report by: Danny Bonny and Mike Danks
The largest Military Air Show didn’t fail to disappoint this year. The static display was full of varying types from countries across the globe with many seldom seen in the UK. The United States Air Force was celebrating its 70th anniversary and returned this year with the fifth generation F-22 Raptor and, after an absence of ten years, the USAF demonstration team The Thunderbirds. The static park had a plethora of modern USAF aircraft with the B52H ‘BUFF’ and B1B ‘Bone’ from Global Strike Command taking centre stage. A usual visitor to RAF Fairford came in the shape of a U-2, which use RAF Fairford as a stopover during a change in aircraft from Middle East operations. This particular aircraft looked like it needed some attention with it being back to bare metal in places.
In the past two years the western end of the airfield has been put to great use accommodating the fast jet flying display aircraft, enabling the airshow public to get up close to the machines. This year, as space was a commodity, the area was used for additional static displays, relegating the display jets back to the north side of the airfield.
The UK based USAF aircraft were all present with many being open to the public. Apart from the Raptor and the Thunderbirds there was a 70th Anniversary flypast from USAF Europe aircraft on all three days of the show. These included 2 x F-15C 493rd FS, 1 x F-15E 494th FS, 2 x F-16CJ 480th FS, KC-135R 100th ARW and a C-130J 86th AW. On the Sunday the third Global Strike Command bomber, the B2 Spirit, made multiple flypasts with two F-15Cs from RAF Lakenheath. Having flown direct from Whiteman AFB, Missouri, the B-2 did not land and headed back home, again proving the reach of this stealthy bomber. One of the final updates from RIAT, just days before the event, was the inclusion of two Su-27s from the Ukrainian Air Force being supported by an IL-76. If these had been on the static park alone this would’ve been a fantastic edition but the single seat SU-27 was part of the flying display.
Other interesting aircraft in the static park included the CC-177 and CH-47 of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force E-7A, Marineflieger Sea King MK41, Hellenic Air Force F-4E Phantom II, Japanese Air Self Defence Force KC-767J and the Pakistani Air Force C-130E. With a number of these aircraft being available for the public to view inside and discuss with the crews about how the aircraft is used in service. The eight hour display was full of variety in aircraft and not just about the modern day jets like the Raptor. Colour is never very far away from the display aircraft and this year was no different, with the Aeronautica Militare Italiana A-200 Tornado and the Armee de l’Air Rafale showing off their stunning schemes. The weather sadly didn’t play ball with the Rafale and it displayed in typical British summer weather on both Saturday and Sunday.
With the final displays of RAMEX Delta at RIAT 2016 the delta shaped Mirage 2000 returned again, with a pair of Mirage 2000Ds, as COUTEAU Delta. They along with the Czech Air Force LET L159s displayed separately for the crowd demonstrating how the aircraft is used in combat. Seeing large aircraft being displayed is always slightly disconcerting, especially when it is the Airbus A400M and the AMI C-27J. These were flown as if they were fighters. The C-27J completing barrel roles and the A400M climbing until it stopped. Amazing flying as always.
With a media pass on the Sunday I gained access to various aircraft including the RCAF CC-177, HH-60 Pave Hawk and the B-52H. It was great to be able to speak to the crews and listen to the missions that they have been on and how they use their aircraft. Speaking to the crew of the B-52H and they explained the aircrafts capabilities and said that the longest mission by the 96th BS was 44hrs. This involved multiple air to air refuelling and having spare crews to complete the mission. I asked about the facilities and they are something to be desired on that long a mission. The pilot ‘Ship’ discussed through the cockpit and his role and one of the things he said stuck with me that they only use 70% power as the engines are so powerful. This was an amazing experience and something I shall not forget.RIAT is still the premier military air show and I look forward to 2018. We would like to express our thanks to the RIAT Staff for allowing to Globalairpower this media access during the 2017 edition.