Dateline: Thursday 13th July to Sunday 16th July 2023
Location: RAF Fairford Gloucestershire
Now most enthusiasts are aware that this location and around that date spells RIAT or to give it it’s full name Royal International Air Tattoo. Unfortunately as a volunteer colleague of ours pointed out it can sometimes be better known as Rains Incessantly All Time, sadly that was to prove the case this year. Last year nearly 40°C this year high winds and rain by the bucket full.
Sadly, due to circumstances beyond our control we couldn’t take the Event Trailer so it was a case of break-out what kit of old we could find and cram it into the van and small trailer. Now we haven’t done this for 8 years so when it came to packing it was a big challenge, Even the resident mouse vacated the trailer as he/she was afraid of being crushed! But we managed it… just.
So, Thursday is called Set-up Day and we got our first sight of our home in the pre-erected marquee around 10.30 hrs. Task one, get the trailer inside, task two get the van as close to the entrance as possible, then and only then start unloading. Hardware first, tables, display unit, hanging rails. Slowly but surely it came together. We had a plan to start with and with a tweak here and there it worked.
Two models were “eye catchers” one a 1/32nd scale Dambuster AVRO Lancaster with lights and moving parts, the other 1/32nd scale AVRO Vulcan B.2 XH558. Eye catchers they are, virtually identical wingspans of 950m/m so quite large. So we hoped they would work their magic on the expected visitors.
So Thursday morning on site by 07.00 hrs ready for the influx of visitors, normally the Friday is a mass of Schools and Cadets. Not this year far fewer schools and a big reduction in Cadets which we found out was due to the RAF cadet association rules changing and the various squadrons not being able to take cadets out of school who were still in full time education. We actually missed them but increased public numbers made up for it to a degree. The weather however did it’s best to put a damper on the day, sadly it succeeded and flying, what little there had been was cancelled around 14.00 hrs. We of course couldn’t just walk off we had to stay until our allotted departure time of 18.00 hrs. One consolation was that sales of waterproof jackets were good and we sold all out umbrellas bar one, the display model and none of the volunteers wanted to go out to retrieve it.
Saturday dawned slightly brighter and there was a chance of some flying but rain was still around and the wind had picked up putting a quite cool air across the airfield Now it should be said at this stage we had two “newbies” amongst the Team. First ever RIAT they had been warned it was long and tiring and to give them their due they rose to the occasion, the “old” hands are of course used to it so paced themselves for the full day of 12.5 hours There were a few monumental downpours during the day but whilst a few displays were cancelled or severely curtailed there was generally a good selection to watch …. Except of course we didn’t get to see much as we were busy, busy, busy, 90% of the time. Things got a little out of hand during heavy rains deluges a, being one of the bigger units we had more space for people to shelter so it did get a bit crowded, actually it got very crowded. Still it was an opportunity to sell and worked as by the end of the day stocks of Fleeces, waterproof jackets, and Sweatshirts had taken quite a hammering even the display umbrella sold
Interestingly, offers to acquire came in for the two 1/32nd scale models as well these were noted and interested parties were asked to email to register their interest and even bid if they wished. It was not what we had expected but it proved the value of taking them to the event and creating a talking point.
And so, after a night’s sleep it was time for the Final day, the weather was a lot kinder and aircraft which had not displayed on the previous days were let loose at last in addition to those that had braved the weather before. So we got a chance to see the ME262 and the BBMF Lancaster, Rounded off by The B-52, which is a Cold War Bomber of the 50’s, upgraded and improved more than once and now about to have its life extended further possibly to the 2050 helped by the change to Rolls-Royce engines.
We did still have some torrential downpours and we twice had the unit full of people so we instituted what is called the “Dunsfold Protocol”, this requires and announcement to those present that we are a Charity and don’t mind visitors sheltering for free, we would like them to but something but if they don’t then sorry but you will need to pay to get out by donation ! If you think this is not becoming of us then you are wrong, it is broadcast with a smile and with humour and in 95% of cases of those present accept in full and good spirit. Consequently, we had our best donations collection in a long time and the shop sales did go up. …. Sometimes you have to be cheeky.
One of the nice things about an airshow is meeting familiar friends, supporters and especially new acquaintances. We regularly get Aircrew and Ground crew visiting and so it was this year with USAF, French, Thai and Spanish crews wandering in for a look around and buying things. This year was the 100th anniversary of formation of the Aeronautica Militare Italiana. The Italian Military Air Force. We had a visit from two groups of their team at RIAT and it should be noted that AMI won three significant flying awards, including “Best flying demonstration by an overseas participant” for their display of helicopter AH129D, also known as “Mangusta”, so we were honoured when Lieutenant Colonel Giuseppe Anastan presented a much sort after 100th Anniversary Baseball to one of our team in exchange for a Scorpion branded cap. Something to do with an Abarth sports car I believe.
And so with the B-52 signing off the airshow with a gentle landing and streaming the parachute it was time to pack up and make our way home. Fortunately with satisfactory sales over the weekend it was easier to pack. So it was that the Van and Trailer made it home around 23.40 hrs on the Sunday after a great weekend.
So thanks to Madeleine, Candi, Laura, Dougie, and Brian, not forgetting Isi who has had to put up with the ups and downs of RIAT 2023 since April this year. Thank you one and all from the Trust and from myself