Those magnificent aviators in their flying machines


It has been a long time since I went to an airshow. If my memory serves me right the last one I attended was at St Athan's, Cardiff, with my father when I was in my teens - probably around the mid-1980s. Like me my Dad loved aircraft and on that occasion to ensure we had a good view he enthusiastically ensured we had the closest view possible by attending very early, parking the car up at the crack of dawn and then marching right up to the fence next to the main runaway. I recall the car park being empty when we turned up and it being a very sunny and windy day. Despite the years passing by the thrill of watching and hearing the planes with my Dad has never left me. I also remember after spending a fantastic day with my father returning feeling very windswept and sunburnt to the car park and spending over an hour trying to find my Dads car as he had forgotten where we had parked it (and the fact that several thousand cars had turned up since we had arrived did not help things ;) ).

For one reason and another I just have not had the opportunity or cause to visit another airshow. Life throws you around in different directions doesn't it - previous interests can wane and fade or just others take up more of your time.

In recent years through my interest in birds, photography and Goldcliff, I have built up a great group of friends with similar interests to me. A number of them have passions for other types of photography and so when my friend Paul "Rushy" Coombes offered to take me and our friend Paul " The Happy One" Joy to the Royal International Air Tatoo at Fairford, there was no way we were going to refuse him.

A lot of things have changed since I was a teenager when I last visited an airshow at St Athan's. For one example back then there was no such thing as a digital camera. In 2022 digital cameras are everywhere - even embedded into mobile phones - a second thing that did not exist in my younger years. Thirdly, and perhaps the most significant - there was no internet to publish my blog on!

So being an avid photographer I was excited about attending the airshow because unlike my previous visit I would now be able to record what I was going to see in brilliant technicolour. I was going to be turning up armed to the teeth with my camera kit - the best possible as well - Nikon ;). My wife had found me a festival trolley from Aldis so I could pull all my kit along together with plenty of water bottles.

Our attendance at the airshow was booked for Sunday 17th July 2022 ( last weekend - as I write this blog post).

We left our part of South Wales before sunrise, Rushy being our chauffeur and guide for the day. Rushy is a veteran visitor to the RIAT airshow and had arranged the whole trip for us. I must admit I felt like a big kid again - I was so excited and could not wait to get there and I was a very impatient back seat driver ;)

The weather was fantastic. The skies were clear and it was very hot. It was the beginning of a heatwave and a week where temperatures would make records and exceed 42. degrees C in the UK.

When we arrived at Fairford we were fortunate that we did not have a queue too long and after about a twenty-minute wait and a security check we were allowed into the airfield.

Then we were off. I found myself surging ahead of my companions almost in an excited panic. There were planes of all types on the runway all over the place!. I did not know which way to turn first and what to photograph.

SAAB Viggen

Mil MI-24P 86, Szolnok Helikopter Bázis, Hungarian Air Force, Szolnok

The static displays on the way to the grandstand where our seats were booked were very impressive with lots to stop and look at. I was quite blown away by the different planes and helicopters on the show and how close you could get.

Eventually, we arrived at our grandstand seats and got ready for the airshow that was scheduled to start at 9.45 am. I plastered myself in suncream as it was absolutely boiling hot already. The "Happy One" found my efforts with suncream hilarious and was quite keen to take some funny pictures of me with my factor 100 on looking like a ghost.

Suddenly there was a howling noise and a rumble like thunder and up went the first plane to start the show-off. A Saab Grippen launched itself up into the air from the runway and boom its afterburners lit up and the noise was incredible. I could feel the rumble of the engines through my whole body and I was shaking with excitement. What a plane to begin the show with. It was awesome.

Saab JAS 39C Gripen F 7 Wing, Swedish Air Force, Sâtends

The pilot went on to do a fantastic demonstration of pilot skills and I had my first ever opportunity to try and take some pictures of an aeroplane at an airshow event. I hope I did the plane and pilot some justice with the photographs. 

Following the Grippen, we were treated to displays from many more aircraft and magnificent pilots putting their flying machines through their paces and dancing through the skies.

If I am honest I really enjoyed all the displays. Not one was anywhere close to boring. I did have some favourites and I am going to highlight a few of these in this post.

The Red Arrows Display

I have tried in vain for several years to get some photographs of the Red Arrows flying over my local hills en route to a display and they have always ended up changing course and flying somewhere else. I once saw them up close when they landed at Bristol airport after I returned from a holiday which was cool but that had only been really a fleeting glimpse.

At the airshow, things were going to be a totally different matter. We were all in for a treat. The Arrows display started with them coming from behind the grandstand flying over our heads streaming red, blue and white smoke. The noise was deafening and I  was so excited. They then started what I can only describe as a fantastic show. From my perspective, it was the first time I have seen them in years and I was not disappointed. This year they were down to seven planes only as two of the team were not going to be flying this year in their display calendar.

The Red Arrows 7 British Aerospace Hawk T1/T1As Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, RAF Scampton

The Red Arrows fly the T1 Hawk which is over fifty years old and lacks some of the new technology that some of the other aerobatic display teams have at their disposal in newer next-generation planes.

Despite lacking a full complement of aircraft they put on a great display and my adrenaline had gone through the roof.

 In one word - Stunning!

Surely things could not get better - but they would.

Frecce Tricolori

The Italians put on the most eye-catching display I have ever seen.  The Frecce Tricolori Aerobatic Display Team fly ten Aermacchi MB339 trainer jets. Their use of smoke was turned up all the way to level eleven. Right from the start as they prepared to take off the runway was full of green, white and red smoke. 

Throughout the display, an Italian member of their team was commentating and they blasted out on loudspeakers opera or three tenors music and played the Italian National Anthem. I got so excited and carried away that I started singing it with my friends and must admit the whole show brought tears of happiness to my eyes.

The Frecce Tricolori 10 Aermacchi AT-339As Italian Air Force Aerobatic Team, Rivolto

The Italians put on an incredibly flamboyant display which had the whole crowd behind them. It was so colourful and cleverly planned. On many occasions, I just stopped taking photographs and just enjoyed the show. I really could not believe how long the display lasted - it must have been thirty minutes.

In one word - Fantastico!!

The Black Eagles

Having watched already two incredible aerobatic displays the bar was now very high. Earlier in the airshow, we had got to see the Republic of South Koreas Black Eagle Display Team fly around the airfield and form up temporarily with the Red Arrows. I was looking forward to seeing them in action as I had heard they were amazing.

The Black Eagles consist of eight KAI T-50 B Golden Eagle jet aircraft. These jets are very cool looking and are supersonic so pretty much next-generation tech.

Once again they had a Korean member of the team doing the narration on the loudspeakers and well boom in they came with terrific noise and speed.

I think we were all completely dazzled by them. They changed formation seamlessly and quickly and there was action going on everywhere you looked. You needed eyes in the back of your head as you never knew what direction they were going to come from next and what they would be doing. I don't think I have seen planes appear to fly so closely together in perfect formations.

My heart was racing throughout and must admit I was whooping several times at the skill of the aerobatics.

In one word - Outstanding

The Black Eagles 8 KAI T-50B Golden Eagles Republic of Korea Air Force Aerobatic Team, Wonju

RAF Typhoon Display Team

I won't forget the Union Jack decored RAF Typhoon that looked absolutely fantastic. A really nice-looking plane and the pilot threw it around the sky wonderfully. The jet blasted across the skies with engines roaring and the pilot was hitting the afterburners time after time and it would shoot up into the sky like a bat out of hell.

Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 No 29 Squadron, RAF Coningsby

In one word - Impressive

F-16 Fighting Falcon

Since I was a kid I have always had one favourite plane and that is the General Dynamics ( now Lockheed Martin) F-16 Fighting Falcon or better known as the "Viper" by pilots.

The plane has always looked sharp, edgy, futuristic and like it means serious business. The huge engine intake slung underneath the fuselage just looks feral and nasty. It's hard to believe the design goes back to 1972!

We were treated to two displays from F-16 - one from the  Greece Hellenic Airforce (F-16C Fighting Falcon Demo Team Zeus, 340 Mira, Hellenic Air Force, Souda) and another later in the show from the Belgian Airforce (F-16AM Fighting Falcon 10 Wing TAC, Belgian Air Component, Kleine Brogel).

* the second was a replacement plane so I am not 100% I got that correct at the time of writing.

The F-16 displays were simply outrageous. They screamed through the air. The jet engines growled and howled like they were some kind of horrific monsters. The agility of the planes was incredible and I think both pilots put on a terrific show.

The second display for sure was absolutely outrageous. When the pilot landed he was punching the air and I think he really did deserve some adulation as I really enjoyed that display.

In one word - outrageous.

Lockheed Martin F-16C Fighting Falcon Demo Team Zeus, 340 Mira, Hellenic Air Force, Souda


There was so much to see it's really difficult to do the RIAT airshow justice. All of it was very well organised and it was an unforgettable day out.

The airshow really did show off those magnificent aviators in their flying machines and it was so good to know all those who went up safely came down again.

I can't wait to return to next year's RIAT 2023.

A big thanks to Paul "Rushy" Coombes for organising the trip so well and giving us a really great day out.

I will finish off with some pictures of the Battle of Britain Memorial Display Team. Seeing the Hurricane, Spitfire and Lancaster is always something to savour and remember.

Avro Lancaster I, Hawker Hurricane Ic & Supermarine Spitfire Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, RAF Coningsby


Sundays Schedule

Not all the displays followed the schedule.


  1. Some great pictures here Blair - good to see you using your skills in a different way!


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