Self-styled as "the world's biggest military air show", the Royal International Air Tattoo will this year mark its 40th anniversary with a combined 16h of flying displays involving aircraft from multiple nations.

Taking place at Royal Air Force base Fairford in Gloucestershire in the UK from 16-17 July, the show should attract around 160,000 aviation enthusiasts, drawn by an array of fighters, transports, trainers and helicopters from armed forces around the world, plus a range of visiting civilian aircraft and nine aerobatic display teams.

In late June, RIAT's organisers decided to add 30min of display time each day to their planning, with the display programme now to be stretched over an 8h period. "When we sat down and looked at all the aircraft taking part we realised we needed to extend the length of the flying programme," says chief executive Tim Prince.

Show highlights are expected to include a debut public appearance by the RAF's Airbus A330-based Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft. One of the two examples currently involved in pre-delivery testing will be on static display, with the Voyager on track to enter service on 1 November.

A330 Voyager - (c) Qinetiq 
 © Qinetiq
 The RAF's A330-based Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft will make its show debut at RIAT

However, plans to stage a formal naming ceremony at RIAT for the tanker/transport's stablemate, the Airbus Military A400M, were abandoned in the run-up to the show, due to an earlier gearbox problem and flight test programme demands. This also restricted the type's planned starring role at last month's Paris air show to one brief ­demonstration, following a decision to limit the ­Grizzly fleet to performing flight test activities only while an investigation continues into the cause of the fault. The RAF has previously ­announced its intention to name the airlifter Atlas. Airbus Military will, however, bring its new C-295 airborne early warning and control system demonstrator to Fairford, following its debut appearance during June's Paris air show.

Back in the air, Avro Vulcan XH558 will make a welcome return to Fairford. The Vulcan to the Sky Trust on 30 June announced its receipt of a renewed permit to fly the Cold War bomber for the next 12 months. It is seeking around £75,000 ($120,000) in donations by the end of July to meet a £350,000 target to keep the historic aircraft flying.

Another popular visitor will be a Supermarine Spitfire Mk IXb, which also appeared at the very first Air Tattoo at North Weald airfield in Essex in 1971. Registered MH434, the World War Two veteran was one of around 100 aircraft at the inaugural show, and is now owned by the Old Flying Machine Club.

F-16 Tiger (c) Katsuhiko Tokunga/Belgian Airforce 
 © Katsuhiko Tokuaga/Belgian air force
50th anniversary celebrations for NATO's Tiger Association will draw this Belgian F-16

The latest generation of strike aircraft will also be in attendance, including several types which are currently involved in NATO's operation Unified Protector over Libya. The French air force is due to display its Dassault Rafale, while BAE Systems will fly a Eurofighter Typhoon, having agreed to cover for the RAF's lack of a display asset this year while the type performs air-to-ground tasks against forces loyal to Col Muammar Gaddafi.

Other combat types involved in the Libyan campaign will also be at RIAT, including a pair of Swedish air force Saab Gripens, Lockheed Martin F-16s from Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands, Panavia Tornados from Italy and the UK and a British Army Westland/Boeing Apache AH1 attack helicopter.

Their participation supports the show's 'Star '11' theme, which is intended to highlight the contribution made by surveillance and attack aircraft in operations around the globe. However, a planned visit by two Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16s was a late notice cancellation, along with a NATO-operated Boeing E-3A airborne warning and control system aircraft.

Vulcan (c) Airspace 
 © M_Needham gallery on
 Vulcan XH558 has a new permit to fly, but its backers still need more funding

When compared with some of its past years, the annual show now draws fewer aircraft, with more than 200 expected to participate this time. The budget constraints which face most nations today are one factor in the decline, along with the reduced size of air forces, while their continued involvement in places like Afghanistan and Libya is another. "People are busy," says Prince, "but we still believe we are the world's biggest military air show."

Among the more unusual visitors due to arrive this year should be a Sukhoi Su-27 fighter from Ukraine, which is expected to make the journey to the UK accompanied by an Ilyushin Il-76 transport. A privately-owned Rockwell OV-10B Bronco will also make its RIAT debut, sporting German markings.

Spitfire MH434 - (c) Craig Hoyle/Flightglobal 
 © Craig Hoyle/Flightglobal
 Spitfire MH434 will be at the show, and appeared at the first Air Tattoo in 1971

Riyadh's Saudi Hawks display team will also take to the air for the first time at RIAT with their green and white liveried BAE Hawk trainers. Making their only UK appearance this year, the team's signature manoeuvre "draws" the Saudi emblem of two swords crossed over a palm tree.

Another of the themes for the 2011 show will attract a colourful attendance by aircraft from the NATO Tiger Association, which is marking the 50th anniversary of its formation. Specially-decorated fighters and helicopters from participating squadrons in at least seven nations will highlight their cooperation.

Other aviation milestones will also be marked, including this month's 60th anniversary of the Hawker Hunter's first flight. At least 11 should be on show, including six used by the Team Viper display team, three from Hawker Hunter Aviation and lone examples to be flown in by Heritage Aviation and the Swiss Heritage Team.

See our live coverage from the 16-17 July Royal International Air Tattoo

Follow Craig Hoyle at #RIAT from 15 July at @FlightAcesHigh

Source: Flight International