RIAT 2008 will be remembered for many reasons for being the best edition to date.
To join in the celebrations for the Royal Air Force's 90th anniversary, the finest displays in the world had gathered in deepest Gloucestershire to perform over RAF Fairford.These included such spectacular solo demonstrations as the F-22 Raptor, F/A-18F Superhornet, Saab JAS-39 Gripen, Belgian and Dutch F-16s and the RAF's Typhoon, but also a selection of the world's most renowned display teams, some coming from as far as Brazil, Chili and India.
This alone of course is not enough to make it the best show ever. The static this year was just the way photographers like it with perfect positions, no fences, cones or ropes to ruin the shots thanks to putting them far enough from the aircraft, no public or ice cream vans in the background, a single static park uninterrupted by car and robot exhibitions and with no canopy or intake covers in sight.
The PA-system on the crowdline consisted of speakers on the ground rather than on 2 metre high poles. Photographers with ladders were kind enough not to position themselves any further to the front than the fifth row and the food and drink selection was superb and affordable. The programme was well-balanced and without any gaps, with the major highlights enjoying the best light of the day. Traffic was a breeze and record crowds got in and out without traffic jams.
So much perfection that one can only believe it's a dream.
And sadly it is. Perhaps all of the above would have been true, but we will never find out, as the Royal International Air Tattoo 2008 will forever be remembered as the first ever to be cancelled.
While air traffic control had struggled to get all participants into RAF Fairford in-between the heavy weather plaging that region of England mid-July, 2 massive downpours on Friday afternoon were the final straw for the public terrain and the parking lots, leaving the organizers with no choice but to cancel the first day of the show.
No effort was spared to prepare the terrain for at least one showday on Sunday, but it was to no avail and on Saturday, just after 4PM, came the sad message that the second day of the show was also cancelled.
While disappointing for the audience, one can only guess the anger, frustration and sadness that the organizers at Douglas Bader House must have felt after a whole year of hard work was flushed down the drain by heavy downpours, because the draining system and ground simply couldn't handle rainfall of such magnitude in such a short timeframe. Having seen the state of the terrain on Monday, one can fully understand the difficult decision taken by the organization.
It also raises questions about the financial repercussions of the cancellation. In the past, it was clearly stated that the organization had no insurance for this eventuality. It remains to be seen whether the positive early statements about the financial survival of RIAT will prove accurate.
For those present during departures on Monday, it was in any case a sad sight to see so many interesting display aircraft return home without having performed their routines during the weekend. Special mention here is in place for the Brazilian Esquadrilha da Fumaša, who had to fly 5 days in each direction with their Tucanos without the benefit of an autopilot.
Still, all participants still did their best on Monday to show their aircraft as best they could and air traffic control should be applauded for allowing pilots to present their aircraft to the numerous people in the park-and-view areas as much as time allowed in the busy departure schedule, particularly helicopters that hover-taxied by both park-and-view areas. This signalled a clear change in past procedures and the willingness of the organizers to listen to the complaints and concerns of enthusiasts regarding the issue of helicopters departing almost straight from their parking place. Throw in tasty American burgers and canned drinks sold by base personnel in the eastern P&V and the regret about the cancellation and not seeing all these exotic participants in the air almost became bearable. Almost.
July 2008 was not a good month for British airshows, as weather would wreak havoc later in the month during the shows at Sunderland and RNAS Culdrose, proving just how susceptible airshows are to the weather elements. As if anyone still had to be convinced of that.
by Chris Janssens
Lay-out and content by Chris Janssens, 2005 - present