Before the Event
Programmes aren’t cheap (around £12), but they are the only official way to get a full flying schedule. The App and/or the mini-guide (handed out at the event) give you a few key timings and the commentary team will usually announce the next hour or so occasionally, but if you want a full listing for free it’s worth having a look around airshow forums on the Thursday or Friday, as kind souls usually post up the full schedule.
RIAT operates a set-price menu for common items available at the various food stands, but even so that doesn’t mean they’re cheap. You can take along your own food and drink (a cool bag is a wise investment), camping chairs and the usual British ‘summertime’ essentials such as rainproofs and sunscreen are of course recommended, and often end up being used during the same day.
As per my Goodwood Festival of Speed guide, I’m going to be extolling the virtues of an early start here, in fact it’s even more crucial at RIAT if you want a relaxed day.
Point your Satnav at GL7 4EG and follow the appropriate coloured route in once you reach the yellow AA signs. The car parks open at 6am but the actual event gates do not open until 7:30. That said, it’s wise to arrive early if possible. Arrive at 6:30 and you’ll pretty much drive straight in, arrive at 8:30 and you can probably look forward to a 2 hour wait, particularly frustrating when the air display has started and you’re stuck in your car. The car parks are huge and featureless, so it’s crucial to note your zone via the flags dotted around the car park and any other landmarks that may help. Even then, expect to spend 5 minutes looking for your car.
Entry / Finding a Spot
If you want a spot at the front of the crowd line you realistically need to be in the entry queues ready for the 7:30 opening, and don’t plan on trying to venture too far from your entry zone (the runway is 2 miles long!) However it’s worth pointing out that 95% of the action takes place well above your head and is therefore visible to all regardless of how close or far you are from the front. Large sections of the crowd line are sectioned off for the various premium areas, particularly the nearer you get to the middle, but either end of the runway has vast open areas.
As the air display doesn’t start until 10am we normally have at least two hours to kill once we’re settled in place. Thankfully there is plenty to see and do including over a mile of static aircraft to view. There are buses that take you to different zones, but we usually take it in turns to have a look around (one of us staying with our chairs and looking after our gear) and we easily walk the entire static display and back within an hour each.
Everything is coned/roped off and there are thousands of people looking around, so creative photography options can be quite limited. But as always if you think on your feet a bit you can capture something a little beyond the average record shot.
If you’re visiting on your own it’s fine to leave your spot ‘reserved’ with your chair whilst you have a look around the static display or pop to the loo, I’ve done this several times and many others do it. It goes without saying that leaving bags unattended is not the wisest of ideas.
The flying display starts at 10am and usually goes right through to at least 6pm without any real break. In terms of equipment, ideally you want at least 300mm on a crop body to get reasonably close, but 400mm or even 500mm is better.
I’m no expert with aviation photography so I keep things simple and basically just point and shoot, concentrating on composition and letting the camera sort out the technicalities. Continuous AF (Group AF on the D750 worked incredibly well), shutter priority, a fast shutter speed for jets (1/1000), and a significantly slower shutter speed (usually 1/160th ish) for helicopters and props to ensure some prop blur worked for me.