Between the 9th and 14th July 2014, MAR attended the Royal International Air Tattoo for the third time already. There were a lot of expectations s for this year’s air tattoo mainly due to the themes of the show, which included the 50th Anniversary of the Red Arrows, and the 40th Anniversary of the F-16 and the Hawk. Furthermore, rumours of the participation of the F-35 Lightning, 2014 being a Farnborough year, and the return of US aircraft at airshows all gave aviation enthusiasts hope that 2014 was going to be a classic.

Furthermore, 2014 saw RIAT’s first attempt at a three-day show starting from Friday. This continued to add to the hype, with many expecting Friday to be a celebration of the Red Arrows 50th anniversary with a mass flypast of display teams similar to what was experienced in 2004 at Payerne. In addition, with many European countries operating the F-16, aviation enthusiasts expected the attraction of exotic F-16 operators that are not normally seen in Western Europe, especially from the Middle Eastern and Asian countries. Sadly, this was not to be.

Earlier during the year, RIAT had managed to secure and announce the F-35’s very first overseas visit to the UK in the form of three United States Marine Corps aircraft flying with one of the UK MoD’s F-35Bs to perform “role demonstrations” at Fairford and Farnborough. However, during the build-up of the show a USAF F-35A has suffered an engine fire in the US and subsequently all F-35 variants were grounded until further notice. This resulted in lots of uncertainty if the aircraft were going to manage to attend or not just until the final week before the show. Sadly, the F-35 did not manage to turn up for the event.

Furthermore, as weeks went by and the event got closer, much of the expectations and hopes of aviation enthusiasts at seeing exotic F-16 and hawk operators started diminishing when only regular European and RAF examples of the F-16 and hawk were listed down to attend for the show. Unfortunately, the glorious days of the past are now definitely long gone and aviation enthusiasts have to put their mind to rest that with all the budget cuts and challenges present, the chances of seeing such rare aircraft from exotic and rare air, army and naval forces will still be available, despite minimal.

Despite these setbacks, there was still much to look forward to. Besides the Red Arrow’s 50th Anniversary celebrations, RIAT had managed to secure the participation of Hellenic Air Force A-7 Corsairs, forming part of the last squadron flying this type of aircraft in the world. These aircraft were slated for retirement later on that same year, thus it was amazing to be able to see two examples of the aircraft up close in the static display, and were considered to be the stars of the static display by most of the aviation enthusiasts. The single seat example wore a very striking black scheme celebrating 336 Olympos Squadron and even had Air Tattoo markings underneath the cockpit, showing the great support RIAT has been receiving from the Hellenic Air Force in recent years. 

If the A-7 Corsairs were the star of the static display, the stars of the flying display were the Polish Air Force Su-22M4-K ‘Fitter’ Duo that performed a spectacular demo on both days of the show. It was amazing to see this cold war swing wing jet beat the Fairford runway in a series of runway beat ups and low passes. The pair flew a relatively simple sequence starting with formations showing the various wing sweep angles before entering more of role demonstration of various tactics employed by the type. The display concluded with some dramatic missed approaches along the runway. These aircraft still soldier on and a small number of them are still in service with the Polish Air Force at Swidwin Air Base, were they recently received an upgrade enabling them to still be operational well into the 2020s.

Poland was a very strong supporter of RIAT 2014. Besides the Fitter Duo for the flying display, the Polish Air Force also sent no less than 4 Casa C 295 aircraft throughout the week to act as support aircraft for the fitters and for the Orlik Display Team that also attended RIAT in the show’s flying display. One of the Casa 295s was also left parked in the static park, adding to the large presence of cargo aircraft within the static display.

The special ‘Red Pits Day’ that was being organised by RIAT on the Friday exclusively to celebrate the 50th display season of the red arrows, culminated in a special flypast featuring all nine Red Arrows with the leaders of the Breitling Jet Team, Patrouille de France, Frecce Tricolori and Patrouille Suisse. It was a particularly difficult formation to get right with the leaders aircraft all having very different flight performances. Despite not being of the grandeur of the flypast seen at Payerne in 2004, it was still a nice experience to be able to celebrate the Red’s 50th anniversary in such a manner.

Despite the poor weather on Friday, it was still a pleasure to watch and was a flypast that will surely not be replicated any time soon for the foreseeable future.

As described earlier, despite the lack of exotic F-16 and hawk operators, RIAT 2014 celebrated both types anniversaries with the presence of several examples of Air Forces normally seen in Europe. With respect to the F-16, RIAT 2014 saw two examples from the Turkish Air Force, 2 examples from the Danish Air Force, 2 examples from the Royal Norwegian Air Force, four examples from the Royal Netherlands Air Force, and two examples from the Belgian Air Force. With respect to the hawk, the only examples present were from the UK, and included the presence of RAF hawks, the Red Arrows themselves, and two very rare and welcome appearances by the first ever Hawk, XX154 wearing its striking new Empire Test Pilots School livery, and the RAF Centre of Aviation Medicine’s example. Both Hawks came from Boscombe Down.

As explained earlier, RIAT 2014 also saw the welcome return of USAF and US Navy, both in the static display and in the flying display. USAF contributed a Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker belonging to 100ARW from nearby RAF Mildenhall and a USAF F-15E Strike Eagle from the 48th fighter wing based at nearby RAF Lakenheath. The US Navy contributed a Boeing P-8A Poseidon, a RIAT rebut in itself, as well as a Boeing F/A-18F Super hornet for the flying display, still devoid of any squadron markings. The display by the super hornet was quite tame when compared to previous RIAT editions, and the fact that it had to leave early without displaying on Sunday morning continued to add to the disappointment and the what could have been among us aviation photographers.

Despite the cancellations, setbacks and false hopes, there were plenty of interesting aircraft on display, especially in the static park coming from nations that are not normally seen at Fairford. The nations in question included Japan, Algeria, Estonia and Lithuania. The Japan Air Self Defence Force, on its second appearance at RIAT, sent a Boeing KC-767J multi-role tanker transport based at Komaki Air Base, whereas the Algerian Air Force sent a Lockheed C-130H Hercules adorned with a beautiful green camo livery. The Baltic states of Estonia and Lithuania sent two very interesting aircraft, Estonia sending one example of an Aero Vodochody L-39C Albatross jet trainer for the flying display, and Lithuania sent a relatively new C-27J Spartan, another RIAT debut and a much-welcomed addition to the static park.

2014 also marked the 60th Anniversary of the C-130 Hercules. RIAT 2014 was also a year where there were quite a good number of examples both providing support and on static display. In particular, the arrivals and departure days saw visits by Swedish, Turkish and Italian C-130s bring in support equipment and crews for the various display teams. Other examples came from Norway, Algeria, Jordan, Oman and the Netherlands. Another cargo aircraft that was also interesting to note during the departures day of RIAT 2014 for a Turkish Air Force C-160 Transall that visited Fairford acting in support of the Solo Turk.

A nation that has shown incredible support for RIAT in 2014 was Italy, which sent no fewer than 5 items for the flying display from the Reparto Sperimentale Volo, ranging from the AMX, Tornado, Eurofighter, C-27J Spartan and the Frecce Tricolori. Italy’s presence was also felt during the arrival days and departure days with multiple C-130J and C-130J-30 Hercules providing support, in addition to a Piaggio P-180 of the Italian Air Force that visited the show during the weekend but did not take part in the static park.

Another RIAT regular that has also shown good support for Fairford is Germany. Despite some cancellations from the Navy, the Luftwaffe sent a Eurofighter Typhoon, Tornado ECR, C-160D Transall, and an Airbus A310 MRTT, the German Army sent a beautiful Bolkow Bo-105, and the German Navy sent a beautifully adorned P-3 with anniversary markings.

Belgium and Netherlands are regular favourites of Fairford and RIAT, normally always bringing their colourful fast jet F-16 demos every year. This year was no different, with both countries displaying their famous and most sought F-16 demos. Of particular note however, the famous Orange Lion belonging to the Royal Netherlands Air Force was exchanged for a normal standard grey jet, in what was to be the last ever demo by a RNLAF F-16 at Fairford to date. The Belgian F-16 demo was recognised by the Flying Control Committee who awarded him the Sir Douglas Bader Trophy presented for the Best Individual Flying Display.

The Belgian Air Force also sent a C-130H for the static display which performed a spirited display on departures day, as well as an ERJ-135R that acted as  a support aircraft during the show but did not take part in the static display. Besides the 4 F-16s, the RNLAF also brought a C-130H Hercules for the static park and normally based at Eindhoven Air Base, and a Netherlands Coastguard Dornier 228.

RIAT 2014 also saw the welcome return of Spain and Portugal, both contributing aircraft to the static park. The numerous financial challenges experienced by Spanish Armed Forces and the diminishing aircraft numbers within the Portuguese Armed Forces meant that recent RIAT editions did not see a significant contribution by these countries. This changed in 2014, with Spain sending a Spanish Air Force EF-18 Hornet belonging to Ala 15 and a Casa C-295 for the static park, whereas Portugal sent a brand-new Casa C-295 MPA. The presence of this Casa at RIAT 2014 was also helped by the fact that it was down to participate in Farnborough airshow the following week. It was also interesting to note that the specially marked hornet sent by Spain is the first EF-18 hornet delivered to the Spanish Air Force.

Besides Netherlands, Belgium and Turkey celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon at RIAT with examples for the static and flying display, Denmark and Norway each also contributed a single seat and a dual seat example of the F-16 Falcon for the static display. The Norwegian single seat aircraft also wore special Tiger Meet markings as the aircraft belongs to the 338 Squadron based at Orland, which is part of the NATO Tiger Association. The Royal Danish Air Force also brought along a Challenger 604 whereas the Royal Norwegian Air Force brought along a brand new Lockheed C-130J-30 Hercules for the static display, adding to a wide range of nations that supplied hercs for this year’s RIAT to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the type.

Another country that has shown incredible support for RIAT in recent years has been Sweden, where practically each year the Swedish Armed Forces have been sending the SAAB JAS-39C Gripen solo display demo to participate in the flying display of the show. RIAT 2014 was no different, with two single seat examples for the flying display and one two-seater example for the static display. These aircraft were supported by a sole Swedish C-130 Hercules that visited the show on the arrivals and departure days to provide support. Another two-seater SAAB JAS-39D Gripen was also provided by the Hungarian Armed Forces and took part in the static display, adding presence to the Gripen community at the show. The SAAB Gripen was supported by a Hungarian Air Force An-26 Curl based at Kecskemet Air Base in Hungary.

The Jordanian Air Force never fails to attend a RIAT, and 2014 was no different with the participation of the ever-famous Royal Jordanian Falcons as well as a C-130H Hercules that performed a spectacular low level departure on Monday morning during departures day. Another frequent participant of RIAT is Oman, that in 2014 decided to attend with a brand-new C-130J Hercules belonging to the Air Force. This was another RIAT debut that was much welcome among aviation enthusiasts and was parked in close proximity to the Jordanian Air Force C-130H Hercules, adding a spike of colour and flair in the ‘Hercules section’ of the static park.

Not all the usual surrounding countries managed to attend RIAT 2014 with a large number of aircraft, but a few air arms still managed to send one or two examples amid their budget constraints and logistical challenges to continue to add to the success of RIAT 2014. Among these air arms was Austria, that sent two examples (one with tiger markings) of the SAAB 105 jet trainer and light attack aircraft for the static and flying display of the show. France was another nation that usually sends large numbers of aircraft for RIAT, but this year could only manage to send in the Patrouille de France to celebrate the anniversary of the Red Arrows due to the date clashes with Bastille Day, a national holiday in France. Czech Republic could not send any aircraft for the show, but still managed to visit the show on the arrival and departure days with a Challenger 601 belonging to the air force, transporting Czech VIPs to and from the show. Finally, another regular supporter of RIAT the always manages to send one or two aircraft for the static display is the Irish Air Corps, that provided a sole example of a Pilatus Pc-9 for the static display.

The Swiss Air Force were celebrating 100 years of Military Aviation in 2014 as well as the 50th Anniversary of the Patrouille Suisse Aerobatic Team and the 25th Anniversary of the PC-7 team.  Despite the large planning for the Swiss celebrations later on in the year, this did not discourage the Swiss in attending RIAT 2014. In fact, the Swiss Air Force sent no fewer than three display teams to RIAT, including the AS332 Super Puma, the F/A-18C Hornet and the Patrouille Suisse. The Swiss are strong supporters of RIAT and this year their support towards the show and the Red Arrows Anniversary was astounding.

Despite the significant support from foreign countries, it was quite noticeable that the support from the Royal Air Force, was not that significant when compared to recent years. Despite some gems in the static display it was very disappointing to note a sole example of the RAF Panavia Tornado GR4 in the static display, only two RAF Hawks on static display, as well as only two Eurofighter typhoons for the static display. Being considered one of the best Air Forces in the world, it seemed strange seeing a handful of front line aircraft on static display.

Besides the disappointment for the lack of RAF frontline aircraft, the Royal Air Force sent the usual support for the flying display which included the solo display teams of the Tucano and Typhoon together with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight with its standard three-ship routine and the Douglas Dakota III appearing as a solo display. Adding to the assets in the flying display, the UK Joint Helicopter Command supplied the usual jaw dropping display of the RAF’s Chinook HC2.

Despite the lack of frontline RAF aircraft, the RAF sent over quite a number of types for the static display. Most notable assets included an RAF Merlin, a Puma (nicknamed Black Pete), a Grob Tutor, a Hawker Beechcraft Kingair 200, a Hawk T1 and Hawk T2, a squirrel, a griffin, a Seaking, as well as an array of aircraft belonging to Qinetiq in the form of an Alpha Jet, a Hawk T1, an Agusta A109, and a BAE 146. 

To counteract the poor attendance by RAF aircraft, the UK Army put on quite a presence at RIAT 2014 with aircraft both for the flying display and the static display. Besides the regular Apache Role Demo, this year adorned with fireworks making a spectacular and realistic addition to the demo, the UK Army provided a rare gem  for the flying display (its last RIAT demo) in the form of a UK Army Lynx AH7 that performed its famous backflip manoeuvre several times during the weekend as part of its demo. In addition to the Apache and Lynx role demos, the UK Army also sent a Defender and a Gazelle for the static display.

To complement the strong presence of the UK Army at RIAT 2014, the Royal Navy also sent assets for the flying and static display of the show. Despite the lack of Royal Navy Hawks, which was expected given the anniversary of the Hawk, the Royal Navy provided a rarely seen role demo by a Merlin HM2. In addition, the Royal Navy sent an Avenger, another Merlin, and a lynx for the static display.

Despite classified as the world’s largest military airshow, RIAT would not be RIAT without the usual complement from civilian operators that provide additional support for the show either in terms of civil aircraft, or ex-military aircraft that are nowadays owned by civilian companies or individuals. RIAT 2014 was no different, attracting a great deal of interesting civilian and ex-military gems for the static display and the flying display (such as the Airbus A400M, Breitling Jet Team and Breitling Wing walkers). Of particular note was the lack of the of the Avro Vulcan in this year’s edition, that unfortunately could not make it for this year’s show. This was overcome by the presence of an English Electric Canberra PR9 ‘XH134’ retired to civilian ownership by Midair Squadron at Kemble in 2006, specially adorned in an all grey shiny silver livery that was one of the main stars among the civilian aircraft in the static display. XH134 is nowadays registered to Kemble Airfield Estates Ltd. and has not flown for some time.

Other civilian aircraft of note in this year’s show were a pair of Hawker Siddeley Gnat T1s that visited the show to celebrate the anniversary of the Red Arrows. This was due to the fact that in the beginning of their history, the RAF Red Arrows used the Gnat for their displays before moving on to the hawk T1. Other aircraft that stood out in the static display included a North American OV-10 Bronco, a Consolidated Catalina, and a Hawker Hunter T7, also belonging to Midair Squadron and that regularly used to display alongside the Canberra PR9. The list of civilian aircraft was complemented by an Italian registered Piaggio P-166, a Cessna E530 Scorpion, a trio of Scottish Aviation Bulldogs,  two jet provosts, two gazelles belonging to the Gazelle Squadron, a De Havilland Vampire T55, a De Havilland Chipmunk, and a Hawker Hurricane MK1.

This brings to an end our report of RIAT 2014. Despite the cancellations and the poor turnout of aircraft for the anniversaries being celebrated in 2014, the event was a success and even the weather played ball on most days of the show. The show still managed to attract a vast number of rarely seen aircraft and was definitely a step up considering the rather average show of RIAT 2013.