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2010 Air Shows

RIAT -- Royal International Air Tattoo July 17-18

Location: RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire, UK.
Admission: Varies, see review below
Parking: FREE
Value: Excellent if the weather is cooperating!
Battle of Britain 70th Anniversary fly-by

Perhaps this may be the largest air show in the world, (as air shows go, and not EXPO or Trade show type as in Farnborough) this year once again. With performances lasting 8 hours per day, the air show is held annually in July at RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire.  The Royal International Air Tattoo, has gained the well-earned reputation as one of the UK's top outdoor family events.  535 aircraft attended the Air Tattoo in 2003, recording it as being officially recognized as the 'world's largest military air show,' by the Guinness World Records. This year the number of aircraft was somewhat down to around 200 and 155,000 people attended over the two days.

Admission pricing varies, but to attend RIAT, by North American standards, is quite expensive. (Air fare, hotel, car rental costs are not taken into consideration, just the event ticket(s)). A general admission ticket for either Saturday or Sunday is £42.50. Depending on the exchange rate in dollars, that is about $68.00 per person, and under 16 can go free with parent. A two day adult pass is  £65.00  or about $104.00. In someways, the costs are somewhat similar to Oshkosh, however, RIAT, in our opinion is a far superior show and a better value over all. Advance tickets were available on line at  £37.50 with a £4.00 booking fee per order and not per ticket, a bit of savings, if two or more tickets were purchased. There were additional upgrades available from £20.95 to  £325.00. The higher cost included the admission ticket,such as the FRIAT (Friends of Royal International Air Tattoo) tickets, VIP parking, catered lunch and beverages. If one was interested taking photos of arrival and departing aircraft for the show, separate tickets were required for the arrival days £13.95 per day and £18.95 for the departing day. As one can see, it can cost several hundred dollars to see this event, even if one just buys the most economical tickets. Thus the question arises is it worth it? Absolutely YES!

Warning: Tickets MUST be purchased ahead! One cannot buy tickets to the air show during the event on site! This means that one takes a gamble that the weather will be good enough and it will not be cancelled due to weather. There are no refunds due to rain. FYI, it was cancelled in 2008, due to bad weather.

This year, the RIAT was celebrating the 70th Anniversary of Battle of Britain, with WWII warbirds, friendly and foe of the past, flying next to each other. This alone made this not only a historical event, but a once in a lifetime event. There were 97+ static aircraft, and about 90+ aircraft scheduled to fly on Saturday and Sunday. At RAF Fairford one could see the Vulcan bomber performing, one of the most iconic warbirds of the Cold War era, USAF F-22 Raptor, WWII Lancaster bomber, with the latest RAF transport, and the Airbus A400M in one event.

But let's get back from the hype to reality. The airport is out in the country side, in many ways in the middle of nowhere, and by this I mean, no major or wide roads leading to it. It is easy to find due to excellent signage on all the near by roads including the M4, but once off the main roads, the English country roads are very narrow, and going through small villages sometimes it narrows down to one lane. Thus traffic can truly jam up. As for parking, early arrivals are penalized, they have to park outside the airfield, on grass, and then it is a long walk to the security gates. While late arrivals after 7:30 am can drive into the grounds and most can park on tarmac, and have to walk much less! With upgraded tickets with seats reserved this is not an issue as FRIAT tickets have better parking allocation too. But for general tickets the public has to come early to secure a good spot on the flightline. Thus that means coming early, parking miles away, lining up for hours in a mile+ long queue, with people trying to barge in, walking miles to be searched by not so well trained security volunteers (some were down right rude) with metal detector wands, then having your bags searched by RAF personal (very courteous) and then to the gates to have your tickets validated. This procedure can take some time. The parking areas are colour coded, Green, Blue, Red and etc. For example for myself I got to the "Green" parking area at 6 am thus ended up in the early parking lot, on grass. By that time there was a line of about 1/2 mile long in front of the air base gate, which is about a good 3/4 of a mile away from the event gate. So I stood in line until 7:30, and finally the line started to inch forward. It was 8:20 by the time I got to the security check, and another 15 minutes later I finally entered the show grounds. Then I had to walk another mile or so to find the Media location. Comfortable walking shoes are a MUST! Once inside the ground there were some kind of free bus shuttle was available, and I even tried to get on one, but the driver was a bit rude, and informed that he doesn't stop near my destination, so that was that.

Prior to Saturday, and after Sunday there are possibilities to watch the arrival or leaving, of aircraft to and from RIAT. One must have Park&View tickets for these. However these can be bought at the gates. Buying them ahead one can save a bit. The Park&View gets very crowded quickly, and once again one must come very early to secure a good spot for viewing or photography. Comfortable walking shoes, ear protection against noise, and water proof clothing and protection for any camera gear is highly recommended. This year it rained just about every day at these spots except on Monday, when it was nice and sunny.
The RIAT is a very large event and spread out on a very large airfield. It has its own radio broadcast during the show and as mentioned it has its own bus service. It is a very clean and well planned layout with plenty of facilities, and food vendors. Pricing for food varied from vendor to vendor: fish&chips were £8.00, some roast pork or beef was £4.50, water or pop were £1.00 to £1.50. There were a lot of other vendors hawking all kinds of items from model planes, toys, clothing, souvenirs to perfumes! There were plenty of activities for kids and of course 97+ plus of static aircraft to view.

Now to air show or "display" as it is called in the UK:

Saturday: the weather was overcast but had high ceiling, and started to clear up towards noon a bit, with some rays of sunshine later in the afternoon. Thus the scheduled performances were more or less on time. The flying started around 10 a.m. and lasted past 6 p.m., that is 8+ continuous show. It was a lot to see and the displays ranged from OK to excellent. Some of my own favourites were The Royal Netherlands Air Force’s Apache Helicopter Demo Team, who did such an unbelievable demonstration with their wildly painted Apache helicopter doing rolls and loops, and their black and orange F-16AM who flew along side the Apache! The Belgian Air Force’s F-16AM flown by Commandant Michel “Mitch” Beulen, of 349 Squadron, the Vulcan bomber – the only one still flying, and a special mention of the magnificent effort shown by the disabled pilots of the Italian “WeFly!” Team. My other favourites were the French aerobatic team: Patroille de France, with their graceful ballet in the air, and of course the tribute to Battle of Britain 70th Anniversary fly-by of multi-national aircrafts ranging from WWII warbirds to the latest jets. The Lancaster made a quick and brief solo appearance too. The F-22 Raptor Demo blew everyone away and it was declared to be the over all best in the show.

Sunday: the weather was very overcast with low ceiling, with rain nearby, but missed the airfield. The sky started to clear toward the late afternoon a bit. However due to the weather most of the performers who actually performed did a “flat show” or shortened ones, due to the low ceiling. There was a lot less flying on Sunday with noticeable gaps, and omission from the program. The much anticipated flight of the Lancaster did not take place, and that disappointed many in the crowds and myself too. At least the Vulcan flew, and the Heritage or Historical flight of the Spitfire with the Typhoon was very exciting to watch.

Over all, RIAT was a worthwhile and splendid event, if somewhat expensive when compared to North American air shows, (not taking travel cost into consideration, just only the cost of attending the event). The weather certainly had a major effect on the show. We would highly recommended attending this show for any aviation enthusiast!

I would like to thank RAFCTE Head of Media and Public Relations Richard Arquati, Laura Iles, Press and Publicity Officer for their generous help and for their hospitality!

Major Aircraft/Performers Presented:

  • Red Arrows Display Team
  • USAF F/A-18E/F Super Hornet Demo Team
  • USAF F-22A Raptor
  • Battle of Britain fly-by
  • Apache Solo Demo Team from Holland
  • Belgian F-16 A MLU
  • Patrouille de France Alpha Jet French Air Force
  • Patrouille Suisse F-5E Tiger II Swiss Air Force
  • JAS39C Gripen Swedish Air Force
  • Vulcan XH558 bomber
  • and too many others to list.
Rating: 9.25 out of 10
the Vulcan bomber - the only one still flying
Airbus A400M
French aerobatic team: Patroille de France, with their graceful ballet in the air
The Royal Netherlands Air Force's Apache Helicopter Demo Team, who did such an unbelievable demonstration with their wildly painted Apache helicopter doing rolls and loops, and their black and orange F-16AM who flew along side the Apache
back   Review by AIRSHOWSREVIEW LLC. Photography as noted.
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