Friday 16th July 2010 1100 Hrs Local
Arriving with great anticipation on the Friday with a very remote chance of getting into the base in the afternoon to visit the static and check out the live side, the Dutch Viper blasting over Toms camp site while we were pitching up just intensified the excitement and let you know where you were!!!
1245 Hrs Local
I can assure you the three of us were listening for my mobile phone for any signs of life with an intensity that was unnatural for three adults of our ages. The text message “You here yet? give me a call”. Heart extending through chest I look up his name and ring the number. Against the high pitched whine of jet engines I can just hear him on the other end, “It’s your lucky day, I can get a minibus, I’ll sort three coats and passes, meet me up from the North crash gate in 10 mins, I can get you in, see you soon”…… Jesus we’re on, lets get moving!!!!!!
The minibus rounds the corner of the road we’re trudging down with my bosses huge grin in the driving seat. When I started working in Defence environments nothing ever lead me to even dare consider the experience we were just about to enter into, but I guess the right environment and relationship, and a boss as a RIAT volunteer is just an ideal combination. Fairford, RIAT weekend, prior to opening to the public, unrivalled access to the static, and if time allowed, a blast over the live side to watch some of the BoB practice and some of the ground movements!!!!!! To say the day was going well would be a huge understatement.
1343 Hrs Local
Once through, the French Transall crew were stood by the side of the taxi way and needed transporting to the crew check in so hopped into the official aircrew transport that was also our run about for the afternoon. Once they had been released, to the static we go. First up the ‘live’ end and tumbling out to take the Camo Tucanos and EADS 109, he states “I’ll just drive along the length of the static, if you want to take anything we’ll stop, just shout”. So blasé about the whole thing, while the three slobbering wrecks behind him thought they must have been having a parallel experience or something similar.
So what next after the initial line up, still with a feeling that we shouldn’t even be here, let alone striding around and taking photos without restriction?
“Do you want to go on board the 135 and T-43”?
“Yeah go on then”, as you would, I’m sure it’d be rude not to!!!
Following on it was up the rest of the flight line all the way to the German P-3 that was waiting to be parked. After this where did we want to go now? “Can we go over to the live side at all”?
“Yeah sure but you’ll have to stay close to where ever we park the bus OK”?
“We can live with that, let’s go”.
1451 Hrs Local
Once over there, we parked up at the taxi way end of the display team line up, and blow me down if the first movement that had to pass our position was only the display Raptor. Excitement had long been left behind as she trundled down the taxi way towards us, and hysteria was now seen as the norm, apart from our tour guide who chose the opportunity to get some shut eye in the cab!!!!! (OMG as the saying goes)
So how do you top that? The Battle of Britain practice was coming to an end and with the prospect of Hawks and F-16s headed in our direction after touchdown it was just getting better and better, especially knowing that once this lot were down we’d be under the Raptor as it practised……..
“Hey Boss, sorry to wake you but why is that 16 flying so close to the Eagle, looks like he’s checking him over?”
“Christ, come on I need to get you off the field now in case there’s anything a miss”
We felt the luck of the day had run dry and to steal some timeless comedy genius “I think the phrase rhymed with Clucking Bell”.
Still, we had to go and to have even had the last couple of hours we’d had was just pure aviation enthusiast heaven in itself. The walk back to the camp site began and while the Raptor displayed over the top of us causing jaws to drag along the road, we realised our luck probably was still in looking at the colour of the sky headed in our direction.
Before that cloud burst that kept us in the tent for a good hour, the Raptor completed, turning on short finals right over Toms site, and 558 got in before the weather broke. Our luck was holding in there, not having to have walked back in that cloud burst was a good thing.
1654 Hrs Local
Once the shower had passed, up came the French with a great practice display in superb lighting and cloud conditions. PDF complete, and the rest of the evenings arrivals weren’t to shabby either.
So Friday complete, and what a Friday at RIAT that’s been!!! Settling down for an evening of beer and bacon sandwiches while looking at the results of the day on a laptop, early into the bag for a pre-0500 start on the Saturday.
Saturday 17th July 0440 Hrs Local
Up N’ at it, in scenes not dissimilar to the march to Goose Green, three left the site loaded to the gills with camera equipment, chairs, and food. I’m pretty sure most who were watching at that time of day were counting us out so they could check over who returned safely, and to see if any of us became a straggler and got picked off by the overpriced food wagons, falling behind the main group on the trip home.
The usual banter in the holding pens before gates open, and as always, looking at the length of the line behind when the gate opened, the early rise was justified.
The usual Six Nations forward experience while waiting to be frisked by eager members of the RAF cadet force, then we’re in!!!!!!! Head for the display line guys, and get your chairs in there before Camp Bastion is mobilised on the rope and every take off shot from back off the line has a green, red, or yellow tent at the bottom of it.
Due to yesterday we didn’t need to look at the static, so there we were, on the front line until the end of flying, trying not to drink to much and timing all pit stops with propeller driven display teams (all respect to them, but they are a natural break in proceedings at a show such as Fairford).
The flying was fantastic, and the weather was just as good (particularly in light of Sunday), only clouding over for the Battle of Britain tribute and the A400 Grizzly. So without further delay, let me present to you from the right (mostly), the 2010 RIAT Saturday display.
So the BUFF lands on, and the Spit and Typhoon finished the show in wonderful afternoon sunshine formation flying and crossing over enjoying the airspace like no one else was on the ground watching them.
It was a superb year, and the experience we had the day before was something that’ll remain with all of us until we go.
But shows and those who perform them are sometimes taken for granted, and years like we’ve had in 2011 cut to the bone of the aviation enthusiast like nothing else, making us realise that all we watch and love isn’t always as safe as it seems.
With that in mind, one of the later movements in the day saw the team that has been hardest hit this year return to land.
Thanks Sean, hope your formation work continues.