After three years, RAF Fairford finally hosted the world’s largest military airshow again. And here are all the highlights of an airshow that is increasingly becoming attractive to the industry.
From July 15 to 17, 2022, the Royal International Air Tattoo returned after three years with its 2022 edition, which is already considered the most successful edition (in recent times) of the world’s largest military airshow. The previous RIAT had been held in 2019, as the 2020 and 2021 editions were cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year the theme of the airshow was “Training the Next Generation Air Force”, with also a focus on the 75th Anniversary of the United States Air Force.
Paul Atherton, Chief Executive of the RAF Charitable Trust Enterprises, the organisers of RIAT, said: “I’ve been blown away by the support we have received for the long-awaited return of RIAT. Around 200,000 people have been here this weekend – visitors, volunteers, partners, and all those involved in the build. I’d like to personally thank every single one of them for helping RIAT to return with such success.”
The airshow welcomed 266 aircraft and 1,500 crew members from across the globe, including representatives from the Kingdom of Bahrain with a C-130J, their first ever appearance which makes them the 57th nation to participate in RIAT. Among the guests there was Top Gun Maverick’s star Tom Cruise, who, as a long-time aviation enthusiast, visited the static displays and met the aircrews for a quick chat.
He can be our wingman any time! Look who just arrived at #RIAT22! pic.twitter.com/15Dni9ySrG
— Royal International Air Tattoo (@airtattoo) July 16, 2022
Un incontro tra #TopGun al #RoyalInternationalAirTattoo🇬🇧
Il team delle @FrecceTricolori oggi con la grande star di #Hollywood @TomCruise, da sempre appassionato di volo che con i suoi film ha ispirato generazioni di giovani in tutto il mondo#TopGunMaverick #AeronauticaMilitare pic.twitter.com/NrRgu2lZt2
— Aeronautica Militare (@ItalianAirForce) July 16, 2022
Obviously, Tom was not the only one to enjoy the show, as the number of the visitors exceeded the expectations. As mentioned in the post-show press release, “Appetite from participants and visitors was at an all-time high, with tickets to all three days selling out before the show, and flying displays on Saturday and Sunday being extended to over eight hours to accommodate those from around the world who wished to participate.”
For the United States’ Air Force’s 75th anniversary, the static displays included aircraft from all the units of the USAFE, including the recently delivered F-35A of the 495th Fighter Squadron “Valkyries” (which even sported a personalized engine cover) and a special color F-15E Strike Eagle of the 492nd FS “Madhatters”, both based at RAF Lakenheath. The latter was painted to celebrate the 48th Fighter Wing’s 70th year of flight operations, as well as the USAFE’s 80th anniversary and the Air Force’s 75th anniversary.
🇺🇸 This weekend we’re celebrating the 75th anniversary of the United States Air Force. On the ground you’ll see a collection of current and former USAF fighters, including the F-15 and F-35! 🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/ckpRTd9Jbl
— Royal International Air Tattoo (@airtattoo) July 14, 2022
Another guest who attracted a lot of attention was the E-4B Nightwatch, which made its first airshow appearance outside the United States. This very rare asset is a modified B747-200 that serves as National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC) providing a flying command, control and communications center to direct nuclear (and conventional) forces, by receiving, verifying and relaying EAM (Emergency Action Messages).
Another moment of magic, teamwork and endeavour, that RIAT is renowned for globally.
The @BoeingAirplanes E-4B Nightwatch of the USAF, callsign “GORDO 01”, touches down @airtattoo to undertake it’s UK static display debut at #RIAT2022 #RIAT22 #doomsdayplane pic.twitter.com/ollsdAsHe0
— JTW Aviation Images (@JTWAviationImag) July 15, 2022
Two B-52H Stratofortress bombers from Minot Air Force Base were also expected to join the show for the first time after a ten-year absence to mark the USAF’s 75th anniversary. One of the bombers was planned to perform a flypast during the flight displays on Saturday and Sunday, while the other was due to be on static display beside a B-17G Flying Fortress. Their participation, however, was cancelled at the last second.
As for the other theme of this 2022 edition of RIAT, “Training the Next Generation”, both civilian and military training aircraft from all over Europe were in static and flight displays, as well as simple visitors. Among those we could find the Saab SK37C Draken and SK37E Viggen two seat operational conversion trainers of the Swedish Air Force Historic Flight.
Swedish Air Force Historic Flight SAAB Viggen arriving at #RIAT2022 . One of a number of cold warriors I never expected to see. pic.twitter.com/xs7s5jwEZC
— North Atlantic Imagery 🇨🇦 (@YQXYYT) July 15, 2022
Leonardo also presented the full range of jet trainers, with the MB-339 and M-346. One of the highlight of the show was also a two-seat Kuwaiti Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon on its way to be delivered from the final production line in Italy. The aircraft, used as an operational conversion trainer, was sent to RAF Fairford to be on static display at this year’s RIAT. The Typhoons being built for Kuwait are currently the most advanced and are first to be fitted from the factory with the new Captor-E AESA radar.
#RoyalInternationalAirTattoo: la presenza di un #Eurofighter della @KuwaitArmyGHQ è un segno tangibile dell’avanzamento del programma, ottenuto anche grazie al supporto e alla cooperazione dell’#AeronauticaMilitare che fornisce istruttori per l’addestramento dei piloti kuwaitiani pic.twitter.com/SfnA3kQp6o
— Aeronautica Militare (@ItalianAirForce) July 16, 2022
“The Kuwait Air Force is participating in the Royal International Air Tattoo for the first time since 1993, when we were flying the F/A-18C. This year, we’re very proud to be returning with the most advanced Eurofighter Typhoon in world”, said Col. Eisa Alrashidi, of the KAF. “The capability of this platform makes the Kuwaiti Air Force one of the best equipped Air Forces in the region. We are looking to start the OCU in Kuwait by the end of 2022 with the support of the Italian Air Force and Leonardo to build and maintain a quality pilot training centre for Kuwait.” Remarkably, both the Kuwaiti pilots at RIAT sported the Italian F-2000A patch on their flight suit, an emblem they got being trained in Italy by the 20° Gruppo (Squadron) of the Aeronautica Militare, the service’s Eurofighter OCU (Operational Conversion Unit).
For this year, the organizers of RIAT were also focused on sustainability, measuring the impacts of the event in order to improve the carbon footprint over the next few years and working with partners and exhibitors to highlight the innovations that they are making in aviation sustainability. Two cutting-edge sustainable examples met also the training theme, the fully electric Pipistrel Electro and the synthetically-fuelled Ikarus C42.
Marking a first for the Air Tattoo, a pair of completely electric Pipistrel Velis Electro light aircraft were on static display. The aircraft are taking part in the pathfinder programme with the RAF, Elbit Systems and Affinity Flying Training to demonstrate the concept of a zero emissions aircraft being used by the RAF for training missions. During March 2022 the aircraft operated from RAF Cranwell where 20 pilots were trained to fly the aircraft. The Slovenian Army and the Danish MoD are performing similar evaluations.
Moving on, a guest who helped build the hype before the show is the Black Eagles aerobatic team of the Republic of Korea Air Force, for the second time in Europe after a decade. Nine T-50Bs (eight plus one reserve) were disassembled and transported by three C-130 transport aircraft to MoD Boscombe Down. Once arrived, in less than three weeks the aircraft have been reassembled, checked, certified and successfully test flown before their participation to the Southport Airshow on July 9 and their display at RIAT a week later.
Who is #Excited? #RIAT22 #AirTattoo #Airshow pic.twitter.com/3reSqH4aeD
— Royal International Air Tattoo (@airtattoo) July 15, 2022
Welcome to Fairford, folks. Roll on the next few days!#RIAT22 #RIAT #AvGeek #BlackEagles #aircraft #spotter #Fairdord pic.twitter.com/wVEqIGpPTk
— Royal International Air Tattoo (@airtattoo) July 13, 2022
The Black Eagles were awarded the King Hussein Memorial Sword and the “As The Crow Flies” trophy for the best overall flying demonstration at RIAT following their daily 25-minute performance over the three days of show. The team was awarded the same trophies also at their first participation to the airshow in 2012. “No words could sufficiently describe how proud I am of you today,” ROKAF Chief of Staff Gen. Jung Sang-hwa told the team at the show.
Another display that conquered one of the trophies is the C-27J Spartan of the Italian Air Force’s Reparto Sperimentale Volo, which was awarded “The Sir Douglas Bader Trophy” for the best solo demonstration. The pilots in fact wowed the crowds with their technical display during which they demonstrated the Spartan’s high performance flight characteristics which are not common for aircraft of this size. The RSV’s C-27J also won the same trophy in 2013.
Anche l’#AeronauticaMilitare all’@airtattoo in corso a #Fairford 🇬🇧. AMX del 51° Stormo, MB.339PAN @FrecceTricolori, T-346A del 61° Stormo e #C27J, #Eurofighter e T-346A del Reparto Sperimentale di Volo si esibiranno in una delle più grandi manifestazioni aeree al mondo #RIAT2022 pic.twitter.com/blQgKr3dBl
— Aeronautica Militare (@ItalianAirForce) July 15, 2022
As for the other trophies, the RAF Chinook Display Team won the Steedman Display Award for the best flying demonstration by a UK participant. The team, with their Chinook HC4 from RAF Odiham, amazed the crowd while showing the large helicopter’s agility in flight. The Belgian Air Force F-16 Solo Display won the trophy for the Most Spectacular Colour Scheme, thanks to the new “Dream Viper” livery that was unveiled earlier this year. The Dream Viper, in fact, was created before the beginning of the 2022 airshow season for the new demo pilot, Captain Steven “Vrieske” De Vries.
RIAT was also the occasion to show off some of the novelties in aviation. One of the first industry announcements from RAF Fairford was the new £ 2.35 billion investment to equip the Royal Air Force’s Typhoons with the state-of-the-art ECRS Mk2 AESA radar by the end of the decade. The new radar will allow the aircraft to simultaneously detect, identify and track multiple targets in the air and on the ground in the most challenging operational environments, while also providing the ability to suppress enemy air defences by using high-powered jamming and engage targets whilst beyond the reach of threats.
Additionally, under the investment negotiated by DE&S’s (Defence Equipment and Support) Typhoon delivery team, Typhoon will be enhanced with the latest mission management and cockpit interface so the radar’s range of capabilities can be exploited, as well as an updated navigation system and enemy radar jamming technology.
BAE Systems revealed two new Unmanned Air System concept models which were displayed as mockups. The larger one seems to be in the class of the so-called Loyal Wingman, with a 500 kg payload and the ability to carry four SPEAR 3-class air-to-ground weapons or two Meteor air-to-air missiles, as well as other reconnaissance payloads. This is even more interesting as the UK MoD just cancelled the Project Mosquito technology demonstrator currently being developed, to instead pursue smaller and cheaper alternatives.
Closer up shot of @BAESystemsAir drone concepts st #RIAT2022. @JanesINTEL story to come… https://t.co/gAEJagRv1H pic.twitter.com/vGjfsPbOmP
— Gareth Jennings (@GarethJennings3) July 15, 2022
Today we revealed two Unmanned Air System concept models @airtattoo demonstrating how we’re always exploring new solutions for a complex battlespace.
Learn more about the capabilities these types of vehicle could offer & the roles they could perform 👇
— BAE Systems Air (@BAESystemsAir) July 15, 2022
“Autonomous systems play a key role in that connected, information-rich landscape. The development of agile and affordable new Unmanned Air System (UAS) concepts will provide critical enabling capability in these ever more contested environments,” said the BAE Systems. “UAS Concepts being developed within our Air sector offer the potential to enhance the operational effect of current and future crewed platforms, by augmenting the force mix through affordable combat power.”
Dealing with UASs, Boeing Boeing and the US Navy announced at RIAT that they have recently completed manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) tests where a Block III F/A-18 Super Hornet demonstrated command and control of three unspecified UAVs during simulated combat scenarios. The Super Hornet’s Distributed Targeting Processor- Network (DTP-N) was connected with a third-party tablet where a custom-designed software was installed to transmit the commands. This technology is considered to be transferable to the F-15EX Eagle II.
“This successful MUM-T demonstration represents a significant step toward the Navy’s vision for Distributed Maritime Operations. It highlights the potential of unmanned concepts to expand and extend the Navy’s reach,” said Scott Dickson, Boeing’s director for Multi-Domain Integration. “As part of a Joint All-Domain Command and Control network, teams of UAV conducting ISR missions led by the latest Super Hornets equipped with network-enabled data fusion and advanced capabilities would provide war fighters across the Joint Force with significant information advantage.”
The RAF used RIAT as the occasion to provide an update on the E-7A Wedgetail acquisition. The third Boeing 737NG acquired for the conversion is now arrived in the UK, while the other two are already being worked on and the first will be delivered in 2023. The livery of the Wedgetail AEW Mk1, as it will be designated, has also been revealed.
The livery of our new Wedgetail AEW Mk1 (E-7) aircraft has been revealed @airtattoo. It includes the 8 Sqn badge on the tail fin and a NATO Airborne Early Warning & Control Force (@NATOAWACS) shield on the nose #securingtheskies #WeAreNATO #RIAT2022 pic.twitter.com/e33qn0EZGT
— RAF ISTAR (@RAF_ISTAR) July 15, 2022
The Arabian dagger badge of VIII Squadron from RAF Lossiemouth appears on the Wedgetail’s tail fin. The dagger, known as a jambiya, was adopted in recognition of the unit’s long association with Arabia and is sheathed to symbolise the Squadron’s guardian duties. On the nose there is the shield of the NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control Force, reflecting the UK’s commitment to continue to provide the Alliance with air surveillance, command and control, aerospace battle management and communications.
Last but not least, the organizers of RIAT decided to exhibit in the static display area a tribute for the fallen Ukrainian Air Force pilot Colonel Oleksandr Oksanchenko, reportedly nicknamed “Grey Wolf”. Oksanchenko had gained international fame as the Su-27 Flanker display pilot with the 831st Guards Tactical Aviation Brigade from Myrhorod air base, taking part at various European air shows including SIAF, Royal International Air Tattoo and the Czech International Air Fest. In particular, at RIAT 2017, flying the Sukhoi Su-27P1M he received the ‘As the Crow Flies’ Trophy for the best overall flying demonstration.
Fair play… #RIAT22 #RIAT2022 pic.twitter.com/7tRxAqq8MA
— Mike 🤙🏼 (@mikey_9fingers) July 15, 2022
Generally speaking, RIAT appears to be more than just the leading European airshow for aviation enthusiasts: it’s a large event attracting air forces from all around the world, celebrities, sponsors and aerospace companies that can “use” the airshow days to showcase their most advanced hardware and announce new collaborations and projects. In that respect, it’s worth highlighting that some companies have for instance attended the Air Tattoo in Fairford, and were not present at FIA 2022 at Farnborough, UK, running from Jul. 18 – 21, 2022.