ROYAL INTERNATIONAL AIR TATTOO (RIAT) 2016
“Like planes? Well we got you covered!”
It’s 12 months since my first visit to the Royal International Air Tattoo, otherwise known as RIAT and as I enjoyed it so much last year I decided to go again this year. RIAT is held at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire and is the world’s largest military airshow.
Due to family commitments it was just my eldest son Anthony (aged 8) and myself this time. Last year we couldn’t find any accommodation closer than 20 miles from Fairford and it was also fairly expensive. The problem with being this far away was the drive that should have taken 35 minutes actually took more than 90 minutes, due to the shear volume of RIAT traffic. This year we thought we’d have a go at camping in one of the nearby campsites. After a bit of Googling I found camping on Townsend Farm. It stated it had 3 ‘quiet’ fields for families, so this sounded perfect. I pre-booked months in advance as I know how quickly the local sites fill up.
I have to say the campsite was very good, even though we arrived late on the Friday evening which meant the campsite was very full we managed to find a suitable pitch for our small tent. This was out first camping trip and although the site was a temporary one just for RIAT it had very good and clean facilities. There was also a bar and food in one of the fields which was great as I couldn’t figure out how to light my small camping stove…but that’s another story.
We awoke early on the Saturday morning ready to make the 15 minute walk to the Yellow entry point as we wanted to try and get a front row position on the crowd line. We were in the queue for 7am, which by this time was already much larger than I expected considering the gates didn’t open until 7.30am and the actual flying displays didn’t start until 10am.
It seems that there may have been a slight technical error on our entry point as we didn’t actually get through the gate until 8am, by this time we couldn’t find a position on the front row so we set up just behind. I was a little disappointed not to be at the front as this would make take-off or landing shots difficult but I soon got over it. We decided to have a little snooze as we hadn’t had the best nights sleep due to Anthony having a really bad ear ache…I’m glad I was told to pack some Calpol just in case.
Gear wise I wanted to keep it simple, so I took my Canon EOS 7D mk2 and a Canon 100-400mm mk2 zoom, I did pack a 1.4x extender but unfortunately the weather for the weekend wasn’t the sunniest, a typical British July, so I didn’t bother using it. Last year I shot using a 400mm prime but this lacked versatility for group fly-bys and larger aircraft. Anthony had his Canon EOS 1200D and 55-250mm IS zoom, a great light-weight combination.
With the weather being overcast as opposed to lovely blue skies meant shooting at a higher ISO than I would like, so around 800 ISO, in my opinion a little noisy on the 7D mk2, even though others say differently.
The good think about the poorer weather was it created some quite moody skies, which made for a interesting background. Also, although I don’t know the technical reasons, the conditions made for some cool vapour trails and atmospheric reactions. The aircraft are not allowed to cross the crowd line and there are very strict rules regarding distance and heights for their displays. This meant that most of the high speed banks by the aircraft happened at quite a distance away. The top end of my 4oomm wasn’t really powerful enough for frame filling images, so I had to rely on a bit of creative framing.
One of the main attractions at this years RIAT was the inclusion in the flying display of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II. This would be the first time that this state of the art fighter jets would be demonstrated in the UK. There are 3 variants of the F-35, 2 of which would fly at RIAT this year. The F-35A which is the conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) version and the F-35B which is the short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) designed to takeoff and land on short runways or aircraft capable ships. There is a F-35C which is the carrier variant (CV).
The F-35A Lightning II, as part of the US Air Force Heritage Flight made a fly-by with ‘Miss Helen’ a Mustang P-51D, over 60 years old. It was amazing to watch the skills of both pilots as they seemed only a few feet apart as they made their pass.
The STOVL version the F-35B was amazing to watch, it reminded me of when I was a child and watched the Harrier jump jet at Woodford Airshow. It’s the first supersonic fighter that also allows for vertical takeoff and landing.
I also managed to film a short video of the F-35B as it hovered and landed, it’s worth a watch.
For a bit more on the camera settings that I tend to use for this kind of photography, I have my camera set in the same way as I do for birds in flight.
AV (Aperture Priority) as the light was constantly changing due to the cloud structure. I have one of the rear buttons on the 7D mk2 programmed to over expose by a set amount, I set this depending on the light. I had it set to +1 stop at the airshow . This means that I can instantly allow for a subject that is backlit as it passes. I can take exposures and press/release the button as it passes to give me camera exposure and camera exposure +1 stop, just to lift the shadows a bit.
AI Servo Focus so the camera tracks the focus with single point plus 4 point expansion. Again I have a different button on the back of the camera programmed to change to single shot AF. This can be useful for when the aircraft are static prior to take-off and you want to frame the shot differently without moving the AF point. So you can perform a quick AF focus lock but you’re immediately ready with AI Servo should the plane start to takeoff, which happens quickly, as in the shot below.
Although the F-35 was supposedly the start of the show, for me the F-22A Raptor was just awesome. It’s like the F-35’s bigger, louder and angrier brother. You have to see and hear it to believe it.
Here’s a high speed pass, almost supersonic. You have to be fast with your panning with this one!
I shot in RAW, as I always do and made sure I had plenty of spare cards and spare batteries, especially as I was unable to charge up on the campsite.
On the Sunday we actually arrived a little later, just after 7.30am but this time we went straight through and managed to get a position on the front line. I was quite surprised but this was great as it means you can get easier photographs of the aircraft as they takeoff and land as know-one will suddenly pop up in front of your lens while panning. We had rain on the Sunday but also a bit of blue sky, so as you can see though these photographs there are a variety of weather types which is good.
I would recommend RIAT to anyone who enjoys the sound of fast jets. I’m not overly interested in aircraft, I’m certainly not a place enthusiast, I just love the sound and it reminds me of when I was a child. RIAT is the largest military airshow in the world, so obviously has the most aircraft flying displays.
So for me taking the photos is great, it’s challenging and fast paced but above all it’s the eardrum bursting sound that it the awesome part.
When the Red Arrows split into 2 separate groups during their display routine. They split into a team of 5 and a team of 4. The 4 are known as ‘Gypo’, named after the leader of the original 4 man team as this was his nickname. The 5 plane group are known as Enid, named after Enid Blyton’s Famous Five.
The Red Arrows main formation is a 9 aircraft team. It’s therefore a little more unusual to photograph them in a 10 plane formation. In the picture below the 10th aircraft had actually been airborne to take photographs of the rest of the team during an earlier formation. Now that would be a great photo job!
It’s not only the small supersonic fast jets that display at RIAT, there’s always a few bigger and stranger looking aircraft on display. Some of these seem to deft the laws of gravity when it comes to their manoeuvrability.
One of the best displays in my opinion is always the Chinook. The pilot throws it around and makes it turn as if it were a toy and the sound of the air slap on the rotor blades is fantastic.
I hope you like this small selection of photos I took at RIAT 2016. My family and I had a really good time at the Royal International Air Tattoo and would certainly recommend it for anyone with even a passing interest in planes.
Thanks for looking