The Royal Canadian Air Force brought along a C-130J-30 Hercules for the static display, the -30 model is a stretched version of the C-130J

The McDonnell-Douglas AV-8 Harrier II is a rare beast nowadays. The US Marine Corps are gradually withdrawing theirs as the F-35B Lightning II enters service, and of course the RAF withdrew their BAe Harrier GR9s way back in 2010, leaving just the Spanish Navy, and Italian Navy operating the type outside the United States.

Top Aces provided one of its Alpha Jet As for static display at this year's Air Tattoo - the first time Top Aces have displayed an Alpha Jet at RIAT. The Alpha Jet A entered service with the German Air Force, which acquired 175 of the light-strike aircraft. Upon retirement in the late 1990s Germany sold its Alpha Jet A fleet to number of operators including the UK's QinetiQ who used them as test aircraft. Some of the aircraft were also acquired by the Canadian company, Top Aces who use the aircraft for contracted training and aggressor services to a number of military. The aircraft have undergone an impressive upgrade programme that includes state-of-the-art Multi-Function Displays, Avionics, Flight Management System, IFR, Tactical Air Navigation System, and Martin Baker ejection seats.

Another of Boeing's KC-135 Stratotanker was this example from the 100th Air Refueling Wing, based at RAF Mildenhall. The Stratotanker is by far the most numerous aerial refuelling aircraft built, with over 700 manufactured

Built primarily as a Tactical/Strategic airlifter, the Airbus A400M has provision air-to-air refuelling operations with probe-equipped receivers, the fuel capacity of 63,500 litres able to be increased with additional cargo hold tanks

The Fursan Al Amarat (The Knights) display team from the United Arab Emirates fly the Italian-built Aermacchi MB-339AT jet trainer. The team formed in 2008 and flies seven aircraft, including a solo aircraft in its display.

The Royal Jordanian Air Force C-130H Hercules is a regualar visitor to RIAT, but unique in having a nice desert camouflage, and nicely painted tailfin

Two examples of the Airbus A330-MRTT are seen above. The photo left, depicting a NATO Multinational Multi-Role Tanker Transport Fleet (MMF) aircraft, which provides a common European tanker fleet funded and operated by its member states, with five based at Eindhoven in the Netherlands, and four at Koln-Bonn in Germany. The photo right depicts a Royal Saudi Air Force aircraft, which operate's a fleet of six aircraft, the first entering operational service in February 2013, assigned to 24 squadron, based at Prince Sultan Air Base, Al-Kharj.

RAF Fairford 2023

Bristow's currently operate from 10 helicopter bases around the UK, responding to incidents overland, around the coast and at sea, operating a fleet of SAR-configured Sikorsky S-92A (above) and Leonardo AW189 aircraft.

One of a number of Lockheed Martin C-130s at the show, this particular aircraft is a WC-130J from the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron. The 'Hurricane Hunters' provide surveillance of tropical storms and hurricanes

The SAAB 105 (SK.60) is a twin engine trainer which developed as a low-cost multirole aircraft that can be fitted with a variety of weapons or reconnaissance pods using its six under-wing hardpoints. A total of 130 SK60s were ordered by the Swedish Air Force in 1963 as the basic Sk.60A trainer, with the Sk.60B and C attack versions produced as modifications. The Sk.60C features an elongated nose to allow for the installation of a camera. The type is due to be replaced by the Grob G-120TP in Swedish service.


100 Years of Air-to-Air Refuelling

Known as the EAV-8B Matador in Spain, the fleet of aircraft operate from Base Naval de Rota (Naval Base Rota), as part of Spanish Naval Aviation (Flotilla de Aeronaves — FLOAN). The squadron operating the Matador is Arma Aerea de la Armada Española (Eslla 009). Currently, twelve Harriers remain in operation, with the squadron having clocked up in excess of 50,000 flight hours. The Spanish Navy hopes to replace the Matador at some stage in the near future as it is getting somewhat 'long in the tooth', but as yet, no firm decision has been made on its replacement. In the meantime, the Matador is scheduled to remain in service until at least 2029/2030. One of the aircraft is seen here during its display on the Saturday morning, in which  it paired up for a unique flypast with an RAF F-35B.

Two aircraft that stuck out for me amongst the Italian contingent were these two diminutive SIAI U-208s from 60° Stormo, based at Guidonia, on the outskirts of Rome. One of the aircraft painted in a commemorative  scheme to celebrate the anniversary.

Based at Newquay, British International Helicopters operate the Flag Officer Sea Training (FOST) helicopter support programme on behalf of the Royal Navy using two Airbus Helicopters AS365 N2 Dauphin IIs.

Romanian Air Force Antonov An-26 seen departing RIAT 2023. The aircraft, from 902 Escadrilla, 90 Air Base Wing, was on display in the static park

AV-8 Harriers at RIAT

The Royal Air Force certainly seemed to make more of an effort this year than they have recently. One of the first aircraft to greet me from the eastern end of the airfield was this Airbus A400M Atlas C1 (left) from nearby RAF Brize Norton. ZM421 was the last Atlas to be delivered to the RAF, arriving on delivery 22nd May from Seville, Spain.

The Atlas entered service with the RAF in 2014 to provide tactical and strategic airlift for the RAF, supplementing the C-17A Globemaster. capable of operating from established and remote airfields, including unprepared airstrips, can accommodate 116 fully-equipped troops; vehicles; helicopters; mixed loads, up to a payload of 37 tonnes.

The Harrier is a rare type to be seen outside of its own country, so for RIAT to get four of them (2 x Italian, and 2 x Spanish) is quite a coup, and unlikely to be repeated. The two Italian examples (a single-seat AV-8B+, and the sole twin-seat TAV-8B operated by them) from GRUPAER, based at Grotagglie in the south of Italy, were both on display in the static arena; whilst the Spanish Armada from 9 Escuadrilla based at NAS Rota in southern Spain, had two single-seat EAV-8B+ on show - one flying and one in the static.

Avoiding the numerous birds along the runway as it departed, this Boeing C-17A Globemaster III was flown by a crew from the 315th Airlift Wing of the United States Air Force Reserve, stationed at Charleston, South Carolina

Strategic/Tactical Airlift

A 617 Squadron Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II made an appearance in both the static and flying display, where it flew alongside a Spanish Navy EAV-8B+ Matador II from 9 Escuadrilla, demonstrating the past and the future of V/STOL and STOVL aircraft.

The multi-role Lightning II is the RAF's most advanced fighter aircraft, capable of providing air-to-air, air-to-surface, electronic warfare, and intelligence gathering capabilities simultaneously. But of course, its most noticeable capability is its ability to operate from the United Kingdom's Queen Elizabeth - class aircraft carriers utilising its short take-off and vertical landing capability. ZM154 is seen here demonstrating its STOVL capabilities.

Participating in the SKYTANKER 23 theme, were these US Air Force MC-130J Hercules and CV-22B Osprey, from the 352nd Special Operations Wing from RAF Mildenhall.

In today's modern warfare arena, air-to-air refuelling is a key force multiplier. Since the first succesful aerial refuelling on 27 June 1923, the theory of extending the range of an aircraft has become a proven and demonstrable part of military aviation. Large multi-engine transports, small fighter aircraft, long-range reconnaissance aircraft, maritime patrol aircraft, and even helicopters all benefit from the ability to refuel in the air, extending range or loiter time in the combat zone.

The most recent version of Boeing's Chinook is the CH-47F, the Netherlands is one of eight NATO countries to operate the Chinook and has fielded the aircraft continuously since receiving its first CH-47D models in 1995. In 2016, the RNLAF purchased14 new CH-47F Chinooks through the U.S. Department of Defense’s Foreign Military Sales program. In 2017, the RNLAF signed an agreement to upgrade their remaining six D-model Chinook helicopters to the latest F-model configuration, ensuring commonality of systems for their entire 20-aircraft fleet.

The RNLAF sent a pair of their CH-47F Chinooks to appear on static display at this year's Air Tattoo, provided by 298 Squadron Grizzlies from Gilze-Rijen Air Base. This is the first time an F-model Chinook has appeared at RIAT.

Sadly, the security situation reared its head this year, with the fear of ‘Stop Oil’ protesters making an appearance, leading to a policy of searching all bags prior to anyone entering the airfield. Unfortunately, a lack of sufficient staff meant that unless you arrived a couple of hours before the ‘gates’ opened, you were most likely going to experience extremely long queues, with 2+ hours to get in not unusual on the Saturday and Sunday morning, not funny - so RIAT take note!

The RUAG Trophy (Awarded to the Overall Winner of the Concours d'Elegance)
SIAI-Marchetti U-208A - Italian Air Force

The Northrop Grumman Trophy (Awarded to the Runner-up of the Concours d’Elegance Competition)
Lockheed C-130H Hercules – Royal Jordanian Air Force.

The Bluescape Trophy (Awarded for the Crew Challenge Aircraft Recognition Competition)
Team Wings of Valhalla - Swedish Air Force.

The ‘Spirit of the Meet’ Trophy (Awarded to the participant embodying the spirit of the Air Tattoo)
The Italian Air Force & Italian Historic Aircraft Group

The Paul Bowen Trophy (in memory of RIAT’s co-founder for the Best Solo Jet Demonstration)
SAAB Gripen E flown by André Brännström.

The King Hussein Memorial Sword (Most Polished & Precise Flying Display)
Swedish Air Force SAAB SK.60 flown by Captain Nils Schylström.

Alongside the Atlas was a Boeing P-8 Poseidon MRA1 from RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland. Poseidon is the RAF's current multi-role maritime patrol aircraft, equipped with sensors and weapons systems for anti-submarine warfare, surveillance,  and search and rescue missions. In service with 120 and 201 Squadrons since 2020, Poseidon’s comprehensive mission system features an APY-10 radar with modes for high-resolution mapping, an acoustic sensor system, including passive and multi-static sonobuoys, electro-optical/IR turret and electronic support measures (ESM).  This equipment delivers comprehensive search and tracking capability, while the aircraft’s weapons system includes torpedoes for engaging sub-surface targets. 

In 2013, Bristow Helicopters began their SAR contract for northern Scotland on behalf of HM Coastguard, providing the 999 helicopter SAR service, part of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency of HM Government in the United Kingdom - flying Sikorsky S-92 helicopters from Sumburgh, in Shetland, and Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. The Department for Transport awarded Bristow's the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s helicopter search and rescue contract in April 2015.

Two aircraft in the static display were this Grumman E-550A (left), modified by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Elta, into a Conformal Airborne Early Warning & Control (CAEW) aircraft; and this Leonardo Helicopters HH-139B helicopter (right), in service with 15° Stormo in the SAR (Search And Rescue) role.

Noticeable at RIAT 2023 was how the F-16 Fighting Falcon, once a mainstay of fighter aircraft at the Air Tattoo for many years, is now starting to diminish drastically in numbers as Lockheed Martin's F-35 Lightning II becomes more prominent. Although the Royal Netherlands Air Force still had a couple of F-16s at RIAT 23, this was the first time any of their F-35As had made an appearance. The two Lightning IIs were both on display in the static park, alongside a US Air Force example. One of the Dutch F-35s had a unit badge on the vertical tailfin, #F-019 seen taxying out for departure with its 322 Squadron logo visible. There is no doubt we will see more and more of the F-35 in the future as the majority of European air arms operating the F-16, convert to the type.

As its main theme for 2023, the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) celebrated 100 years of air-to-air refuelling. Marking the anniversary, the Royal Air Force were joined by allies and partners from around the world, including the Italian Air Force, which was also celebrating the centenary of its formation. An impressive 253 aircraft from 25 different nations took part in RIAT this year, and despite the good old British weather causing problems throughout the weekend, approximately 150,000 members of the public attended over the three days of the show.

This C-130H from 4 Squadron of the Royal Saudi Air Force was providing support for the 'Saudi Hawks' display team, which performed at RIAT 2023

A type that last visited RIAT in 2004, the Dornier 228 is a short take-off and landing (STOL) aircraft developed during the early 1980s. The Italian Army operate three Dornier Do 228-212 light tactical transport (ACTL-1 in the AVES designation system and UC-228 in the Italian Mission Design Series), which entered service on 6 February 1992 for a wide series of operational missions, such as a personnel transport, light-loads transport, airdrop of paratroopers and cargo loads, and medical evacuation. The aircraft were modernised by RUAG during 2019 so that they could comply with European Aviation Safety Agency requirements, which came into effect during 2020. 28° Gruppo Squadroni  'Tucano' of the Aviazione dell’Esercito are based at Viterbo.

The weather as always has a major effect on any airshow, be it good or bad. Last year we had very hot and sunny weather over the weekend of RIAT 2022, this year we had plenty of wind and rain! Friday's forecast proved to be correct, with rain and strong winds leading to several flying displays being cancelled - although it must be said that a number of displays went ahead, and credit to all involved for that. Saturday started off much better, but got noticeably worse from around 1.30pm onwards, when torrential rain soaked the airfield for about ten minutes during the early afternoon – with myself included getting absolutely drenched (more of that later). Sunday finally saw the wind die down and the sun appear more regularly, however a number of displays were still cancelled due to the threat of thunderstorms in the area.

Personally, RIAT was very much a mixed bag for me. I planned to attend Friday but decided not to due to the weather forecast (no regrets on that one). I attended Saturday, which started well and then went downhill so fast I was left……. well very wet, and then just left! All was going fine, I’d photographed some of the flying display in the morning, and then decided to spend some time walking the static display, only to get caught by a huge downpour whilst at the western end of the airfield where there was nowhere to get shelter. I literally got soaked, to the point that I looked as if someone had thrown 20 buckets of water of over me – leaving me with no choice other than to walk back to my car and go home! Sunday I never planned to attend, and so returned on Monday for departures, where fortunately the weather was much improved and I had a better day. Overall, a mixed bag for me, but as usual I saw a few aircraft that I have not seen before, plus a few that I haven’t seen for a while – and many not at an airshow before. So did I enjoy it? Well, sort of…………It will certainly be one I won’t forget for a while.

So here's a few examples of what was on show. As is the norm with RIAT, there's far to much to show you everything, but hopefully the following images will give you a feel for it.

Making their debut at RIAT 2023, Metrea provides its customers with a readily-available service that can solve refuelling gaps. Using a fleet of four ex-Singapore Air Force Boeing KC-135R aircraft, Metrea delivers commercial air-to-air refueling (AAR) solutions to meet US Department of Defense customers’ under-resourced refuelling requirements; also supporting through the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) Program. The aircraft was on view in the static arena, but is captured here departing for home after the show.

Another cold-war relic on display was this Sukhoi SU-22M-4 (NATO reporting name Fitter)of the Polish Air Force. One more type due for withdrawal soon, they have in recent years been repainted in a two-tone grey paint scheme. The Polish Air Force operated around 120 'Fitters' at its peak, these ageing Russian-made aircraft, based at Swidwin with 21 Baza Lotnictwa Taktycznego, should remain operational until 2025. But, it is possible that it may be the last time we see one at an Air Tattoo, as the Polish Air Force have ordered the Korean FA-50 to replace the type, with the first due to be delivered this November.

The Boeing C-17A Globemaster C1 is a long-range, heavy-lift strategic transport aircraft, capable of rapid, strategic delivery of troops and cargo anywhere in the world. It can transport 100,000lb of freight more than 4,500nm flying at altitudes above 35,000ft - operating into small, austere airfields and onto runways as short as 3,500ft.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) agreed a seven-year ‘lease and support’ contract with Boeing in 2000 for four C-17A, entering service with 99 Squadron at RAF Brize Norton. The MoD bought the four aircraft in 2006 and ordered a fifth, with a sixth ordered in 2007, a seventh in 2009 and the eighth and final example in 2012.

A type which appeared last year, and which I did not think I would see again was the AMX. Nicknamed the Ghibli in the Italian Air Force, the AMX is a light-attack and reconnaissance aircraft produced in Italy to replace the Fiat G.91Y. The type is due for withdrawal imminently, and I'm fairly sure we won't see one in the UK again. The Italian Air Force bought along both a specially marked single-seat A-11A (named Guizzo 01), and a twin-seat TA-11B.

Italian Air Force


This former Belgian Air Force Sea King Mk48 is now owned and operated by Historic Helicopters. The Sea King served the Belgian Air Force from 1976 until March 2019 - its primary roll conducting Search and Rescue (SAR)

From the latest fighter type on display to an undoubted veteran in the shape of a McDonnell-Douglas F-4E Phantom II. Once again the Hellenic Air Force managed to get one of their dwindling number to RIAT. The last flying F-4s in Europe, and one of a very small number left operational in the world with 338 Mira (Squadron) based at Andravida, the Phantom was always one of the most popular exhibits at the show, enthusiasts flocking to purchase badges, t-shirts and anything else the Greeks had to sell with a Phantom on it. The aircraft is seen here after arriving back at Fairford on the Monday, having already departed for home earlier in the morning, but being refused entry into French airspace due to a problem with its flight Plan. 

Although not part of RIAT 2023, this Belgian Air Force A400M provided support for the BAF contingent at the show

The Aeronautica Militare Italiana have always been avid supporters of RIAT, regularly providing aircraft for both the static and flying displays over many years. However, in 2023 they went above and beyond as they celebrated their 100-year anniversary. So much so, that RIAT provided them with an area of the static arena just for them! Here's a few of the aircraft-

A regular AMI visitor to RIAT over many years, the Alenia C-27J Spartan transport aircraft (left), was represented in both the static and flying displays - this one in the static arena adorned with '100 Year' anniversary markings. More interesting however, was the appearance of this Leonardo P-72A maritime patrol aircraft (MPA). Based on the ATR-72-600 commercial turboprop, the Italian Air Force P-72As perform intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR), SAR (search and rescue) missions, in addition to supporting operations to counter narcotics and weapons smuggling and piracy. Four such aircraft are operated by joint Italian Navy and Air Force crews who form 41º Stormo at Sigonella, Sicily.

Yet another aircraft providing support for a display team was this Hercules from the United Arab Emirates Air Force, supporting the 'Al Fursan' team

The Home of Military Aircraft

Making its first appearance at RIAT was Saab's JAS-39E, the latest version of the manufacturer's Gripen - with one aircraft appearing on static display and the second performing in the flying programme, flown by a SAAB test pilot.

The JAS-39E differs from the earlier A and C models by utilising General Electric's F414 engine, the advanced Raven AESA radar, more advanced avionics plus a revised undercarriage and fuselage layout which creates space for additional fuel and two extra weapon hard-points. The Gripen E has been co-funded by Sweden and Brazil, with Brazil assembling the majority of their aircraft in country. Brazil has also ordered eight two-seat Gripen F variants that can be used for training or SEAD/Jamming activities.

The small helicopter drone above, is a Schiebel Camcopter S-100, based at Caernarfon, Wales. Behind it is a Beechcraft Super King Air operated by  2Excel Aviation, which supports a variety of ocean-based requirements, including search and rescue for the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency. The King Air Surveillance Aircraft are designed to complement and enhance the MCA’s life-saving search and rescue, law enforcement, fisheries and pollution detection capabilities, and are based at Doncaster-Sheffield Airport in South Yorkshire.

Seen here (above, and right) are the two Italian Navy Harriers heading out to the runway at RAF Fairford for departure back to Grottaglie after the show. The single-seat aircraft wears a wolf on the vertical tailfin, Gruppo Aerei Imbarcati, who (GRUPAER) operate the aircraft, having the nickname 'Wolves'. The twin-seat TAV-8B has an enlarged squadron badge on its tailfin, and is the sole example of two twin-seater's originally in service. A fleet of 16 AV-8B and two TAV-8B were ordered in 1989, but the type is slated for withdrawal as the replacement Lockheed Martin's F-35B Lightning II enters service.

Eight UAE Air Force pilots were trained in July 2010 under the supervision of the Italian Air Force's 'Frecce Tricolori' pilots at Rivolto Air Base in Italy, with their first public demonstration taking place on 13 November 2011 during the Dubai Air Show. This was not their first appearance at the Air Tattoo, as the Al Fursan also displayed at the Royal International Air Tattoo in 2012.

The Aeronautica Militare Italiana are no strangers to RIAT, always providing strong support each year to the event. But 2023 saw them go above and beyond as they celebrated their 100 Year Anniversary.

​​Jetwash Aviation Photos