Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT)
|Type:||Large military airshow|
|Location:||Fairford airbase, UK|
|Editions attended:||2006 2007 2010 2012|
RIAT is a large military airshow in Europe, usually featuring most of the local solo displays, teams and huge static exposition. Nowadays it has largely decreased in size and photo opportunities (compared to 2006 and earlier), but still remains the largest continental event of this size.
Located in the Fairford airbase, with a perfectly placed runway and public areas, it offers photo opportunities in the top class, comparable only with Airpower in Zeltweg.
Because of local accomodation issues, it's probably the best method if you are coming from abroad (I'll discuss it later). There are some large free parking areas provided in the vicinity of the airbase - split into three zones, depending on where you come from. Check out the webpage for precise guidelines and details.
Taking into account the amount of motorized spectators, the organizers seem to be dealing extremely well with unloading the traffic jams. Apart from the unfortunate 2008 event, traffic was always smooth (even if slow) and I was able to enter/leave the area without much trouble.
If you are coming from one of the London airports, it's best to just follow M4 direction west and take exit #15 (Swindon). Follow A419 direction Cirencester and take the first exit after Circlade. From there, you will be directed to the "Blue Parking". In particular, if you are lucky, you may be directed to the parking inside the airbase (west side)
Alternatively, you can try to follow the A419 a bit more and somehow join the A417, direction Fairford. This way you will end up on the "Green Parking" which might be a bit less crowded.
If coming from the north-east, you are likely to end up on the eastern on-site parking (Red).
Be sure to always check out the organizers' website - these arrangements tend to change from year to year, especially after the 2008 cancellation. But in general, you should expect no problems getting there, traffic is managed in a really efficient and professional way.
Hint: don't be tempted to try some alternative, faster roads that your GPS might suggest - lots of routes around the airbase are turned into one-way ones during the event. Just follow the crowd.
By public transport
Fairford airbase is a bit remote place, without good regular public transport connections. The most convenient way is to take a train to Swindon. Show organizers kindly provide shuttle buses that start at the nearby bus station and drive you right at the entrance.
This is well organized too - and in fact, if you:
- live in southern part of the UK
- don't need to be the first at the gate (read: you take it easy )
- don't mind melting with the crowd
- can afford the horrendous prices of the UK public transport
... it might be a preferred option.
Again, yet another thing that is well done. Don't be scared by the size of the crowd you see at the gates before they open. Once they do, things are moving surprisingly smooth.
If you plan to use the usual trick: I will just come very early and be the first at the gate - well.. hundreds do the same One time we arrived at the southern gate around 6am and were greeted with a crowd of people queuing from the camping direction. We started to follow that queue to find our place and ended up... somewhere around here But surprisingly, once the gates opened... we could barely keep up with the pace! it was moving so fast.
BTW, this morning queue is an interesting social phenomena - watching various ways some jerks try to push themselves to the front, people's reactions etc... Try it once
Fairford area is quite rural - you won't find any big hotels around, if you want to live nearby you have to resort either to B&B or camping.
Bed & Breakfast
Quite a lot of villagers benefit from the opportunity to get some extra cash during the Air Tattoo. Typically, you can expect 40-80£ per night/double room. Note that you might have trouble renting one just for a night or two - obviously, they prefer people who stay at least for few days.
Two links that you might find useful when looking for this kind of accomodation:
Note that if you choose to sleep this way, you are likely to need a car - most of these places are not within walking distance from the showground and no transport is provided.
During the airshow, there are few improvised campings organized all around the airfield. Most notable one is probably the Kempsford Camping, located right next to the southern perimeter, near the Blue Gate. Not the cheapest one around, but dood thing about it is a cool insurance policy - you can cancel your booking almost at the very last minute and still get (almost) full refund. The insurance proven to be also useful with the 2008 cancellation...
On the other side of the runway, you will find the Totterdown campsite. It's located on a small hill, with a bit of overview over the airbase - unfortunately against the sun all the day. However, all the rehearsals / displays happen almost over your head! If you are looking for some unusual shots and are equiped well-enough (couple of mm's needed) - you might consider this one.
In fact, you can find many other, more or less improvised camping places all around the airbase. Good thing about the first two is that you have some kind of online reservation - so you can pay & forget.
As always, there are ups & downs On any camping you will find various kinds of people, some of them more annoying than the others. You can be almost certain to get some loud music in the evening, misbehaving drunk youngsters, or at the very least, very merry late night parties. If you don't mind - fine. If you think you do - be warned. BTW, don't believe any of the parking maintainers saying they keep these things in order, separate "calm" and "funky" zones etc. They don't, never, ever.
(NOTE: this is not to say that it's getting dangerous or something - but might be inconvenient for some - especially if you are alone, have few thousands EUR of gear in your backpack, and plan to get up at 5am to get to the gate early)
Staying fartherAfter a bit of experience, this is in fact my preferred way of attending RIAT. Assuming that you are coming from abroad and are not a big fan of campings:
- Find yourself two friends to go together
- Rent a car at the airport - you will find mostly the same rental companies everywhere I tend to book with AVIS (some good experiences), but you will also find at least Hertz, Europcar and National at any airport.
- Book a room in some cheap hotel within reasonable distance. I tend to choose the large networks - they might be few pounds more expensive than the "cheapest in town", but at least you can be fairly sure of what you are getting. I have pretty good experiences with Travelodge and Premier Inn - both have some hotels within reasonable distance. If you want more choice, try to look here.
- Drive in/out every day. These 50km will be easily offset by the difference in price between low-cost hotel and some local B&B host.
Alltogether, such approach might end up being not much more expensive than the "low-cost" camping variant.
Time-wise RIAT looks more or less the same every year:
|Thursday||Arrivals, some rehearsals|
|Friday||Late arrivals, most of the rehearsals|
Note that in order to get to the showground outside weekend you have to buy either Mach3 (Wed-Mon) or Mach2 (Fri-Mon) FRIAT package, or, alternatively entrance to one of the Park & View enclosures. Additionally, the FRIAT members have access to the static display on Friday afternoon. More on these extra opportunities below.
It might happen (like in 2008) that at the same time as Air Tattoo, there is a Flying Legends airshow in Duxford. You might consider spending one of the weekend days there.
Photo opportunities (public)
Main runway in Fairford has 09-27 orientation, with public located on the southern side. Which means: it's just perfect, as the sun is behind your back almost all the time.
Most of the time, the aircrafts take off towards west, as it makes the ground arrangements a bit easier. Landing ones arrive from the right as well, they are returning to the dynamic parking using large taxiway in the north. This order is rarely reversed, usually in case of strong eastern wind (and even then, mostly for the warbirds/oldtimers, as the modern military jets couldn't care less).
- Around the centerpoint
Since recently, there is a really small spot (50m or so) on the left side of the FRIAT grandstand that is accessible for the public. Actually, it's even straight in the demonstration axis! So, it's probably a must if someone doesn't use any of the extra facilities, but expect it to be really crowdy.
Otherwise, publicly accessible part of the crowdline is pushed out to both ends of the runway. Most of the area around the centerpoint is covered by various kinds of separately paid facilities - FRIAT tribune, public grandstand, chalets etc. - see below for a full list.
One particularity: just in the best photo spots, you will get a huge, red BAE SYSTEMS billboards in the background... love it or leave it, you will have them on 30% of your photos.
- Eastern corner
It's the second most interesting photo spot at the Air Tattoo. You get a very good view to the aircrafts taxiing from dynamic parking. to the main runway (especially later in the day, when sun moves to the west). Also the installations of the US airbase on the northern side of the runway are somewhat closer, including the usual B1s and B52s that are parked there.
The very corner of the area is quite crowdy too, but in general it's rather fine. You might just consider a small ladder and don't bother pushing yourself to the crowdline.
- Western corner
Opposite end of the showground might be another place to consider. It's a bit less atractive, as what you get is mostly the planes already in the air. Of course things change if the runway order gets reversed, as described above This place gets particularly nice in the afternoon, following the sun movement.
Here the atmosphere is usually quite relaxed, you should have no problems finding a good spot at the crowd line.
- Far end of the static display
This place is a good spot to view the aircrafts that are both part of the static exposition and dynamic displays. Mostly warbirds/oldtimers, but when the Thunderbirds were flying at the Tattoo, they were stationed on the large square beton strip to the right.
- Dynamic parking
In the past, most of the solo aircraft and demo teams participating in the dynamic displays were based in the southern part of the airbase. Unfortunately, to make space for the onsite parkings, they have been all moved to the northern (not accessible) part of the airbase. There is provided (paid) bus shuttle tour that goes around there - however, it has obvious drawbacks in terms of photography.
- Static display (smaller planes)
Main part of the static display is located on the eastern strip of the southern W-E taxiway. What you will find there is all kinds of F-16s, Tornados, A10s, as well as some warbirds. I recommend to go there at the very end of the show - once the crowd gets a bit lighter and the light becomes tip-top. Actually, stay there as long as you can until the sunset, if possible.
- Static display (heavy metal)
All the heavy static stuff - C5, B52, some C17s / C130s etc. is usually placed on the western end. It is often less crowded, as it takes a bit of walk to get there just have a visit once you have a moment.
One huge annoyance of the static display: CONES!!! All the airplanes are surrounded by barriers (which is understandable), but these include the highly flashy-coloured cones that destroy most of the typical photos. You need to be rather creative to get something useful there.
Use of stepladders/windshields
Reasonable. Both are generally allowed, but (since recently) not closer than 10m from the crowdline (distance is clearly marked). Surprisingly, people generally obey the limit and, in the early parts of the day, some people from the organization team are pointing it out to offenders. Of course, there will be always some jerks, but in general, it's not that much a problem (as it used to be in 2007 and earlier).
Photo opportunities (extra)
AirTattoo offers a wide selection of special (separately paid) facilities. From the photography point of view, the following might be interesting:
Friends Of RIAT (FRIAT) packages
The most full-featured option. They all offer access to the "FRIAT enclosure" - separated tribune with numbered places. They are available in three variants:
- Mach 1 - access to the enclosure on Saturday/Sunday, few lowest rows on the tribune
- Mach 2 - access Friday/Monday, including static display on Friday afternoon - mid-band seats, dedicated parking near the southern gate
- Mach 3 - access Wednesday/Monday, access to Park&View, places in the upper half of the tribune, parking as above
Few notes about the actual grandstand:
Actually, it's not even in the demo axis, but slightly offset to the right (forget catching the team breaks head-on)
One important note: the unwritten etiquette of the tribune is that everybody stays seated (apart from the lucky ones in the top row). Keep in mind that this is a place full of hardcore aviation geeks - you might find yourself squeezed between two huge folks, each of them shuffling his 500mm lens in the air On the other hand, it gets less and less crowded for last few years, probably because of the pricing
Access to it is generally well restricted, but on Monday there are usually quite a lot of God-knows-who (friends of organizers etc) being let in there. Not too annoying in terms of numbers, but the problem is that they don't know the above rules and need to be... educated
As this is theoretically best place, you never know if some high-profile jerk won't jump on the grass just in front of you to take his own shots - as it happened in 2010, right at the most awaited moment of the day (Raptor takeoff)
Despite being horrendously expensive, the FRIAT packages don't in fact offer much more than access to the tribune. You get...
- ... neither dedicated gate at the entry (you queue together with all the crowd)
- ... nor discounted food prices (cantine in the FRIAT grandstand has the same prices as outside)
- ... nor any facilities, like power sockets for recharging your batteries
... but in exchange, there are superb attractions like: souvenir programme, left luggage facility or
10% discount in the souvenir shop Ah, and you don't have to pay the regular entry ticket
- your FRIAT membership pass serves as one.
Is it worth it? Your mileage may vary. For my taste, the value for your money factor of the FRIAT packages is extremely low, compared to similar offers at other events. On the other hand, the enclosure is located in the very central point of the runway, offering definitely best viewing opportunities - as a general public, you won't get closer than few hundred meters from it.
Besides, if you are coming for two days as general public, you're already paying 1/3 of Mach3 for the normal tickets... My current approach is: take the Mach2 if and only if the departure day is important for you.
You could call it a bare bone version of Mach1 package. For additional fee you can buy a seat in an elevated grandstand, not too far from the FRIAT tribune. It's generally OK, but:
- slightly farther (around 100m) from the crowdline
- located slightly behind FRIAT enclosure, so the right part of the view is partially obscured by it or the VIP chalets. Not too annoying though (as of 2010), it used to be worse in the past.
(it has to be crippled... who would buy the Mach tickets otherwise? )
Park & View
There are two separate (paid) enclosures outside the showground, on both ends of the runways. They are closed for weekend, but open for arrival/rehearsal/departure days. They are placed slighly off-axis and offer some interesting opportunities to take the "different" photos.
Note: you are generally not allowed to use stepladders in the P&V enclosures - except the East one, where there is a dedicated space for them, located in a way that doesn't block view for the people staying on ground. Great idea, if you ask me!
You buy the ticket for P&V as such, once you have one, you can move freely between both
places (no, there is no transport organized ).
Park & View enclosure ticket is a nice alternative for Mach2 ticket if you are not that much interested in visiting static display on Friday (without crowds), but would still like to get a good view of the departures day.
In particular, after last years' changes the eastern P&V became particularly attractive - as all the aircraft on the dynamic parking taxi out right in front of you giving the perfect head-on shots.
Photo opportunities (other)
As the airbase occupies both sides of the runway, there are not many publicly available photo spots around... it's worth mentioning two:
If you follow the road to the Totterdown campsite (see above) until very end, you will arrive some ~500m from the base installation. This will be of course facing the sun and you won't get unobstructed runway view from there (it will be too far anyway). But... all the demonstrations will be happening right above you! This gives some really unique shots - I still remember "split" of the Patrouille Suisse seen from an angle that made me finally understand one particular photo of Mr Tokunaga
Check out this thread on the UKAR forum, for an example of nice results from there.
Getting there for Friday's rehearsals combined with P&V on Monday looks like interesting low-budget option of attending RIAT.
Runway axis (east)
East to the airbase, there is a public road that is not blocked most of the time. Actually, it's not too far from the eastern P&V enclosure. Usually, you will find quite a bit of cars parked there with people hanging around the runway axis, to get some frontal shots of the aircrafts. Haven't tried it yet.
Toilets: good to very good! Very clean, using some sophisticated magic that makes them not stink too much - even at the end of the day. There are just enough of them, I can't recall queuing for too long anytime. One minor glitch: they are grouped together in just few large spots - considering size of the showground, it might mean a significant walk if you need one.
Food: good (enough). Typical English cuisine, fish & chips, hamburgers, sausages, beer/drinks. However, tad expensive (see below)
Radio station - during entire airshow organizers run dedicated radio station (tune in to 87.7MHz). Apart from the pure entertainment, it's extremely useful for getting information about the traffic at the entrance/exit and other organizational issues. In 2008 it proved useful too, letting us divert to Duxford at the very last minute...
In short: damn expensive. Probably the most expensive show I've ever been in Europe. The below prices are for the 2009 edition, they usually get slightly higher every year.
IMPORTANT: Since 2009 You can't buy the ticket at the gate. Only way is to purchase them online, via the organizers' website. This is actually good, as it makes queues at the gates move more smoothly.
|Single day ticket (tied to Saturday or Sunday)||£34|
|Single day ticket (valid for either Saturday or Sunday)||£44|
|Public grandstand (extra fee)||£21.50|
|Park & View (Wednesday to Friday)||£14.50|
|Park & View (Monday)||£19.50|
As you can see, the prices are set up in a very smart way, which makes you think oh, let me just pay a little more and...
- Two daily tickets + public grandstand entry = almost Mach 1 package
- Park & View entrance on Monday (most interesting) - 50% more expensive than other days
- Two days in grandstand + P&V = almost Mach 2
- Etc. etc... happy choosing
Business as usual. One number I recall (as you need lots of these on a busy day ) is a price of 0.25dl can of Coke - which increased from £1 to £1.20 between 2006 and 2007. Other prices are proportional.
Food prices at the showground make quite a bit of spectators bring their own supplies - you can see the people with small mobile fridges, huge bottles of water etc. This is a bit of a problem in the buses from Swindon - but well, you can't blame them. Organizers are apparently not smart enough to figure out that: (cheap food) = (more people buying it on the spot) = (same gain) = (less clutter).
Last updated: 21-10-2012, 17:06