Royal International Air Tattoo

RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire

15 - 17 July 2006



World's largest all military air show, The Royal International Air Tattoo, took place again at RAF Fairford over the weekend of 15 and 16 July 2006. Over 200 military aircraft of all shapes and sizes made their way to the base, arriving from the Wednesday prior to the event. Blessed by perfect sunny and hot weather much was to be seen over the Cotswolds. RIAT 2006 provided the final opportunity to see the RAF's oldest type of aeroplane being put trough its paces, as Squadron Leader Terry Cairns flew his farewell display with the Canberra PR.9 on the Sunday. For the farewell occasion, XH134 had been given a suitably marked fin.


Always a favourite with the public, the STOVL Harrier GR.7. This RIAT however produced a Royal Navy example, as this version has now replaced the Sea Harrier FA.2. ZD431 seen to the left bears the marks of 800 NAS, previously based at RNAS Yeovilton, but now based at RAF Wittering. Other types of fast jets in the programme included of course the F-16, F-15 and Tornado. In the case of the F-16, it was the well known but expertly flown Royal Netherlands Air Force example.

Two versions of the Boeing F/A-18 Hornet could be compared however. Swiss Air Force's Captain Michael Rainer showed one of their F/A-18C's which flew a quite aggresive display, apparantly made possible by an update to its flight software. Anyway, a Swiss Hornet is always worth being looked at. Fairford's somewhat moist air, especially during the morning hours just after the fog had cleared produced some nice photo opportunities.

A real heads turner proved to be the Russian MiG.29OVT. The thrust vectoring development of this now classic Russian warplane had already been shown by its designers at the 2006 ILA show at Berlin-Schönefeld during May, but due to low cloud it could not give its full display then.

It could now, and was it impressive! The tailpipes, which can be directed in two plains, enabled manoeuvres otherwise impossible. As large scale air combat is propably a thing of the past, at least for the foreseeable future, it remains to be seen how useful this trait really is, though.

The other Hornet variant shown was the F/A-18F Super Hornet. More powerful and larger than the "legacy" Hornet shown by the Swiss, this Super Hornet was flown completely clean by Boeing's Ricardo Traven, the same pilot who showed the type during 2004's RIAT. As the Super Hornet did not carry any external stores this time, it was said that the F/A-18F's display was even more impressive. Having sololely been ordered by the U.S. Navy until now, the type still awaits export orders, hence its presence at Farnborough the following days. Afterwards, it left for Bulgaria as this country is shopping for new fighters. 

Flight Lieutenant Martin Pert is propably the youngest display pilot on the circuit this year. Aged only 24, he displayed an aeroplane introduced into the RAF some years before he was even born. This Hawk T.1A from 4 FTS from RAF Valley, Anglesey, is suitably adorned with inscriptions honouring 85 years of 4 FTS (1921 - 2006) and 1 million hours of RAF Hawk flying. Other Hawks that could be seen in the air were Royal Navy marked ones in formation with civilian operated Falcon 20's from FRADU.

The new generation of European fighters was represented by a Swedish SAAB Gripen and several Eurofighter Typhoons. A Czech Air Force Gripen could be admired in the static park. The Gripen gave it's usual polished display but can it fill the shoes of it's charismatic predecessor, the SAAB Viggen? Nevertheless, it is the most succesful of its generation on the export front, now seeing service in the Czech Republic as well as in Hungary, with the first deliveries to South Africa now taking place.

There is a large choice of primary and advanced training aircraft nowadays. Many of these types were present at Fairford, a.o. driven by an RAF requirement for a new pilot training system. The fact that the Farnborough show would be not only next door, but only a few days later as well was the reason that Aermacchi's M.346 prototype was to be seen. The result of a collaboration between the Italian firm and Russia's Yakovlev it is still awaiting firm orders however. Nevertheless, the basic design has achieved some popularity with even the ever copycatting Cinese having managed a rip-off in the shape of the Hongdu L-15.

France's Mirage 2000 is not of the same generation as the Gripen and the Typhoon, but Captain Yannick Vallet's display of the type was good to see. The Mirage 2000 gained a new user this year in the shape of the Brazilian Air Force, although no new built aircraft are involved this time. Instead, these twelve aeroplanes are to be drawn from Orange's EC 5, the very base from which this Mirage 2000B was coming.

Two Typhoons could be seen in the skies over RAF Fairford, a sign that this four-nation combat aircraft is now firmly in service with the Air Forces of the UK, Germany Spain and Italy. A British and a Spanish example could be admired during the two day displays with the latter one's seen here getting airborne. 

Sadly, older types are now missing. The impending retirement of the Jaguar from RAF service meant that no examples of this type were on show, not even in the static display. Only one Tornado F.3 could be seen, albeit in the static display. 

A newcomer to the RAF is this Hawk Mk.128. Twenty have been ordered as a replacement for the older Hawk T.1A's with 4 FTS, RAF Valley. It is the advanced trainer portion of the RAF's new trainer fleet structure, with the primary trainer part to be decided shortly. 

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All pictures (c) Hans Rolink