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The Royal International Air Tattoo; RAF Fairford July 11, 2008

The Story of the RIAT Cancelled; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

After a disappointing day at St. Mary's Loch in Scotland and a nice afternoon at RAF Warton, we finally arrived at RAF Fairford. Today on Friday, July 11th we were here to see the rehearsals for the air show next weekend. Today's program contained some arrivals and some display practice for the Air Show.

The Royal International Air Tattoo is the largest military air show in the world and is held once a year during the third weekend of July at RAF Fairford. RAF Fairford is a large American air base in the south of England, where normally no operational aircraft are based. This base is only used for bomber detachments of the US Air Force using the B-1 Lancer, B-2 Spirit and the B-52 Stratofortress. From this base they fly training missions and operational bombing and support missions over Afghanistan and Iraq. The first Air Tattoo was staged at North Weald airfield in Essex with just over 100 aircrafts taking part. The event was founded by Timothy Prince and Paul Bowen. From this small beginning, the show became the International Air Tattoo in 1976. Recognition of its unique status was granted by Her Majesty the Queen in 1996, when the current Royal International Air Tattoo title was adopted. From 1973 to 1983 the RIAT was held at RAF Greenham Common before moving to RAF Fairford in 1985. These days the RIAT is the biggest military air show in the world with each year over 400 aircrafts participating from countries all over the world.

We spent our night in Brize-Norton from where we left at 6.30 am inbound RAF Fairford. After a short traffic jam, we arrived at Fairford at about 8.00 am. After we had parked our car we paid our entrance ticket and we found a spot next to the threshold of the runway. It is normal at Fairford during the rehearsal and departure day that the runway threshold is open to the public. The weather looked pretty good with a beautiful summer sun, but that would significantly change during this day. First we were treated by a demo of our own Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16 demo, followed by a demo of the Czech Mi-24 Hind. The Hind took off very spectacularly right in front of us which gave us some perfect shots of this helicopter. After the Hind demo, the Canadian CF-188 Hornett took off; it flew a very spectacular and tight demo with some excellent photographic moments. After the first demonstrations were flown, the Turkish Stars

arrived with their NF-5 Freedom Fighter aircrafts followed by a single Italian Tornado. The Indian HAL HJT-36 Sitara was new to me and they were also in perfect positions for some decent shots.

This edition of the RIAT had two main themes; the first one was the 90th anniversary of the Royal Air Force and the second one was Global Engagement. Especially for the 90th anniversary of the RAF, Queen Elizabeth II came to Fairford for a ceremony. During the ceremony dark clouds appeared in the sky and it started to rain. During the visit of the queen to RAF Fairford there was no flying activity over the base. It didn't matter to us because the weather was very bad at this moment. This weather would be today's trend with some heavy showers and sunny periods. During the periods of sun we had the opportunity to take some really beautiful pictures of the landing aircraft with an extreme dark sky behind it. The queen’s ceremony would end with a very big fly-by of all types of the RAF in one big formation. After some other arrivals after the queens visit, the aircraft for which I went to the UK this year appeared. This was the F-22 Raptor of the American Raptor Display Team of the US Air Force from Langley AFB in America. This machine is the successor of the now retired F-117 Night Hawk. It was very unfortunate that during its demo the sky was black; it could start to rain any moment. With lots of noise, the F-22 showed us that it needed just a short distance for take-off. When it came loose from the ground it immediately climbed out vertical. The Raptor showed us all kind of strange maneuvers using his trust vectoring. It was all in all a very spectacular demo and I was very impressed by it. After an interesting demo, the F-22 came in for landing.

After the F-22 demo many helicopters arrived; first a Belgian Sea King came in followed by an EH-101 Merlin of the RAF and two Squirrels. Eventually, behind the helicopters the Red Arrows finally arrived in a tight formation. The taxi track was very wet due to some heavy rain fall; this resulted in some exclusive shots of the Red Arrows. The light reflected on the wet runway and therefore the aircraft of the Red Arrows were exposed from the bottom side. Behind the Red Arrows, also a British Tornado F3 came in from the Trembles based at RAF Leuchars in Scotland. The same effect as on the Red Arrows occurred on this aircraft. Despite the bad weather I still could shoot some great images in a typical English environment under very wet circumstances. The weather improved a little bit after the arrivals of all these aircraft. The photos of the French TBM 700 were great under these wet weather conditions. I don’t have many pictures of this aircraft in my collection and therefore I was very happy with these pictures. The Portuguese display team Dragoes (Dragons) arrived with their Alpha-Jets at the end of my day at RAF Fairford. The Alpha-Jets are painted in the national red and green colors of Portugal. These were the last participants of the RIAT for me which I shot in 2008. At approximately 7.00 pm it was time to go back to Brize Norton where we would stay for the night again. The day of the rehearsal was like previous years, again a great success with a wide variety of aircraft and helicopters. Once we arrived in our hostel in Brize Norton some shocking news reached us, we heard that the RIAT 2008 was cancelled. The organization had decided to cancel the event due to the heavy rainfall. Large parts of the airbase and the whole car parking were flooded or were extremely muddy. The organization of the RIAT thought that it would be irresponsible to go on with the show and therefore with pain in their hearts they decided to cancel the air show because of our safety and the safety of the crew. A big disappointment for each aviation enthusiast. It was an understandable and a legal choice from the organization. All in all a black page in the existence of the RIAT. I was lucky that I managed to get almost all the aircraft on photo, because many people came for nothing from different countries in Europe.

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