During July RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire becomes a hive of activity as the Royal International Air Tattoo takes place. One of the largest military airshows in the world is held to support and raise funds for the Royal Air Force Charitable Trust. Such is the worldwide interest in the annual show, spectator numbers up to 200,000 can be expected to visit over the 3 show days with many more attending the arrivals and departure days.
The main airshow theme for 2023 was Skytanker to mark the 100th anniversary of first successful air-to-air refuelling. There were a number of tankers in attendance on the ground and the air including US Air Force KC-135, Saudi Air Force A330 and a privately operated KC-135 of Metrea Mobility Aerospace which was formerly operated by the Republic of Singapore Air Force. In the flying display the German Air Force provided an Airbus A400M with a Tornado IDS and Tornado ECR. They displayed with much acclaim over the weekend providing wonderful photographic opportunities. A French Air & Space Force C-135FR Stratotanker performed 3 flypasts on the Friday only in less-than-ideal weather conditions.
A second theme of ITAF100 was celebrating the centenary of the Italian Air Force. A large contingent of historic and current aircraft operated by the IAF attended in the static display, with a F-2000A Typhoon, and a T-346A Master participating in the flying display.
Prior to the show weekend, the Air Tattoo began the regular announcements of attending aircraft in February which culminated in a large and varied number of aircraft attending, although a number did subsequently have to cancel. For the avid aviation enthusiasts & photographers this was disappointing news but did not diminish any interest in the show. Air Tattoo did secure the Me 262 reproduction D-IMTT for it’s first appearance in the UK, the debut of the Saab Gripen E, and what may be the final RIAT appearances of Cold War icons, the Polish Air Force Sukhoi Su-22 Fitter and Hellenic Air Force RF-4E Phantom II.
The 2023 show also took the opportunity to showcase aircraft using more sustainable technologies and fuels, with the Cranfield Aerospace Solutions hydrogen powered Britten- Norman Islander located in the static display.
Unlike the 40° heat of the previous year., the weather this year was much more unsettled. Decent weather for the arrival’s days changed for the opening show day on Friday with the forecasted heavy rain sadly lasting all day. A truncated show did take place opened by the Saudi Hawks first display in the UK since 2011. The highlight was a spirited display by Flt Lt Matthew Brighty in the RAF Typhoon Blackjack in very poor weather.
Saturday was much brighter day with a few showers, but a strong cross winds did prevent some aircraft flying notably the BBMF, USAF B-52 and Me262. The cross wind speeds were significantly reduced on Sunday and a full display programme took place.
Amongst the standout visitors for 2023 were McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier IIs from the Spanish and Italian Navy, the immaculate Lockheed WC-130J Weatherbird of the United States Air Force 53WRS/403 Wing, and potentially the last appearance at RIAT by a pair of Italian Air Force AMXs.
Fast jet displays included were from the French Air Force Rafale, Finnish Air Force F-18, RAF Typhoon, Czech and Swedish Gripen, Spanish Navy AV-8B and Belgian F-16 with the more sedate Swedish Saab Sk.60 to name just a few.
Overall, RIAT 2023 was up to its usual high standard with a large and varied collection providing up to 8 hours of flying displays over the weekend.
RIAT 2024 will be back on 19th-21sT July 2024 and will celebrate 50 years of the iconic F-16 Fighting Falcon.
Report by Gary Morris with images from Steve Kilvington & Matt Sudol.
© South West Aviation Photographers 2023