Few if any military air related event held anywhere in the world rival the intensity, excitement and spectacle of the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT or Air Tattoo) held annually at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire. Just as RIAT is an important not to be missed event on the calendar of those with a vested professional interest in air power whether military or industry, so too is RIAT a must visit event for thousands of air power enthusiasts as well. Not only is RIAT the number one networking event for military and industry it is also hugely important in the role it plays encouraging the next generation of people that the UK needs for the military and industry. In short, RIAT is the greatest demonstration of past, present and future air power anywhere in the world.
A premier event on the UK air power calendar attended by air force chiefs and delegations from all over world, this year’s Air Tattoo promises once again to be premier outdoor event in the air power calendar. Visitors will once again be enthralled at the quite amazing array of over 250 aircraft that will either be on static display or taking part in the 20 hours of flying displays planned over the three days that this important event stretches over.
The military, primarily in the form of the Royal Air Force, together with the wider defence and aerospace industry together with organisations such as the Royal Aeronautical Society invest a lot of time and effort at RIAT in order to not only present what they do to the wider public but importantly, to encourage and demonstrate to the younger element attending why air power is something that they should perhaps look at as being a potential future career. RIAT has another very serious side to it as well – raising funds for RAF Charitable Trust.
RIAT, or the Air Tattoo as it is more commonly referred to these days, takes place this year over the weekend of the 14th, 15th and 16th of July. Friday will see four hours of flying displays and on both Saturday and Sunday visitors can enjoy no less than eight hours of individual flying displays including any number of fast jets, the usual fantastic display by the Royal Air Force Red Arrows and Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) together with countless other vintage and other aircraft displays.
Staged in support of the Royal Air Force Charitable Trust, it is important to remember that staging the Air Tattoo would not be possible without the hard work and assistance provided by the hundreds of volunteers who give of their time freely to ensure that this important event does what it has always done, provides all those who attend for whatever reason be this professional or enthusiast, young and old alike with demonstrations of air power at its best.
Suffice to say in respect of the money raised each year by RIAT, that since the charity was founded in its present form in 2005, Royal Air Force Charitable Trust Enterprises have received over £5 million for projects and initiatives that help promote the Royal Air Force, that support its people and also, that actively encourage the next generation of aviation minded individuals. I would mention too that following success of the 2016 Air Tattoo, RAF Charitable Trust Enterprises has announced that it will be gifting a record £1 million to its parent charity RAFCT.
Supported by a number of major long-term aerospace and defence industry corporate sponsors including BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Airbus, Northrop Grumman and MBDA, the major theme of the 2017 Air Tattoo is, just as it is similarly this year at the CAS Air Power Conference held on the two preceding days to RIAT, that of 21st Century Partnerships.
This year’s Air Tattoo also provides the perfect backdrop to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the founding of the United States Air Force (USAF). To that end, USAF has chosen the 2017 Air Tattoo to be the official event in Europe in which the anniversary will be celebrated. With the Air Tattoo being held on what is officially a USAF air base at RAF Fairford and having long been the recipient of huge support from USAF itself, there is more than a degree of poignancy in USAF reasoning why RIAT 2017 should be chosen as the European hub in which to celebrate this important landmark anniversary.
Although it is not my normal practice in my annual pre-RIAT commentary to mention more than a handful of specific aircraft that will be on show, due to this being USAF’s anniversary celebration event in Europe I will mention some of the various USAF aircraft that will be taking part in the flying display this year. These will I understand include the Thunderbirds Demonstration Team (Lockheed Martin F-16’s) and F-22 Raptor from US Air Combat Command together with a Boeing/Bell CV-22B Osprey from US Air Force Special Operations Command. On static display will be B-1 Lancer and B-52 Stratofortress, C-17A, CV-22B Osprey, MC-130J Commando ll and from US Air Force bases in Europe there will be static displays of F-16C, C21A, F-15C Eagle and F-15E Strike Eagle, Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawk and a Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker. All in all and as previously mentioned, over 250 aircraft from air forces all over the world together with those from private collections will either be on static display or flying at this years’ Air Tattoo. In addition to the above, a particular welcome and thanks from me go to participations from the Belgian Air Force and the Hellenic Air Force, the former bringing over its Lockheed Martin F-16’s and the latter, the last McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom aircraft still in active service in Europe.
Quite apart from the focus on 21st Century Partnerships, RIAT 2017 will continue to have a very large focus on both safety and security. Since the Air Tattoo was first held in 1971 safety has always been the number one priority and it remains so today. The record of safety excellence has been absolutely excellent with, as far as I can remember, there being only one significant incident occurring since the Air Tattoo was first held. In the wake of the Shoreham tragedy of 2015, this year has seen RIAT organisers working very closely with all stakeholders including the Military Aviation Authority (MAA) the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), British Air Display Association (BADA), Gloucestershire Police, District and County Councils and those responsible for the Highways etc.
Measure introduced in 2016 following the post Shoreham safety review are already part of the Standard Operating Procedures of RIAT and I understand that additional measures focussed on secondary crowds that watch from outside the perimeter of RAF Fairford will be introduced this year in order to ensure the continued and justifiably proud record of safety record that the Air Tattoo has established.
Importantly as in previous RIAT shows this outstanding celebration of aviation is expected to host no fewer than 50 air force chiefs and their respective delegations from all over the world. Chairman and Chief Executive Officers from over 25 of the world’s largest defence companies will be attending along with other senior management.
Quite apart from being an event that is open to the public and where younger people can not only be enthused about air power and maybe encouraged to make some aspect of this their future career RIAT is also considered to be a very important event in respect STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subject areas. To that end the Techno Zone will as usual play a vital role at RIAT and a number of Universities will also attend along with companies who will both describe and display a range of individual component area skills and products in the hope of interesting young people to look at the variety of air power related careers on offer.
The Royal Aeronautical Society will also as it always does be at RIAT playing a very important and active enthusing young people not just in relation to STEM but also in demonstrating some of the many wider aspects of the aerospace sector including space and the increasing use of UAV’s.
Separately, in the RAF Village, serving members of the Royal Air Force will be there to explain the many diverse roles and the work that they do. Diversity is a hugely important subject today and men and women members of the Royal Air Force will be available to provide first-hand experience to those that might wish to learn more about what the Royal Air Force does. To that end they will be able to show and demonstrate a range of equipment in current use.
As it did last year when they celebrated their 75th anniversary, RIAT 2017 will also recognise the importance of the Air Cadets. I rarely lose an opportunity to mention the importance that the Air cadets (Air Training Corp) provide to young people interested in flying and also that this provides a possible entry point into the Royal Air Force itself. The same applies to the various University Air Squadrons around the UK who I have had the pleasure of flying with twice this year.
Last but by no means least, RIAT 2017 will recognise the 75th anniversary of the founding of the RAF Regiment, a vital force in respect of protecting Royal Air Force assets and people and who throughout their history have deployed to wherever they have been required.
In summary, RIAT is simply a not to be missed event. Whether one is a professional, an enthusiast or, as in the case of the very many younger people that attend, just curious, seeking to know and understand more about air power as a future career, RIAT has everything that anyone who loves and understands the importance of airpower needs. Along with the RAF Cosford Airshow which is also held annually in June and RAF Scampton which will open its doors during September and on which I will write separately, these are all very important events that all those of us engaged within the air power community are extremely grateful to the founders and organisers who put so much effort in to ensure that they are a success.
CHW (London – 3rd July 2017)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785