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2014 UK Airshows : FEATURE

Royal International Air Tattoo 2014 Media Launch

The Royal International Air Tattoo 2014 is shaping up to be one of the most memorable events of the year, not least because the show will see the official celebrations of the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team's 50th Display Season. The show also has a global significance this year as it hosts the international debut of the F-35B Lightning II 'Joint Strike Fighter' which for many air forces represents the future of air power. These and the other major headline themes and latest achievements of the Air Tattoo and its parent charity, the Royal Air Force Charitable Trust were unveiled at the event Media Launch on the 4th June.

Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography copyright of the Author or as credited.

2014 will be a very important year for the Air Tattoo. The debut of the F-35B Lightning II and the Red Arrows 50th Display Season make the event particularly significant to the Royal Air Force and Industry, notable the headline sponsor BAE Systems. It also marks the final show to be organised under the stewardship of Chief Executive Tim Prince who retires after the 2014 event. His place will be taken by Andy Armstrong who will head up the team at Douglas Bader House. He said of the launch; "This is my first ever Media Launch, and it's fantastic to be involved in such an important event in the run up to RIAT 2014. I've been deeply impressed by the planning and execution that seems to go into everything connected with RIAT, and today's event is no exception."

2013 was a very successful show for RIAT. Good weather ensured a sell-out crowd for the weekend flying displays which featured unique flypasts such as the Red Arrows with the British Airways A380 and the Airbus A400M Atlas. 2014 is proving to be just as popular with Hospitality enclosures already sold out on the Saturday and general tickets selling very fast! The advice is to definitely book early to avoid disappointment!

The show is also proving to be very popular with overseas air arms, particularly with the operational theme "Partnership 2014." With budgets stretched the various air arms and agencies are having to work together more and more with each other and other countries with examples being the multo-national searches for the missing Malaysian airliner and the Baltic Air Policing task. RAF Fairford it a very good example of Partnership too being a USAF air base within the UK. While it is kept as a "stand-by" base, it plays an important role in rotation of Lockheed U-2S reconnaissance aircraft around the world and at the time of the Media Launch saw a deployment of three Boeing B-52H Stratofortress on exercise. As an aside, the Media Launch also an official welcome from Col Angela Cadwell, commander of the 501st Combat Support Wing which oversees Fairford which is hopefully a sign that the USAF will be more involved again following their budget-induced absence in 2013!

The focus of the flying displays, particularly on the new Friday 'Pit Day' will be the 50th Display Season of the Red Arrows. While many of the activities planned remain under wraps, the Friday promises to give visitors unparalleled access to the Red Arrows at an airshow. Sqn Ldr Jim Turner, who flies as Red 1, leader of the display team, said: "Fairford is one of 85 displays we'll be doing in 11 countries this year, but the Air Tattoo is going to be a major focus of our 50th display season celebrations because, along with Little Rissington and Kemble, this is one of our spiritual homes."

He added: "This is my last year with the Reds, but it's going to be a very exciting season, including our first display in Estonia and a planned display in Beirut, and I'm delighted to be leading the team in this special anniversary year."

At the launch to meet the team were three former team members. Henry Prince was Red 7 in that first display season for the Red Arrows, then under the leadership of Flt Lt Lee Jones and based at RAF Fairford. Joining Henry was Des Sheen who was Red 8 in 1973 and 1974, and Red 6 (Synchro Pair leader) in 1975 and Ray Thilitorpe who was Red 10 from 1978 to 1982 overseeing the conversion from the Folland Gnat to the Hawk.

With the Red Arrows at the Tattoo there will be several national teams including Il Frecce Tricolori, Patrouille de France and Patrouille Suisse who are also celebrating their 50th year.

The second major highlight will be the international debut of the F-35B Lightning II. It is planned that three example of the fighter will make the trip over the Atlantic to Fairford with two from the United States Marine Corps and a single UK operated example. There will be two display pilots, one from the USMC and the first Royal Air Force F-35B Role Demo pilot, Sqn Ldr Hugh Nichols who is currently working up his display. The USMC and RAF pilots will share the duties each day of the Air Tattoo and it is hoped that one F-35B will be available for closer inspection on static display. As it currently stands, RIAT will be the only opportunity to see the F-35B on the ground as well as in the air this year in the UK.

The Launch didn't just focus on the aircraft coming to the show, the show also raises money for the RAF Charitable Trust who support many different RAF related good causes such as the Air Tattoo charity, Flying Scholarships for the Disabled. Though weather prevent him flying in, Cpl Alan Robinson did managed to get his Microlight to Fairford. Alan, 35, says: "I always wanted to be an RAF pilot but I didn't get the A levels needed, and joined up as a technician in 1998. I still hoped to fly but in 2011 I was involved in a motorcycle accident which resulted in my right leg being amputated." Alan was encouraged to apply for a scholarship with the Royal International Air Tattoo Flying Scholarships for Disabled People (FSDP), and after a tough selection process he was awarded a microlight scholarship sponsored by the RAF Charitable Trust. He says: "It was challenging and rewarding, and I've gone on to gain my Private Pilot's Licence with help from FSDP and from Flying For Freedom (F4F)." And now Alan has been selected for the F4F expedition to the South Pole in January 2015, flying microlight aircraft in one of the most hostile environments on the planet. The aim is to focus on the ability rather than the disability of the eight pilots; all of them injured servicemen, who'll be tackling an enterprise that's never before been attempted.

The Tucano Display Team are also a recipient of a RAFCT grant, this time in order to provide branded clothing for the 2014 display season and Flt Lt Dave Kirby flew in the special marked Tucano T1 to Fairford for the Media Launch.

RIAT would not be where it is without the support of the loyal enthusiasts that come year after year. Amongst the most loyal are the members of the "Friends of RIAT" organisation who each year not only enjoy the show from their own enclosure but also select some of the award winners. Last year, FRIAT members voted Maj Fabio de Michele and his crew from the Italian Air Force flight test centre the winners of the "As the Crow Flies" Trophy for best overall flying demonstration in their Alenia C-27J Spartan. For the launch, Fabio flew in a Piaggio P180 Avanti to return the award and meet some of the FRIAT members.

Maj de Michele said: "We really feel enthusiastic about the Air Tattoo: there's a very special atmosphere here that we've experienced nowhere else. We were made to feel so welcome last year and we felt obliged to come back to give the FRIAT members in particular the recognition they deserve for their support."

RIAT 2014 promises to be another exciting year with several firsts. Tim Prince, CEO of the Air Tattoo, said: "I'm delighted that so many of our media friends have turned out to support the Launch. It's been great that the Reds, the Tucano, the Trust's FSDP scholar and our wonderful Italian friends have been able to come along, and everything bodes well for a fantastic Air Tattoo in July." More information about the Air Tattoo and Tickets Sales can be found on airtattoo.com.

STOP PRESS: Air Tattoo Cheif Executive Designate Andy Armstrong revealed to FRIAT members (who subsequently divulged the information on the internet) that at least one, possibly two Polish Air Force Su-22 Fitters would be attending RIAT 2014

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