Tall Tails From RIAT

RIAT 2015, held as usual at Fairford, between 17 – 19 July offered the Tornado Force a unique opportunity to grab some well deserved limelight this year.

It was a chance for the RAF and in particular all those personnel with connections and an affection for the Tornado to celebrate the 35th Anniversary of the creation of the Tri-National Tornado Training Establishment (TTTE). That said this was by no means an RAF only celebration with representation also from Germany, Italy and an acknowledgement of the RSAF contribution too. As it turned out the final, outstandingly successful result was a culmination of effort. Panavia sourced and funded the decals, NETMA valiantly coordinated all parties to achieve the successful completion of the project, SERCO provided the expertise to apply the decals to all 3 countries aircraft whilst XV(R) Sqn and Marham supported the aircraft moves and assisted with the application and subsequent removal of the decals at Fairford during the week leading up to and during RIAT.

The idea was simple enough: Provide 3 aircraft (UK, Germany and Italian) to be static displays throughout the RIAT weekend, adorned with individual Fin decals illustrating TTTE, 35 years and the country of origin.

The decals would not be cleared for flight so would need to be applied once the aircraft were at Fairford, which was due to be sometime on the 16 July. RAF Marham personnel duly volunteered to apply said decals and things were looking rosy… until the first designs appeared and the awful truth dawned on us that, impressive as the decals were, this would be well beyond the capabilities of the volunteer workforce. These were serious decals that required expert application, particularly knowing the scrutiny that they would be subjected to by the aircraft enthusiast community. Each set of decals would completely cover both sides of each aircraft’s fin – and that’s no small fin! Of course, after RIAT, there was then the task of ‘simply’ removing the decals before the aircraft left Fairford on the Monday.

Time was getting short by this stage but little known to us at this point it was to get even tighter still. Having committed to the task Marham was understandably reluctant to admit defeat so approached the resident SMEs at SERCO. Much sucking of teeth ensued but to their great credit SERCO came up with a plan that would see the task achieved. However it came with some caveats. Application times had been vastly underestimated for 3 aircraft arriving just the day before. No spare decals would be made so perfect first time application was required. Ideally, visibility and a chance to get a feel for the final decals was needed. Hangarage and equipment would have to be immediately available during the extremely busy lead up week at Fairford.

The job of smoothing all these issues and finding solutions that would keep all parties happy and achieve the aim fell to NETMA and in particular to Lisa Horsford. Much toing and froing was managed through her with many brick walls encountered and obstacles overcome. The advantage, as far as Lisa was concerned, was that everyone still wanted to see these decals fitted so flexibility was very much the order of the day. The decals (now split into strips) duly arrived at Marham for SERCO to preview. Having secured authority from SERCO bosses to assist and with a team on standby SERCO personnel would now transport these decals to Fairford. Application had now been organised to be spread over the preceeding week thanks to early, staggered delivery of the aircraft. XV(R) Sqn Tues, Germany Weds and Italy Thurs. Throughout the week Fairford were most helpful in accommodating the team’s needs with a hangar, tractor and working platforms. The decal application, when it came to the moment of truth, was thankfully trouble free and more efficient with each aircraft. That said the last decal went down to the wire with the aircraft wheeled out onto the Line late Thursday for day one on 17th July.

The end result was stunning and a fitting tribute to TTTE. By all accounts it went down very well with RIAT and all those who attended over the weekend and everyone involved can be justifiably proud. Our thanks go to all negotiators, organisers, planners, bosses and SMEs who made this possible. Our very own historic fleet SNCO, Sgt Dave Richards ably assisted by Sgt John King, provided the steadfast RAF contribution from Marham.

The removal of all 3 aircraft’s decals in 12 hours so they could all fly out on Mon was another challenge with the Italian crew almost up on the fin themselves removing their own decals at one point! But all aircraft were eventually cleaned and dispatched in timely fashion, job done!

It just leaves the question of what we can do next year to top this …………………………………!