THE southern skies thundered into life today as a thousand tonnes of metal ducked, dipped, dived and dodged through a series of jaw-dropping, show-stopping, awe-inspiring aerial manoeuvres.

The Royal International Air Tattoo, in which the world’s most talented fighter pilots descend on RAF Fairford each year, is back, and yesterday’s show got off to a flying start.

This year’s three-day event marks the 70th anniversary of the United States Air Force, and the show is sprinkled with a distinct transatlantic flavour.

But opening yesterday’s proceedings, before the boys of the USAAF could strap themselves in, were the Red Arrows, piloted by the RAF’s Aerobic Team from RAF Scampton.

The 11-man team put on a heart-stopping performance, despite the low hanging cloud.

Best mates Martin Hackett and Paul Green, from Birmingham, were dressed head to toe in aviation-inspired attire – they had been watching with childlike enthusiasm.

Martin, 32, who works in IT, said: “It’s breath-taking, absolutely breath-taking. We have been to air shows for the past 10 years and the Red Arrows are always the stars. The things they can do in the air – just incredible!”

After the Red Arrows, the Slovenian Air Force gave a high octane fly performance in a Pilatus PC-9M before the Italians shook the heavens with a tactical twin-turboprop Leonardo C-27J Spartan.

The Air Tattoo, by far the biggest air show in the world, allows flying enthusiasts and jobbing dabblers to get up close and personal with some of the world’s most advanced flying machines.

It is staged in support of the RAF Charitable Trust, which assists the force and encourages young people to get involved in the UK’s aviation industry.

One man, in keeping with the spirit of the occasion, had a Star Spangled Banner poking out from his rucksack. Austin Richmond, 47, from Tallahassee, Florida, had made the trip across the pond just to see the show.

He said: “It’s fantastic to be here today to celebrate the birthday of the US Air Force. My son Billie has been a pilot for the past nine years and I’m here today to honour him.

“He has served in recent deployments to the Middle East and this is a very special time for the people who work in the forces.”

Performances continued throughout the day from the French Air Force, who flew a Couteau Delta 2 Dassault Mirage 2000Ds, a USAAF Lockheed Martin Hercules and an RAF Avro Lancaster.

The show continues tomorrow, being opened at 11am by the Czech Air Force flying a Saab JAS 39C Gripen.