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More of the Same?
The line-up billed for RIAT 2011 looked like it was going to be a superb weekend, until the weather had something to say about it!
By Andy Evans.

RAF Fairford has played host to the Royal International Air Tattoo (formerly International Air Tattoo) for many years however, the airshow itself has been running for many more years than this. Indeed 2011 was to be a big celebration for RIAT as this would be the 40th anniversary of the event. In recent years, many UK airshows have suffered when trying to secure acts in an economic downturn, but RIAT had always pulled something out of the bag and this year was no exception.

Have the Red Arrows turned Green?
The uninitiated, they could be forgiven for being confused; there was a team of Hawks in town flying quite like the Red Arrows but painted GREEN! What was that all about?

In fact, it was a RIAT debutant and major star of the 2011 event, the Saudi Hawks of the Royal Saudi Arabian Air Force who were in Europe for a very rare tour. Their aircraft look very similar to the Red Arrows and they perform very similar manoeuvres, this is no accident however as the team are trained by ex-Red Arrow pilots.

It was a great pleasure seeing such a rare and special team in the skies above Fairford, but also such a shame. Due to the weather, they only performed in front of the public on the Sunday!

All the stars of the show!
With this year being the 40th Anniversary of the event, a number of rare or star items attended. This wasn't just in the air where we saw the ultra rare likes of an Italian Tornado and C-27J, French Rafale, Turkish F-16, USAF A-10C and Dutch Apache gracing our skies but on static display. There was nothing more special at the event than a pair of static visitors all the way from the Ukraine namely, a Il-78 and the awesome imposing sight of an Su-27UB Flanker! The Ukrainians have been absent from UK shores for many years and whilst "only" on static, they were made extremely welcome by the crowds. This welcome being repaid on departure as the Flanker put on some aerobatics immediately on take off, much to the delight of many watching (and the surprise of others).

In a strange twist this year, perhaps in attempt to attract more youngsters and teenage families, the aircraft weren't the only stars at RIAT 2011. On the Saturday, around lunchtime, pop star Alexander Burke entertained the crowds which was apparently a success. The decision to book Alexander has been questioned by the aviation enthusiast community, especially as the money could have been spent on other rare flying acts. These queries got louder after the show as there was a definite lack of loud action around the time of her performance, almost a choreographed time of inactivity? That said, the RIAT organisers probably have a much better idea than most enthusiasts over what makes money and, providing the main focus remains with the aircraft, I'm sure most enthusiasts won't mind!

Same old, Same old?
Over the past four years, RIAT has been dogged by bad weather and 2011 was no exception. This was no more true than on the Saturday where bad weather meant that most aircraft could not display. The weather did clear eventually however the RIAT committee then made a very strange decision.... to not allow any of the stars of the show (that most enthusiasts wanted to see) that had cancelled in the morning to display, carrying on with the schedule as normal! This decision angered many thousands of visitors to the event and we hope this is something that RIAT have taken note of and will give priority to rare star events in the future.

Other than the star items though, the usual suspects were all present, and there seemed to be no unique set pieces for 2011 that have made RIAT so famous. The closest thing that RIAT had, was copying the Cotswold Airshow's tribute to the Hunter with a single formation fly-by.

All this coupled with very loud side stalls trying to sell perfume.etc, many people did think that RIAT dropped the ball in 2011 and are hoping to see much improvement in 2012!

RAF Fairford or Star Trek????
Strange heading? All will become clear! Whilst due to Libya the home teams efforts were diminished on previous years, RIAT did try and arrange for something special from the RAF; and succeeded!

Making its very first public appearance and also being named at the event was the first Airbus A330 aerial refuelling tanker for the RAF, an aircraft type to be called "Voyager" in service! Sadly, there was no sign of Captain Janeway or T'uvok to be seen, a PR trick maybe missed by the organisers? After all, the original Star Trek cast were present when the first Space Shuttle "Enterprise" was rolled out all those years ago!

Summing Up
At 40 years old, RIAT could be definitely said to have shown its age in 2011. The core reasons for this may not have been their fault, but the decisions they made as a result, were suspect.

That said, following the airshow, Tim Prince has proactively engaged the enthusiast community recognising that things need to change for 2012, and we look forward to the show, as always, with great anticipation!

Hell, the tickets and hotel are all booked and paid for already!

If you would like more information on the Royal International Air Tatto, please visit www.airtattoo.com . There are 100s of photos from this event in our Gallery, please feel free to check them out. Andy Evans would like to thank everyone at Fairford for putting up with him in 2011, especially the FRIAT team, see you all in 2012!

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