With the unpredictable British weather, pre-booking tickets for an air show a year in advance is always a gamble. I attended RIAT 2023 at RAF Fairford on Saturday and only had to occasionally hide under an umbrella for heavy rain showers. Friday’s visitors were not so lucky.

The theme of this year’s show was ‘Skytanker23’, celebrating one hundred years of air-to-air refuelling and there were excellent set-pieces from the German Luftwaffe with an Airbus A400 and two Tornados, A US Hercules followed by an Osprey, and an RAF Voyager KC3 in company with a Grippen.

Highlights for me were seeing a Spanish Harrier and an RAF F-35 flying together – VTOL aircraft built decades apart, and the Sweden Air Force’s graceful demonstration of their SAAB SK.60.

The absence of some of the usual participants left room for less frequent visitors to the Air Tattoo. Patrulla Águila painted the Spanish flag in the sky with their six CASA C-101 Aviojets. Al Fursan from UAE sedately displayed their seven Aermacchi MB-339 trainer jets for the first time at RIAT, and I enjoyed the Saudi Hawks, not having seen them since the Koksijde air show in 2011. The Red Arrows flew a seven-ship formation and put on a strangely asymmetrical and disappointing display.

Sadly there were some cancellations, including the BBMF, Martin Baker’s Gloster Meteor and the replica Messerschmitt Me-262. The USAF cancelled their B-52 and KC-135 Stratotanker flights, but perhaps they would also have struggled with a twenty know crosswind!

There aren’t many airport events these days. The exciting public airshows of Kemble, Biggin Hill, Farnborough, Yeovilton, Shoreham, Dunsfold and Waddington are just fond memories. RIAT itself seems to be waning. Having felt that this year’s tattoo was not quite as well-supported as previous years, I looked through my notes and counted the number of aircraft or teams displaying at the last five years I attended. 2023: 20. 2019: 24. 2018: 25. 2017: 28. 2016: 30. Perhaps this is a reflection of the global economic downturn or of living in a continent at war.

Radio frequencies

The following frequencies were in use:

Fairford Ground121.175
Radar (Brize Norton)123.55


Runway 27 was in use, with the crowd facing north. The sun was behind the crowd during the whole flying.