By Mike Barham
Standing next to one of the longest runways in Europe on a quiet, windswept April day, you would never get the sense that this United States Air Force base becomes a hive of noise and aeronautical activity for one weekend in July, but that is exactly what RAF Fairford is renowned for.
Col. Clinton Ross, vice commander of the USAF 501st Combat Support Wing who oversees the base, explained: “Our role here at RAF Fairford is to enable global strike operations with on site administrative and munitions facilities. The 9,000ft runway has an unrestricted load bearing capability and provides the perfect staging area for bomber exercises.”
Wayne Gantt, the air traffic control manager for RAF Fairford who has recently moved from Hawaii to work at the airbase, said: “On average, we only have one US State Department flight into the facility a week, to deliver all of our supplies and occasional comforts from back home. We are set up so that the tower in particular can be run by just one person – namely myself.”
During a press briefing, we were told how the personnel stationed at RAF Fairford are highly engaged with the local community, informing them of any flights coming into the airspace and when exercises will be held. This is communicated to the local parish councils so they can inform residents and keep the relationship between the base and the local area open and harmonious.
Crucially, Fairford Mayor Jennie Sanford informed us that a recent Fairford Town Council survey found over 85% of the town’s population supported RIAT and the attention it brings to their area.
Royal International Air Tattoo chief executive Andy Armstrong spoke highly of the support provided by the USAF stationed at Fairford in the build-up to the annual RIAT event. Mr Armstrong said: “For this year’s tattoo I believe we have taken all the necessary steps, with help from the personnel here at Fairford, to alleviate any concerns regarding safety both in the air and on the ground. The Civil Aviation Authority are soon to conclude their investigation into the tragic incident at the Shoreham Air Show last year and we are very confident that RIAT will comply with the new regulations that will follow this.
“The focus this year is on inspiring the next generation. Our Tech Zone for young people is back, right in the middle of the taxiway. This area is a chance for the aeronautical industry to discover future engineers, designers and those interested in aviation.
“This year will also mark the 75th anniversary of the Air Cadets, so we will be celebrating this on our opening day; Friday 8 July.
“Tickets are selling extremely quickly so we would encourage your readers to get theirs whilst they still can. A particular highlight this year will be the F-35 Lightning II which is making its first appearances at an air show outside of the US.”
Tickets are available for RIAT 2016 from their website: www.airtattoo.com