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Skylift at the RIAT 2012; RAF Fairford, July 8 - 9, 2012

The Royal International Air Tattoo, part 1; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

The Royal International Air Tattoo is the largest annual military airshow in the world. This major event is held each year at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, England. The theme of this year's RIAT is Skylift 2012. In addition, the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II this summer will also be celebrated during the RIAT.

The RAF Transport Command was formerly the British command of the RAF which contained transport aircraft. The RAF Transport Command was established on March 25, 1943. Officially the RAF Transport Command was derived from the RAF Ferry Command. The Ferry Command flew new aircraft from various British aircraft factories to the units where the planes would enter operational service during the Second World War. From 1943 the command was renamed to RAF Transport Command. This command also conducted several air transport tasks. The dropping of paratroopers was an important task of the RAF Transport Command. The RAF Transport Command was expanded rapidly after the Second World War. The Transport Command participated in several major operations such as the Berlin Airlift in 1948. This operation emphasized the importance of a large and flexible transport fleet for the RAF. The Handley Page Hastings was a heavy transport aircraft during the airlift and it played a key role. This aircraft remained for years in this role until 1956. New transport aircraft such as the de Havilland Comet were available from 1956. The Comet was the first jet aircraft in the world which was also suitable for large shipments. The Blackburn Beverly was introduced in 1956 by the RAF. The third major transport aircraft, the Bristol Britannia, was commissioned in 1959. These 3 aircraft formed the backbone of the British transport fleet. The RAF had for the first time in history a strong transport fleet with various aircraft.

The main tasks of the transport aircraft at the end of the 50s were supporting operations and evacuations. These kinds of missions were much flown during the Suez crisis in October and November 1956. The British aircraft evacuated during these flights military personnel from the area. The British transport aircraft were also often used for evacuations during the Korean War and Malaya during the Malaysian Emergency. The transport fleet was also used in Woomera in South Australia after a

major natural disaster. The Transport Command also played an important role during the British nuclear program on Christmas Island. Nuclear tests were conducted by the British government in this area. The Transport Command also carried out several scheduled flights to major British strategic outposts in the Indian Ocean, Southeast Asia and the Far East. From August 1, 1967, the RAF Transport Command was renamed to RAF Support Command. The reason for this change was the change of the assignments of the Transport Command. Not only transporting troops and equipment were the main tasks of the Support Command. The new command also had various support tasks such as close air support. For these tasks the Support Command received also fighter aircraft such as the Hawker Hunter. The Support Command was renamed soon, because in 1972, the command was renamed as the RAF Strike Command. The transport units received therefore also a tactical role.

The main airbase of all transport units within the Royal Air Force is RAF Brize Norton. This transport base is located on the border of the County of Oxfordshire in southern England. RAF Brize-Norton was founded in 1937 as a training base of the RAF. The first squadron which used this base was the no 110 Squadron which was based at RAF Wattisham. The unit used Brize-Norton as a detachment airfield from 1939 to 1942. The unit flew from this base with aircraft such as the Bristol Blenheim Mk I and Mk IV. The no 296 and no 297 Squadron arrived at Brize-Norton in 1944. These units flew until 1947 with aircraft such as the Armstrong Whitworth Albemarles and Halifax V from this base. Since 1953, RAF Brize-Norton was used by the USAF, because the Cold War broke out. The Strategic Air Command (SAC) flew from Brize-Norton with nuclear bombers like the Convair B-36 and the Boeing B-52. The runway was extended considerably with the arrival of these heavy bombers. Also the facilities were drastically changed for the arrival of these aircraft. The first B-36 Peace Keepers arrived in June 1952. The first aircraft which were really based at Brize-Norton were the B-47 Stratojet bombers of the USAF. The B-47 remained at RAF Brize Norton until 1957. Also the B-52 Stratofortress, the B-58 Hustler and the KC-135 Stratotanker were based at this airbase. From 1965, the bombers were again withdrawn from the British base and the base was transferred to the RAF as RAF Brize-Norton.

The first British aircraft which was stationed at RAF Brize-Norton after the transfer was the Vickers VC10. The no 10 Squadron was formed and started to fly with this type. In 1970, the no 99 Squadron and no 511 Squadron were derived from RAF Lyneham and stationed at RAF Brize-Norton. These units both flew the Bristol Britannia at that time and both units were disbanded in 1976. The no 115 Squadron arrived from RAF Cottesmore at RAF Brize-Norton in the same year. This unit flew the Hawker Siddeley Andover which was used for radar calibrations. This unit moved to RAF Benson in 1983. From 1984 the no 101 Squadron was reactivated. The no 101 Squadron started to fly the VC10 as well; the unit is nowadays still equipped with this aircraft. There was a need for a larger tanker fleet during the Falklands War in 1984. The no 216 Squadron was founded as a result. This unit started to operate the Lockheed Tristar. The first C-17s arrived at the RAF Brize-Norton on May 23, 2001. The C-17s were assigned to the re-established no 99 Squadron. Brize-Norton was temporarily closed in September 2005. RAF Lyneham would close down in 2011. RAF Lyneham was the home base of the Hercules fleet. All these aircraft are now moved to RAF Brize-Norton. RAF Brize-Norton is since the closure of RAF Lyneham the only large transportation airbase in the United Kingdom. The airbase plays an important role when it comes to heavy transportation around the world. The units are flexible and can be used 24 hours a day to support the British army anywhere in the world.

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