Andrew Bates reports from COLMAR-MEYENHEIM on the 'Meeting National', 30 June 2002.
With the airshow season in full swing, the last weekend of June proved to be a little problematic. The big dilemma was, which show should I attend? The choices were either Waddington (generally unmissable) or Colmar (a venue I've wanted to visit for many a long year). After much deliberation, along with some serious grovelling to the wife, the one logical conclusion was eventually reached; I'll have to attend both shows! So, after a great day out at Waddo on the Saturday, it was one mad dash south to Dover, across the Channel, and onward to the Alsace region of eastern France.
Colmar-Meyenheim, otherwise known by the l'Armée de l'Air as Base Aérienne 132, is home to EC 01.030 Alsace and EC 02.030 Normandie Niemen, both equipped with the Mirage F1CT. As a first time visitor, my initial impressions were most favourable. Thanks to a distant but imposing mountain range beyond the display line, along with ever-present sunshine behind the crowd, the airfield topography exhibited all the necessary ingredients for the ideal airshow arena. This was perhaps not fully utilised during the course of the day, as unfortunately, most of the display participants seemed a little distant. At risk of exaggeration, it seemed that some pilots were flying under control of German ATC!
However, this minor disappointment was soon forgotten, thanks to the proximity of the flightline. The majority of the display participants were to be found parked, wingtip to wingtip, immediately in front of the crowd, which was no mean feat when considering that the full line-up included no less than five international display teams. These alone, accounted for over forty of the airframes on view, which, along with a mix of other frontline types, warbirds and classic jets, created an impressive sight. Consequently, this level of accessibility for the public ensured maximum entertainment value. No matter how long a pause between displays, or indeed how distant the flying, there was always something going on in front of the crowd.
The five display teams taking turns to enthral and wow the audience comprised of the Moroccan Air Force 'Green March', the Spanish AF Aviojets from the 'Patrulla Aguila', the THK F-5s from the 'Turkish Stars', more F-5s from the 'Patrouille de Suisse', and naturally, the Alpha Jets from the 'Patrouille de France'. With the last mentioned team, it was very much a case of déjà vu, as they were in action at Waddington the previous day. There was also the civilian Khalifa Jet Team in attendance with their L39 Albatros jets, but operating only as a pair rather than the usual quartet.
Naturally, the modern day Armée de l'Air featured prominently in the flying programme, with duo displays from the Jaguar and Mirage F1 fraternity, along with solo demonstrations from the Mirage 2000B, Alpha Jet, and at the larger end of the spectrum, E-3F Sentry. Meanwhile, international modern military participation was provided by an Austrian J-35öE Draken, Belgian Magister, Danish F-16, German Phantom and Tornado, and Swedish JA-37 Viggen and Tp-84 Hercules. The Herc demo was especially popular with the crowds, seemingly proving that the rules of aerodynamics don't always apply, especially to Swedish C-130s! You simply shouldn't be able to throw a large transport around like that!
Interspersed with all the military hardware was a good smattering of historic types. These included the Klu Historic Flight Spitfire, along with the TFC P-47 Thunderbolt (left) and F6F Hellcat all the way from Duxford. Other notable participants included a Yak C-11, US Navy schemed T-28 Trojan, and ex-Luftwaffe OV-10 Bronco. With its distinctive shape and sound, the Bronco proved to be a real crowd pleaser, thanks primarily to its breathtaking manoeuvrability. It was a really first rate performance, and as far as your scribe was concerned, it virtually stole the show. The privately owned jet contingent consisted of a pair of ex-Swiss AF Vampires in appropriate Armée de l'Air markings, and ex-French Aéronavale CM175 Zephyr in a colour scheme that is best described as eye-catching!
The static park itself was not particularly large, but with a packed flightline in such close proximity, it didn't really need to be. However, there were a few 'goodies' in amongst the Mirages. Most popular with the photographers, as usual, a pair of Singaporean A-4 Skyhawks (both single and twin-seat versions) visiting from their long-term detachment at Cazaux. Also, a pair of Saab classics were to be found in the shape of an Austrian Draken and Swedish Viggen, the latter in special markings celebrating 20 years of F17 Viggen operations.
The one disappointing aspect of the static was that Mirage F1CT 246/30-ST from EC 01.030, which was sporting special tail markings, had been chosen for the customary 'sit in the cockpit and have your photo taken' duties. Consequently, thanks to all the obvious clutter, it was a tail shot or nothing. Whilst I'm all for letting 'Joe Public' have the opportunity to become Top Gun for a few minutes, why couldn't they have picked a conventionally marked example? However, after much wailing and gnashing of teeth, any remaining disappointment quickly dissipated following a tip-off that there was another Mirage on base with a far more flamboyant colour scheme. Its operator, EC 02.030 Normandie Niemen, was formed in 1942 by the Free French, initially with the specific purpose of helping the Russians fight the Germans on the Eastern Front during WWII. After their personnel arrived in theatre, they began their first operations in early 1943 flying the Yak-7. They carried on fighting alongside their Russian comrades, utilising Russian aircraft right up to the war's end. As it was the 60th Anniversary of the unit, an aircraft was painted in a special scheme, together with dual French/Russian flag and Russian writing. Rumour was that the commanding officer thought the scheme was too outlandish, so it was kept away from public gaze. So, after much detective work, and a very long yomp around the airfield, there in all its glory, in a far flung HAS area, was specially marked Mirage F1CT 220. Judging by the remote location, the speculation could have been correct.
Another welcome feature of the show, in close proximity to the static park, was the opening up of one of the maintenance hangars. Here, it was possible to view some of the activities associated with Mirage F1 service and repair work, with a number of airframes at various stages of 'undress'. This also included the almost obligatory airframe on trestles, demonstrating undercarriage and flap movements at various times throughout the day.
And so an extremely hectic weekend drew to a close. Yes, it was tiring, but it was worth it. Colmar, like so many other French shows, proved to be a breath of fresh air in more ways than one. The relaxed atmosphere, the superb weather, the great mix of modern and historic, no hospitality tents to spoil the view, and even better, no-one tried to sell me double glazing!