RIAT 2016  - RAF Fairford / United Kingdom

July in the UK is a busy month for the airshow scene and this year was no exception with RIAT running over the same weekend as Duxfords Flying Legends Airshow and followed up with the Farnborough Airshow the weekend after. This year was however different and not in a good way, in the aftermath of the Shoreham crash last season. In the pursuit of an ever safer environment some external spotters areas and camping sites were closed and others are under threat of closure next year. This was clearly leaving a bad taste in the mouths of many longtime supporters of the event both visitors and local residents.
Even so with a generally poor weather forecast for the weekend the RIAT team delivered an impressive show with some real highlights but unfortunately without any vintage jets.

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Big attractions included the truly awesome Lockheed Martin F-22A RAPTOR display as well as the first UK outing for the Lockheed Martin F-35A/B LIGHTNING II. Fast jets were well represented with no less than four Eurofighter EF-2000 TYPHOON displays curtesy of BAE Systems at Warton including a full load of display ordinance, an EF-2000 TYPHOON C.16 from the Ej‚rcito del Aire (Spanish Airforce) at Albaceite, a F-2000A TYPHOON of the Italian Airforce Reparto Sperimentale Volo at Pratica di Mare and a RAF EF-2000 FGR4 TYPHOON of No 29(R) Squadron at Coningsby together with two additional RAF TYPHOON FGR4s from No 1 Squadron at Lossiemouth for a formation flyby with the RAF Red Arrows and the Lockheed Martin F-35B. No shortage of TYPHOONS this year! Another display in plentiful supply was the Lockheed Martin F-16 FIGHTING FALCON of different types (A-model as well as C-models-with conformal fuel tanks). They came from the Turkish Air Force (Akinci AB), Hellenic Air Force (Souda AB), Polish Air Force at Poznan Krzesiny and the Belgian Air Component at Kleine Brogel. You can’t have too many F-16 fighters! 

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The Polish Air Force had a strong contingent at the show not only with their Lockheed Martin F-16C but also with a Mikoyan & Gurevich MiG-29A (Nato Code: FULCRUM A) and the Orlik Aerobatic Team flying 7 PLZ-130TC-II TURBO ORLIKS. The MiG-29A in your correspondents opinion still has the edge in the display against the Lockheed Martin products (F-16), even though it’s a generation behind in avionics. The French Air Force too put on an outstanding display with the spectacular AMD RAFALE C display, a contender for the best display of the show and the final UK display of the Ramex Delta Team, flying two AMD MIRAGE 2000N  in close support formation and tearing through the humid skys over Fairford.

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US forces were also on hand in force displaying the Navy Boeing F/A-18F SUPER HORNET, the Bell Boeing CV-22B OSPREY of the 7th Special Operations Squadron and of course the Lockheed Martin F-22A RAPTOR and the Lockheed Martin F-35A and B LIGHTNING II. The F-22A RAPTOR generally overshadowed the other fast jets with its power and vector thrusting manoeuvrability that was very well displayed by the Demonstration Team Pilot. It also has a general appeal based on its other worldliness very like the Lockheed Martin F-117 NIGHTHAWK had about it. Unfortunately on the Sunday the F-22A RAPTOR suffered a technical fault and aborted its display after only a few minutes.

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The F-35 display was it has to be said a little muted, no doubt as the aircraft matures the display envelope will expand and we will get to see some high energy manoeuvres from the newest fighter on the block. The display did give the spectators good views of the hovering system and doors plus the swivel thrust of its main engine. The UK will ultimately have a fleet of 138 F-35B Lightning II aircraft forming a joint force operating between the RAF and Royal Navy. The F-35B is the short take off and vertical landing variant of the type (STOVL). The RAF No 17 (R) Squadron was re-formed in 2013 to become the operational evaluation unit for the type and is currently stationed at the Edwards AFB in California/USA. The operational base for the Lightning II force will be RAF Marham in Norfolk, better known for its Tornado operations at the moment. It will be the new home for No 617 Squadron (The Dambusters) who will operate the Lightning II.
The Royal Navy will operate the type from its two new Queen Elisabeth Class Aircraft Carriers, the HMS QUEEN ELISABETH and the HMS PRINCE OF WALES. The operational target date for the type is programmed for 2023.

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The procurement of the F-35B and the new Aircraft Carriers have not be without controversy with the cost of the F-35B escalating and the delivery date being delayed. The carriers too have had issues, some political with the government changing its requirements regarding the installation of catapults as it reconsidered what variant of the F-35 to purchase. This added more cost onto the carrier price. 607 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) will be the first Royal Navy Squadron to operate the new type, this squadron flew the SEA HARRIER into battle during the Falklands conflict against Argentinian forces. During the F-35B performance at RIAT it was easy to see why the aircrafts hover and STOVL system is often compared with the Yakovlev Yak-141 (NATO Code:  FREESTYLE), but that is a debate for another time. The Boeing CV-22B OSPREY did give a better and well considered performance with fast and slow passes and a hover display that delivered great views to the entire crowd line, it took a few extra minutes but it was a good crowd pleasing manoeuvre, definitely the best OSPREY display ever at an Air Tattoo! The Boeing F/A-18F SUPER HORNET also gave a very solid display and offered a welcome break from the numerous TYPHOON's and F-16's on show.

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Only one aircraft qualified as a heavy weight this year and that was the always impressive Airbus Defence and Space Airbus A400M from Toulouse Airport. The type gives an outstanding show of power and manoeuvrability on a huge scale. The team show very high angles of attack and bank that would be acceptable for a fighter. Rotary wing aircraft were well represented as always, the best on show was the RAF Boeing CHINOOK HC.4 of 18/27 Squadron at RAF Odiham. A long time favourite of the team here at CHK6 the RAF CHINOOK display is truly impressive and shows just how capable the type is.
Making its final appearance at a RIAT was the Messerschmitt-Boelkow-Blohm Bo 105 P1 HFWS/C of the German Army at Celle. The Light Utility Helicopter is a past award winner at RIAT and showed the crowd why. Another outstanding display from a type never to be seen again in its military role.

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The Royal Navy Helicopter display team from 825 Naval Air Squadron RNAS Yeovilton, The BLACK CATS flying a pair of Agusta Westland AW159 WILDCAT HMA2s . The latest development of the original Westland LYNX family, the WILDCAT is the replacement for the LYNX and SUPER LYNX helicopter. The display itself is not as entertaining as the BLACK CATS of years gone bye and lack some of the punch that the Navy Team delivered so well. The final helicopter participant was from the Royal Netherlands Air Force 301 Squadron at Gilze Rijn flying the Boeing AH-64D APACHE. 

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Display Teams at this years event were Croatian Air Force Acrobatic Team from Zadar, KRILA OLUJE (Wings of Storm) flying 6 Pilatus PC-9Ms and making their first appearance at a RIAT. The ROYAL JORDANIAN FALCONS with their 4 Extra EA300Ls from King Hussein International Airport Aqaba are long standing favourites and great supporters of RIAT for many years. The BREITLING WINGWALKERS flying  3 x Boeing STEARMAN A75N1s of AeroSuperBatics from Rendcomb Arodrome came next. Always welcome at RIAT the WINGWALKERS turn heads almost as much as the RAPTOR does, the weather conditions were not great for the BREITLING Team but they put on a good show regardless.

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Fast Jet teams this year were of course the Royal Air Force RED ARROWS with 9 Bae HAWK T1/T1As from RAF Scampton. One of the best display teams in the world having a busy day at RAF Fairford with not only their display but also a special fly past with RAF Eurofighter TYPHOON and a Lockheed Martin F-35B to welcome the type to its first UK airshow. The PATROUILLE SUISSE of the Swiss Air Force at Emmen flew with only 3 of their 5 Northrop F-5E TIGER IIs following a training accident where one aircraft was lost and another damaged. The Italian Air Force Aerobatic Team, The FRECCE TRICOLORI based at Rivolto flying 10 Aermacchi AT-339As stole the show on the Sunday when the best  weather of the weekend arrived just  in time for their display. The team always deliver an entertaining performance and are always a welcome addition to the program at RIAT and we hope to see them again soon.

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Verdict: So even with partly poor weather and a changing cloud base the team at RIAT managed to deliver a great show even without any vintage jets. As the situation in the UK continues to develop in the shadow of the Shoreham accident we wait to see the full repercussions of the event on airshows in the UK.

Will Moore / CHK6 UK

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