The Royal International Air Tattoo better know as RIAT. It’s the World’s biggest air show (recognized by the Guinness World Records for the attendance of 535 aircraft in 2003). It’s also had a number of firsts. First display of the B-2A Spirit outside the USA and the first display of the F-22A Raptor in Europe.
RIAT is organised and run by the Royal Air Force Charitable Trust Enterprises; a charity setup in 2005 to provide financial support to a wide variety of projects and initiatives to the benefit of air cadets, serving members of the RAF and former members of the RAF.
The last time I attended RIAT it was still called IAT (it didn’t get the Royal prefix until 1996).
It was in the early 90s and the Vulcan was still being displayed by the RAF, although it had by that stage been retired from active service. The Vulcan in question was XH558 and with its return to flight I’ve also returned to RIAT. This was my first attendance as a photographer and although I had attended the Waddington Air Show in 2008 and 2009 I had a lot to learn about how best to shoot at RIAT.
2009 saw 269 aircraft taking part from 22 nations and a total of 160,000 visitors. The number of aircraft attending is down from the peak in 2003 and also down from the 300 aircraft in 2006. The main reason for this is the ongoing world financial downturn, display crew availability and operational commitments. The latter of these causing both the USAF and RAF C-17 aircraft to cancel at the last minute.
2008 was a dark year for the air show. In its 38 year history there hadn’t been a single day cancelled but the heavy rain on the run up to the event had left the ground water logged and both the Saturday and Sunday were cancelled for health and safety reasons. 2009 would be an important year.
The weather for the event wasn’t ideal with a low cloud base and rain showers through out the run up and on the Sunday. Whilst a number of initiatives had been undertaken to prevent a repeat of the 2008 cancellation a lot people, myself included, were nervous. On the drive down I drove through two thunderstorms and had visibility down to two car lengths at times. I was expecting to arrive, get stuck in the mud and then have the show cancelled but my fears were ungrounded. Fairford had missed the majority of the bad weather, the ground was still firm and everything was a go.
RIAT 2009 took a very different approach to the air display program. Rather than holding the star fast jet acts back to late in the day they put them on in the morning. I believe that this was a response to the rain forecast for late afternoon.
I’ll cover a few displays below but I don’t intend to cover everything or list all the items that displayed.
The display opened with the Spanish EF-18A, the first of three F-18 variants to display. This was followed by the C-27J Spartan display. Then came the star act, the French Air Force Rafale B. This was its first display at RIAT. Due to the cloud cover it flew its ‘flat’ display but they just kept it lower for the crowds. The fluid and fast movement was great to watch and the amount of vapour it was pulling could rival the mighty F-22A Raptor.
The second F-18 variant of the day in the form of the Finnish Air Force F-18C Hornet. The best of the three F-18 displays in my opinion, although the other two were far from bad!
The Red Arrows as usual but on a good display, I posted photos of their 2009 display on my Waddington Air Show post so this time just a solo….
The second display of the day from a Gripen but this time an older JAS49A variant from the Swedish Air Force. The display included a low fast pass and it looked superb!
The final F-18 variant of the day was the Swiss Air Force F/A-18C Hornet putting in a vapour filled display.
The next hour was filled by the Royal Navy Fly 100 celebrations. First of all was the fly past of 2 Merlins, 7 Sea Kings, 5 Lynxs, 2 Falcons, 4 Hawks, 2 Squirrels, a Chipmunk, 4 Fireflys, 2 Grobs, a Sea Vixen, 3 Jetstreams and 2 Harriers!
Quite a list and quite a site, although from my particular vantage point at the time it wasn’t possible to get any decent photos. Continuing the RN theme was the very impressive and award winning display from the FRADU Hawks and Falcons.
Closing the RN theme was the Black Cats helicopter display team. By this time the weather was closing in with dark clouds threatening rain, what we needed was something bright and the Dutch delivered. This full aircraft paint job looks amazing!
Then it was time for the other star of the show, after 15 years it had returned to RIAT. No technical problems and no permit problems. It looked and sounded fantastic. It was of course the Avro Vulcan B2, XH558!
From one heavy to the next, the Royal New Zealand 757. The paint scheme on this looked great when the light hit it.
My final photo this event, of course the RAF Typhoon. The weather was far from ideal but the noise from the Typhoon made up for it. It may have lost out to the Rafale for the most dynamic display of the day but it sounded fantastic.