The Royal International Air Tattoo 2010

One of the largest military airshows in the world was once again held at RAF Fairford, near Swindon in the UK again this year. I had the privilege of being there this year to not only witness a few firsts but to literally stand in the presence of 246 of some of the greatest aircraft in the world.
That’s right, 246 aircraft participated in the years Air Tattoo, from 30 Air Arms, representing 17 Nations. The Tattoo basically starts on the Wednesday before with the arrivals of the participants. Arrivals happen right through until Friday night and in between there are a few validations and departures. The great thing is that for £18, you get to sit in a pen, literally metres away from the runway threshold. A programme of the days arrivals is available and then from 07h30 in the morning to 20h30 at night, you just get to photograph and watch everything imaginable arriving from light aircraft to business jets to fighters to airlifters.
Saturday and Sunday saw participants pulling out all the stops to entertain with some superb flying. Saturday was the better day weather wise but we had no rain on Sunday to dampen the spirits, not that it could have.
The 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain was one of the themes running through the weekend, with a commemorative flypast of Spitfires, Hurricanes and three Messerschmitt Me109’s, it was a moving sight to see former foes fly together as friends. The Battle of Britain village was a buzz of 1940’s entertainment, static displays of aircraft and vehicles from that era.
The weekend saw some 155 000 visitors attend the airshow, but because of great organisation, plentiful ablutions, food stores and vendors, you never queued for anything.
The Red Bull Air Racing teams of Breitling’s Nigel Lamb and 55’s Paul Bonhomme were there with their MXS and Edge 540’s respectively to greet the fans, sign autographs and have photos taken with them and their extreme racing machines. Both very impressive aviators, Paul, the current world champion has over 16 300 hours and his “day job” is a 747 captain for British Airways. Apart from the Red Bull Racing he still finds time to spend at Duxford, flying Spitfires and Mustangs.
The Airbus A400M made its debut here at the Air Tattoo. One word…impressive! I’m still hoping that somewhere along the line the South African Air Force can acquire a squadron of these. The multi-national four-engine turbo prop designed by Airbus Military is a tactical airlifter with strategic capabilities. She flew for the first time on 11 December 2009 and Airbus currently have orders for 184 of them, 118 being sold to the USAF alone.
I found the A400M to be the perfect sized airlifter, bigger than a C-130 but smaller than a C-17.
She carries a crew of 3 or 4 (2 pilots, 3rd optional and a load master) and is capable of carrying 116 fully equipped troops or paratroopers and for a medevac role, the A400M can carry 66 stretchers accompanied by 25 medical personnel. With a cruising speed of 780km/h, a service ceiling of 37 000 feet and a ferry range of 8710km, this is the future of airlift aircraft.
Star of the Show
The star of the show had to be the stealth air dominance, multi-role fighter, the USAF’s F-22A Raptor. After interviewing the pilot of the demonstration team, Major Dave ‘Zeke’ Skalicky, he put on what can only be described as an awe inspiring display. With each Pratt and Whitney F-119-PW-100 delivering 35 000lbs of thrust, the Raptor is capable of Mach 2.25 and supercruise of Mach 1.85.
In my interview with ‘Zeke” he had the following to say:
“The F-22 is the world’s first 5th generation fighter and is a revolution in technology and capability. It has what he calls super manoeuvrability…and in spite of the unbelievable display, he assured me that in no way were they pushing the envelope, but the aircraft was actually sitting quite comfortably in the heart of that profile. He reckons that the display we would see, would only be a fraction of what the F-22 is capable of.
He says the biggest challenge in flying the Raptor is the mental issue as he has no direct control over the ailerons, rudders or elevators, he’s just a “voting member” as he put it. No matter what input he gives to the controls, the fly by wire system actually interprets his intentions and decides what surfaces to move and to what extent. For example, he says: ‘Should I give a roll command in say an F-15 by deflection of the stick and halfway through that roll I realise that I’m not getting the role rate I desire I, need to give more deflection to the stick to achieve that. With the Raptor, I will deflect the stick to roll and the aircraft will know by the amount of deflection what roll rate I desire, halfway through the roll, if it sees that it’s not getting that roll rate, it will increase the deflection of the moving surfaces to give me the roll rate I originally required’
“The envelope is so huge and forgiving, that I’m capable of doing manoeuvres at speeds I wouldn’t dream of in a 4th generation fighter like the F-15″‘ he says.
Major Skalicky has about 1800 flying hours, 600 hours alone on the Raptor. His callsign ‘Zeke’ comes from the name given to the Kamikaze Mitsubishi Zero’s during the war by the US aircrew. He said that he had a tendency to be a little more aggressive than he needed to be while doing his mission readiness training in the F-15 and hence was given the name ‘Zeke’.
The Raptor has been designed to project air dominance, rapidly and at great distances and defeat any threat. The F-22 is a critical component of the Global Strike Task Force and cannot be matched by any known or projected fighter aircraft. In testing, the Raptor dropped a 1000lb JDAM Bomb from 50 000 feet, while cruising at Mach 1.5, striking a moving target 39 km away.
And the fun just kept on coming
A full day of air displays just kept ones attention gripped from morning to evening. The F-16 / Apache demo team from the Royal Netherlands Air Force was just world class. The F-16 flown by Captain Tobias ‘Hitec’ Schutte is the MLU (Mid Life Update) version, with advanced improved avionics over the original Block 15 airframe. His display is done at a stunning minimum altitude of just 300 feet and 100 feet during the high speed bypass of Mach 0.95. The display is flown with two smoke winders on the wingtips, just to give that extra spectacular impact.
Another great visitor was the new J39 Gripen NG. Twenty percent more power than the South African version, can carry 900kg more fuel, capable of supercruise, and a whole list of bells and whistles, including extra weapons stores and advanced avionics.
Awesome displays by the Chinook, F-15, F/A-18 Super Hornet, Alpha jet, B-52 Stratofortress, F-16’s, Typhoons, Tornadoes, the Harrier, Hawks, Gripen, PC-21, KC-135, C-17, Tucano and a Boeing 757 that got thrown around the skies like it was a King Air. Not to mention how they threw one of those around too.
Another great privilege to see was the Avro Vulcan, XH558, tearing down the runway to the delighted crowds. I must say, I never thought I would ever see a day where I could watch a Vulcan fly. The Vulcan during the Cold War was capable of carrying 21 x 1000 lb conventional bombs and 6 nuclear bombs including a 2400 kiloton Yellow Sun and a 1.1 megaton Blue Steel nuclear stand-off missile. It’s massive delta wings and the sound of those four Bristol Olympus engines hails to the saying: ‘Once seen, never forgotten’.
The display aerobatic teams of the Swiss Air Force, Patrouille Suisse, in their F5E tiger 11’s and the French Air Forces, Patrouille de France, with their eight ship, Alpha Jet, display was seriously impressive. The colour smoke just adds something to the display that is really pleasing to the eye.
The Red Arrows, of course, were one of the highlights. When they perform the crowds stand to their feet in an act of patriotism that I’ve never seen at an airshow.
Their display is not short, but keeps you watching skywards right throughout. The first half their display is gentle as the nine ship formates in many wonderful different configurations. The second half of the display is completely different with iuncrediblel head on switches and high speed cross-overs, as the smoke changes colours throughout the display, it is breathtaking to watch.
In normal tradition the Red Arrows would finish off the day’s events, but the Heritage Flight was kept for that honour. A Spitfire Vb and a Eurofighter Typhoon F2 not only flew side by side but actually displayed together in a dance of technology 70 years apart. Both beautiful, both lethal weapons of their time, flying as one.
RIAT 2011 promises to be spectacular as they celebrate their 40th anniversary and there’s rumours of a Tiger Meet right there at the Air Tattoo next year!

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