Following hot on the heels of June's Paris air show and its dominance by the commercial aerospace sector, this year's Royal International Air Tattoo will provide a welcome chance for enthusiasts to sample the best on offer from the world of military aviation. Taking place at the Royal Air Force's Fairford airbase in southern England from 13-15 July, this year's extravaganza will have as its focus the 60th anniversary of the US Air Force, which will send nearly 40 aircraft to the event.
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 are expected to 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 will include 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 will be 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.
© US Air Force
Despite facing operational demands in Afghanistan and Iraq, the RAF will also be at the show in numbers, with more than 50 aircraft due to appear, 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 will be limited, as they were during the 2006 event.
But RIAT's true strength lies in its ability to attract the more unusual air show visitor, with aircraft likely to be on display this year from throughout Europe and as far afield as Brazil, India, Oman and potentially a contribution from Pakistan, which made its tattoo debut last year.
Brazil is to send an Embraer EMB-145-based R-99 airborne early warning and control aircraft, while the Indian air force will have a strong presence, with advanced jet trainers and fighters in the static line. Two Sukhoi Su-30MKIs will be a major attraction. They will arrive at the show with an Ilyushin Il-78 tanker after taking part in exercise Indra Dhanush '07 with RAF types including Panavia Tornado F3 and Eurofighter Typhoon F2 fighters. The Indian aircraft arrived at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire in late June as part of a 10-strong exercise package.
Three of the Indian air force's eventual fleet of 66 BAE Hawk 132 AJTs should also be on show ahead of first delivery to the service later this year. The aircraft will join 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 will fly in, 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 will send 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 will also be at RIAT for the first time, and the Hungarian air force will exhibit one of its Saab Gripen D two-seaters after introducing the fighter into service last year.
Another highlight of this year's air show will be an appearance by NATO's specially painted Boeing E-3A Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft, which will be at Fairford to celebrate 25 years of alliance operations using the type.
© Alenia Aeronavali
But visitors will 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.
This year's RIAT will also see the usual range of hospitality, with some business and much socialising done in front of the flight line by about 5,000 corporate and VIP guests of the event's backers, including title sponsor BAE, which recently extended its support for the event by five more years. Combined with contributions from the event's entrance fee, this support has enabled the organisers to donate more than £500,000 ($1 million) to RAF charities from the past two shows. This year's showcase looks set to impress again.
Source: Flight International