Untitled Document
Royal International Air Tattoo 2023
‘A celebration of the World’s air power in Gloucestershire’
The Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) is held at RAF Fairford, a large RAF base in Gloucestershire that is operated by the United States Air force. It has regular detachments of America’s larger aircraft including B-52 Bombers and the enigmatic but ageing U2 spy planes. Examples of both aircraft types were present on the airfield at the show, with the former taking to the skies for a rare flypast. Fairford is the perfect location for an air show on this scale, it boasts a 2-mile runway and plenty of space to pack in the 150,000 visitors and 253 participating aircraft which this year came from 25 different nations.

RIAT is organised by the Royal Air Force Charitable Trust and all the profit from the event goes to the charity and allows the air force to continue to support STEM programmes, numerous inspirational flying initiatives and a host of other worthy causes. There were plenty of exhibits and activities on the ground to promote these excellent causes. Including talks by astronaut Tim Peake who appeared at the Trust’s Inspire Stage. The Techno Zone saw over 50,000 children across the three-day period interacting with amazing and innovative tech exhibits, and there was also some exciting sustainability displays that look to the future from Aerovolt and SkyFlyTech.
RIAT is the world’s largest military air show, which takes place over 3 days in July with the Saturday and Sunday being the main show days featuring a full day of flying displays. In recent years the Friday before the main days has expanded and now also features an impressive flying display as well as the last few aircraft arrivals ready for the busy weekend. There is also the option to attend the show ground on the days surrounding the main show weekend. Many enthusiasts choose to visit RIAT from Wednesday through until Monday to take in all the arrivals and departures, this can be a great chance to see some unusual aircraft in the air as many of the more unique types remain firmly on the ground on view in the static park over the weekend. This year, Airscene attended on the Sunday of the show.

The main operational theme for this year’s show was ‘Skytanker23’ celebrating 100 years since the first air-to-air refuelling took place. The crowd were treated to several special flypast demonstrating air-to-air refuelling including a solo flypast from the USAF Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker with fuelling probe trailing behind. The USAF also provided a partnership of the Lockheed Martin MC-130J Commando and Bell Boeing CV-22B Osprey. There were also formations featuring the RAF Airbus Voyager KC3 flying with one of its NATO partners in the form of the Saab JAS 39C Gripen from the Swedish Air Force. Finally, the German Luftwaffe were particularly welcome visitors with their Airbus A400M and pair of Panavia Tornadoes which have been must missed in UK skies since their retirement from the RAF. The sight of the afterburners and the roar of the Turbo Union engines as the two jets took the skies was quite nostalgic.
Another emerging theme for the show was the 100th anniversary since the forming of the Italian Air Force. Unsurprisingly, the Italians were keen to show off their best assets and brought along 14 aircraft for the static park as well as the Leonardo Master and Eurofighter Typhoon for the flying display. The later provided one of the highlights of the air show with a stunning performance of dazzling flying which lifted the crowd just after a heavy downpour of rain on Sunday afternoon. Highlights of the Italian Air Force static line-up included another two Tornadoes, a Boeing KC-767A and SIAI-Marchetti U-208A in special 100th anniversary markings. The Norwegian Air Force Historic Squadron had even painted their de Havilland Vampire in Italian Air Force markings to join the line-up.
The other aircraft on static display had flown in from all over the World and included military visitors from as far as the United States, Canada and Qatar. The nations of Europe had also provided strong support to the show with displays from France, Germany, Hungary, Belgium and the Netherlands to name but a few. Civilian registered aircraft were also present from warbirds to the latest innovations from the world’s leading aero companies such as Saab, Rolls Royce and Gulfstream. Classic jets were also on show, including Hawker Hunter Aviation’s Hunter which is frequently contracted by the military to play the aggressor role during training exercises. There were also other long-serving aircraft that have clung on to operational life so long that they have become classics including the Hellenic Air Force Phantom and Polish Sukhoi Su-22M4K.
The weather over the weekend had played havoc with the flying schedule. Heavy rain on Friday had a huge impact on the aerial activities and the strong winds on Saturday were problematic for the lighter and older aircraft. Notably, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight wisely cancelled the first two days of the show, but the Lancaster did make a solo appearance on the Sunday. The outlook for Sunday was much better and despite a few heavy downpours the flying display was largely unaffected. The unfortunate Royal Jordanian Falcons in their feather-light Extra 300s took off but after a short flypast with the Flying Scholarship for Disabled People’s Piper Warrior were forced to land due to heavy rain. The Spanish Navy EAV-8B+ Matador II (Harrier to most of us) continued to display during the only other major rainstorm of the afternoon.
Being the home nation, the contribution from the UK was of course considerable. Sadly, the Royal Navy and Army Air Corps provided only static aircraft for the day, but the RAF made a considerable contribution to the flying display. The Red Arrows now flying an 8-ship routine are clearly on the road to recovery following a difficult season last year. Meanwhile, the Eurofighter Typhoon display never disappoints, especially when we get to see the official display aircraft in fantastic Union Jack livery. Flight Lieutenant Matt Brighty was even awarded the Steedman Display Sword for the most notable contribution from a British participant. The RAF also sent the Boeing Chinook for a full display whilst the F35B Lightning II teamed up with the aforementioned Spanish ‘Harrier’ for a dual S/VTOL hovering display. On the ground it was also great to see the relatively recently acquired Boeing Poseidon MRA1 on show.
One of the star attractions in the flying display was the Messerschmitt Me 262 which was billed to join the Martin Baker Gloster Meteor T7 in the flying display in a celebration of the first operational jets. Sadly, the Meteor was forced to remain on the ground as a static exhibit, but the Me 262 made its UK air show debut in a brilliant solo demonstration. This Me 262 was one of a handful of replica 262s made in the USA, it is now based in Germany and operated by the Flugmuseum. No original parts were used in it’s construction, and the engines are more modern and much safer than the ground-breaking original design. But, nonetheless, it was fantastic to see a representation of the World’s first operational jet in the skies, especially in a show where it can be compared to the newest jet technology that the World has to offer.
Most UK air shows are lucky to get one military aerobatic team, which is often the RAF’s Red Arrows. RIAT draws in aerobatic teams from all over the World and this year was no exception with no less than five teams from different nations taking part in the flying display. Sunday’s display was opened by the Saudi Hawks. Seeing their seven green British Aerospace Hawks in action was a nice comparison to the RAF team who fly the same aircraft in the famous red markings. The United Arab Emirates team were also in attendance, they have opted for the Italian Aermacchi MB339 as their choice of aircraft and provided a dazzling display with the most vivid smoke colours contrasting nicely against the dark stormy skies. The Spanish Air Force Aerobatic team, the Patrulla Aguila were left to close the show in their 6 Casa C101EB Aviojets. Despite the challenging conditions they provided a flawless close to the days flying.
It’s hard to condense the scale of a RIAT air display into just one review, there is so much to talk about, and the standard of flying is top notch. Afterall, the Worlds military only send their best to take part in the World’s biggest military air show. I can’t cover every display item here, but it’s worth mentioning some of the awards handed out to the participants. The best solo jet display was awarded to André Brännström from Saab Aeronautics who was showing off the new Saab Gripen E for the first time in the UK. The best overall flying display was awarded to the French Air Force Rafale Solo Display, which was flown by Capitaine Bertrand "Bubu" Butin and the King Hussein Memorial Sword for the most polished & precise Flying Display was given to Captain Nils Schylström of the Swedish Air Force for his performance in the Saab SK60.
If you have never experience RIAT, I strongly urge you to add it into your diaries for next year. There is no other show anything like it in the UK and 2023 proved that even in bad weather a great time can be had by all. RIAT 2024 will take place on 19, 20 and 21 July and tickets are already on sale, if it’s anything like this year, you will not want to miss out: https://www.airtattoo.com/tickets

Review by Lee Chapman