Neverland in the Netherlands
GILZE-RIJEN - Klu Open Dagen 2002 5/6 July
Dave Eade, Roger Cook, Andrew Bates, John Cayless and Geoff Stockle all made the trip to the Netherlands for the KLu's main event of the year
Some may be persuaded that as the Netherlands is a small country with an equally small population, a proportionally small-armed force would produce a proportionally small airshow scene. Not so, we are pleased to be able to report, as the annual KLu Air Show at Gilze-Rijen proved. Held at a different air-base every year, the KLu show falls somewhere between a Waddington and a Farnborough, with large sponsorship from the aviation industry happily sharing space with the largest air-power demo to be seen anywhere in Europe today. The JSF mock-up erected by the entrance made sure that everyone knew that the KLu was a prospective target for the US manufacturers - if Peter Pan had an aviation Neverland, Gilze-Rijen provided it the weekend of 5/6 July 2002. Fifteen countries attended with 199 aircraft present, some 100 of which flew in the seven-hour flying display.
Gilze-Rijen (Gills-Ryan is the nearest we Brits will get to a true pronunciation) is situated comfortably in the south of the country, some three hours drive from Calais. All the more surprising, therefore, that a distinct lack of British enthusiasts seemed to make the journey. This base for many years was home to the F-16s of 314 Squadron and a maintenance unit for this aircraft. In those days, the easy access to the end of Runway 28 must have beckoned many enthusiasts there. Quieter now with the Bo105s of 299 Squadron and the Apaches of 301 and 302 Squadrons, that spot is probably not normally as popular except on airshow days.
After a relatively quiet Friday show (well, people-wise anyway) Saturday appeared to take everyone by surprise, with a constant flood of people streaming in well after 1500 hrs. The only problem with that, of course, is the inevitable jam after the show closes - and this was the case here. Three hours after getting into the car for the journey to Koksijde, we were still in the field where we had been all day. Exasperating, certainly, but at least we made Dutch TV with reports of many times the numbers of spectators arriving than planned.
The inclement weather tried and failed to dampen the two days of the show, Friday being the better of the two. The crowd-line at Gilze-Rijen allows for good landing shots at the 28 end (in use both days) and concentrates the crowd at that end. Experience of previous shows at Twente and Volkel meant that it came as no surprise to find a full and varied static line-up and a flying display that mixed Dutch aviation history, WWII and today's hardware, including the previously mentioned air power demo. Aircraft from all over Europe included a good smattering of Austrian, Czech, Slovenian and Turkish airframes. 'Star' of the Austrians - well for us, anyway - was Skyvan 5S-TA, followed by the Czech Air Force Mil (one of two in the show). Always popular are the Turkish F-4Es, although this year's were probably upstaged by the German contingent, which included the blue-finned 'Lion-Meet' airframe. The low cloud and preponderance of grey colour schemes did little to inspire the average photographer - grey skies and grey aircraft do not a good photo make! Having said that, the cameras were still worked hard for such pairings as the Italian 37º Stormo Starfighters and Turkish 112 Filo Phantoms. I guess some aircraft are irresistible, whatever the weather.
The USAF was represented on the ground by a KC-135R (63-8025) of the 100 ARW and two of the Lakenheath based F-15Es. The tanker's crew from Mildenhall was among many who were getting into conversation with the public, so when a look round the new glass cockpit of the Pacer-Crag aircraft was offered we gratefully accepted. It was our guide's first airshow as a participant and he was really enjoying it - being proud to show us his boomer-bunk at the rear end of the aircraft. Far younger than the airframe, he was already looking forward to trying the proposed new 757 bodied tanker from Boeing. It is to be hoped for his sake that the USAF does not wait for the 135's retirement before he gets his chance!
Seeming always to try to encourage derision, the flying B-1B made two medium-height passes, using up most of Holland, Belgium and possibly parts of Kent to turn round. Whatever happened to the 'touch-and-go' manoeuvre, one which used to satisfy most spectators - whatever their wants. It is seldom seen today. This contribution was hardly worth the fuel - come on, USAF, let's have some proper action!
From the RAF came the ever-resplendent Reds, Jaguar (XZ115/PD) and the Tornado GR4 from 15(R) Squadron as fliers with a Tucano (ZF170), RN Merlin (ZH851) and a couple of ex-RAF warbirds adorning the static. Talk of the Red Arrows reminds us that the show also gave us a chance to see the Polish Orlik team (slicker with every performance) and the fabulous F-5Es from the Patrouille Suisse. Their flare-packed finale, now staged seemingly further back from the crowd-line, brought the show to a fabulous close - helped, surprisingly, by the dark threatening clouds behind. The flying had kicked off in grand style with the excellent Austrian J35 Draken demo, though not this year the stunning special red scheme machine. True to form for a sixties-vintage fast jet the double-delta was cranked around in constant burner and finished with a high speed pass and, dare I say, a Lightning-esque zoom-climb.
The Germans were well represented in the line-up with Bo-105, CH-53 and Huey while the ECR boys at Jbg32 sent what is possible the worst special Torny paint-job we have ever seen (but it's all a matter of taste)! A surprise arrival during Friday morning was the superb Airbus 310 (10+23) coming to join the F-4F and Mig-29 (which was making possibly its last appearance at a Dutch show in German markings), and from Italy came the RSV trio of Tornado, MB339 and G222 in the air while the two gorgeous F-104Ss and an AB-212 from 51 Stormo graced the static.
From further afield F-16s from Norway, Denmark and Belgium were to be found, as were French Alpha Jets, Mirage F1s and a smattering of warbirds. It was quite a relief to find a 1 FTS Tucano nestling in amongst the jets, that gloss black seemed to make such a refreshing change! And continuing the turboprop theme, there was further colour to be found in the shape of a Slovenian PC-9 (another camouflage scheme) and the Dutch PC-7 (yellow - yippee!!).
So to the home team - and what a show they had! Specially marked Bo-105s, Alouette III, Chinook, Cougar and Apaches represented the choppers on static and exhibitions while the heavy metal searcher found his proverbial F-16 (J-021). The transport section included Fokkers 50 (U-05) and 60 (U-01) and, for the luxury end of the market, Gulfstream IV (V-11) from 334 Squadron. Flying were the immaculate F-16AM, now flare assisted, from 312 Squadron (J-016) which surely must be the most photographed aircraft of the last two seasons.
Finally the air-power demo, which brought memories of the old SBAC shows at Farnborough, when the last hour was always given over to the RAF, FAA and Army. After an initial softening up from a flight of over ten F-16s and Bo105s, troops and equipment were carried in by a formation of three Chinooks and four Cougars while no less than eight Apaches made sure that the airfield was carefully protected. Various attacks by F-16s prevented any resurgence of enemy activity, while Hercules G-275 brought in more equipment. The long-range of the KLu was shown by an over-flying F-16 tanking from KDC-10 T-265 of 334 Squadron and a final flypast of a diamond-nine of F-16s brought the air-power demo to a close - well, not quite! The pyrotechnics guys, who had been adding their inimitable stamp of realism to events, launched a battery of airborne explosives just to make their presence felt!
Despite the crowds, this display ranks among the best that Europe has to offer nowadays. Car-parking mayhem aside, your scribes had two superb days here at an event that satisfies the number-cruncher, photographer and family tripper completely. Free entry and a no-rip-off scheme of purchase by ticket ensures that there is enough left in the wallet for a souvenir or two. Book your place for Twente in 2003 now, but remember - don't try for a late ferry after the show - odds-on you will miss it!