Thunderbirds are go at RIAT… RAF Fairford, July 14th 2007
Not even the threat of torrential rains in this unseasonable British summer, which had already resulted in the cancellation of the RAF Waddington air show two weeks before, could deter the crowds from attending the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford and those that turned up on Saturday July 14th were rewarded with reasonable weather and an excellent show with something for everyone. The flying display was longer than normal to accommodate all the participants but the static display appeared to have shrunk somewhat with less aircraft than usual and a large area in the middle given over to arena events, car shows, robotics and other attractions aimed at appealing to families. Despite the slimmed down static park, RIAT continues to attract interesting and unusual items and this year was no exception containing, as it did, such items as the Indian Air Force IL-78 Midas, Hawk and Su-30 Flankers, Hellenic Air Force A7 Corsairs and smartly painted Hercules and a Brazilian Air Force R-99A making a rare visit to the UK. Many of the visiting aircraft were sporting special colour schemes, making them stand out amongst the standard grey that now seems to adorn the majority of modern military aircraft.
The major theme of this year’s show was the commemoration of 60 years of the United States Air Force with many American aircraft taking part, both in the static park and the flying display. With everything from the P-51 Mustang and Dakota of World War 2 to the F-117 Nighthawk and B-1B of the modern era and a model X-35, the aircraft on display spanned the six decades of the USAF’s existence.
Also being celebrated this year was the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and a flypast of the four original BBMF aircraft, three Spitfire Pr.XIXs and Hurricane IIc, together with the Red Arrows provided another of the special formations that RIAT has become synonymous with.
Opening the flying display on Saturday, the Finnish Air Force F-18 Hornet was just one of many fast jet displays throughout the day. Others were provided by the always impressive F-16 of the Royal Netherlands Air Force with another provided by the Belgian Air force. The Swiss Air Force got in on the act with another F-18 display and both the RAF and Spanish Air Force provided impressive displays of the very capable Eurofighter Typhoon. An all too brief appearance was made by an Indian Air Force Su-30 Flanker to the disappointment of many. The USAF contribution to the fast jet displays, as part of the 60th anniversary commemoration section of the flying display, was the F-15E Strike Eagle, displayed solo and alongside the P-51D Mustang ‘Miss Velma’ as part of the USAF Heritage Flight. Other flying items commemorating the 60th anniversary included a Consolidated Catalina, North American F-86 Sabre and the B-1B Lancer. Also present in this section of the show was a welcome display by the F-117 Nighthawk, Stealth Fighter, in what is likely to be one of its last UK displays before being retired from active service next year.
Famous for their slick routines and precision flying, the star attractions of the show for many were the USAF’s Thunderbirds. Performing for the first time at RIAT as part of a rare overseas tour, with their uniquely identifiable F-16s, they were definite crowd pleasers performing close formation flying with great skill in what is, after all, a combat fighter aircraft.