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In The Hands of the Weather Gods!
Andrew Evans reports from the Royal International Air Tattoo 2009 held over the weekend of 18th and 19th July 2009.
By Andy Evans and John Featherstone.

Following the the unfortunate cancellation of RIAT in 2008, a number of logistical and organisational changes took place to this years show to (hopefully) prevent bad weather from allowing at least one show day to go ahead. It was also important for RIAT to come back with a bang in order to re-attract the crowds back. This would be something that would not be easy with the current economic climate significantly limiting the activity of military air arms the world over.

New Show, New Team Members!
Adding to the refreshed face of RIAT, the 2009 show saw a brand new commentary team fronting the main public face of the show. Drawn from military, journalist and enthusiast backgrounds the new team consisted of Wing Commander 'Spiv' Gair, Ben Dunnell and was led by Dan O'Hagan. Dan is probably more well known for his football commentary but he is also an active member of the aviation enthusiast community and a team member at the popular UK Airshow Review (UKAR) website. As with any new team, there will always be a learning curve however this new team have started with a bang. The commentary was sharp and accurate with non of the usual drivel that airshow commentary is famous for, the mix of knowledge and enthusiasm made for an interesting dialogue between them and to the public. Perhaps a little unfairly the spotlight was firmly fixed on Dan who knew that the slightest mistake on his part would lead to a lifetime of ridicule on the UKAR forums!

Royal International Credit Crunch?
Never before has a RIAT been staged at a time when there is a major recession and war being conducted simultaneously. This was therefore inevitably going to have an impact on the amount of aircraft participation from the home teams and foreign air forces. Most notably, the RAF and USAF had a much reduced presence at this years show with no fast jet displays from the USAF and a cancelled C-17 display due to operational commitments. On the RAF's side, they did manage to get one of every frontline type onto Static however, there were far fewer aircraft present than past shows. The same could be said to static participation from other nations which lead to a total static participation of approximately 102 aircraft; a low figure for RIAT. This reduced presence had two major positive results which lifted RIAT out of economic "gloom".

RIAT were proud to welcome the Algerian Air Force and their C-130 on static display as the 51st nation to bring their aircraft to the show. In adittion, the lack of RAF and USAF participation on the flying display meant that the more special displays had a chance to display. In total the RIAT debut of the AdlA Rafale B display plus no less than three F/A-18 displays joined a pair of Gripens and the traditional F-16 demo from the Dutch resulted in an orgy of afterburners in the skies above Fairford. A sight unrivalled at any other show in the country or world.

The centrepiece of the show this year fell to the Royal Navy. Celebrating 100 years of naval flight, the RN put on a balbo flypast of current assets and a few old such as the Sea Vixen. This was a unique experience and helped give RIAT its special edge.

The Weather and Logisitical Changes
2008 saw the cancellation of the world's largest military airshow after a week of extremely heavy rain. In an effort to prevent cancellation happening in the event of a repeat in the weather, two key changes were made to car parking arrangements on arrival and show days.

 On arrival days, the external grass car parks were not used and allowed to rest. The main cause of the devastation to the car parks in 2008 was the state they were in after arrivals days, by allowing cars to park on base this problem was removed.

In addition, the general public were parked on base as much as possible before the external car parks were opened. This allowed for the show to go on regardless of the weather due to the organisers knowing precisely how many people would arrive due to (for the first time) adopting an advanced ticket only policy for RIAT. The downside to this on base parking was that 99% of flying aircraft were based on the north side of the airfield, away from the crowd. Whilst this did not afford the photo opportunities that have been afforded in previous years, it is important that the show went on regardless. A small price to pay.

One of the unique aspects of RIAT is that the show has always tried to put the aircraft enthusiast first and provide facilities that they want. This is catered for on arrivals days by the "Park and View" facilities with their American BBQ.

However, for those lucky few who can afford a full week at the airfield, RIAT provides the perfect package known as FRIAT. Catering to the pockets of different enthusiasts with varying packages, FRIAT provides a private enclosure and grandstand seat offering the best photography on the airfield of displays. Whilst at the same time, a special spot for departures day and early access to the static on the Friday with no crowds in the way. FRIAT also cater for the younger enthusiast by arranging for the pilot stars of the event to visit the enclosure for autographs. In previous years, the package has come under criticism for poor quality food however, the arrangements have now been changed after the FRIAT team have listened to their customers. The food is now cheaper and much better quality.

Whilst RIAT 2009 was not the greatest of RIAT's, it still showed why it is so great. With such a superb flying display line-up and some ultra rare static participants, the winning formula remained. As always, Marion's guys and gals that run FRIAT did their up most in sometime difficult conditions to make the experience as special as possible; even trying to take off from the grandstand! RIAT 2010 will have to be a good show to satisfy the purists but as always, RIAT will always be a success.

RIAT 2010 is scheduled for 17th and 18th July 2010, we recommend checking the Air Tattoo Website for more information. If you would like to see more imagery from the show, please visit the Gallery for a vast array of Photo's from all six days of RIAT 2009.

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