Aviation News Journal
Royal International Air Tattoo
Text and photography by Patrick Dirksen, Frank Mink and Joop Zandbergen of
This year, the Royal International Air Tattoo was held at RAF Fairford in Gloustershire, Great Britain. This event is the largest military airshow in the world and is normally held every year. However, due to Covid, this was the first edition in three years, so many people welcomed the return of the military jets, helicopters, and other participants.
Held since 1971, the International Air Tattoo became ‘Royal’ in 1996. In 2003, attendance was the largest, with no less than 535 aircraft on show. In recent times, the world situation has changed, so these numbers are not possible anymore. But still some 200 military and former military aircraft from all over the world, as well as a few dozen civilian aircraft could be admired on the ground and in the air this year. The UK was suffering from a heatwave during the show weekend, which was tough for the crowds of some 100 000, but plenty of free water and sunshine during the displays made for a great weekend. The themes of this year’s edition were ‘Training the Next Generation’ and the United States' Air Force's 75th anniversary. A very special guest this year was actor Tom Cruise, who recently starred as fighter pilot in ‘Top Gun: Maverick.’ We present a pictorial review of the show.
This very rare E-4B Advanced Airborne Command Post, one of only four E-4Bs in the world, was one of the highlights at the show. To provide direct support to the President of the USA, the Secretary of Defence, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at least one E-4B is always on 24-hour alert, 7-days a week. In case of a national emergency or destruction of ground command and control centres, the aircraft provides a highly survivable command, control, and communications centre to direct US forces.
The Republic of Korea Air Force’s demonstration team, the Black Eagles, made their second visit ever to Europe, after also displaying at RAF Fairford in 2012. The team flies eight indigenously developed KAI T-50 Golden Eagle advanced jet trainers in a striking colour scheme. Their formation flying is very tight as is shown here.
The newest fighter of the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy is the Lockheed Martin F-35B, locally known as Lightning II. This fifth-generation fighter has short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) capabilities, which it shows here. Because of this, the aircraft can operate from aircraft carriers and short landing strips, in addition to regular runways. So far 27 of 48 ordered Lightnings have been delivered, with plans to order up to 138 aircraft.
From this angle the newest fighter of the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy looks almost alien. For vertical flight, the engine nozzle rotates downward and the doors of the lift fan open up, as can be seen clearly in this photograph.
A Czech Mi-171Sh, NATO reporting name ‘Hip’, taking off for a spectacular aerial demonstration. The Czech Air Force inherited 33 Mi-17 ‘Hip; helicopters dating from the USSR era when Czechoslovakia split up in 1992. In 2005, a large portion of these were replaced by 16 improved Mi-171Sh. This is the most advanced export version of the Hip that can also be armed and used for assault missions. For this, it can be equipped with the same weapons suite as the Mi-24/Mi-35 ‘Hind’. Below the cockpit window an armour protection plate can be seen.
Although it is normal for jet aircraft to do a loop during an aerial demonstration, seeing a propeller driven transport aircraft doing one is a very rare sight. This C-27J Spartan, however, has no problem showing its agility. While externally looking rather similar to its predecessor, the Alenia G.222, this Leonardo C-27 is a completely new generation transport aircraft, with more powerful engines, modern avionics and a fully digital cockpit. Where the G.222 was mainly used by Italy, the C-27 is apart from the Italian Air Force also used by forces from Australia, Bulgaria, Greece, Lithuania, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Peru, Romania, Slovakia, United States and Zambia, making it an export success.
This BAe Hawk not only clearly shows it is from Finland, it also sports special markings celebrating 40 years of Hawk operations by the ‘Ilmavoimat’ or Finnish Air Force. Is it part of the official demonstration team called the Midnight Hawks, who fly four Hawks. The name of the team comes from Midsummer Eve when they fly a display literally after midnight, as it doesn’t get dark at their homebase Kauhava in that period of the year.
If the glass nose doesn’t speak for itself enough, the badge on the nose of this Antonov An-30 saying “Patrula Aerofotogrammetrica” explains the role of this remarkable and rare aircraft. The Romanian Air Force still operates two of the almost 50 years old veterans, NATO reporting name ‘Clank’, for the Open Skies programme.
The crew of this Italian C-130J Super Hercules understand what photographers want and keep their aircraft very low after taking off. Although not part of the airshow itself, this way the support aircraft becomes an attractive addition to the already impressive line-up.
Next to a CC-130J Hercules, the Canadian Armed Forces or Forces Armées Canadiennes sent this CC-150 Polaris to take part in the static show. The retro paint scheme makes for a nice change, especially since more and more aircraft turn grey nowadays. The scheme was applied in 2018 and is the same as its predecessor the Boeing CC-137 carried when serving in Canada.
By now a well-known sight, the Bell-Boeing CV-22 Osprey, but still a very strange-looking aircraft. Or helicopter. USAF Special Operations Command has one squadron of those hybrids based at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk.
The famous Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team the Red Arrows fly the BAe Hawk and often use smoke in the colours of the British flag. They are seen here flying in formation with the single RAF Voyager in VIP livery, also sporting the British flag, that has been dubbed ‘Boris Force One’ by the British public after former prime minister Boris Johnson.
Many aircraft on show sport special markings or paintings. This Spanish EF-18M Hornet, creating its own vapour cloud while doing a high-speed pass, even has two of those. The outside of the twin tails has a fierce looking tiger from participating in the yearly European Tiger Meet earlier this year while the inside is adorned with markings commemorating 35 years of F-18 Hornet in Spanish service.
A Mil Mi-17 ‘Hip’ and Mi-35 ‘Hind’ of the Czech Air Force doing what almost looks like ballet during a demonstration flight. Recently the CzAF announced they will transfer their complete fleet of Mi-24 and Mi-35 helicopters to the Ukraine, to support their battle against Russia, as they were planning to replace them with new Bell AH-1Z Vipers soon anyway.
Although participants are mostly active military aircraft, some historic aircraft are also included. The Swedish Air Force Historic Flight showed three of their aircraft, a Saab 32 Lansen, a Saab 35 Draken and this Saab 37 Viggen. This last one, an Sk.37 (for Skol or trainer) version, is a twin seater painted in the distinctive Swedish splinter camouflage which was mainly used during the Cold War.
With all the jet fighters, this nimble Airbus H.145M helicopter is almost overlooked. This one is used by the German special forces though, and is therefore a rather rare participant at an airshow.
This Hungarian JAS.39C Gripen flew a stunning display, with the spectacular fuel ‘dump and burn’ as highlight. Seemingly on fire, this technique is used to dump fuel in an emergency situation, where a quick landing is needed but the aircraft is still too heavy to safely land.
The German Luftwaffe recently announced it will order more Eurofighter EF.2000 jets. Some of these will be of a still to develop ECR version, intended to replace the Tornado ECR fleet. In the meantime, the venerable Tornado, designed by Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom in the seventies, is still going strong. Here it shows its topside with the swing wings in full forward position.
A Sokol W-3A of the Czech Air Force demonstrates the use of its winch during a rescue demonstration. Ten of these multi-purpose helicopters are in service since 1996 (the 11th one crashed in 2001) and these proved their capabilities amongst others during flood disasters in the Czech Republic in 1997 and again in 2002.
Many display teams show their capabilities during the Royal International Air Tattoo. One of the ´regulars´ are the famous Italian Frecce Tricolore, meaning three coloured arrows. The three colours obviously represent the Italian flag, and they use smoke in these same colours as is shown here during a spectacular break.
The Frecce Tricolore fly their demonstrations with no less than ten aircraft, making them the largest demonstration team in the world. Two aircraft are the dedicated solos while the others form the main formation. Here the two halves of the main formation perform a cross over.
The two solo aircraft of the Red Arrows performing a close crossing. The British Aerospace Hawk T.1 has been fully retired by the British forces earlier this year, only exception are the aircraft used by the Red Arrows. These are planned to soldier on for another few years, by cannibalizing the rest of the stored fleet.
The Royal Kingdom of Bahrain sent an aircraft to RIAT for the first time in history, thereby becoming the 57th nation to participate at least once. For the aircraft itself it was familiar ground though, as the Lockheed C-130J Super Hercules used to fly for the Royal Air Force before it was delivered to the Royal Bahraini Air Force only a few years ago together with a second sistership.