Red Arrows
Photo: Airwolfhound


 RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire (UK) 14-16 July 2017


When my twin daughters were little I went to the annual Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) as treat days to myself.  Now it’s a great  dad and daughters day out for the three of us.

RIAT is huge. Fairford’s 2 mile runway was one of the landing strips available to space shuttles in an emergency. The show’s attractions and static displays extend the whole length of that runway’s apron and visitor numbers of 160,000 over 3 days give you an idea of RIAT’s scale.

Despite its size, it is extremely family friendly. RIAT lays on various options for reaching the show.  We drive (the roads get busy so it’s an early start) but you can buy tickets which include shuttle buses from nearby towns. Multiple entrance gates mean you get into the show quickly and, inspired by the London 2012 Gamesmakers, there is an army of volunteers and air cadets to help you make the most of your day. They are unfailingly smiley and happy to help and they set the tone for your visit as you buy a programme and your kids are issued with wristbands in case they get lost. We meet up with friends at the show and some of them camp at the official campsite – they recommend it.


RAF Typhoon
RAF Typhoon Photo: Dave Savidge

This is why we come. Saturday and Sunday each have 8 hours of flying displays, mostly very fast military jets with some classic vintage warbirds mixed in. The flying is pretty much constant. There is little to none of the waiting at the end of the runway which we experience in civilian flying – as soon as one aircraft lands, the next is on the roll and very soon is wheels up, rocketing skywards.

Noise and being shaken by jets on afterburn defines the viewing experience at RIAT. I still grin widely when another Eurofighter, F16 or Raptor leaves the ground, lifts its nose through 90 degrees and heads to the heavens. The sound roars through you. When the jets ‘fast pass’ in front of the crowdline, they slip past with a whispering parting of the air and then the noise catches up – it’s awesome.  It’s also why kids need to wear ear defenders, they are available to buy at RIAT or in advance from your favourite online retailer.


Along with the majority of the show-goers, we keep things simple.  An adult entry ticket is the only purchase required for the three of us as kids under 16 go free (you need to order them tickets but they cost nothing). We make a base in one of the huge public viewing areas and with our folding chairs, sun hats, raincoats and umbrellas are ready for all weathers.

Enclosures with increasing levels luxury and cost are available, and they look good, but a great thing about an airshow is that the action takes place in the sky. The large public viewing areas give you just as good a vantage on the displays as the posher options.

The showground has several service station areas, spread out along the showground. These combine food outlets, bars, WCs, shopping stalls and large bowsers of free drinking water. You are never far from one so the practicalities of the day don’t become challenges. We tend to buy lunch from the different food stalls, with quality seeming to improve each year. Fresh doughnuts in the morning and an ice cream in the afternoon have become tradition for my kids. Picnics are a popular option with many groups of families and friends.


There is plenty to do on the ground at RIAT. Air forces from all over the world fly in and many aircraft are open to peer into and, in the case of the transporters, to walk through and explore. The aircrews take clear pride in talking to you about their roles and what this and that piece of equipment is for.

There are various zones and villages to explore. The Techno Zone is a fascinating pavilion where aerospace companies engage kids with hands on Science, Tech, Engineering and Maths exhibits. The RAF Village displays the vast array of specialisms in the service, lets you meet the Red Arrows and it hosts the RAF Regiment’s climbing wall – at other festivals climbing walls would cost an arm and a leg, here it’s free. The Vintage Village re-creates the 1940s and the Activity Zone hosts activities for kids and showcases professional adrenaline sports. We still haven’t managed to see all of this.



Mig 29
Mig 29 Photo: Airwolfhound

You will see pilots at the very top of their game showing you just what their cutting edge aircraft can do. I promise your jaw will drop more than once in the day. I could go on and on but highlights for me have been the RAF Chinook (the huge, double rotor helicopter) leaping into the air like a gazelle; the French Rafale turning so tightly that vapour trails stream off its wings; a US Air Force F18 ripping up the air with its twin engines howling;  an RAF Typhoon twisting and turning in the air in defiance of physics; and a Polish Mig 29 taking off, skimming the runway at a height of 20 ft then standing on its tail and blasting off vertically. All of these are accompanied by knowledgeable commentary from each display team’s officer in command and that oh-so-addictive soundtrack of afterburner. My daughters love this too.

RIAT takes safety very seriously. The displays do not take place over the crowd and each display sequence must be authorised in advance.

Chinook Photo: Peter Gronemann


RIAT lays on a feast of multi-plane display teams. After the third or fourth team display, you could in theory become blasé about the skill and nerve required to precision fly at 200mph less than 10 feet from your team mates’ planes. But that’s unlikely. Teams which for me have left their mark include the Patrouille de France; the South Korean 10 ship display; and, for a unique blend of aviation, Verdi blasted at 11 through the PA system and billows of green, red and white smoke, the Frecce Tricolori from Italy.

However, I’m British and maybe I’m biased, but the Red Arrows are for me the pinnacle of fast jet team displays. In contrast to most of the Reds’ other display audiences, the RIAT crowd sees them take off, 3 abreast across the runway. Each trio of planes gets a standing ovation just on taking to the sky! They regroup in the air and, when it’s showtime, they scream over from behind the crowd, perfectly counted in from 5 down to 1 by Red 10, the display team’s Squadron Leader. It is hair-on-back-of-neck stuff. What they then do in their 20 minutes or so is simply mesmerising. Red 10’s commentary, mixed with live feed from Red 1’s microphone as the lead pilot calls out moves and timing to the other eight, makes you realise how skilled and brave the pilots are. Cue plenty more ovations in front of their home crowd.

Red Arrows

Photo: Airwolfhound


Eight hours later the RIAT flying display concludes. The crowds head back to their cars and bus stops. The air seems oddly quiet, despite the thousands of people on the move. As we walk back to our car, the aircrews and ground crews from different nations begin to congregate around some of the larger transport planes – the Royal Netherlands Air Force aircraft seem to be a popular meeting spot. Music systems get plugged in, laughter ripples out and you get the feeling that whilst our day is ending, theirs will be going on, party style, until a lot later.

Some of them will have been in harm’s way more than most of us civilians can imagine. They clearly have a bond, no matter which country they serve. From talking to friends in the forces, it’s a different way of life and not for everyone. What is also clear from days like RIAT is that the personnel are committed professionals who, in their field, are as highly trained as the display pilots who wowed us in the air. We are lucky that they choose to do what they do.


RIAT website – This page includes dates for the next few years.

Look out for disounted ‘Earlybird’ and ‘Super Earlybird’ prices. Adult single day entrance tickets, at Super Earlybird prices, were £42 in 2017. This includes free parking. Kids under 16 go free.

Guest post by Mr Jo 



Kennedy Space Centre, Florida/Intrepid Air, Sea & Space Museum, New York/HMS Belfast, London

Linking up with

T ravel Loving Family
Photos: Creative Commons except where otherwise stated. LicenceĀ  This post is in no way endorsed or sponsored by any of the organisations mentioned. Thank you to my husband for his review of RIAT! (and for taking the kids!)


  1. July 3, 2017 / 9:12 pm

    This is really interesting to read as I recently took my boys (5 and 3) to Duxford Imperial War Museum near Cambridge. We weren’t there for the air show but saw lots of planes (mostly historical) in the air as well as in the museum. I wasn’t sure I could handle a full on air show with all the noise and crowds but you do make it sound tempting! #Mondayescapes

  2. July 9, 2017 / 8:46 pm

    This sounds like a true celebration of the skill involved in flying these planes. I do like the sound of camping there – I bet it would be fun, to discuss the displays into the small hours. The picture of the MIG made me feel slightly dizzy – and that’s just a picture! I love your description of the sound catching up with the plane, after it’s gone through. Thanks for linking up with #CulturedKids

  3. July 10, 2017 / 2:13 pm

    I never knew that about the Shuttle and Fairford. I love the Red Arrows and it must be great to see all the other display teams too. Thank you for linking up to #CulturedKids

  4. July 11, 2017 / 9:29 pm

    Oh My I bet it is just incredible I would love to see this and I know the boys would too x

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