Meet the mighty aircraft of the 2019 Royal International Air Tattoo

Massive cargo aircraft, fighter jets of the future, incredible aerial acrobatics and more at the largest military air show in the world.

Geoffrey Morrison
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RIAT 2019

The Royal International Air Tattoo is the largest military air show in the world. It's held the third weekend in July every year in western England. 

For two days I explored as many of the impressive aircraft as I could, including several C-17s like the one you see here.

Read more about the world's largest military air show

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The huge C-17 Globemaster III is flown by several air forces across the world. It can carry up to 170,900 pounds, or 77,519 kilograms, of cargo.

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This BAe 146, also known as the Avro RJ, has updated electronics to aid in its role as a pilot trainer. We explored one of these at the de Havilland Aircraft Museum near where it was first produced.

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A pair of German Eurofighter Typhoons. I love canards

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Modern stealth

Now here's something cutting-edge: an F-35 Lightning II. Not only was one of these on static display, another did some flybys and a hover demonstration later.

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Cutting edge

As few straight edges as possible to minimize radar cross-section.

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Hover mode

It was quite a thrill to see one of these flying. Check out the rotated nozzle at the back, and the open hatches that allow it to hover.

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The Panavia Tornado, flown by several European air forces, is a swing-wing multirole aircraft. This example is the IDS variant, which is for interdiction and strike missions.

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Double chop

The Chinook, aka the CH-47, is a fast, heavy-lifting helicopter. 

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What's surprising is how maneuverable they are, as was demonstrated with some impressive acrobatics at the show.

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There were many C-130s at the show, which isn't too surprising given how many have been made, and how many air forces fly them around the world.

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Cargo or passengers

The J model, like this one, can carry up to 128 passengers and usually has a crew of at least two pilots and one loadmaster.

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LCD screens

The pilots of the first C-130, in 1954, would likely marvel at the modern C-130's glass cockpit.

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Air tanker

In addition to cargo aircraft, the airshow had several refueling tankers as well. This is one of the RAF's Airbus Voyager tankers, also known as the A330 MRTT.

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The Voyager has three drogues, one under each wing and one beneath the tail. 

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The last thing I expected when stepping on board an aerial refueling tanker was what looks like a standard A330 interior. The Voyager is multirole, so it can also carry passengers or cargo.

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Rear view

Screens and cameras allow the crew a clear view behind the aircraft. The refueling process can also be controlled via a laptop that runs on... Windows XP. No, seriously.

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The A330 MRTT is flown, or will be flown, by several European and other air forces around the world.

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Atlas obscura

This might have been my favorite aircraft at the show. It's an Airbus A400M Atlas, essentially a larger, faster alternative to the near-ubiquitous C-130. 

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The A400M is sized above the C-130, but smaller than the C-17.

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What made this my favorite was the time my friends and I got to spend in the cockpit with one of the pilots, who was a riot. My friend asked if she could press any buttons and he said yes, then right as her finger touched he yelped, "NOT THAT ONE!" 

Bravo, sir. Bravo. 

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Side view

From the right pilot seat you can see the props on that side, and one of the engines. You'd be surprised how rare that is for larger aircraft.

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Eyes in the sky

This is an aircraft I wasn't familiar with: a Raytheon Sentinel ground surveillance aircraft based on the Bombardier Global Express business jet.

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BAE Systems Hawk jet trainer. This is the same type of aircraft flown by the RAF's Red Arrows, which we'll see later.

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Red Falcon

Hard to miss this F-16.

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For many years Saab advertised that its cars were born from jets. Maybe, maybe not, but the company did and does make jet aircraft, like this Gripen.

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Tiny trainer

This is an Italian jet trainer made by Leonardo, called the M-346 Master. It was originally co-developed with the Russian company Yakovlev. Its version is the Yak-130.

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Chopper drone

This isn't a bad spray job, it's a helicopter drone prototype from Northrop Grumman called the MQ-8C. It's based on the Bell 407.

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Future fighter

This isn't, as I thought at first glance, a YF-23 like we saw at the Western Museum of Flight. It's a prototype sixth-generation fighter from BAE Systems called the Tempest, due to enter service in 2035.

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Though there are a few B-52s in museums, including at the excellent Castle Air Museum, none is the H variant, which is the only version still in service. This is an H, and it's still in service and based in Louisiana.

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Several demonstration teams performed at the airshow, including the Italian Frecce Tricolori.

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The Frecce Tricolori is a large squad, nine Aermacchi MB-339s plus one solo aircraft.

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They finish with a smoke il Tricolore. Awesome.

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Here's something you don't see every day, a Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker

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Beautiful blue

This example, in its gorgeous blue camo, is from the Ukrainian Air Force. 

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A sister plane to the static example did some impressive flybys and aerial acrobatics. 

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The Flanker, despite its size, is impressively maneuverable. 

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Tanker 10

An American KC-10 aerial tanker.

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The KC-10 has a refueling boom, the other aerial refueling method from the probe-and-drogue you saw earlier on the Voyager.

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Like the Voyager, the KC-10 can also fill multiple roles. In this case, it was carrying cargo. Apparently this is fairly rare, though.

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This specific KC-10 first flew in 1979, and as such it's got a lot of analog. For that matter, it has a station for an engineer, which is exceptionally rare for a modern aircraft. 

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Dials! Most of the aircraft at the show had zero analog dials at all, with myriad LCD screens taking their place. The handful of screens you see here is a recent addition.

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A V-22 Osprey, with its tiltable rotors.

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High-speed VTOL

The V-22 has significantly better range and speed compared with a helicopter, yet can still take off and land vertically.

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The most surprising thing about the V-22 was how quiet it was, not just compared with the jets (obviously) but even compared with the duel-rotor Chinook that flew earlier.

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This is Sparta(n)

There were several of these C-27J Spartans at the show. They're essentially a scaled-down version of the C-130, using the same engines and electronics in a smaller, lighter, Italian-built airframe.

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Shortly after the show opened on Sunday a C-27J performed some impressive maneuvers, including rolls that you wouldn't think possible with a transport aircraft.

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Glass on glass

Like most of the modern aircraft at the show, the only analog information device is the compass. 

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At first I thought this was a passenger version of the C-27, given its similar profile and location next to several. It's not. It's a C-295, built by Airbus. This example is one of several flown by the Finnish Air Force. 

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Hail Caesar

This is a specially modified AW101 designed for combat search and rescue for the Italian Air Force. They call it the HH-101A Caesar.

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Candid cargo

Essentially a C-17 but older and built for the Soviets, and now former-Soviet states, it's an Ilyushin Il-76.

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Glass nose

This has a similar glass nose to the big An-22 we explored at the Technik Museum Speyer.

If you look closely there's something very cool above the wing...

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This was a rare treat. Not only a flyby of an Avro Lancaster (one of two still airworthy), but a flyby of a Lancaster escorted by a Spitfire and a Hurricane.  

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As you'd expect for one of the only airworthy examples of a type, the Lancaster PA474 starred in two movies, Operation Crossbow and The Guns of Navarone.

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Another rare treat, a Boeing E-3 Sentry, aka AWACS.

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The rotating radar dome is distinctive, to say the least. Inside the aircraft we weren't allowed to take photos, though it was generally a series of metal boxes and computer terminals. The cockpit of this Boeing 707 is still largely analog, but with some LCD screens, similar to the KC-10 you saw earlier.

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Like new

I thought this was a new aircraft, but the Piaggio P.166 is from the 1950s. This example was recently restored to look like new. 

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This C-17 was farther down the flight line, and was a bit less crowded. 

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Roof access

In the center of the image you can see a small porchlike platform. Above the end is a hatch that gives access to the top of the aircraft for what I imagine is a great view on the ground and a slightly breezy view in flight. 

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This is one of eight C-17s flown by the Qatari Emiri Air Force.

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One of the most widely produced fighter aircraft of all time, it was impressive to see and hear a MiG-21 in flight.

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This example is flown by the Romanian Air Force.

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An AW159 Wildcat, originally designed by AgustaWestland, which is now owned by Leonardo. It's a multirole helicopter designed for support, ground attack and search-and-rescue operations.

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British Apache

This is an AgustaWestland Apache, a licence-built version of the Boeing AH-64 Apache. These were built not far from the Helicopter Museum.

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Red Arrows

In their last UK show of the summer, the Red Arrows put on an impressive aerobatics display. I saved an Instagram story with some short videos of this demonstration and some other parts of the show.

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Modified Hawk

The Red Arrows fly a modified BAE Systems Hawk, a two-seat aircraft usually used as a trainer.

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RIAT 2019

Despite a deluge of rain on Friday, RIAT 2019 was a fantastic show with some impressive aircraft and aerial displays.

Read more about our visit to the Royal International Air Tattoo.

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