After the US Air Force had announced budget cuts at the beginning of 2013, the participation of aircraft from the US Armed Forces in air shows was immediately cancelled worldwide. Even their most popular display teams, the “U.S. Navy Blue Angels” and the “U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds”, were affected by the budget cuts. Those teams will stay on the ground during the current season. Those cuts also meant considerable reductions in the number of participating aircraft at the Royal International Tattoo.
Thus, this year`s RIAT had to be managed without the participation of the US Air Force; that is to say without a lot of very interesting aircraft. Hence the RIAT of 2013 was something for the die-hards in terms of top-class variations of airplanes. Nevertheless the organizers did their best to offer a dignified programme which attracted a total of about 130,000 spectators during the weekend. The weather forecast for the forthcoming weekend only promised sunshine and this year the English weather did not betray us. Thus there were the best possible conditions for a successful event although nearly tropical heat and sunshine demanded a great stamina from all the people involved. The sun heated up the ground significantly, which led to a real bad heat haze over the runway causing a lot of ground shots to be blurry.
The two weekend days began a bit cloudy and dull but from about midday onwards the sun shone for the rest of the day. That`s why the demonstrations during the morning hours were not blessed by attractive light and, for example, the displays of the Avro Vulcan suffered a bit and the Frecce Tricolori had to switch to their bad-weather-display on Saturday because of low clouds.
As it was commonplace in the previous years, in 2013 it was also not permitted to drop flares from the craft because of safety reasons. That`s why some of the attractiveness was taken from the helicopter presentations since those machines cannot show any afterburners or cannot make high speed passes.
This year`s non-European involvement can be assessed as limited. The Royal Jordanian Air Force sent an honorable C-130H presented in a special paintwork, the Royal Air Force of Oman participated with a Gulfstream GIV and the Brazilian Air Force showed up with their reconnaissance plane Embraer R-99. Estonia was welcomed as a new host country. Her still rather small air force was represented by an L-39 and an An-2 at this year`s RIAT. That means half of the Estonian Air Force was there at Fairford.
A convincing presence was demonstrated by the Dutch with their several different in-service-airplanes decorated with colourful tails. In addition they also sent their two display teams to the 2013 RIAT. With his “Dutch Lion” Stefan “Stitch” Hutten showed an impressive and forceful presentation as usual. Delicate flying manoeuvres have been slightly missed in this year`s programme but there were imposing fast moving overflyings – a veritable feast for the eyes and ears.
His two colleagues in their AH-64D Apache did not fall behind where attractiveness is concerned. With their specially painted craft they really showed a number of very interesting flight manoeuvres which can also be operated in case of combat by those helicopters.
Like their Dutch neighbours, the Belgians` presence comprised their transporter plane, Embraer ERJ-145, and their two display teams. As usual Renaud “Grat” Thys with his F-16 made a spectacular show. The agility of the rather old craft was demonstrated anew. His colleagues in their Agusta A109BA presented its agility including the special Tiger Turns. It was a pity that the crews were not allowed to use flares as those would have improved the spectacle.
As expected, the Polish Air Force delivered a powerful demonstration with their MiG-29. Once more its mobility and speed was presented in an impressive way. Although that jet is technically somewhat out of date, it is always an enhancement for every air show.
The Brits did not want to leave any doubt that this year´s RIAT should again be a highlight despite – or perhaps precisely because of – the absence of the US Air Force. The line-up of the aircraft flying with the British flag promised a lot – this self-esteemed claim was reached impressively. Notably the Red Arrows convinced with their perfect formation flying together with the totally new A380 of British Airways on Saturday. No less attractive was the overflying in formation of the future military transporter A400M on Sunday. The flight performance of the future transport plane of the Brits could be admired during its solo presentations. The craft presented itself incredibly powerfully and, regarding its size, it was definitely very agile. Accordingly, the displays were immediately awarded with the “Cannestra Trophy”.
On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the No. 617 Squadron “Dambusters” a formation flight involving an Avro Lancaster and a Panavia Tornado was presented on both days during the show weekend. The heavy bomber successfully attacked German dams during the Second World War which resulted in the squadron’s nickname. The formation impressively showed the technical progress of the past years. The formation flight should have been a bit more closer, though, since there was too much space between the craft to take detailed photos.
The Brits also got another award for their powerful and uproarious display of the Chinook helicopter flown by a four-membered crew. This big transport helicopter was presented by numerous flight manoeuvres as a particularly agile aircraft within a rather small area, supported by the sound of the counter-rotating rotors. The crew was rewarded with the „Sir Douglas Bader Trophy“ absolutely with good reason.
The final farewell from the RIAT had been taken by the highly esteemed Vickers VC-10. After it should have been phased out last year, it got a retrospective extension for another year thus it could be admired for the last time there.
Besides their Patrouille de France with the corresponding Transall, the French sent two Eurocopters and furthermore with two of their Rafales they even sent their latest fighter plane. That aircraft convinced with spectacular flight manoeuvres during its two displays – this also was a thrilling duel at eye level with the equally well presented Typhoons from the UK and Italy. There was a bit of bad luck for the French as two of their aircraft had minor defects on Sunday – it caused quite an involuntary stir. The show of the Patrouille de France had to be permanently curtailed because of a failure of one jet´s engine. After a successful show of the Rafale, the jet blocked the runway for a while after the pilot had positioned his craft facing the spectators – a feast for all spotters. But in that situation he realized that there was something wrong with the landing gear. Further French highlights were two Mirage F.1CR, one of them equipped with a special coating and a bulky fuselage tank.
The Italians were numerously and impressively presented. With their new tanker aircraft Boeing KC-767, one of their Eurofighters and a Eurofighter from the UK, an air-refuelling was simulated together. As expected another Italian Eurofighter equipped with smokewinders showed a highly dynamic and deafening demonstration during the flight programme offered at Fairford. The crew of the C-27J Spartan presented their agile transport machine. At least for laymen it was really incredible. With flight manoeuvres which are only expected from fighters or aerobatic planes they really thrilled the audience and therefore they got another award after 2011 – the “As the Crow Flies Trophy”. The presence of the Italians was completed by their famous display team Frecce Tricolori. Their presentation really convinced because of an attractive, dynamic and perfect formation flight paired with remarkable flight manoeuvres of the solo pilot. Undoubtedly, the enthusiastic commentator currently reaches the special appeal of the team. Thanks to his loudly proclaimed comments in English with a wonderful Italian accent he created an almost Mediterranean charm. You were not able to escape from it!
The German participation has lost some of its attractiveness because of the phasing-out of their F-4F Phantom. After those craft had had their goodbye from the RIAT last year only two jets from Germany`s Air Force took part this year. However, one of the Tornados was presented in a special paintwork on the occasion of the Artic Tiger Meet in Norway and it was awarded with two prizes, the “Best Livery Award” and the “UTC Aerospace Concours Trophy”. The other German guests, the Airbus A310 MRTT and the specially lacquered Lockheed P-3C Orion also were a welcome enhancement for the line ups.
After the pessimistic mood at the beginning of 2013 regarding the reaching of her finite safe flying life at the end of the current year, XH558´s appearance had almost been the next farewell from the RIAT. Fortunately, finally the engineers found a new affordable option to prolong the flight time of this craft, officially known as “Operation 2015″.
On both show afternoons at this year`s RIAT you could get quite near to the aircraft after her displays. Guided tours were specially offered. This opportunity was used by numerous visitors, thus you had to queue up for rather a long time.
The display of the Avro Vulcan occasionally seemed to be relatively sedate. Despite its large size, the craft is certainly capable of undertaking more spectacular and higher speed manoeuvres than were shown. But it may be considered that the aircraft should not be unnecessarily burdened taking into account the remaining flight hours. Nevertheless, it was a real pleasure and enjoyment to see and hear the aircraft howling around.
Enjoy her while you still can!
Last but not least – the „King Hussein Memorial Sword“ for the best Overall Flying Demonstration went to the Swiss Air Force PC-7 Team. The „Paul Bowen Trophy“ was awarded to the RAF Typhoon display pilot Jamie Norris. The „Steedman Display Sword“ was handed over to Andrew Fyvie-Rae, flying the British Tucano.
It is really not easy to sum up the 2013 RIAT. Many visitors of all age groups, including a lot of families, were deeply impressed by the flying demonstrations. The comprehensive supporting programme at the flying-off-site was fully accepted. Those visitors will only report positive things about the event in Fairford. On the other hand there were some negative opinions heard during the air show mainly expressed by most of the experienced air show participants. The quality of the this year`s line-up was widely criticized. Additionally, the conditions on the roads, the parking areas on RAF Fairford, the commentators themselves as well as their comments and the alleged funfair-like character of the RIAT were much in the focus of criticism.
The special RIAT feeling has been lost during the past years indeed. And there is the danger of getting into a kind of mainstream boredom. The problem is that mainly the facts which are responsible for it cannot be influenced by the organizers of the RIAT at all. In times of worldwide cuts in air forces, an event of such dimensions like the RIAT of previous years will hardly be possible in the future. But it must also be noticed that in the light of numerous air shows in the UK and in other parts of Europe it will inevitably lead to a kind of habituation effect. The presentations of some participants were possibly not appreciated that much although they would have deserved more respect after their long and traditional presence at air shows. The varied flying displays have not been bad at all. Adequate means against the downward trend have not been found so far. The RIAT having been changed into a kind of exciting family show during the last years presumably will not be a proven tool for stopping the downward trend. But perhaps it will be one of the few ways to keep the extent and quality on such a high level in the forthcoming years.
Whatever the case, even with the above mentioned possibly justified points of criticism, the RIAT will remain a top event in the field of air force within Europe and throughout the entire world. The organizers and helpers really did their best to offer a structured and very varied show. According to my mind this was achieved with reference to the arrivals, to the genuine flight programme and then to the departures. Just do it in a better manner!
And it must be said to all those sharp critics that fun only is what profits you will take out of it. Undoubtedly, there was so much to enjoy during the RIAT of 2013.