|RIAT is the UK’s premier airshow and lays claim to the world’s largest military. For years it has been the highlight of the year for many aviation enthusiasts but like many of its fellow airshows it has found it hard to secure military participation from foreign military air forces. With the reduction, and in some case slashing, of military budgets worldwide many air forces have found it impossible to find the money required to deploy aircraft to RIAT. This is especially true for countries furthest from the UK and for fast jets that usually will be sent as a pair and will require support from ground crew further increasing the cost. Of course, fast jet displays from countries rarely seen in the UK is top of many people’s wish list making RIAT’s task of getting the aircraft people want to see within budget even more difficult.
When aircraft attendance figures dropped into the three hundreds, RIAT made a decision to concentrate on trying to book star acts rather than trying to achieve the attendance figure of yesteryear; quality over quantity if you like.
The new direction saw a MiG-29 OVT put on a stunning display and the first display of the MV-22 Osprey in 2006. The 2007 show had the F-117A Stealth Fighter and the first display from a Saab Gripen. The F-22 Raptor headlined the display program for the ill-fated 2008 show and the 2009 show had the French Rafale performing its first display and of course the return of Vulcan XH558.
There is a definite expectation among aviation fans that RIAT will have the best display program, the best static line and rarest aircraft. The aviation forums all have threads about who will be attending RIAT with a lot of speculation. The organisers play along with “Moley”, a fictional character based on a mole who hints at what may be attending RIAT. This year saw a new twist with Moley appearing as part of Moley and Sons Turf Accountants and offering odds on a list of aircraft with updates seeing the odds increase or decrease depending on how the arrangements were going to get the aircraft to attend. This, I thought, was a great idea and hope I they continue with it next year.
Out of the hints from Moley, a number of aircraft started to form the basis of the first release of the 2010 Participation List. The F-22 Raptor would be returning and a US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet would make its first display (both thanks to this being a Farnborough year) but it was both the Sri Lankan An-32B and Romanian Air Force MiG-21 LanceRs that caught most people’s attention. As if to illustrate the problems with funding these deployments both later went on to cancel. The situation the Romanian Air Force finds itself in being highlighted later in the news when the Finance Minister announced they couldn’t afford to purchase the 24 second hand F-16s from the US that were due to replace the MiG-21s this year; “Such an expense is downright impossible at the moment”.
If there is one thing that gets as much interest from aviation fans as the participation list it is the weather forecast! RIAT has been very unlucky with the weather in recent years. The 2007 show saw good weather on the Saturday and distinctly poor Sunday. In 2008 the show was cancelled at the last minute due to flooding. The 2009 show delivered an overcast and just about dry Saturday followed by a wet Sunday. After three years of poor weather everyone was hoping for sun and blue skies.
Any hopes of good weather were rapidly evaporating on the Wednesday with heavy rain showers and winds gusting up to 40mph. The weather for the arrivals on Thursday was a crazy mix of cloud cover, flash flooding and sun! The Raptor’s practice display on was cancelled a few minutes in due to the rain after having sat on the runway for over 10 minutes waiting for it to clear. The Raptor left to perform a practice display at Farnborough later in the day in much drier weather but its departure on dry power rather than reheat had left the crowd disappointed but only until its return when performing a missed approach. Rather than continuing down the runway the Raptor executed a right turn that appeared to be almost a right angle to the runway and with both engines in full reheat the crowd was stunned and slightly deaf! This was a taster of what the Raptor’s manoeuvrability and power and what we had in store for us when we finally got to see the full display the next day.
Thursday continued with a mix of rain, crowd and hazy sun but had improved enough to allow the major acts to perform their practice displays. The Raptor as expected performed a stunning display and demonstrated both its low and high speed performance with plenty of vapour.
The weather continued to improve on the Saturday starting with a lot of cloud cover before ending with blue skies, strong sun and some great light. The display acts started with the regular RAF display teams progressing through the Tutor, Tucano, Hawk and finally the Typhoon (although a fuel priority call brought forward the Tucano display). Whilst a lot of effort was put into the Tutor and Tucano displays both seemed distant and out gunned when compared to the rest of the flying program.
The Hawk display was again very enjoyable to watch and has firmly become a favourite of mine this season. Whoever is selected to fly the Hawk for 2011 after Flt Lt Tom Saunders transfers to 19(R) Squadron will have a very tough act to follow both in terms of the routine and also the paint scheme.
The Typhoon performed in some of the worst weather of the day with lots of white cloud to the point I’ve actually deleted all of my photos from its display (sorry!) and the whilst a good display it struggled to compete with some of the other displays on the day.
The flying programme had a change of pace next with a USAF C-17 performing a parachute drop before a solo display. Whilst I’ve seen various C-130 and the C-27J display in the past this was the first time I’ve seen the C-17 display and it didn’t disappoint. A flowing display and of course a demonstration of the show landing and show takeoff ability that is the C-17’s trademark.
The flying programme again switched back to fast jet displays with the Belgium F-16. Another impressive display that managed to outperform the Dutch F-16 with a display that was short but action packed.
Following on from the Belgium F-16 wasn’t going to be easy but the Swedish Gripen’s display seemed very lacklustre and didn’t compare well to the Czech Gripen display at the RAF Waddington Air Show earlier in the year or the Hungarian Gripen display from RIAT 2009.
Next up was the F/A-18F Super Hornet flown by a Boeing Experimental and Evaluation Test Pilot and had eleven of its hard points filled with inert AMRAAM and AIM-9 missiles. The Super Hornet was one of the star acts of RIAT 2010 but I was left a little disappointed. The display was made up of lots of high alpha manoeuvres and low speed handling. Each manoeuvre executed very smoothly and with a high degree of control. Without doubt this was technically a very good display but for me it lacked flair. A fast jet display should be dramatic and look like it’s pushing the envelope. The Super Hornet looked in control at every point. Like the Typhoon this was also performed to a very white sky with lots of cloud cover so no usable photos but I will be making a trip down to Farnborough to catch the Super Hornet display again so look out for photos in the very near future.
Making its first appearance at RIAT and its first display in the UK was the Airbus Military A400M. An aircraft that is due to replace the UK’s fleet of C-130 Hercules and argument the airlift capability of the C-17. Performing its display with 18 tonnes of flight test equipment in the cargo hold but you would be hard pushed to tell especially when it did a 120 degree wingover.
The A400M was followed by displays from the PC-21, a flypast from the Sukhoi SSJ100, the Patrouille Suisse and the much criticised French Alpha Jet display. Personally, I think the display from the Alpha Jet wasn’t that bad, much improved from the display I saw in 2009 at RAF Waddington.
The Chinook performed the capacity demo where it delivers two jeeps, a trailer and a number of troops to the crowd centre. An interesting display but I did miss seeing the large airframe being thrown around.
The Pitts Special and WeFly display team filled the lunchtime slot when most people stop watching the display.
The Kiwi 757 then took to the sky. A firm favourite with the aviation fans and especially good to see as it had at one point been pulled from the attendance list. Like the Dutch F-16 this is one aircraft where you can shoot it in almost any weather.
The next 45 minutes were set aside for the Battle of Britain flypast to commemorate the 70th Anniversary with a classic flypast containing Spitfires, Hurricanes and Messerschmitts and a modern day flypast containing Hawk T1s, a Hawk T2, a Mirage 2000B, F-16s, F-15Cs, a Tornado F-3 and the Kiwi 757.
The Jordanian Falcons put in a polished display next and were followed by the King Air display flown by Flt Lt Leon Crease and Flt Lt Dave Mason. The display was accompanied by Mr Blue Sky by ELO which this year was rather apt as the sky was beginning to clear.
The BBMF Lancaster made a flypast before the IV(R) Sqn Harrier Role Demo made its RIAT return flown by Flt Lt Steve Kenworthy. The Harrier has always been a firm favourite of mine and is widely loved by the general public but the display wasn’t the strongest. I’ll glad the Harrier is back on the display circuit and I hope after this year’s experience they come back stronger next year.
This was followed by the Patrouille de France the French Air Force display team operating Alpha Jets. The performance was very good; on the same level as the Red Arrows.
Then came the display act everyone was waiting for, the F-22A Raptor! An absolute stunning display which showed off the immense power, agility and turning ability to great effect; winning it three of the seven awards including the much coveted King Hussein Memorial Sword for the Best Overall Flying Demonstration. It’s going to be a tough job for the people at RIAT to find something to meet the standard set by the Raptor this year and I suspect they will have to head East to find it.
The Dutch had drawn the short straw of having to follow the Raptor. Starting off with a flypast from the F-16 in it’s now famous orange paint scheme with the Apache in a new paint scheme for 2010 which draws on the Apache name and orange colour scheme. Whilst I’m very happy to see an Apache with something other than the drab green but the half special scheme and half green paint scheme just didn’t work for me.
After the flypast the Apache performed its display but without flares it felt a little flat. When the Apache landed the F-16 started its display, performing to the usual high standard.
Next up was the Vulcan, a sight I wasn’t sure I would see this year. After another close call over funding and a late start to its deep maintenance programme meant the VTTS trust were unable to confirm any appearances until very late in the display season. All these troubles were put behind when XH558 took to the sky and performed a great display. A glimmer of hope for the future was seen when the bomb bay pass was performed. A 3M sticker on the bomb bay, the first sign of a corporate sponsorship? I hope so.
XV(R) Sqn performed next with the Tornado Role Demo. A display that lends much from the RAF Role Demo of previous years and demonstrates how the Tornado GR4 is operated in a war zone as it is in Afghanistan at the moment. A number of fast passes keeps the crowd guessing which direction they are coming from and the pyrotechnics give a visual impact.
Performing in the penultimate slot was the Red Arrows. Back to the full nine ship after a bout of illness for Red 3. They delivered the usual strong performance alongside good commentary and the trademark calls from Red 1.
Completing the day was the brilliant Typhoon and Spitfire Pair flown by Flt Lt Walton and Sqn Ldr Mason. The performance is a very well choreographed display between the two mismatched aircraft and includes opposing passes and synchronised manoeuvres. The display was awarded the Steedman Display Sword for the best UK display act.
Despite the excellent weather at the end of the Saturday the weather once again changed and Sunday was back to closed in white cloud and rain showers. I decided to end my RIAT experience on the high of Saturday and head home.