The Royal International Air Tattoo 2014 – A volunteer’s perspective

THE RAF Fairford base, Gloucestershire, was founded in WW2 as an airbase for British and US forces to transport troops into occupied Normandy for D-Day. The US then continued to use Fairford throughout The Cold War, extending the runway to make it one of the largest in the world. Being just under two miles long it is one of the only places internationally where the NASA space shuttle could perform an emergency landing. Fairford was also chosen as the British test location for the Concorde. RAF use of the airfield is dwindling, the US made the B-2 spirit a regular visitor as well as U-2 bombers. However, most of the time the airfield is more or less unused as a working military airfield but there are exceptions: the world famous annual Air Tattoo.

The Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT), based at RAF Fairford, is the biggest military air show in the world and is funded by the Royal Air Force Charitable Trust (RAFCT). The RAFCT was originally part of the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund (RAFBF) but one of the co-founders of RIAT, Tim Prince, helped make the RAFCT a new and separate charity from the RAFBF. RIAT 2014 was incredibly special, because, not only was it the Red Arrows’ 50th anniversary but it was Tim Prince’s last year as Chief Executive of RIAT and one of the board of directors of RAFCT. RAFCT helps support current serving personnel in the RAF as well as promoting and encouraging the thrill of flight and potential future RAF recruits. There is another branch of RAFCT that donates money to yet another charity the amazing Tim Prince helped set up that allows disabled youngsters to experience the world of flying.

 

Staff reception pre-hangar partyInvite to survivors

I spent ten days at RIAT as a volunteer. The amount of planning and organisation that goes into running an airshow is far more than you would realise by just attending the actual show itself – it requires months of hard work. I was shocked and felt quite naïve that I had taken it at surface value. On top of about 30 permanent staff there were thousands of volunteers, including hundreds of  cadets arriving during the week leading up to the show. This year’s airshow hosted 120,000 spectators and display teams performing from 27 nations. As a new volunteer on the staff reception team, I was given complimentary staff-reception polos and was accommodated with en-suite room and a proper bed. We had to be there to check everyone in and collect room keys or give out temporary car passes for people to pack their cars up closer to where they were staying. Staff reception was where people came if they had any queries and or if they had any problems for example if they had not been allocated the right passes.

Luckily, it was not all work. We played hard too. After clocking out we ate at the ‘Belden Diner’ before heading to the beer tent or the laundry bar. Military bases have no VAT on their drinks so it was a very cheap night out! After one early finish, the fuels team were lovely enough to take myself and my friend on a trip around the showground where the planes are stationed after they have taxied in. We were so close to the planes – I have a photo of myself standing underneath a Typhoon and my friend took a photo of a ‘travelling bear’ that one of the policemen had lent her to get photos of, in the engine of a F16!

People just watching the show will never have got that close. Feeling extra lucky, we were able to see some of the aircraft such as the French Alpha Jets and the Lithuanian Spartan practice for the show. During the weekend, we were all lucky enough to be given a day off to watch the airshow and potter around the showground. We watched most of it from fuels where you can find the best view. The Sunday night was the hyped-up hangar party. Here everyone is invited to mingle with the pilots and engineers from every team that performed. Pilots carry stickers with them and will stick them on you wherever there is space they also have temporary tattoos that they administer with their saliva. Leaving this to the imagination, you can picture what areas got covered first. It was at the hangar party I met the red arrows and then fan-girled for the next hour or so. We then witnessed the whole of the RAF firemen at RIAT attempt a human pyramid. It was also here that I spent about an hour convincing what I thought was a Dutch pilot to surrender his name badge in exchange for a lanyard, although, completely unaware that the whole time I had been speaking to an American display pilot; needless to say the complete structure of the previous night the following day was a little blurry.

LAURA PARSONS AND I UNDERNEATH A TYPHOON10550909_10152598094649208_2985568512070705625_n

The day after the hangar party the whole of staff reception (those remaining anyway) were invited to the Survivor’s Dinner. This is a formal three course meal with an after party and a free bar. People made speeches and toasts to Tim Prince and Fred Crawley (who had donated a large sum for every volunteer to get a jacket). It was a privilege to be invited to this prestigious event, especially on such a year as this. Once again, we all partied the night away and felt it in the morning. Volunteering at RIAT was truly a privilege. The profit from this year’s RIAT will be given to the Royal Air Force Charitable Trust and put towards supporting its three main aims: supporting current serving personnel, promoting the work of the charity and encouraging younger generations to join later on through financially supporting cadet forces. Some of it will be spent on organizing RIAT 2015. The countdown to next year’s RIAT is on.

Donkey the police dog with STR