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Royal International Air Tattoo – Outstanding Celebration of Military Aviation By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.


typh30 Jun 15. Unrivalled in terms of intensity, spectacle, flying display and drama it is now less than three weeks before, on July 17th, the gates at RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire open to welcome the start of the 2015 Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT). Undoubtedly the best networking event on the annual aerospace and defence calendar and one that is certainly not to be missed by professionals, RIAT is far more than being just the best military air show in the world. It is ‘the’ place where Air Forces from around the world gather not only to meet their opposite numbers and to see what the Royal Air Force is doing but also to meet friends and industry colleagues.

So, RIAT really is a fantastic event and given its international standing it is hardly a surprise that it is recognised by most military air and industry professionals as being the greatest airshow and networking event in the world. So what is it that sets RIAT apart from big air and trade show events such as Paris and Farnborough? Not only is it the more relaxed atmosphere but importantly it is because RIAT today is the only real large scale military airshow in the western world.

I understand that the 2015 Royal International Air Tattoo is on target to being the best ever show and that, so far, 223 aircraft from over 20 nations are due to take part. As already implied, from an industry/military perspective RIAT is unique in terms of what it offers all participants in terms of networking potential and this year will see the number of corporate, industry and non-government participants all increase. The ability for participants to host news conferences, make announcements in their own chalets or areas set aside for such purposes is extremely valuable just as is the ability to host and entertain guests in excellent private facilities that have superb access. The bottom line is one that makes RIAT a mixture of business and pleasure, the ability to discuss military and industry politics, to meet useful people, to remember times past conversing with colleagues old and new or to simply relax, be entertained and just view the static aircraft display and those aircraft flying really is unequalled.

With another record breaking year in prospect in terms of military aircraft and helicopters both on display and flying RIAT will once again be flying the flag for military air power just as it has been doing since the first show was held at North Wield Airfield back in 1971. Inspired by two air traffic controllers, Paul Bowen and Tim Prince, the latter individual would spend the next 42 years with the Royal Air Force Charitable Trust, much of that time as its chief executive officer, earning considerable and justified respect for his excellent work over all those years. Working in partnership with the Royal Air Force, the aerospace and defence and industry including big international players such as BAE Systems who are title sponsor, the Royal Air Force Charitable Trust has done a remarkable job of work ensuring that RIAT is a success year after year.

With Tim Prince retiring on completion of the 2014 Tattoo this year is the first RIAT event without his direct involvement since 1971. The new CEO of the Royal Air Force Charitable Trust and who are responsible for organising RIAT is Andy Armstrong and this will be his first Tattoo. I wish him well in filling the very big boots that he inherited. One thing is for certain, the culture and tradition that Tim Prince built over so many years and that developed RIAT into the best military airshow anywhere in the world will not have changed. Armstrong is supported by a strong board under the chairmanship of Alan Smith and an excellent senior management team that includes Caroline Rogers and David Winstone.

Following establishment of the Royal Air Force Charitable Trust (RAFCT) Board of Trustees in 2005 past chairman have included Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Knight and Air Chief Marshal Sir John Cheshire. The current Chairman and President of RIAT is Air Marshal Sir Kevin Leeson.

Regarded by many as the outstanding recognition and celebration of aviation RIAT this years’ tattoo is once again expected to see close to fifty international Air Force chiefs from around the world attending along with respective military delegations, senior government officials and defence industry leaders. To these very important and successful senior military individuals RIAT really is an unmissable event and it would be wrong to underestimate the valuable building and other work that is done throughout the three days of RIAT. New contacts are made and established, new ideas and potential partnerships discussed and who knows what else besides. To quote an immediate past Danish Air Force chief, Major-General Henrik Roboe Dam who was Commander Tactical Air Command until last year told me last year, “RIAT is an absolutely unmissable event and one that is always very firmly fixed on my personal calendar”.

But while RIAT is the most important show on the annual calendar for senior members of the Royal Air Force, international air forces, senior industry people and various military teams and delegations from all over the world, many of whom also being responsible for bringing aircraft to Fairford for display, it is just as much a show for the public as well. RIAT and the RAFCT Trust make this it possible, the Royal Air Force Charitable Trust, work in partnership with the Royal Air Force to showcase air power related capabilities to the British public. The theme of the 2015 Tattoo is Securing the Skies – Past, Present and Future. With CSR and SDSR 2015 looming large on the horizon the chosen theme for this year is certainly very apt.

Apart from various local air show events that tend to mainly display and fly historic aircraft and also that of the RAF Cosford Airshow, the latter event being the only remaining air show event held on a RAF base now that RAF Leuchars is no longer an active air base and, I suspect with regret, that we may have witnessed the last show at RAF Waddington having taken place last year, there is in terms of military air show events nothing in the UK, Europe or even North America that comes anywhere near to offering what RIAT does.

Note also that when it was held at Le Bourget last month, only two military fast jets actually flew during the whole of the Paris Airshow 2015 – a French built Rafale plus JF-17 fighter aircraft belonging to the Pakistan Air Force. No use beating about the bush, if Paris was unusually bad this year in terms of displays by NATO member fast jet capability it was not that much worse than what appeared at the Farnborough International air show last year. The point here is that while the two European shows have plenty of space to show off large commercial jets the reason for their continuing existence is because they are now perceived as commercial trade shows.

Defence has its really big international trade show as well and one that I also have to say works very well as a networking event but that has a completely different set of strengths and objectives is the bi-annual DSEI defence show. DSEI will open its doors once again at the ExCel Centre in London between the 15th and 18th September. Covers all aspects of defence – land, sea and air – together with strategic defence, military and all forms of equipment capability this too is rightly to be considered a must attend event for all those professionally engaged in the defence and security arena.

One thing is for sure, the public absolutely love RIAT and they come in their many thousands particularly on Saturday and Sunday to be enthralled at the aircraft on display, those flying and everything else that is laid on for them. The vent attracts seasoned air show veterans and former military right through to those that are just wide eyed and interested in all forms of air power be this ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) or Combat Jets, Transport and Heavylift, Tanker Refuelling, Rotary or Simulation and Training or maybe, just coming out and having a good time.

RIAT has two other hugely important functions that I would mention too. The first is to raise funds for the Royal Air Force Charitable Trust whose important mission statement is based on the requirement to enable the Trust to meet its objectives. These include: the need to maintain high standards of quality and safety in the services it provides to its stakeholders; to promote the Royal Air Force’s heritage; to encourage air-mindedness and the aviation-related education of youth; to contribute to defence diplomacy by promoting the international reputation of the RAF and to support the delivery of the RAF’s Engagement Strategy.

The second is the role it plays in attracting young people to join the military and importantly, to consider careers in aerospace related engineering. The Royal Air Force will of course be there in strength with career personnel and will as always include the Red Arrows team who not only take part in the display but, being the professionals that they are, will be on hand to help, encourage and answer questions that young visitors may have. The Air Cadets (Air Training Corps) will as usual be putting on a show of strength as well as they look to encourage more youngsters to join.

Perhaps of most importance to me is the Techno Zone which is jointly sponsored by Lockheed Martin and the Royal Aeronautical Society. Here youngsters with an interest in technology and particular those that are aviation related can get hands-on with technology made available by Rolls-Royce, Lockheed Martin, QinetiQ, Airbus, GCHQ, Lotus F1, NATS plus many others as teams work hard to demonstrate the practical application of materials, communications, flight systems and propulsion all geared to the under 16’s.

There are many hands-on opportunities available to try your hand at and the list of participants includes NATS (formally National Air Traffic Services) Lockheed Martin, Airbus, Rolls-Royce, Martin Baker, Raytheon, GE Aviation, QinetiQ, MOOG, GCHQ, the Royal Aeronautical Society and others all seeking to encourage and inspire future aerospace engineers. RIAT is an important showcase to achieve this and there is substantial anecdotal evidence that zones such as this are succeeding in encouraging more to look at STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects in terms of career ambition and achievement. Royal Air Force engineering will be represented as usual by RAF Cosford who will be on hand to test skills and provide ideas and support and there will be competitions

I have already mentioned that I expect the show to have 223 aircraft from 20 nations taking part. Occasionally of course disappointments occur and during the many RIAT shows that I have attended I can recall a couple. One was about ten years or so ago when torrential rain over many days left the airfield in a condition that was hardly conducive with holding a public event. The other was one facet of last year that had anticipated and hoped that RIAT would witness the first Lockheed Martin F-35 aircraft flying over British soil. Sadly that was not to be for now well understood technical reasons and neither will it be here in 2015. But let me be the first to reveal that most probably RIAT next year in 2016 (note that RIAT 2016 will take place a week earlier than this year and will open its doors on Friday 8th July in order to accommodate a change in date for Farnborough International) will see the international debut of both the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter ‘A’ and ‘B’ variants.

That is a year away of course, in the meantime note the 17th to 19th July RIAT 2015 dates in the diary and don’t miss it. I will be there over all three days and very much hope to see you there.

CHW (London – 30th June 2015)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS


Tel: 07710-779785

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