With an entrance flanked by a line of Typhoons, Tornados and MiGs, this year’s Royal International Air Tattoo certainly knew how to make a big first impression. We were there from the moment the gates opened, and a little before in fact, and left only to the nagging tones of a tannoy insisting that yes they really were going to be throwing us out unless we took our own leave. You already know what my personal highlight was (hint: it’s the Vulcan again) but there was more than enough across both the static and aerial displays to have kept us entertained for way longer than the Sunday on which we attended. In fact this year’s show eclipsed even the high standard set in 2014 with a vast variety of aircraft which thankfully moved away from the occasional ‘grey fighter jet’ syndrome from which these events can sometimes suffer. Much of the credit for that has to go to the individual air forces themselves who had broken out the airbrushes to create a frankly stunning series of liveries. Top marks though go to the F16 ‘Zeus’ demo team whose classical Greek inspired design really lifted the crowd as a band of thick cloud threatened to disrupt proceedings.
Other aircraft worthy of mention include the A400M which once again appeared not to have been told that it’s actually a large transporter rather than a nimble acrobatic. It lifted into the air in a manner that simply has to be seen to be believed and proceeded to fly a tight routine that continued to suspend belief. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this workhorse though is just how quiet its four turboprop engines are. Impressive work Airbus. Equally entertaining were the helicopters which, to be honest, can sometimes be a bit hit or miss. The Apaches went for a typically American approach of huge explosions and fireballs but the more refined Osprey proved the real star. As the world’s first tiltrotor aircraft its distinct shape is easily recognised but the speed at which it can switch between horizontal and vertical flight is quite remarkable. It also managed to recreate the ‘bow’ routine once performed by the much missed Harriers. I think I’m getting far too nostalgic for my age.
It goes without saying that the Red Arrows were as exceptional as ever but this year the Swiss gave them a very good run for their money. Their PC-7 aerobatic team have been gaining rave reviews and it wasn’t hard to work out way. Precise and measured, the slower speeds than those used by their main rivals meant that we got to appreciate every nuance of the performance. There were even a few moves I’d never seen before including multiple cross overs one after the other. Very impressive.
When we weren’t marvelling at the sky we were busy exploring the static displays which proved equally numerous and varied. The chance to climb aboard the RAF’s first A400M Atlas was not to be missed and served as a stark contrast to the cold war era Vulcan we’d just been exploring. Everything was so neat and tidy and not an exposed rivet in sight. I also enjoyed the Sukhoi Su-22 which sadly wasn’t flying this year.
Of course it would be remiss of those in attendance not to forget the true purpose of these machines nor the jobs that those who fly them are trained to do. Bringing that point home was the seventy fifth anniversary of the Battle of Britain, the world’s first major campaign to be fought entirely in the air. Despite sustained bombing raids by the Luftwaffe our Royal Air Force eventually won out leading directly to Hitler abandoning his planned invasion of Britain and all that might have entailed. Churchill famously stated that “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”, and it was they we remembered as a remarkable troupe of twelve Spitfires, five Hurricanes and a Messerschmitt took to the sky. It was genuinely spine tingling stuff matched perfectly to quotes and music of the era being played out across the loud speakers.
I couldn’t help thinking what the German group sat in front of us thought about all this and was reminded of a certain Basil Fawlty. “Don’t mention the war. I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it.”
Joking aside it was a superb display and rightly won the award for best overall flying demonstration. I’ve never seen so many Spitfires and Hurricanes together at once and it gave just a small sense of what it would have been like to watch whole squadrons departing during the second world war. Sobering and pride inducing in equal measure. Needless to say that after such a great day we already have plans to attend next year’s show. Quite how the organisers will better 2015 though is anyone’s guess. A return for the Stealth Bomber perhaps?