FORMER England striker Les Ferdinand is more used to football boots than flying suits.

But as English football's only helicopter pilot, he was only too happy to start the countdown to this year's Royal International Air Tattoo, taking place next month at RAF Fairford.

Norm-ally used to flying his tiny Robinson R44 private helicopter, he flew into the giant airbase courtesy of the Army Air Corp's elite flying demonstration team, the Blue Eagles.

He even dressed in one of their bright blue flying suits, but admitted it was probably slightly too small for him.

"Learning to fly has given me a great freedom," said Les.

"I've driven fast cars and ridden motorcycles so learning to fly a helicopter was just a new thrill and challenge.

"I have played for loads of clubs over the years, and still regularly go to watch matches, but hopping into the helicopter means I am not stuck in the queues on the M6 or the M25."

He hopes to attend the show on July 15 and 16, and there will be no distractions the World Cup will be over by then.

He is confident that the England team, who play their first match on Saturday, could do well in Germany.

"We've got a great squad this year, probably the best one we've had for a long time and I'd say I think we're strong enough to go all the way this time," he said.

"It would be great to think that 40 years after 1966, we could win it on the German's home turf. It's going to be a great few weeks ahead."

Joining him in launching the show was jazz singer Clare Teal, who is set to have a busy Air Tattoo as she is performing at the evening concerts after the show.

Arriving onboard one of the RAF's imposing C-17 Globemaster transport planes, Clare said: "Visitors to the show will get a great concert with the BBC Big Band. They are great fun and there should be a few cheeky moments.

"Hopefully I won't have to contend with too much aircraft noise in the evenings."

Organisers of the show are confident of attracting record visitors and say they are praying for good weather.

Show director and co-founder Tim Prince said: "I am incredibly excited about this year's show, particularly with the attendance of our 50th country, Pakistan, which goes a long way to proving we are the United Nations of the air.

"For the visitors, one of the top highlights is going to be the Russian MiG-29 with its variable thrust, which allows it to do some quite eye-catching manoeuvres, and there is the tilt-rotor Osprey which has never performed in Europe before."

Col Paul Wuebold, station commander at RAF Fairford, said: "It's incredibly exciting to have a show of this scale at the base, we just don't have shows quite like this back in the United States. Although aircraft like the B-52 are close to my heart it's going to be fast jets like the Eurofighter and even the Russian MiG which are going to be the stars of the show for me."

But it's not just planes, and even with 350 of them on the ground, there will be plenty of room to try out new activities on the ground, including battling robots and sitting in Formula One cars.

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