FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Royal International Air Tattoo 2019

Posted in England, Fairford by folkestonejack on July 21, 2019

Every five years or so, I make a trek down to RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire to enjoy the spectacle of the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT), the world’s largest military air show. This edition saw 245 aircraft from 25 countries, on static display or in the air, ranging from small turboprop trainers to heavy transports.

The airshow celebrated a number of anniversaries this year, including the 100th anniversary of British Airways and the 70th anniversary of the founding of NATO. The first of these saw an eye-catching flypast with a British Airways 747-400 in a splendid retro BOAC livery accompanied by the Red Arrows on the appropriately designated flight number BA100. A gap in the clouds opened at the perfect moment and illuminated the spectacle beautifully.

British Airways retro-liveried 747-400 (G-BYGC) performs a flypast with the Red Arrows at RIAT 2019

I was particularly delighted to see a MiG-21 flying at the air tattoo for the first time since 2001 courtesy of the Romanian Air Force who sent over their modernised air-defence variant. These supersonic fighters are true veterans, having first entered service with the Soviet Union in 1959. An impressive 11,000 fighters rolled off the production lines and have been flown by 60 nations. I had seen one on static display on a previous visit, but it was a treat to see one in the air.

The MiG-21 was not the only Soviet creation on display. The Ukrainian air force had sent over two of their Sukhoi Su-27 (‘Flanker’) fighters from the 831st Tactical Aviation Brigade at Myrhorod and an Ilyushin Il-76 (‘Candid’) transport from the 25th Transport Aviation Brigade at Melitopol Air Base. For a jet that first appeared in 1977 the Su-27 looked as impressive today in its manoeuvrability as I’m sure it must have done for astonished audiences when it first appeared at western air shows.

The Patrouille de France take off to perform their acrobatic displays over Fairford

Other highlights included a beautifully painted C-130E Hercules from the Pakistani Air Force; an exhilerating display from the Finnish Air Force’s F/A-18 Hornet; and wonderful acrobatic displays from a number of national teams such as the Red Arrows, the Patrouille de France and the Frecce Tricolori.

Practicalities

It was a straightforward journey for me – an hour by train from London to Swindon, then around half an hour on an airshow shuttle bus to the showground. Once you are inside the scale of the show is astonishing, stretching around 2 miles alongside the runway and taking up in excess of 300 acres. Thankfully, there is a free bus inside the grounds (with 8 stops along the length of the showground) so when the feet start to give up you can take it easy.

I stayed around to the end of the show on the Saturday and discovered an absolutely massive queue for the shuttle buses back to Swindon. Once on board the return journey took an hour, without really seeming to hit any massive jams. I was thankful I was coming back to an overpriced hotel room rather than trying to make an evening train.

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Howl of farewell

Posted in England, Fairford by folkestonejack on July 18, 2015

The last airworthy Avro Vulcan, XH558, is set to retire in a couple of months, bringing to an end an astonishing 55 year career in the air. It is a mark of her incredible popularity in the UK that her busy farewell tour has drawn the crowds wherever she has appeared, eager to hear that distinctive howl one last time.

An impressive take off at the Royal International Air Show

Vulcan XH558’s impressive take off at the Royal International Air Tattoo 2015

Watching the delta wing silhouette of the Vulcan in the air today it is hard to believe that this aircraft was first conceived in the 1940s. It certainly feels as though you are looking at a design many decades younger, rather than a stable mate of the Avro Lancaster (the two aircraft were designed by Roy Chadwick).

The Vulcan emerged from the need to develop a long range bomber to carry the UK’s nuclear deterrent. It is chilling to consider that at the height of the cold war the Vulcans and their crews stood ready to take off within two minutes in the event of a Soviet attack. In the event, the only military action seen by the Vulcans in their operational history were the long range bombing raids of the Falklands War.

XH558 was delivered to RAF Waddington on 1st July 1960 and would go on to become the last Vulcan to leave RAF service, following active duty (1960-84) with a stint flying solo in displays until 1993. It would be another 14 years before her howl was heard once more, the result of one of the most impressive restoration efforts in the engineering world. Since then, she has delighted many an audience, but her time is now up – XH558 has flown 10% longer than any other Vulcan and is well into uncharted territory.

Avro Vulcan XH558 'The Spirit of Great Britain' with the Red Arrows

Avro Vulcan XH558 ‘The Spirit of Great Britain’ with the Red Arrows

To get this far has cost a whopping £22 million but her retirement is not a question of money. The three expert companies on which the Vulcan to the Sky Trust depends had decided to cease their support at the end of the 2015 flying season. This effectively meant that the Vulcan would be prohibited from flying beyond this point under Civil Aviation Authority regulations.

The display at this year’s Royal International Air Tattoo at Fairford was the best that I have seen – a stunning takeoff and climb matched by a wingover that drew appreciation from everyone. As if this wasn’t sufficient delight, we had the pleasure of a flypast with the Red Arrows and a rare landing with the braking parachute deployed. If this is the last I see of her in the air, that is certainly how I want to remember her!

XH558 deploys her braking chute on landing at RAF Fairford

XH558 deploys her braking chute on landing at RAF Fairford

The Vulcan still has plenty more appearances before she lands for the last time and will no doubt be attracting thousands of spectators and filling many more column inches in the run up to that sad day (my favourite still has to be the way she photobombed a wedding in Scarborough recently).

If you have the opportunity to see XH558 fly as she enters her last couple of months I would recommend it, but if not you can also see a couple of rather wonderful videos on youtube that someone in the crowd filmed of her display and flypast at the tattoo.

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Royal International Air Tattoo 2015

Posted in England, Fairford by folkestonejack on July 18, 2015

After a six year gap it seemed like a good time to return to RAF Fairford for the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT), the world’s largest military air show, to witness the last appearance of the Vulcan and a selection of exciting displays. Thankfully the weather co-operated and everything came together just perfectly on the day.

A Kawasaki P-1 and two Mirage 2000N jets taxi down the runway

A Kawasaki P-1 and two Mirage 2000N jets taxi down the runway

The scale of the event impressed from the moment that we entered the showground, with planes on static display stretching out ahead of us as far as the eye could see. This year’s show brought together an astonishing 232 aircraft from 22 countries, ranging from crowd favourites like the Red Arrows to rarities such as the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force’s Kawasaki P-1 maritime patrol aircraft (making it’s international debut at RIAT).

Over eight hours we were treated to a wonderful variety of displays from fast jets, helicopters, warbirds and national display teams. It is hard to pick out individual highlights as all the displays were special in their own way, but a few moments from the day stood out for me:

1. A plethora of spectacular take offs – the take offs of the Avro Vulcan, Mikoyan MiG-29 Fulcrum and F-16 were all spectacular. The pilot of the Team Zeus F-16 Fighting Falcon deserves a special mention for inverting just moments after leaving the ground!

A spectacular take off from the Polish Air Force MiG-29

A spectacular take off from the Polish Air Force MiG-29

2. The unusual synchro pairing of a Royal Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon and Spitfire to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. The Typhoon has been given the paint job of the Hurricane flown by Flight Lieutenant James Brindley Nicolson, who was the only recipient of the Victoria Cross during the summer of 1940.

The Typhoon in its special paint job to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain

The Typhoon in its special paint job to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain

3. The thrilling sight of a Mi-24 helicopter, a stalwart of the Soviet and Warsaw Pact armoury since it first flew in 1969. The Mil Mi-24 (given the NATO codename ‘Hind’) has seen extensive battlefield service as both a troop carrier and as a gunship. It has a distinctive appearance that sets it apart from other helicopters and it’s not hard to see why Soviet pilots refered to them as ‘flying tanks’.

I have never been the biggest fan of helicopter displays but today helped changed my view on that. I was intrigued by the Hind and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

A cold war veteran - the Czech Air Force's Mil Mi-24V 'Hind' Helicopter

A cold war veteran – the Czech Air Force’s Mil Mi-24V ‘Hind’ Helicopter

4. A thrilling role demo from the two Army Air Corps Apaches with enough pyrotechnics to shake off the last traces of sleepiness from our stay in a rather odd windowless hotel room!

One of two Army Air Corps Apaches featured in the role demo

One of two Army Air Corps Apaches featured in the role demo

5. A really skilful and thrilling display from the Ramex Delta display team, flying two of the French Air Force’s Dassault Mirage 2000N nuclear strike aircraft.

A pair of Mirage 2000N jets from the French Air Force  in the air as Ramex Delta

A pair of Mirage 2000N jets from the French Air Force in the air as Ramex Delta

The tattoo was also commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain and featured a flypast from 14 veteran aircraft which included Spitfires, Hurricanes, a Seafire and the world’s last flying Bristol Blenheim bomber. The sight and sound of each successive wave was quite wonderful to behold.

I enjoyed myself thoroughly, scampering around to photograph the aircraft on static display before taking up a grandstand seat and attempting to take some halfway decent shots of the flying display. The end result was close to 1500 photographs, a small selection of which can be seen below. I wonder whether it will take another six years before I am lured back again…

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