A static view of RIAT 2017
Welcome to this latest edition of Aerodrome and our regular fortnightly look at the fascinating world of aeroplanes and the historic aviation scene in the UK. Before we confirm the subject of our latest blog, may I just take a moment to thank everyone who sent in messages to say how much they enjoyed the previous edition and our look at the exciting restoration of Breighton Aerodrome's Hispano HA-1112-M1L Buchon 'G-AWHK'. There is no doubting that this aircraft has now become one of the most popular performers on the UK Airshow circuit and an aeroplane with a unique British aviation heritage of its own. It is also clear that many of our readers also had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of airfield manager Brian Brown, to whom we paid tribute in our blog - thank you for your extremely kind messages and I am glad that you enjoyed the read.
In this latest instalment of aviation delights, we will be featuring last year's Royal International Air Tattoo, but from the perspective of the static aircraft display - there will be no flying aeroplane images in this edition (well, just the one). With one of the most impressive flying display programmes in the Airshow world, many visitors to RIAT don't have the opportunity to discover all of the aircraft scattered across this huge airfield site and are often restricted to a quick stroll following the end of the day's flying. For that reason, we have decided to devote this edition of Aerodrome to looking at a selection of the most impressive aircraft to feature in the 2017 RIAT static display, which as usual, benefitted from a real international flavour. We will end by looking at a couple of interesting recent developments which could be described as being in the right place at the right time - one story from the world of aviation and one, rather unusually for Aerodrome, news regarding a Royal Navy ship. Before we get to that, it's time to head for Gloucestershire's annual aviation extravaganza and a stroll amongst aviation giants.
Fairford's potent Air Force
For one glorious week in July each year, the usually sleepy village of Fairford, on the edge of the beautiful Cotswolds becomes a magnet for aviation enthusiasts as it stages the largest military Airshow in the world. Everything about this Airshow is impressive, from the unrivalled eight hour flying display, to the static aircraft park which seems to stretch for miles, with both able to boast significant international participation and some of the world's most exciting aircraft. Indeed, for the duration of this magnificent show, Gloucestershire can proudly boast one of the most powerful air forces in the world! With aviation credentials like these, it is no wonder that thousands of enthusiasts, along with families simply looking for an exciting day out, will see Royal International Air Tattoo weekend as a date not to be missed and will undoubtedly have already made their plans to attend this year's show.
When reading any official introduction to the show, whether this be on the RIAT website or within the impressive souvenir programme, you will be left in no doubt that this huge event now has a distinct corporate element to its organisation and draws attention to the many industry and international collaborations and relationship which are forged in ensuring this remains one of the most impressive events of its type. It can also boast a rich heritage in both promoting the professionalism of a modern Royal Air Force and raising significant amounts of money in the name of RAF Charitable Trust Enterprises, some of which is used to promote careers in the force and encouraging people to become aviation minded. For the aviation enthusiast however, the Royal International Air Tattoo is all about aeroplanes and more of them than they are likely to see at any other Airshow. From the most modern fighter jets to the largest military transport aircraft, RIAT attracts not only a strong contingent of Royal Air Force hardware, but also some of the latest aircraft to enter service with overseas air arms, many of which would usually not be seen here in the UK. Add to this many of the world's premier aerobatic display teams, along with a rich collection of historic aircraft and you have some idea why this show is the first to be added to the diary of many an aviation enthusiast at the beginning of every year.
Gallic aviation flair
I am going to begin this review of the RIAT 2017 static display with an aircraft I was particularly pleased to see at the show and whilst it may have been a personal highlight for me, may cause one or two readers to question my sanity. The Fouga CM-170 Magister is a successful first generation jet powered French training aircraft, which owes much of its design philosophy to the company's success in producing gliders. At a time when many of the world's air forces were still using piston powered aircraft to train future fast jet pilots, the diminutive Magister was an attempt to provide the French Air Force with a simple, safe and reliable jet training alternative, which was capable of spending more time in the air than receiving maintenance on the ground. What the design team at Fouga managed to produce was one of the most distinctive jet aircraft of all time and one which would go on to achieve great success, eventually serving with no fewer than seventeen air forces around the world. With its straight wings and butterfly tail, perhaps the most striking feature of the Magister is just how low the aircraft sits to the ground and begs the question how did they manage to fit two pilots and two jet engines in to that?
Classic jet aviation with a little bit of Gallic flair - the beautiful Fouga Magister
This French Air Force Alpha Jet featured a special tail to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the US Air Force
The Magister was a regular performer at Airshows all over Europe throughout the 60s and 70s and many Aerodrome readers will undoubtable recall the aircraft as a mount of the famous Patrouille de France between 1964 and 1981, as well as the Belgian Air Force Diables Rouge until 1977. Although the aircraft did not have an abundance of power from its two small Turbomeca Marbore engines, it was an extremely graceful performer and excelled in the role for which it was designed, with around 930 aircraft eventually being produced. This particular aircraft is now in private ownership and is presented in a beautiful polished metal Armee de I'Air training scheme. It was joined by a contemporary aircraft from the French Air Force in the form of this specially presented Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet E, from the School of Fighter Aviation (EAC) 00.314 at Tours AFB. In commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the US Air Force, the tail of this aircraft pays tribute to the heritage of Fighter Squadron SPA 85 and three significant airmen - Eugene J Bullard, the first African-American military pilot, Marc Limasset, the first leader of this famous squadron and Arthur C Kimber, the first pilot to fly with the SPA 85 insignia on the fuselage of his SPAD fighter during WWI. There is nothing quite like a little Gallic flair to brighten any Airshow.
BIG is always better
One of the major benefits of a RIAT Airshow is the sheer space available to the show organisers when planning their static display, allowing them to accommodate aircraft of any size which may care to take part in this aviation extravaganza. With this being such a prestigious event, enthusiasts can always rely on the attendance of some impressively large aircraft, many of which travel long distances to allow their crews to experience the unique Fairford atmosphere and become aviation celebrities for the duration of the show. One aircraft which proved to be particularly popular at this year's show was this Lockheed C-130J Hercules of the Israeli Air Force and its patriotic display presentation, which always appeared to have a healthy crowd around it. Coming from No.103 Squadron at Nevatim air base, the squadron is colloquially referred to as the 'Elephant Squadron', no doubt in reference to the transport and logistics role the unit performs - it was certainly a very welcome visitor to RIAT 2017. Here is a selection of other large aircraft in attendance at last year's show.
Airbus Voyager KC3 ZZ334 from Royal Air Force 10/101 Squadrons
Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules 667 of the Israeli Air Force
Airbus A400M 54+06 of Luftwaffe Air Transport Wing 62
Boeing E-7A Wedgetail A30-006 of the Royal Australian Air Force, wearing No.2 Squadron Centenary markings
Airbus Atlas C.1 ZM401, RAF No.70 Squadron from Brize Norton
70 Years of the US Air Force
One of the major themes of the 2017 Royal International Air Tattoo was to mark the 70th Anniversary of the United States Air Force and there were plenty of aircraft here to help achieve this in some style. Britain and America have fiercely guarded their special relationship since the days of Churchill and Roosevelt and this is most definitely the case with regard to the aviation enthusiast. With US aircraft being based in the UK and Europe since 1942, enthusiasts have become accustomed to seeing the latest US hardware at larger Airshows around the country, but RIAT certainly holds the prospect of the greatest US participation at a UK show. In this special anniversary year, many were hoping that this might be a landmark year for US aircraft at the show and we would not be disappointed - from the headline USAF Demonstration Squadron the 'Thunderbirds', to the unexpected appearance of a B.2A Spirit Stealth Bomber in the flying display (which had flown in directly from its home base at Whiteman, Missouri), we were in for a real treat. Some of the USAF 70th Anniversary static highlights included the following aircraft.
Lockheed U-2S 80-1073 of the US Air Force 9th RW/99th RS
Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor 08-4163/FF of the 1st Fighter Wing
Rockwell International B-1B Lancer 85-0060/EL from Ellsworth AFB
Boeing C-17A Globemaster III 09-9212 from Charleston AFB
UK based McDonnell Douglas F-15C Eagle 86-0156/LN
Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker 58-0100/D of the 100th AW/351st ARS
The mighty Boeing B-52H Stratofortress has been in service for over 60 years
Swansong for RAF pair
Despite the seemingly inexorable reduction of the Royal Air Force over recent years, a RIAT show can always count on strong RAF support and may sometimes include aircraft which benefit from specially applied markings. That proved to be the case in 2017, but also marked a sad farewell for at least one of the distinctive aircraft on display, one which had proved incredibly popular over the previous twelve months. Panavia Tornado GR.4 ZG750/128 had been wearing special Operation Granby Gulf War colours to mark the 25th Anniversary of the conflict, as well as marking 25 years of continuous operation service for the Tornado since the Gulf War since early 2016 and had been a big hit with enthusiasts since that date. In this temporary desert pink camouflage scheme and benefiting from a set of distinctive shark's teeth, many hoped that this Marham based machine would serve as a fitting way for enthusiasts to mark the impending retirement of the rugged RAF Tornado, but it proved to be somewhat elusive in the months following its repaint. Thankfully, RIAT 2017 gave us one last chance to admire this beautiful aircraft, which became known as 'Pinky' in the aviation world but has now unfortunately been processed through the RAF's Reduce to Produce programme, which yields valuable components to keep the remaining Tornado fleet in the air.
Panavia Tornado GR.4 ZG750/128 'Pinky' from RAF No.12(B) Squadron
Beautiful Shorts Tucano T.1 ZF378/RN-S of No.1 FTS, 72(R) Squadron
Another aircraft approaching the end of its RAF career is the Short Tucano T.1 and many at Fairford would have been pleased to see this beautifully presented aircraft in the static display. ZF378 has been painted in a Battle of Britain era scheme to commemorate the centenary of RAF No.72(R) Squadron, which is currently based at Linton-on-Ouse in the pilot training role and wears the codes RN-S 'Enniskillen' in recognition of the original Belfast Telegraph Presentation Spitfire and the squadrons strong links with Northern Ireland. In RAF service since 1989, it is probably fair to say that the Tucano is one of the aircraft types which receives little enthusiast recognition, although I suspect we will soon lament their passing once the retirement decision is taken.
Always a Phabulous sight
One aircraft type which will always be assured of a warm welcome at any Airshow at which it is scheduled to appear is the classic and still extremely capable McDonnell Douglas Phantom II and despite the bewildering array of contemporary aviation hardware on display at RIAT, a pair of magnificent Hellenic Air Force Phantoms commanded a healthy crowd throughout the duration of the show. The Phantom first entered US Navy service in 1960 and over the past sixty years, has proved itself to be one of the most successful jet aircraft types in the history of aviation. As one of the final operators of this aviation classic, the Greek Air Force have been flying the Phantom for over forty years and are now down to just two remaining Squadrons. The pair gracing the static display at RIAT were from the 338th Squadron ARES (The Greek god of war), based at Andravida, where they perform a primary role of ground attack support, with a secondary responsibility for air defence.
McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom 01508 from 338 Mira, Hellenic Air Force
The Phantom is still one of the most popular aircraft to display at a RIAT show
The Phantom is now very much in the twilight of its service career, but this dirty, noisy throwback to the days before stealth technology probably commands even greater attention than the latest F-35 Joint Strike Fighters which are soon to enter service with the world's air forces. Indeed, you could never describe the Phantom as an environmentally friendly machine, as it usually comes complete with its own smoke generation system, but these are real aeroplanes and their increasingly rare appearance at shows will always pay dividends when it comes to attendance numbers, as people will travel the length of the country to catch a glimpse of these beasts. Hopefully a future RIAT show will attempt to pay homage to this incredible aeroplane and gather as many of the world's remaining Phantoms at Fairford for one last hurrah, certain that enthusiasts will flock to witness such a spectacle.
Soviet aircraft star at RIAT 2017
I am going to land myself in a little hot water using a title like this, as the aircraft we are going to feature in this section actually wear the colours of the Ukrainian Air Force, however they were products of the Soviet aviation industry and that will do for me. Making a welcome, if slightly unexpected return to the show in 2017, the Ukrainian Air Force sent a pair of their enigmatic Sukhoi Su-27UB1M Flankers and their support aircraft to Gloucestershire, where they were assured of headline billing, at least in the eyes of the enthusiast. Taking my earlier comments about the much loved Phantom into consideration for a moment, the Flanker is like a Phantom on steroids, taking classic jet technology and giving it more of everything. Only announced in the days leading up to the show, everyone who had already purchased their tickets would have been jumping around in excitement, as these are truly amongst the most exciting Airshow performers and the Ukrainian display pilots certainly know how to give a crowd what they want.
Sukhoi Su-27UB1M 'Blue 71' of the 831st Guards Tactical Aviation Brigade, Ukrainian Air Force
Ilyushin IL-76MD 78820 of the 25th Transport Aviation Brigade
This air superiority fighter was developed to combat the latest US introduced interceptors, such as the magnificent F-15 Eagle and quickly demonstrated that Soviet technology was much more advanced than the Western nations had thought. Performing at a number of Airshows in the late 1980s, the Flanker thrilled spectators and astounded military officials with its display of power and agility, immediately initiating the development of the latest generation of combat aircraft. The aircraft's appearance at Fairford was a real coup for the show organisers and was the first time since 1999 that they could boast a Su-27 on the flying display programme and was one of the definite highlights of the show. Two aircraft from the 831st Guards Tactical Aviation Brigade based at Myrhorod made the flight from the Ukraine, one to take part in the flying programme and one for the static aircraft display - they were joined by an Ilyushin Il-76MD heavy transport aircraft which carried their support equipment and service personnel, which whilst not as fast as dramatic as the Flankers was no less welcome an addition. For many people at RIAT, if they only had limited time available to spend discovering the splendid static aircraft display, they would start with the Sukhoi and Ilyushin and work back from there - these aircraft were simply too special not to go and admire.
A final selection
Although the size of the 2017 static display at RIAT inevitably means that many aircraft have not been included in this first review of the 2017 show, we will include a final selection here, but promise to re-visit the subject in a future edition of Aerodrome.
BAe Hawk T.2 ZK021/L looking resplendent in its RAF No.IV(R) Squadron
McDonnell Douglas EF-18M Hornet C.15-14 / 15-01 of the Spanish Air Force
A real good looker - German Air Force Panavia Tornado ECR 46+54
Red Arrows bid poignant farewell
As the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, The Red Arrows continue to negotiate their winter training schedule, they recently paid tribute to an extremely significant member of the team, British Aerospace Hawk T.1A XX227, the last of the original Hawk aircraft of the teams founding fleet. Flown one final time during an aerobatic practice on Friday 16th February by new Red 1, Squadron Leader Martin Pert, the aircraft has been with the flight since 6th February 1980 and over the past 38 years has clocked up an impressive 8,077 flying hours and made 13,855 landings whilst wearing the famous colours of the Red Arrows.
It is reported that following the end of this final flight, the 2018 Red Arrows paid their own personal tributes by writing individual farewell messages on the fuselage of the aircraft. With such a rich aviation pedigree, it is hoped that this much loved aircraft can be saved for the benefit of the nation, with a suitable home found at either the RAF Museum or similarly significant venue. With the demands placed on these most famous aircraft, XX227 has certainly earned her retirement.
Royal Navy Flagship leaves Portsmouth for the final time
During a recent visit to Portsmouth, I was lucky enough to catch the rather sad sight of HMS Ocean, the Royal Navy's Fleet Flagship, leaving the naval base for the final time. With the distinction of being Britain's largest warship for several years, this helicopter carrier and assault ship has provided sterling service for almost 20 years and is clearly one of the most flexible vessels in the Royal Navy Fleet. Becoming the Fleet Flagship in June 2015, HMS Ocean has been at the forefront of Britain's humanitarian and disaster relief efforts over the years, whilst also offering a safe haven for British nationals in need of evacuation from international trouble spots.
HMS Ocean has recently been sold to the Brazilian Navy for a reported sum of around £84m and following a period where modifications will be made to the vessel, she will be handed to her new owners this coming June. Just days before my trip to Portsmouth, HMS Ocean was berthed near to HMS Queen Elizabeth, Britain's impressive new aircraft carrier, which will take over the role of Flagship of the Fleet later this year. Unfortunately, the aircraft carrier had slipped out of the port the day previously, so I will have to wait for my first sight of this floating behemoth, but I was certainly glad that I managed to grab one or two pictures of the Royal navy's retiring Flagship, before she headed off for her new career.
I am afraid that's it for this latest bumper edition of Aerodrome. Don't forget, if you have any interesting aviation stories you would like to share with fellow Aerodrome readers, please do drop us a line as it would be great to hear from you. It is always interesting to discover new airfields, projects or historical facts behind the subject of aviation and we would be only too happy to include reader supplied features in future editions of our blog. If you would like to get in touch, please could you use either our email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org e-mail addresses and we will endeavour to reply to all messages received.
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