthy of accolades given to the team.
RIAT 2012 was undoubtly one of the best editions of the show in recent years. Some slick displays and an outstanding collection of the rare and exotic are just one element that made the show such a success for those that attended. However special recognition must go to the show staff and volunteers that made it all happen against the odds which perhaps made it all the more sweeter. We can only hope that 2012 is a minor blip in terms of the wet weather and we have a more seasonable weather in the run up to future shows!
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