RIAT 2022 – Fairford

by Brian Nicholson

The Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) was held this year at Fairford after a 2 year absence, with show days on 15th-17th July. An expected audience of 170,000 over the three daysmeant that this was an important opportunity for the Historic Flight to be in attendance and on show, in order to raise our profile with aviation enthusiasts and the general public.

The weekend for us started on Thursday 16th with Rich pre-positioning the Sioux (complete with wheels!) in readiness for a weekend of static display. With the weather forecast set fair (hot), we were excited at the prospect of setting up shop and meeting as many people as we could manage. 

Friday morning dawned with an early start at Hangar 3, meeting at 06.15 for 06.45 departure. The task was to load the Kia with all our stand equipment plus the Sioux’s Casevac Litter. This proved impossible however as, with three of us plus other kit on board, no amount of fiddling or jiggling could accommodate the Litter so it sadly had to be left behind. Luckily, Rich followed later in the day by car and bought it with him, so it did get there in the end.

On arrival at the RIAT site, we eventually got through a most complex and very confusing registration process to have our car permit and passes issued. We then managed to find our bearings and locate the Sioux, which in itself was no mean feat on such a huge site. Once established though we set up shop, accompanied by George’s dulcet tones over the PA system, and waited for the public to descend.

Our static display was located in the ‘Vintage’ area at one end of the site. We were adjacent to the parking/taxi way for some of the aerobatic teams, notably the Black Eagles from Korea; their first time back in the UK for 10years. 

The Red Arrows flying with the Black Eagles

Along with great numbers of the public, we also had a visit from Winston Churchill (and his wife Clementine) who gave victory speeches from time to time from the nearby Bandstand. A group of three lady singers gamely belted out 40’s numbers from there, and competed with the roar of fighter jets carrying out flying displays overhead. 

During a break, the singing group paid us a visit and asked to sit in the Sioux. It was explained that there was no elegant way to achieve this in dresses and high heels but they manged and seemed to enjoy it anyway!

The weather forecast turned out to be correct and the temperature gradually climbed throughout the weekend, prompting an amber heat alert from the Met Office. Mark declared that this called for an ice cream each and strode off to buy them, only to return sometime later a bit ashen faced once he’d found out they were £6 each. However, they were delicious and just what was needed to cool us down. 

A ban on having our gazebo in place meant that we were in full sun the entire time so wide brimmed hats, plenty of hydration and sun screen  were  the order of the weekend. Thankfully, the organisers had placed many free fresh water tanks around the site, so getting a refill for your water bottle was never a problem, especially once Danny had located a ‘secret bowser’ hidden from public gaze and with no queues.

The interest shown in our static display of the Sioux was high throughout the three days and resulted in many enquiries for Pax flights, some of which have already been followed through with Mark. The flow of people was steady throughout and often we were all fully engaged in answering questions about the Sioux and the Historic Flight. Predictably, activity slackened off while there was a display going on, but then it is quite hard to hold a conversation with that level of background noise!

An indication of how busy we were could be seen as we were the only display come Sunday with a large bald patch on the grass in front of it.

Of our many, many visitors, one or two stood out.  One was a guy who asked Danny if he had been at Capel the other week, taking a photo of him from the back of the Scout as it flew in because he had taken a photo back in response. So there they were, two strangers taking a pic of one another from afar at Capel. I thought it would be an idea to replicate them taking pics of one another for posterity:

Another was an ex-REME Airtech who had fond memories of working on our very own Sioux XT131 as a crew chief back in the mid 70’s. There was an emotional reunion, even tears, as we showed him around and had him sit in the cockpit. He was accompanied by his son who witnessed what it had all meant to his Dad.

Around 18.00 on Sunday, the crowds began to thin once the final flying displays had concluded. At short notice, Rich was offered the opportunity to fly the Sioux out in the company of a Wessex and a Sea King. They were due to lift off at 19.00-ish, which left precious little time to break the barriers open, push the Sioux out to the dispersal and get it ready to go. Having achieved that, all that was left was to pack up the Kia with a couple of hot and dusty trips to and fro and then tackle the home-going traffic. Having watched Rich depart safely without getting blown about too much by the Sea King he was following, we refilled our water bottles one last time set off for home, complete with the Casevac litter, luggage, show kit and Sioux wheels somehow all on board for the homeward journey.

With Danny safely deposited at Grately for his train home, I arrived at Hangar 3 to find Rich waiting patiently for the wheels and, once fitted, we put the Sioux to bed and made our way off home at about 21.00.

All in all, we had a very hot, dusty and busy but rewarding weekend, which I am certain achieved our objectives of raising awareness and income for the trust. 

Photo Credits: Brian Nicholson, Daniel Frampton, and David Peace of ROC Association