Still the UK’s biggest military airshow, RIAT 2014 is looking like a cracker, and hopefully one with a very special début visitor – the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II. Gareth Stringer looks ahead to the show.

It’s always hard to preview an airshow of RIAT’s scale. While it, and every other airshow like it, simply cannot match the vast scale of those from years gone by, it’s still a bloody big event and one that attracts a lot of aircraft, more than 220 this year alone.

F-35B Lightning II © Lockheed Martin

F-35B Lightning II © Lockheed Martin

Thankfully, there is at least an obvious place to start although, as I write this, the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II has yet to touch down on UK soil! With four examples of the Joint Strike Fighter due to make a début visit to these shores, the aircraft has, understandably, been attracting much publicity. Unfortunately it hasn’t all been of a positive nature, with an F-35A catching fire on the runway at Eglin AFB last week, thankfully with no casualties, of a human nature at least.

Hopefully, in the next few days, four F-35B STOVL (Short Take off / Vertical Landing) variants, three from the USMC and one destined for the RAF, will be safely on the ground at RAF Fairford, along with English demo pilot, Squadron Leader Hugh Nichols. With many of us having not seen the jet in the flesh, a visit to the UK for JSF has been a long time coming and yes, you should expect to see and hear a lot more about them in the next two weeks or so!

Dean West ©

Polish Air Force SU-22 Fitters – Dean West ©

The other big news regarding RIAT this year is that the event, strictly speaking, is now being held over three days. Saturday (Note – Saturday has SOLD OUT) and Sunday, with their mammoth flying displays, remain as normal, but Friday is now hosting not only the general public, but an official flying display from 1300 until 1700.

It’s all part of RIAT’s commemorations to mark the 50th display season of the Red Arrows and includes access to the ‘pit area’ containing Reds’ aircraft, both old and current, along with those from visiting display teams.

Shaun Schofield ©

Italian Air Force Tornado – Shaun Schofield ©

As well as a flypast involving the Red Arrows and lead aircraft from Patrouille de France, Frecce Tricolori, Patrouille Suisse and the Breitling Jet Team, Friday’s flying display also incorporates the likes of RAF Typhoon, US Navy Super Hornet, AAC Apache, Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16, A400M, Italian Typhoon and of course the F-35B. For full details on the Friday opening click here.

Elsewhere in the main weekend flying display, look out for a major contribution from the Italian Air Force with the aforementioned Typhoon and Frecce Tricolori performing along with A-11 (AMX), Tornado and C-27J Spartan; that’s a mighty contribution from one single country.

Gareth Stringer ©

Swiss Hornets and Red Arrows – Gareth Stringer ©

The relatively late addition of two Polish Air Force SU-22M Fitters was most welcome, and they will join a whole plethora of other fast jets in the flying programme, with SoloTurk (F-16), Swiss Air Force F-18 Hornet, Belgian Air Force F-16, Hawker Hunter, Swedish Air Force Saab Gripen and Estonian Air Force L-39C Albatross (Friday only) joining those already mentioned. If you love a bit of noise, RIAT is still the show for fast jet solos, there’s no doubt about it.

There will be more fast jet visitors to be found in the static display too, with a Spanish EF-18 Hornet, Hungarian Gripen and Danish F-16 among those due in, along with two Greek A-7 Corsairs, both a single seat A-7E and two-seat TA-7C version. This will be the A-7’s final appearance at RIAT, with the aircraft scheduled to retire in October, and the A-7E should be the black Olympus ‘Fly Low Hit Hard’ special while the TA-7C could be that wearing it’s new gloss, retro, wrap-around scheme, matching that from when they were originally delivered. Regardless, the A-7s are a great coup for RIAT and we look forward to seeing them.

Gordon Jones ©

Hellenic Air Force TA-7C Corsair – Gordon Jones ©

Like Italy, Germany has also gone above and beyond the call of duty, albeit all of its visitors to the show will be on static display. But when that list includes A310 MRTT, Eurofighter, Tornado, Transall C-160, Bo-105, Do-228, P-3C Orion and a Sea King, it would probably be a little harsh to complain about that!

The Royal Air Force, Army Air Corps and Royal Navy will be out in force, as you would expect, with most of the services’ flying display teams and solos represented, backed up by a good representative cross-section of static aircraft from the frontline, training, and rotary cadres.

Textron AirLand Scorpion © Textron AirLand

Textron AirLand Scorpion © Textron AirLand

Support from the USA military for UK shows is much reduced this year, even by recent standards, but the US Navy’s P-8 Poseidon will move on to RIAT having appeared at Waddington and before heading for Farnborough, while the Textron AirLand Scorpion is another excellent pre-FIA 2014 addition, and another first for the show, albeit a privately owned one. For the full list of all participating aircraft, click here.

On the ground, RIAT has once again broken everything up in to handy sections, while trying to refine the showground attractions to maintain the vital balance between being an airshow and having enough extra to do, to ensure that the family day out is well catered for. Yes, believe it or not, some people do need more than aircraft and it’s an important factor for the show’s long term sustainability, as indeed it is for every show.

Shaun Schofield ©

40 years of the F-16 will also be commemorated – Shaun Schofield ©

So, you will once again find the Techno Zone, sponsored by Lockheed Martin, which covers the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) with cutting edge exhibits and hands-on activities.

The Adrenalin Zone sees the return of the Animal WD40 Action Sports Tour, but thankfully not the whine of the Caterham cars that was such an unwelcome feature last year, while the Vintage Village focusses on cars, lifestyle and military heritage from the 1950s and 1960s. Finally we have the RAF and Red Arrows Village, which celebrates 50 years of the Red Arrows and will see all the RAF’s ground exhibits together in one place.

Glenn Beasley ©

A400M is an impressive performer – Glenn Beasley ©

The Service Stations make a welcome return, with their free Wifi, cash points, information and toilets etc, while the Air Tattoo Crew will once again be on hand all over the showground, ready to help any visitor to the show with (almost) anything).

So, RIAT 2014 looks like a strong one, and we are certainly looking forward to it. We’ll bring you all the news and views from RAF Fairford, right here on GAR.