In my days in the aerodynamics department at Warton, I spent time working on the current aircraft handling section. This included a number of types but the main focus was on jaguar and Tornado work. When we were walking around the hangars at Duxford, there were examples of both jets on display. The Tornado was a big part of what I worked on and I had always loved the jet as it was coming in to service at the time I was getting interested in aircraft. The GR4 version is on display.
The Jaguar had been around a long time when I was getting into planes and the Tornado ended up replacing the Jaguars in the RAF Germany strike role. The jet continued for a lot longer though and got some decent upgrades late in life. I had a great time climbing over a jet in the hangar at Warton as we were looking at clearing a new store on the overwing pylon. A lot of fun!
With a sharp LERX, the F-16 regularly pulls a nice vortex on each side as it maneuvers hard. Getting a shot of that is not a surprise. However, I have recently been slowly making my way through shots from RIAT (months after the event) and I was working through some shots of the Belgian F-16 display. I came across a shot of the jet pulling and rolling, taken from astern of the aircraft. I noticed a second, smaller vortex trailing from the tail plane. It appears that, with differential tail for the roll, there is a vortex coming from the tail plane – possibly at the route. This pleases the old aero guy within!
F-4 Phantoms are rapidly disappearing from service. They remain in a few countries but their replacements are lined up in most cases. The Turkish Air Force is still using them and brought some examples to RIAT. They made their way to the west end for us to get some shots. These jets had been planned for replacement by the F-35A Lightning II. However, with the political fall out of the Turkish acquisition of Russian missile systems, they have been blocked from the program. Maybe the F-4s will live on a little longer after all.
My F-16 shots from RIAT didn’t just throw up vortices (like this post). They also showed something that seems to be a common occurrence in flying displays. That is the failure of a Smokewinder to perform. Smokewinders are a smoke generating pod that fits on a Sidewinder launch rail. They are controlled from the cockpit and should add a nice effect to a display sequence. The Belgian Air Force display aircraft was using them for its display.
In the early 90s we used them on the BAe company Hawk demonstrators at shows. The crews had got to understand the workings of the pods well and knew what could cause them to quit during a display. At one Farnborough, they actually helped out one of the other companies that was having trouble keeping theirs running smoothly. I guess the problem hasn’t gone away and the knowledge is not widely shared as the Belgian jet lost one pod during its display. In the shot above, you can see a small amount of flame emerging rather than the intended smoke and, a short while later, the pod quit for the rest of the display.
Arrivals day at any air show is a good opportunity to catch the movements of aircraft that will only be in the static display as opposed to the flying display. At RIAT, there are park and view areas at the east and west ends of the airfield. I have used both over the years but the east end can be really hectic. It does give you the chance to shoot the aircraft on final approach but you can really be fighting for space.
I chose the west end this year. Planes were landing at the east end but it was pretty normal for aircraft to taxi to the west end to then be led to their parking location. Of course, a few interesting types managed to turn off early or backtrack before they got to the end but, on the whole, we did well. The weather wasn’t great but there was a fair bit of sun which helped.
Some of the more exotic types made it up our way. The Ukrainian SU-27s and their IL-76 came up as did the special schemes on some of the F-16s. The Luftwaffe brought some marked jets along too. An F-15E taxied past twice and provided a couple of speed brake waves for the gathered photographers. It could get a bit congested and, with jets holding in the turning loop, they did occasionally send their jet wash across the path of the incoming jets which sabotaged a few photo opportunities.
Later on the Thursday, a few practice displays were also flown by crews qualifying for the show which provided a different angle on some of the performances. An F-16C of the USAF did its full routine and then added a few extra banana passes bringing out right over us at speed several times. Much appreciated!
The Spanish Navy Harriers have recently become the darlings of the UK air show scene. The retirement of the UK’s Harriers left a feeling of longing for many air show attendees and the recent return of the Spanish Navy has made a lot of people happy. They brought two of the jets to RIAT this year. They put on a nice job of displaying with both aircraft flying giving some formation work and some faster stuff. Plenty of hovering of course.
They seemed to be leading a charmed life with the sun seeming to appear whenever they were flying. Given how the weather was over the weekend, this was no mean feat. One day I spent down near the ramp when they were operating from so I was able to get some closer shots of them as they taxied out for departure and when they returned. Harriers are still relatively accessible in the US but it won’t be too long before the F-35B consigns them to history too so it was nice to get some Harrier time again.
The F-35 has been around for quite a while by now so I have shot them on plenty of occasions (although an F-35C is still on the wish list). My UK trip was one where I was hoping to get an RAF F-35B. It was scheduled to make an appearance at RIAT but the information did not make it sound like a display. On the first day of the show, the weather was shocking. Low cloud and rain got in the way of a lot of things displaying. Late in the day the F-35B was due in. Our initial forecast for arrival was extended as the cloud base meant an instrument approach was needed. It finally appeared and flew through the display line once. Then it powered away and a while later we were informed it had gone home.I was shooting video of that which is at the bottom of this page.
The next day had better weather so I was hoping for a little more. It did show up and we did get more than one pass. However, even then, it was a rather lackluster performance. I guess they have not worked up any form of display – not even a hovering portion – so we got some passes and a couple of configurations and that was it. I don’t think I was alone in feeling a little underwhelmed by what they put on. I guess in coming years, a more worked up display will be seen but I will have to wait a while for that.
I do love the Tornado. It was coming in to service just when I was getting into aviation and I ended up working on handling clearances for them when I was a junior aerodynamicist. Their retirement by the RAF was a sad thing for me but I was consoled by the fact they remain in service with the other operators. I was looking forward to seeing some at RIAT. I did get to see some flying at a distance on arrivals day and they taxied up our way. Nothing too close in the air though.
I did get a chance to see them on static display which is fine but not as fun as seeing them flying. A lot of my hopes, therefore, were focused on departures day. The German jets were scheduled out at various times during the morning. However, they weren’t hitting their designated times and I was getting close to needing to leave. Eventually I realized my time had run out. I walked back behind the FRIAT stands and popped to the facilities prior to making the drive away. While in there, I heard a very familiar roar. Sure enough, as soon as I was out of sight, a Luftwaffe Tornado made its departure. The Tornado doesn’t climb fast so it was nice and low as it passed the stand – apparently. Bum!
Non-Western jets are always a strong attraction at a Western air show and the appearance of the Ukrainian Sukhois at RIAT was no exception. The SU-27 is a beast of a jet and quite an impressive performer at a show. The arrival was cool and the practice display was welcome. I was a bit annoyed as I didn’t have the camera to hand when the jet thundered off the runway and turned towards us and blasted over our heads at the Western Park and View.
The light wasn’t great for any of the times I saw the jet fly but the sky blue camo scheme it wore seemed to do a good job of picking up the light as it maneuvered around the display. Plenty of blasts of power for the engines combined with a damp atmosphere allowing a bit of vapor to be pulled from the air was pretty cool. The front fuselage shape is a little odd and this shows more so when on the ground where it droops down. Once airborne, things are different.
Something photos don’t show is the way in which the auxiliary inlet doors on the underside of the intakes flap around in certain flight regimes. Looking through the viewfinder, you could see them oscillating a lot but only video would show that off. It was a long time since I had last seen the Ukrainian jets at Fairford and this was my first time to shoot them digitally. They were accompanied by an IL-76 and I suspect that will get a post one day!
RIAT proved to be a lot of fun with such a variety of types to see. The shooting conditions were less than ideal but that shouldn’t take away from what was there and the effort that went in to organizing it all – I’m looking at you Tom if you are reading this. Your team did a great job. One of the stars of the show was actually a rather aged type. Romania brought a pair of MiG-21 LanceR jets. The last time I shot an active MiG-21 was at Rockford many years ago and that was privately owned. These were very definitely active.
Their arrival on the Thursday certainly got everyone excited and the display itself was great. The jet is from an era when the current levels of maneuverability had not been achieved but the jet can still put on quite a show. The speed is something to behold, particularly on final approach when it fairly screams in to land. I got to shoot it from a couple of locations including being at the departure end on the Sunday of the show and getting slightly closer to the jet as it taxied out. I understand that they will disappear before too long to be replaced with something more generic – F-16s I think – so it was time to enjoy something old school for perhaps the last time.