A welcome boost to UK Airshows – our RIAT 2023 review

Richard Clarke reports from RIAT 2023

This event is always the most popular and well attended aviation event of the year and this occasion was no exception.

One of the most endearing and appealing features of RIAT is the opportunity to view aircraft that cannot be seen anywhere else, in addition to experiencing unique and ‘one off’ formations that are the lifeblood of all aviation enthusiasts. 

There is always a headline theme to the show and on this occasion it was ‘Sky Tanker’, which was commemorating 100 years of air to air refuelling and promoting the vital role that it has played, and indeed continues to play in military aviation. A number of Air Forces providing aircraft types to take part in this celebration. In addition there was a celebration of the centenary of the Italian Air Force.

It was very pleasing and gratifying to see that the TPM stand was being well patronised, with the volunteers positively engaging with their customers about the project and selling the impressive range of merchandise. 

From Britain, and adding patriotic colour was the RAF Typhoon Display Team.

RIAT is, of course, all about ‘heavy metal’ and there were many examples of this particular area of aviation on display – both flying and in the static lineup, which contained an incredible number of aircraft from a wide variety of Air Arms from around the World. 

There were so many highlights that it is impossible to write about them all so here is a selection which will hopefully provide a flavour of the wide range of spectacular entertainment which was on offer.

A number of rare visitors to these shores were on display during the course of the show.

These included the venerable Boeing B52, which was a most welcome participant, always being extremely popular, but sadly not seen very often at airshows in the past few years. On this occasion, we were blessed with two examples of the type, one of which was in the flying display with the other aircraft taking part in the static lineup. There is certainly no better example of ‘heavy metal’ than this incredible aircraft which first flew in 1952 and is not now expected to retire until 2050! 

It was the first-ever appearance in the UK by the Messerschmitt ME 262, which is being operated by Airbus, and which was greeted with much anticipation and extremely well received, with this newly built aircraft providing a particularly spirited display in the blustery conditions.

Another old favourite, and, once again, an aircraft which is now very rarely seen in this country since the retirement of the type by the RAF in 2019, was the Panavia Tornado, two examples of which were taking part in the ‘Sky Tanker’ displays. The two Luftwaffe aircraft performed a highly impressive formation take-off, which was enhanced by the wet condition of the runway and the moisture in the air, and then continued to carry out a refuelling demonstration with an A400M Atlas tanker.

Another welcome display was the formation flight by the F35B Lightning and the EAV-8B+ Matador 11, providing a unique demonstration. This was followed by individual displays, with both aircraft showcasing fully their amazing capabilities in inimitable and unique styles. It was fascinating to see the two aircraft, which are from totally different generations of aviation development, displaying the contrasting and similarities of style in their approach to flight and particularly in their abilities to hover using differing types of technology.

There were exemplary performances by both the Red Arrows and the Spanish formation display team, The Patrulla Aguila –  in what must have been extremely difficult conditions, with a relatively low cloud base, blustery winds and intermittent heavy rain. However, both teams defeated the elements in demonstrating their impeccable flying skills and professionalism to produce two excellent displays.

We were also treated to equally impressive displays with examples of Gripens representing Sweden and the Czech Republic.

In complete contrast to the ‘heavy metal’ aircraft types, there was a highly emotive flypast by the BBMF Lancaster, which was commemorating the 80th Anniversary of the ‘Dambusters’ raid. Once again this was a superb display, defeating the adverse conditions to provide a highly fitting tribute to the brave Airman that carried out this dangerous and ultimately successful operation which helped to change the face of the Second World War.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all of the team at RIAT, who managed to produce an excellent show in spite of the difficult conditions. In addition, I would like to convey my appreciation to Matt and the other members of the RIAT Media team for all of their help and support, which was greatly valued and appreciated.

Finally, thank you to Richard Hall for providing the excellent images you see here.

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