Even before we reached the showground the sky was blasted by the sounds of screeching and ripping, aviation fumes permeated the air and there was a strong whiff of testosterone. While I never actually heard anyone say, ‘Smoke me a kipper, I’ll be back for breakfast’, I know that’s what they were thinking, in many languages.
The Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) at RAF Fairford is one of the biggest displays of air power, hardware, software, one-piece flight suits and embroidered squadron badges this side of Moscow. Air forces from all over the world come to strut their stuff on the ground and in the air. It’s an impressive and rather scary sight.
If Noel was to appear on Mastermind, his specialist subject would be aircraft. Any aircraft, any era, any country. His knowledge is encyclopaedic, he can tell an aircraft just by the smell. Given that he has spent many any hour accompanying me in pursuit of my specialist subject, shopping (any era, any country), I couldn’t say no to a day looking at planes, plus there was a rumour that Maverick may be there.
We went with a couple of friends, Chris is a former RAF engineer, another self-confessed lover of all things aviation, and his wife Jane, who, on balance, probably prefers shopping, but she’d heard the Maverick rumour.
While the boys talked planes, we compared the different airmen to determine who was the coolest, purely in the interest of research, there may be a PhD in it. Somewhere along the line there will be a Coolness Scale, but at this evidence-gathering stage, we were just observing and taking notes. Here’s our findings.
The Americans were garrulous and polite, they had great teeth and top-of-the-range Ray-Bans, their F-16s where rather impressive, but very showy. The Brits were chatty, helpful and frightfully polite. The French had that Gallic shrug after screeching through the sky in their Mirages, but no, none of these were the coolest. The Danes came close to being the coolest, they were based in Greenland and had a very shiny plane. The Germans had magnificent helicopters which were very cool indeed. The Belgians got a special award from us for the uncoolest hats, red, white and blue berets balanced on their heads to outshine the regulation khaki, what WERE they thinking?
Anyone piloting a Spitfire or a Lancaster is automatically cool and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight must have blown up some fine dust as I certainly had something in my eye…The Red Arrows knocked everything else into the Vauxhall Conference League, they are pure class, there is no better flying team, anywhere. Fact. But they weren’t the coolest, not quite.
On the ground, the coolness award went to the Dutch, they sat on the top of their plane and played rock music through loudspeakers, they clearly know how to party.
But Top of the Cool Pops was the Italian Air Force whose C27-J Spartan took to the skies and did things an unwieldy propeller plane had no business doing, Looping the loop, banking, and all without spilling their rather fine espresso. Yes, Italian Air Force, it’s official, you are the coolest, well, in my book anyway.
Unfortunately, Maverick didn’t show, he was buzzing the tower somewhere, so I had to make do with coming home and watching Top Gun, for the 50th time, I’ve certainly not lost that lovin’ feeling…..