RIAT: Show returns with multi-nation support

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Anniversaries will provide two of the themes for this year's Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT), to be staged at Royal Air Force base Fairford in Gloucestershire from 18-19 July.

A large flypast is planned to mark the centenary of Royal Navy aviation activities, while in NATO's 60th year, the alliance will send two of its aircraft to the show, where they will join assets from many of its 26 member nations.

First staged in 1971, the annual RIAT event has grown to become the world's largest military air show. It is expected to attract around 160,000 visitors and 300 aircraft this year, despite its last-minute cancellation in 2008 due to waterlogging at the site.

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© Craig Hoyle/Flight International
NATO will send one of its E-3A AWACS aircraft to the show from Germany as part of the alliance's 60th anniversary celebrations

Speaking at a launch event early last month, RAF Charitable Trust Enterprises (RAFCTE) chief executive Tim Prince said ticket sales were up 25% on 2008, and added that measures have been taken to ensure that the weather cannot again lead to the disappointment of "the show that never was". Last year's cancellation resulted in a £4 million ($6.5 million) insurance payout, which enabled the trust to refund all ticket buyers, return pitch fees to traders and compensate some advertisers.

For the first time since 9/11 additional room has been sourced for public vehicles to use some of the US Air Force-operated base's aircraft parking aprons, and around £200,000 ($325,000) will be spent to provide spine-way tracks for the enlarged grass car parks and other new infrastructure. "We've got the resilience to react to any weather," says Prince.

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© Craig Hoyle/Flight International
The RAF's Nimrod MR2 will be on display, potentially with BAE's replacement MRA4 version

The ability to operate regardless of environmental conditions is a critical development, particularly for those nations which send aircraft from the other side of the world. These include Brazil, which is sending an air force Airbus Military C-295 transport on a roughly nine-day each-way journey, and the Royal New Zealand Air Force, which will deploy one of its Boeing 757 transports to the UK.

Other long-distance participants include Canada, Jordan and Oman, plus Algeria, which will dispatch one of its Lockheed Martin C-130H transports for static display, making it the 51st nation to have participated in RIAT over the event's history.

AEROBATIC DISPLAYS

Under current plans the militaries of more than 20 nations will send aircraft, with their contributions including numerous aerobatic display teams, including the RAF's Red Arrows and Italy's Frecce Tricolori.

But with the production life of the US Air Force's Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor seemingly coming to an end, the type will not make a planned repeat visit after 2008's transatlantic debut, which involved three aircraft. Display highlights will instead include a first appearance by two of the French air force's Dassault Rafale fighters, a type just back from its third period of combat duty over Afghanistan.

The Vulcan to the Sky Trust's restored Avro Vulcan XH558 (G-VLCN) should also be airborne, although a problem with renewing its permit to fly has placed its participation at some risk (see box).

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© Crown Copyright
Royal Navy Merlins will join centenary event

Royal Navy aircraft - including BAE Systems Harrier GR7/9s from the service's Naval Strike Wing - will participate in a mass flypast, also to include AgustaWestland AW101 Merlin HM1, Westland Lynx and Sea King helicopters. The navy in early May noted the 100th anniversary of an order for His Majesty's Airship 1, the "Mayfly", and is marking the milestone at events also including air days at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall and Yeovilton in Somerset.

NATO's 60th anniversary commemorations will see a Boeing E-3A airborne warning and control system aircraft from Geilenkirchen air base in Germany on show, and an alliance-owned Boeing 707 transport. The organisation is also expected to send around 75 senior officials to RIAT, including 16 ambassadors.

The third theme for this year's event is "Sea Search", with search-and-rescue helicopters and maritime patrol aircraft from several nations to be present. The UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency for the first time is to exhibit an AW139 - supplied under an interim service by CHC - while the RAF will also display two Sea King HAR3/3As.

A British Aerospace Nimrod MR2 from the RAF's 42 Sqn operational conversion unit at Kinloss, Scotland will be on static display, while event sponsor BAE is expected to fly a prototype of the service's replacement Nimrod MRA4 during the show.

A successful air tattoo will enable the RAFCTE to boost its contribution to air force charities beyond the £1 million gifted between 2005 and 2007, and an expected £300,000 yet to be donated from 2008, despite the event's cancellation.