RIAT at RAF Cottesmore


Ukrainian Air Force Tu-22M3 bomber at RAF Cottesmore close to the turn of this century.

The Royal International Air Tattoo is a yearly gathering of military aircraft, aircrews, and aviation history rolled into almost a week of blazing afterburners, low passes, aerobatics and esprit de corps.


Military personnel from dozens of air forces (Air Force, Navy, Marines, Police and a few other branches) have their chances to mingle and to learn from each other. Aviation enthusiasts have their own groups… formal and informal. Packages for up to six days of aviation photographic access to the airfield might cost a pretty penny to some, but it is well worth in for enthusiasts from the U.K and around the world to see and record some rare military craft in person. 


There are always surprises each year regarding attendees and special colors adorning aircraft, but the venue for each show for decades has been RAF Fairford, in Gloucestershire, England since 1985. Well, almost every show. For two years – 2000 and 2001, the show was held at RAF Cottesmore, in Rutland, England. The base once was a former multi-national Tornado training base and most recently home to the Joint Harrier Force of the the U.K.. The main runway and other airfield surfaces at Fairford were being repaved and repaired during that time, and a tradition had to be put on hold. Luckily Cottesmore was another sprawling base with plenty of room for static aircraft displays, and the runway was plenty long enough for all attending aircraft.

Some awesome aircraft were displayed at RAF Cottesmore, including curtain calls of European stalwarts like the Italian F-104 Starfighters and French Mirage IVPs. Here is a look at a number of aircraft on display during the two years at Cottesmore:

AN AN-72P from the Ukranian Air Force arrives for the show.

One of the Royal Air Force’s BAe-125 CC3 executive transports arrives after the first day’s flying ended.

A French Navy EMB-121AN Xingu multi-engine trainer.

Special colors on this Hawk T.1 of the RAF denotes the 60th Anniversary of RAF Valley, in Wales. 

Belgian military Augusta A-109BA arrives for the show.

Polish Air Force AN-26… the type was retired from service in 2009.

Bulgarian Air Force AN-30 during a high speed pass.

Royal Netherlands Air Force C-130H-30.

Civilian DHC-6-300 Twin Otter used to support Antarctic operations.

RAF BAe-146 CC2 VIP transport shuttled passengers to/from each of the daily weekend air shows to other bases.

This one-of-a-kind BAe Hawk T.1 was modified into the Advanced Stability Training and Research Aircraft (ASTRA) and operated by the Empire Test Pilots School.

This RAF Hawk T.1W has a strengthened wing for weapons carriage, including Sidewinder air to air missiles.

Ukrainian IL-76 transport roars off of the Cottesmore runway.

Jetstream T.2 and its newer T.3 brothers were all retired from RN/RAF service by 2011.

Belgian Air Force Alpha Jet 1B carries special markings as the flight demonstration airframe.

Hungarian Air Force MiG-29UB slows with its ‘chute deployed at RAF Cottesmore.

Netherlands’ PC-7 trainer in the type’s RNLAF flight demonstration color scheme.

Royal Danish Air Force Sikorsky S-61A-5 Search and Rescue helicopter.

Austrian Air Force Saab 105O trainer/light attack jet.

French Navy Super Etendard arriving at RAF Cottesmore.

French Army TBM-700B departs at the end of a daily show.

One of the stars of the 2000 RIAT show, this Ukrainian Air Force Tu-22M3 roars off the ground to return home in the Ukraine. The RIAT shows attracted many former Eastern Bloc hardware, including fighters, bombers, transports and trainers.

Shorts T.1 Tucano trainer, based on the Embraer version.

A Belgian Army Britten-Normal Islander leaves Cottesmore after the show.

German Air Force AS532U2 VIP version of the Puma helicopter.

Royal Air Force Hercules W.2 weather reconnaissance aircraft was operated by the Meteorological Research Flight until 2001, so this was taken very close to its retirement.

French Air Force Jaguar E attack jet bathed in late afternoon golden hour lighting on the far side of the RAF Cottesmore runway.

Another grande finale at RIAT, this Mirage IVP was originally a strategic nuclear bomber akin to the FB-111A of the USAF. In later years, the type was used for a photographic reconnaissance aircraft, hence the “P” suffix. This was taken during its last year of operation.

Spanish Air Force retired their final Mirage F-1Ms in 2013. In 2000 and 2001, they were front line air fighter aircraft. Today, Draken International has purchased a number of these air frames to be used in adversary training. 

The Italian Air Force used some of their almost two dozen Piaggio/Douglas PD.808GE jets in the Electronic Countermeasures role until 2003, when they were retired. 

The Italian Air Force’s most advanced Starfighter, this TF-104S ASA-M blasts off of the Cottesmore runway, these final upgrades to the “Super Starfighter’ made by Aeritalia were finally retired by 2005. 

Ken Kula

Assignment and Content Editor, writer and photographer A New Englander all of my life, I've lived in New Hampshire since 1981. My passion for all things aviation began at a very early age, and I coupled this with my interest of photography during college in the late 1970s. I spent 35 years in the air traffic control industry, and concurrently, enjoyed my aviation photography and writing adventures, which continue today. I've been quite fortunate to have been mentored by some generous and gifted individuals. I enjoy contributing to this great site and working with some very knowledgeable and equally passionate aviation followers.

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