Displays by the only Cold War Vulcan bomber still flying, a BAE Systems’ Typhoon and a US Air Force A-10 were among the stars of this weekend’s Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire.
Around 138,000 people attended during the show period and enjoyed some spectacular flying displays as well as a wealth of entertainment on the showground – including a concert by X-Factor winner Alexandra Burke on the Sunday.
The event got off to a spectacular start with the christening of the A330 ‘Voyager’, the RAF’s new air-to-air refuelling aircraft, when the Air Tattoo was delighted to welcome Government officials. Secretary of State for Defence Dr Liam Fox was the guest of honour at the official ceremony, accompanied by Gerald Howarth, Minister of International Security Strategy, and Peter Luff, Minister of Defence Equipment, Support and Technology.
Both days saw participants pulling out all the stops to entertain with some superb flying, one of the highlights being the Hawker Hunter 60th Anniversary flypast with the veteran aircraft turning out to mark the 40th anniversary of the Air Tattoo itself. And making their UK debut, the Saudi Hawks display team lived up to expectations with an impressive performance, cementing the Air Tattoo’s reputation for bringing new aerobatic display teams to the event.
The Russian-built Sukhoi Su-27 “Flanker” was the aircraft every enthusiast wanted to see, and it didn’t disappoint, flying in from the Ukraine accompanied by a giant Ilyushin IL-76 transport plane before going on static display. In total, 219 aircraft took part in the Air Tattoo, from 27 air arms representing 17 nations.
Both days started with rain but the weather failed to dampen spirits, with the crowds enjoying a huge range of showground activities and events, in addition to the spectacular flying sequences. The weather improved in the afternoon on both days, with the airshow closing in sunshine with a thrilling finale by the Breitling Jet Team, performing a unique flypast with their fellow Breitling Wingwalking Team – a fitting birthday present for the Air Tattoo.
Special guests included: HRH Prince Michael of Kent; HRH Lieutenant General Prince Feisal bin Hussein of Jordan, Patron of the Air Tattoo’s Flying Scholarships for the Disabled; Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton; and the Chinese PLA Air Force’s Deputy Commander, Lt Gen Chen Xiaogong, with Defence Attache Maj Gen Zhang Jianguo. Also attending in his role as Patron of the RAF Charitable Trust was HRH the Duke of Kent.
Organisers said the event was a great success. Air Tattoo Chief Executive Tim Prince said: “I’m so pleased that the great British public, and our overseas visitors, came to support us. They came determined to have a good time and, in response, the Air Tattoo team – whether volunteers, sponsors, supporting military units, aircrew or our paid staff – battled through the challenges the weather gave us to do what Britain does best, put on a superb airshow. Our grateful thanks go to everyone for supporting us in our 40th anniversary year.
“We’ve been especially pleased to welcome the delegation from China, and we hope their visit bodes well for the future aircraft participation from that nation.”
“This year’s airshow has seen other organisations celebrating anniversaries, and we’ve been delighted to help the Air Cadets celebrate 70 years as they are invaluable in helping keep the airshow running smoothly). We were also pleased to mark the 50th anniversary of the NATO Tiger Association, maintaining the strong bonds we enjoy with this group of enthusiastic and colourful aviators; and to help the MoD Police celebrate 40 years. It’s also been good to welcome the latest addition to the ISTAR family, the CASA 295AEW, and to get a taste of the future with the Rivet Joint – soon to be operated by the RAF – the Mantis and the SPYDR aircraft.”
Despite the large crowds there were relatively few incidents over the weekend. Chief Medical Officer Sara Hall reported that 192 visitors had been treated for minor injuries, largely climate-related with people suffering the effects of heat, cold and rain. First Aid Posts and the Medical Centre were kept busy, with five per cent of patients being conveyed to hospital for further treatment.
And Fire Control Officer Barry Hudson reported a safe Air Tattoo, assisted by the indifferent weather. Small incidents included a bird strike on a Hawk aircraft, firefighters being called to assist a visitor who’d collapsed, and a car fire adjacent to Jubilee Garden enclosure which was managed by the Domestic Fire Crew.
First-time Air Tattoo visitor Liz Clark from Stanford-in-the-Vale, Oxfordshire, said: “It’s a long time since I’ve been to an airshow and this has reminded me what I’ve been missing. It’s been amazing, and I got quite sentimental seeing the Spitfire and Vulcan. I’ll come again!”
And John Thompson from Cottingham, East Yorkshire, said: “I was very impressed with the flying displays and the Chinook which I’d never seen perform before. I liked the Rafale best – it got closest to the crowd and was the noisiest – and it was great to see the Vulcan which did much more than I expected. There was such variety – I enjoyed it all.”
The Royal International Air Tattoo is staged annually in support of the Royal Air Force Charitable Trust which, in turn, awards grants in support of the RAF family, including serving personnel and Air Cadets. Since it was established in January 2005, the Trustees have awarded over £1.56 million to a wide range of projects and initiatives.