Looking Back at Some Air Tattoos – Part Two

The Air Tattoos on either side of the Millenium were attended by countries with very interesting aircraft.  The Soviet Union had dissolved, and many Warsaw Pact air forces were replacing their old designs with newer Western and Russian jets.  Most SU-22 and MiG-21, -23 and -29 fighters were in their last years of service.  NATO forces that held onto older designs from the 1960s and 1970s were also shedding their less capable aircraft, like the French Navy’s F-8 Crusaders and Alize ASW/patrol turboprops.  The Royal Air Force’s long-serving Canberra twin jets, modified for the photo reconnaissance role, were retired too.  Many older aircraft with significant life still left in them were in the process of being modified and updated, such as the KC-135/RC-135 family.   The Tattoos offered a good opportunity for spectators to glimpse these types in the air for the last time.


The Air Tattoos usually had one or two special themes per edition.  One was the 80th anniversary of the Royal Air Force in 1998, another was the 50th anniversary of NATO in 1999.  Tiger Meets, where military units with “big cats” used in their squadron crests meet on an annual basis, supplied much color to many static parks during the years I attended too.   There were always a few bright and colorful aircraft amid a sea of dull camouflaged airframes each year.  Military forces were encouraged to bring specially decorated aircraft, and spectators were seldom disappointed with the results.


Ten years after my last Tattoo, there are a more than a few aircraft types that I saw that aren’t in use today.  On the USAF side, gone are the F-117, C-141, C-22, C-135, C-9, and CT-43.  The U.K.’s Royal Air Force has grounded their Jaguar and Harrier fleets, and are retiring their last VC-10 tanker/transports.  The Czech Republic has parked their MiG-21s and -23s.  Portugal has retired their A-7 Corsairs and Italy their F-104 Starfighters, always a fan favorite.  France displayed many types now retired…  the Mirage IV bomber/photorecon jet, Etendard IVP naval fighter-bomber, the Super Frelon helicopter, Nord 262 transport and the aforementioned Crusader and Alize aircraft.  There are still a handful of F-4 Phantoms of various versions in use, but these are dwindling in number.




Here are more photos of Air Tattoo attendees that are either retired, or their types’ retirement is imminent.  Included are a few resurrected aircraft used by civilian operators too.


Ken Kula

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