Air show season is an eagerly anticipated time of year and always presents the military air traffic controllers at RAF(U) Swanwick with a challenging yet extremely exciting variety of aircraft to deal with.

The first ever arrival of the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II to UK shores at the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford (8-10 July) offered even more excitement.

The F-35B’s arrival was heavily documented on social media and RAF(U) Swanwick controllers were proud to control it as it was accompanied by two United States Marine Corps F-35B aircraft and tanker support as it entered UK airspace on 30 June after its transatlantic flight.

Swanwick controllers also coordinated transit of two Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft from RAF Lossiemouth to meet them and then transit to RAF Fairford.


Although NATS doesn’t get involved with the running of the air show, we are heavily involved in facilitating transits of visiting aircraft like this one. Such transits require a lot of liaison, from the initial planning stages through the Military Airspace Booking and Coordination Cell (MABCC) to tactically coordinating the transit levels with the civilian controllers at NATS Prestwick and Swanwick.

We also coordinated transit of the F-35B to conduct a fly-past over HMS Queen Elizabeth II, docked in Rosyth, on 1 July.

The international debut of the F-35B at RIAT was always going to be an exciting event however it also means something else for RAF(U) Swanwick controllers. Airshow arrivals are deconflicted in the days leading up to RIAT but departures day, which follows the main show weekend, presents us with one of our busiest mornings. We have to liaise heavily with the Fairford coordinator, who sits alongside air traffic controllers at RAF Brize Norton – although no controller at RAF(U) Swanwick would say they didn’t enjoy RIAT departures day, even if it does come with some challenges!


Over 230 aircraft attend RIAT, from approximately 24 different countries meaning that we worked a huge variety of traffic for Monday’s departures: Croatian Air Force, multi-national F-16s and Eurofighters, the Frecce Tricolori, French Rafale, Mirages and Alpha jets, Swiss Air Force F-5s to name but a few. If you include our routine operational air traffic into the mix too then it certainly becomes a busy day for all!

Did you visit the Royal International Air Tattoo and manage to catch a glimpse of the F-35?


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