Run to support the RAF Charitable Trust Enterprises, RIAT is an annual event that draws together the air arms of many nations: 50 have sent aircraft to the show since it began in 1971, and more than 300 airframes were on display last year. This wealth of military hardware is a massive draw for the public, and almost 170,000 people arrive at the show over the weekend to see a static display of more than 200 aircraft and witness almost nine hours of flying displays each day involving a further 70 airframes. The air tattoo offers an experience unrivalled by any other event of its kind......
Thunderbirds are go....
Highlights this year included a USAF contingent comprising Boeing B-1 and B-52 bombers, Lockheed Martin F-117 stealth fighters and, for the first time at the tattoo, the service's Thunderbirds display team of Lockheed F-16s. These were joined on static display by a General Atomics MQ-1 Predator unmanned air vehicle and other air force types, including fighters, ground-attack aircraft, transports and tankers.
Despite facing operational demands in Afghanistan and Iraq, the RAF were at the show in numbers, with more than 50 aircraft, including debut RIAT appearances by a BAE Systems Nimrod MRA4 and a Sentinel R1 airborne stand-off radar aircraft, developed from the Bombardier Global Express business jet and in service with 5(AC) Sqn. However, reflecting the demands of its current peacekeeping and combat support efforts, glimpses of the RAF's hard-stretched air transport fleet were limited, as they were during the 2006 event.
But RIAT's true strength lies in its ability to attract the more unusual air show visitors, with aircraft on display this year from throughout Europe and as far afield as Brazil, India, Oman and Pakistan, which made its tattoo debut last year.
Brazil sent an Embraer EMB-145-based R-99 airborne early warning and control aircraft, while the Indian air force had a strong presence, with advanced jet trainers and fighters in the static line.
Three of the Indian air force's eventual fleet of 66 BAE Hawk 132 AJTs were also on show ahead of first delivery to the service later this year. The aircraft joined a Hawk 128 demonstrator which is currently involved in a development programme before supporting the fast jet pilot training needs of the UK armed forces from late next year. Alenia Aermacchi's M-346 trainer came to the show, although a second is on its way to the Middle East with the company's M-311 for a potentially pivotal evaluation by the United Arab Emirates.
Italy sent an Alenia Aeronautica C-27J Spartan to the show, as the Finmeccanica company still basks in its successful campaign to sell the type to the US Army and US Air Force as the Joint Cargo Aircraft. However, the selection is the subject of an appeal by the losing team, comprising Raytheon and EADS North America, which offered the EADS Casa C-295 also on display by the Spanish air force, along with two Eurofighters. Two Boeing AV-8B Harriers from the Spanish navy were at RIAT for the first time, and the Hungarian air force exhibited one of its Saab Gripen D two-seaters after introducing the fighter into service last year.
Another highlight of this year's air show was an appearance by NATO's specially painted Boeing E-3A Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft, which was at Fairford to celebrate 25 years of alliance operations using the type. But visitors have to wait another year to see an Avro Vulcan in the air, because the team restoring aircraft XH558 failed in their bid to have it airborne in time to mark the 25th anniversary of the Falklands War last month.