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Celebrating 70 Years of US Air Force Air Power

A big thank you​ to my brother Adrian for without him this amazing trip wouldn't have been possible...

Royal International Air Tattoo​ ​2017

        The Royal International Air Tattoo is the largest military air show in the world which is attended by a large variation of air arms to display their aircraft to the roughly 150,000 spectators in attendance. 2017 was no exception as it celebrated the U.S. Air Force's 70th anniversary and brought in a wide array of USAF aircraft for both static and aerial displays. Some of the eye catching U.S. aircraft to attend included a U-2S "Dragon Lady" from Beale AFB's 9th RW, a B-1B Lancer from Ellsworth AFB's 34th BS, F-22 Raptor's from the ACC F-22 Raptor Demo Team out of Joint Base Langley-Eustis and after a 10 year absence, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. Despite the U.S. having a large presence at the air show, they were accompanied by aircraft from all over the world. In total, 32 air arms from 26 countries attended RIAT 17, resulting in 246 aircraft present at RAF Fairford for this famous show. Over the course of three days, aircraft from many countries took to the skies to give spectators an insight into the capabilities of aircraft from around the world that normally would not be seen in England. 

FRIDAY: Waking up at around 3 AM to make the 2 hour trip to Gloucestershire in order to get there at a reasonable time was tough but it was definitely worth it. Once the gates eventually opened we were on our way to go and see all the statics (and get some unit memorabilia) until it was time for the flying to start. The opening of RIAT 17's flying displays on Friday the 14th was a once in a lifetime formation fly by of the RAF Red Arrows and the USAF Thunderbirds. The Thunderbirds were just coming back from multiple fly overs in Paris and surrounding areas for Bastille Day and the Red Arrows were set to perform for the opening of the show. Other highlights of Friday's displays included a CV-22B Osprey, the French Air Force's Couteau Delta Tactical Display Team with Mirage 2000D's, an Airbus A400M Atlas, a special 70th anniversary fly past by from aircraft of the USAF's U.S. Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) branch which included a KC-135R from RAF Mildenhall, C-130J-30 from Ramstein AB, 2x F-15C Eagles with 1x F-15E Strike Eagle from RAF Lakenheath, and 2x F-16C's from Spangdahlem AB followed by the always impressive F-22A Raptor demo and lastly the USAF Thunderbirds to close out the show.


SATURDAY: The weather was forecasted to be much worse than Friday and definitely took a toll on the performances of the day. With a cloud base as low as 900 feet at some points and a light layer of rain coming down, a number of aircraft were unable to perform due to the circumstances. Aircraft such as the Saab JAS-39C from the Swedish Air Force, F-16A MLU from the Belgian Air Component were only able to taxi down the runway as they had to cancel their demonstrations last minute. Some of the aircraft were able to perform and brave the weather despite having to limit their demos to beneath the cloud base. Just a few of these aircraft performances include the beautifully painted Italian Air Forces (Aeronautica Militare) Panavia Tornado IDS from 311° Gruppo, USAF AFSOC CV-22B Osprey from RAF Mildenhall, and the Airbus A400M Atlas flown by Airbus test pilots. As the day progressed the weather cleared up enough to allow aircraft to continue flying and impressing spectators. Perhaps the most sought after display of the day was by a last minute confirmed appearance by the Ukraine Air Forces Su-27. The Ukraine Air Force brought with them a two seat Su-27UB1M "Flanker" and IL-76MD for static display as well as a single seat Su-27P for a flying display on Saturday and Sunday. The weather on Saturday created a real challenge for me as a photographer because not only was I not used to it, my camera gear was not either. I found myself getting countless blurry and out of focus images of grey aircraft again an even greyer background. After some research I found that my camera lens had begun being produced in 2001 meaning that this lens has possibly been around for quite some time. Taking photos back home in Arizona where its mostly sunny year round meant that photography was easier even with an old lens such as mine. Despite this completely new atmosphere, I attempted to do the best I could with this gear and put all I could into getting a sharp photo. 

SUNDAY: With my camera lens not performing as well in the English weather as I would have liked, I contemplated on getting a new camera lens from a local camera shop that had a tent at the air show. After some thinking, I decided to go for it and purchase the well recommended Nikon 200-500mm F/5.6 lens. After getting back to my seating area I decided to test it out both before and during the flying portion of the show. With the weather being better on Sunday, getting photos turned out to be a little less difficult, especially with this new lens. The flying started with the sharply painted Solotürk F-16C Fighting Falcon from the Turkish Air Force from 3 AJÜ/132 Filo. Without a doubt Sunday was an incredible day for flying as every aircraft demo team made their mark in the skies at the Air Tattoo. The Patrouille Suisse of the Swiss Air Force, Midnight Hawks of the Finnish Air Force, and Couteau Delta Tactical Display Team of the French Air Force were just a few of the demonstration teams that performed for a packed air show. The U.S. Air Force 70th anniversary fly past was performed on all three days of the air show, however Sunday had included a surprise visitor from across the pond. A B-2A Spirit from Whiteman AFB's 509th BW had flown in from Missouri to perform a few passes accompanied by 2x F-15C Eagles from the 493rd FS. Following a few incredible passes, the B-2A continued out of sight and made the long journey home to Whiteman AFB while the F-15's got into formation for the next passes that included the KC-135, C-130J-30, 2x F-15C's, F-15E and 2x F-16C's. With the fly past concluded, the F-22A Raptor was up next to take to the skies and create large amounts of vapor. ​With the Raptor demo concluded, I decided to go and capture more photos of the static display aircraft before leaving for the last time. Despite some less than desirable weather at times, it was still one of the best experiences of my life there and hope that I can go back for another Air Tattoo.