RIAT 2017

In July RAF Fairford hosted the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT); the biggest airshow in the world with over 160,000 people attending over three days.

Like every major operation and exercise, there is a significant amount of planning and delivery that arguably sets the conditions for success. The men and women of the A4 Force at RAF Wittering certainly played their part in the success of RIAT (as they do with virtually every operation and exercise); here’s a short insight into how a field in Gloucestershire was turned in to the RAF Village, according to Sqn Ldr Dave Ward.

Firstly, let’s rewind to March 2017; Ex UNA TRIANGLE is still fresh in my mind. I received a call from my boss telling me I’d been successful in an Air Command trawl for a Project Officer to run the RAF Village for RIAT 17. I reached for my trusted Oxford English Dictionary to clarify the definition of ‘successful’. Now content of my ‘willing volunteer’ status, I set about understanding what the RAF Village was and what it was the RAF wanted from me this year. “Simple” came the guidance, “just do what they did last year…but make
it better”.

So if you’ll excuse me jumping the natural timeline, I’ll fast-forward to the Souvenir Programme and quote the headliner for the
RAF Village:

“The RAF Village is a showcase for the people and equipment that together enable today’s Royal Air Force to deliver Air and Space Power. The displays represent a Service in constant operational demand and which is busier than ever, with highly talented, well trained and motivated
work force.”

But how did we get from a field to this ‘showcase’? Months before the airshow was delivered a small team of people gathered in Douglas Bader House, the HQ for the RAF Charitable Trust Enterprises – the organisation responsible for organising the whole of the Air Tattoo; the aspirations for the flying and static aircraft displays were set out, as were the themes of the other areas. With the overall theme of RIAT 17 being ‘21st Century Partnerships’  it didn’t really lead or constrain the design of the Village, so my plan was to break the sizeable patch (some 200m by 100m) into ‘zones’. The four main zones fitted neatly around the A400M centre-piece from LXX Sqn, RAF Brize Norton; clearly a feature in its own right, but a fine back-drop for both 1 Air Mobility Wing and 4624 Sqn Royal Auxiliary Air Force (RAuxAF). The bulk of 4624’s work was actually in the handling of visiting aircraft in the week before and after RIAT, although their personnel in the Village had quite a bit of success in recruiting the Reserves of the future.

With the RAF Regiment celebrating their 75th Anniversary, it was only right to give them their own zone, but incorporated into that would be our own emergency services; RAF Police, Fire Service, 5131(BD) Sqn and troops from both Valley and Leeming Mountain Rescue Teams. I’m clearly biased, but on the day, the Bomb Disposal and Mountain Rescue displays were clearly the best in that zone!

The Air Combat Service Support Unit (ACSSU) zone featured a plethora of equipment from 90 Signals Unit and a Russian SA-6 surface-to-air missile launcher fresh from the ranges at RAF Spadeadam, and what 2MT Sqn couldn’t make up in foreign exotica, they did in size, showcasing a 20-tonne crane and Oshkosh. Of course, the real success of 2MT Sqn was, as ever, behind the scenes enabling the operation. Without the considerable support of the Sqn delivering equipment to the site, half of the exhibitors and the vast majority of Ground Support Equipment and airfield vehicles would not have been in place. The highest profile of those ‘behind the scenes’ moves was undoubtedly the transportation of the rare and very valuable Heritage vehicles from RAF Honington, the Regiment vehicles may have wowed the crowds, but it was 2 MT Sqn that got them there. And while 2MT Sqn were heavily tasked, 504 Sqn RAuxAF were also called in to assist in the build-up, with members of the Squadron travelling the length and breadth of the country to collect and drive vehicles to Fairford – a whole Force effort.

Viewing trucks was not the only hunger the general public had; 3 Mobile Catering Sqn provided an ‘open-fronted kitchen’ and three times a day over the weekend, produced various stir-fry taster pots. Over 3,000 people benefitted from hot noodles, top tips from expert chefs, and on more than one occasion, a narrative by the ever-enthusiastic 2ic, Flt Lt Owen Newman who was not at RIAT in this capacity, but was one of the two people helping me to deliver the whole Village display. Specifically, Owen was responsible for ensuring that the 300 plus RAF personnel supporting the Village
were accommodated (either at South Cerney or Cirencester), fed and had site access throughout the whole of the airshow period.

Of course, not all of the Force ACSSUs sat in that zone; both 71 (Inspection & Repair) Sqn and 93 (Expeditionary Armament) Sqn were aircraft facing, we elected not to put 71(IR) Sqn’s damaged Hawk nose-cone too close to the Red Arrows Hawk (sort of a ‘before and after’), but the chance for 93(EA) Sqn to display such a large variety of air weapons adjacent to the Typhoon was an opportunity not to be missed. It was such an easy link for the University Air Sqn students manning the Typhoon cockpit display to simply point at the weapons as the kids exited the cockpit… both of the displays from 42 (Expeditionary Support) Wing were a huge hit. Again, behind the scenes, two people from 5001 (Bomb Disposal) Sqn kept all the power going ensuring that TV’s, sports simulators, the F35 ocular head-sets and numerous laptops and projectors kept running and kept the public engaged. While I thought my request for a brew tent and phone charging points was a cheeky one for the electrician, it was nothing to compete with the International co-operation required when a fridge on the back of the Italian C-130 stopped working; a Corporal from 5001 Sqn will not get a commendation for his efforts, but he did get an exceedingly chilled Peroni – Molte grazi! In the months running up to the Airshow weekend Flt Lt’s Tom Boyhan and Owen Newman helped me plan and deliver the RAF Village, but there were so many others that made that plan a successful display.

Whether you’re the fast-jet pilot who prosecutes air missions from an austere base in the middle of nowhere, or a paying member of the public who’s come to see an airshow, there’s an unseen similarity in both. Behind those successes are the individuals from RAF Wittering (other RAF Stations are available) who quietly and unassumingly provide the most professional of support from transportation to power; feeding to aircraft repair; ordinance provision to ordinance disposal; aircraft recovery and aircrew rescue to temporary technical accommodation. It’s remarkable what goes on at RAF Wittering, but it’s more remarkable what our people make happen.