RIAT 2022 - The Americas

18/07/2022

With weekly updates recommencing for this year's Royal International Air Tattoo, I thought it'd be a good idea to look back on RIAT 2022, which, following a 2-year hiatus, was a truly unforgettable show! What better way to start the 7-week series than with the Americas?

3 nations from across North and South America attended the 2022 show, with some truly fantastic and rare aircraft, at least at UK air shows! 

Brazil

Brazil returned to RAF Fairford after 9 years with their newest heavy aircraft, the Embraer KC-390 Millennium. This was a fantastic addition to the show and a welcome return from Brazil. In the Brazilian Air Force, the KC-390 is a replacement for their ageing fleet of C-130 Hercules aircraft. There are multiple other countries that have purchased the KC-390 including the Netherlands, Hungary and Portugal. I can see a time when Millenniums are as common as C-130s are now! Brazil's fleet of KC-390s operates from AnĂ¡polis Air Force Base with the 1st Troop Transport Group. 


Canada

One country that regularly supports RIAT is Canada, and 2022 was no different! Canada came to the show armed with 2 heavies: a CC-150T Polaris and a CC-130J Hercules. 

Canada operates 5 CC-150s with 437 Squadron out of Canadian Forces Base Trenton, Ontario. Of these 5 aircraft, 2 are used in the tanker role, 2 as tankers, and 1 for the transportation of Canada's Prime Minister. With Canada looking to receive a pair of Airbus A330 MRTTs later this year, a chance to see the CC-150 certainly wasn't one to be missed at a UK air show. With any luck, we'll get another one this year, seeing as it has been announced that this year's RIAT theme will focus on air tankers and the art of air-to-air refuelling. 

CFB Trenton is also home to Canada's fleet of 17 CC-130J Hercules II aircraft, operating with 436 Squadron. Seeing Hercs never gets boring, so it's always nice to see Canada fly one across for the show. Speaking with the crew of the CC-130, I'm told 8 hours in the cockpit is quite painful, hopefully, a weekend in the Cotswolds makes up for that though! With the current war between Ukraine and Russia, multiple Canadian CC-130Js are temporarily based out of Prestwick airport, Scotland, flying support to Poland. 


United States of America

With RIAT being held on a United States Air Force Base, it seems fitting that they attend the show, especially considering RAF Fairford is currently home to a detachment of U-2 Dragon Ladies. How hard can it be to drag one from the hangar to the taxiway for the weekend!? Not very hard, as it turns out. The USAF came to RIAT with 9 different aircraft types, including 1 European air show first and 2 RIAT firsts. 

By far the highlight of the air show was the addition of the E-4B Nightwatch, or Doomsday plane as it is also known. A first for both me and for a European air show, you can imagine the surprise when one Thursday afternoon I found myself reading that the USAF planned to send an E-4 to the show as part of both 75 years of the USAF and 60 years of the National Airborne Operations Center. It was even more of a surprise to see it make it to the show, as it did seem like quite a surreal addition. Nevertheless, it was tracked out of Offutt Air Force base in Nebraska on the morning of Friday 15th July, before being sighted by me passing over my workplace in and out of the clouds. What a rare and fantastic addition to the show it was! The USAF operates 4 E-4Bs with the 595th Command and Control Group out of Offutt Air Force Base. 

RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk almost always bring along their aircraft to the show, and this was no different.  RAF Mildenhall sent one of each aircraft type they operate, those being the CV-22B Osprey, 1 of which performed a flying display, the MC-130J Commando II, and the KC-135 Stratotanker. As of writing this, RAF Mildenhall is home to 17 KC-135s flying with the 351st Air Refuelling Squadron, 9 CV-22Bs flying with the 7th Special Operations Squadron, and 7 MC-130Js flying with the 67th Special Operations Squadron. Whilst common visitors to RIAT, they're always a welcome addition and the crews are always friendly! RAF Lakenheath sent along 2 aircraft, including the new kid on the block! 1 F-35A Lightning II and 1 F-15E Strike Eagle were flown to Fairford for the weekend. The F-15 was the recently (at the time) specially marked aircraft, celebrating 70 years of the 48th Fighter Wing and 80 years of the USAFE. 

Speaking of the USAFE, the British bases weren't the only providers of USAF airpower, as Aviano Air Base in Italy confirmed their attendance with a pair of F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 555th Fighter Squadron, or Triple Nickel as they're more affectionately known. This was the first appearance by Aviano F-16s in a fair few years, with Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany being the usual provider. These were also my first Aviano F-16s, as work commitments have meant I can't make it to Lakenheath during one of their relatively regular deployments to the base.

Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey was the base that provided a closer look at the USAFs newest tanker, the KC-46 Pegasus. The KC-46 is a replacement for the KC-10 Extender fleet, and eventually the KC-135s as well. McGuire is home to all three tanker types at the moment, although their KC-10s are dropping like flies, with the USAFs entire fleet of Extenders planned to be retired by the end of 2024. It was great to get a closer look at the future of USAF air-to-air refuelling. To date, the USAF has received 62 Pegasus aircraft, and I've seen 3... one day I'll have the lot!

Since September 2019, Fairford has been home to a constant U-2 Dragon Lady detachment, flying missions almost every weekday, and the occasional weekend. The 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, known as the Celtic Dragons, finally managed to get an aircraft of theirs into the static display at RIAT, almost 3 years after the deployment had officially begun. Of course, to Fairford locals and regulars, the U-2s are very common and can get a bit samey, this does change however when you get right up close to the aircraft and aren't standing behind a big chain link fence! As ten-a-penny as the U-2s are becoming, or indeed have become, it's always special to be able to stand so close and get a proper look at this cold war era aircraft. 

The USAF also operates a fleet of business jets so to speak, ranging from Learjet 35As to Gulfstream Vs and 550s. Over the course of the weekend, at least 2 Gulfstreams arrived at the base. In the USAF, the Gulfstreams are named C-37A/Bs. I was lucky enough to (just about) catch 1 C-37B departing on Sunday 17th July. The aircraft, registration 18-1947, is one of 7 C-37Bs operated by the 99th Airlift Squadron, 89th Airlift Wing out of Joint Base Andrews, Maryland.

Come departure day, Monday 18th July, and all types of aircraft arrive to pick up kit or people following the show. One arrival I just missed however was a Learjet 35A, named C-21 in USAF service. 5 C-21s fly out of Ramstein Air Base, Germany, with the 76th Airlift Squadron, 86th Airlift Wing. This aircraft, 84-0083, brought in United States Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa commander Gen. James B. Hecker for his first visit to the 501st Combat Support Wing at RAF Fairford. The aircraft is seen here backtracking down the runway at a very hot RAF Fairford. 

That brings part one of this series to a close. Thank you all for reading and please let me know what you thought about this post, all feedback is welcome!

Thank you.