It’s a RIAT!

Royal International Air Tattoo, RAF Fairford, July 19-21 2019

The middle of July brings with it the anticipation of the biggest and most spectacular airshow on the UK domestic Calendar. The Royal International Air Tattoo, universally known by the acronym RIAT, which has been staged annually at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire since 1985. 

Since the demise of Farnborough’s public days, RIAT is now also the largest air show open to the public that is held in the UK as well as being the largest military air show in the world. 

An attendance of over 150,000 is the norm at RIAT, and when you can boast 245 aircraft from 39 air arms belonging to 39 different countries, which this years show had, that sort of thing is going to happen.

The 2019 show was always going to feel a little subdued to many people following 2018’s incredible and huge RAF 100 celebration, but in all fairness there was really no need for anyone to think that way. A few unavoidable cancellations, especially on Saturday, thinned out the line up slightly, but there was so much more to enjoy that dwelling on the absentees would be churlish.

In the static park

Special liveries were on show in abundance in the static park. The Pakistan Air Force C-130 always comes up with something special and this year was no exception. A Norwegian Air Force F-16 was painted up to represent Spitfire IX, PL258 FN-K, of 331 (Norwegian) Squadron which crashed in 1944 and is currently undergoing restoration. This was match in the flying display by an  F-16 of the Belgian Air Component sporting a superb bit of tail art to commemorate 75 years since the D-Day landings. Both were also wearing the black and white ‘invasion stripes’ that were applied to all allied aircraft during the operation to aid recognition.

My favourite of the special liveries I saw was an absolutely stunning Eurofighter EF2000 (Typhoon in the UK) belonging to Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 71 “Richthofen” which celebrated their 60th anniversary since they were formed in 1959 and also commemorating their namesake Manfred von Richtofen, immortalised in legend as the Red Baron.

One very interesting ground based item was the mock-up of the Tempest, a 6th generation stealth fighter being developed by a team led by BAE Systems which aims to produce a replacement for the Typhoon. The mock up was open to the public to sit in and was very popular too. Security risks would be at a minimum as this is not a final design, but a concept which is intended to evolve massively over the coming decades. At the show Sweden signed an agreement with the UK to co-operate on future air capability. Although Tempest was not specifically named, the description makes it obvious that it forms part of the agreement, which also includes enhancements to Typhoon and Gripen capability. Keep a look out for a forthcoming article all about the Tempest project, here on


Of course, with more than 200 aircraft, there were far too many highlights in the static park to list here, but likely to be high on most peoples list is the mighty B-52. The aircraft on display looked very weather worn indeed, but we are reassured by the long suffering commander, who was fielding questions about it all weekend, that it is due for a repaint upon its return Stateside.

The flying display was opened by the Belgian F-16 ‘Dark Falcon’ with its customary tight and accomplished display before the french aerobatic team Patrouille de France took centre stage and they sadly had their display cut short following a birdstrike to one of their aircraft just as they were getting into their stride. 

The USAF Team Viper F-16 then followed up with a spirited display, although on Sunday, structural failure of the horizontal stabiliser forced the pilot to abandon his display. Maybe Saturday had been a touch too spirited?

The Teams

Other displays teams that kept us entertained included the Red Arrows, attending their final event in the UK before spending the rest of the summer touring the USA, Frecce Tricolori, who never fail to impress, and the Royal Jordanian Falcons. These regulars were also joined by RIAT newcomers Team Daedalus, of the Hellenic Air Force with a single Pilatus PC-9, the Blades, made up of former Red Arrows pilots, and the Breitling Jet Team, the largest civilian jet display team in Europe, who brought the curtain down for us on the Saturday display.

The Singletons

Individual fast jet displays were provided by the Swedish SAAB Gripen, RAF Typhoon, Romanian MiG 21 and italian Leonardo T-346, plus of course many peoples current favourite, the Ukraine Su-27 Flanker. Best of all the individual displays however must go to the Finnish AF F-18 Hornet, which made the very best use of the aircraft’s agility to keep a fast moving display close to the crowd. The British Army’s Apache helicopter and the USAF CV-22 Osprey also gave solid demonstrations of their individual qualities.

One area that RIAT is famous for is its set pieces and 2019 was no different. Centrepiece of the show from the very beginning of preparations last year was always intended to be the NATO 70th anniversary flypast. As events transpired however this has to be reported that this was not the spectacle the organisers intended. Several participating aircraft went tech, including the NATO E-3 Awacs that had long been billed as the main attraction, although this was unavoidable. Many people also felt that the flypast was too high and too spaced out to present maximum impact. The truly terrible light conditions at the time also exacerbated the situation, as far as the photographers were concerned. 

RIAT always tends to have other tricks up its sleeve though and this year was no exception. The 50th anniversary Concorde celebration featured the Patrouille de France flying in formation together with the RAF Red Arrows and was very welcome. Highlight of the show for most however would have been the flypast featuring the Red Arrows once again, but this time escorting British Airways Boeing 747 G-BYGC, resplendent in the 1970 BOAC colours it has been given in recognition of the centenary of British commercial aviation this year. If more was needed, the appearance by two Spanish Navy EAV-8B Harriers felt very special indeed, a decade on from losing our own Harrier force due to cost cutting. Sunday only also saw a set piece flypast featuring the A400M transport in formation with the Blades aerobatic team in the 50th anniversary year for Airbus. Another full and action packed display completed, we await next years show with anticipation, as always.

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