Mike Shreeve reports from this year's major airshow in Poland, held at Radom airbase, some 100km Southeast of Warsaw, over the weekend of 30/31 August.
Although the display was intended to commemorate the 85th Anniversary of the Polish Air Force, the static display was reportedly smaller than in previous years. However, the flying display provided a full and varied day's entertainment, with something for all tastes. Flying began at 09:00 each day, and finished after 18:00. After the many complaints about ticket prices at UK airshows this season, it was refreshing to find entry priced at 20 Zloty (about £3.50) per person!
Stars of the show this year were undoubtedly the Israeli Air Force. In only their second appearance with combat aircraft at an airshow in Europe (after Waddington 2001), they again provided three F-15s, only this time fighter variants, with F-15Ds making the journey. Support was provided by a Boeing 707 tanker (sadly absent on the show days) and a C-130E Hercules, which remained on static display with the interior converted to a cinema showing an IDF/AF publicity film throughout the weekend. F-15D 706 (90-0276, named 'Northern Star') was on static display, armed with a Rafael Popeye ASM and a pair of Rafael Python AAMs, and 715 (90-0278, 'Wind Rose') and 733 (90-0275, 'King's Bishop') were parked nearby on the flightline. On the Sunday, an impressive flying demonstration was performed by 733 (as at Waddington, the Israelis did not fly on the Saturday, being the Jewish sabbath), with the pilot popping flares each time in the vertical. As an added bit of showmanship, when taxying in along the crowdline, the airbrake was continually opened and closed - a change from the usual waving to the crowd!
Other foreign participation was provided by the Luftwaffe, (Tiger-marked Tornado and a C-160 Transall in the static), Portugal (the same pair of Alphajets which were at RIAT last year), and Belgium (F-16 and Alphajet in the flying display). The Dutch sent the F-16 and PC-7 demonstrations, and there was a Czech L-159B (flying) with a support L410 in the static, both in Aero house colours. The Italian Air Force sent a G-222 and an MB-339CD from the RSV at Practica di Mare for the flying display (causing me to hold my breath at the steep approach to land by the G-222, but fortunately no mishaps this time!), and, from France, the Patrouille de France, with a support C-160 Transall, plus Mirage 2000s (static and flying) and a Mirage F1CR for the static. Additionally, a pair of Norwegian F-16s and a Spanish AF CN-235M were on static display. The first C-295 for the Polish AF, 011, was delivered to Krakow two weeks previously, and was in evidence there when I passed through Krakow airport on the Thursday before the show, but was unfortunately not at Radom, despite being listed in the pre-show publicity. Some variety was provided with a flying display by a Slovenian AF PC-9.
From the UK, the RAF sent the Red Arrows (for their first performance at Radom, arriving on the Saturday afternoon, and displaying on the Sunday), with a Jaguar GR3 and a Tornado GR4 in the flying display. Fortunately, a spare Tornado was taken, as the display aircraft broke, leaving the crew of the spare jet to fly back to the UK on a LOT Boeing 737 on the Monday afternoon! Support was provided by a visiting BAe146 CC2 of 32(TR) Squadron on the Saturday. From the USAF, a Ramstein-based C-130E was in the static, with a pair of Aviano-based F-16Cs on the flightline. One of these gave a spectacular display in the hands of Captain Julian 'Debo' Pacheco, the USAF Air Combat Command West Coast Viper Demo pilot for this season, from Hill AFB, Utah. An added bonus to this display was that the commentary was in Polish, and so we didn't have to listen to the excruciating, pre-scripted type of commentary which we have had inflicted on us at RIAT by the F-15 and A-10 Demo teams over the past two years!
One of the highlights of the weekend was to have been a rare appearance outside Russia by the Swifts. Much space was given over in the Polish aviation press to this coup in the week before the show, describing the pre-show visit and inspection of facilities by a Russian delegation, and the guarantees which had to be made by the Poles over non-siezure of the aircraft due to the ongoing Swiss legal action against Russia. Come the weekend of the show, though, the Swifts were notable only by their absence! RSK MiG, however, did send their MiG-AT and two-seater MiG-29M2 MRCA demonstrators to take part in the flying display, with a rather tatty ex-Aeroflot Yak-40 in support. The MiG-29, in the hands of RSK MiG's chief pilot, Pavel Vlasov, was especially impressive, performing the trademark tailslide and cobra in inclement conditions with a low cloudbase.
Also on static display was a Falcon 50, exhibited by Dassault. There were also due to be examples of the Bombardier Challenger and Gulfstream, competitors for the Polish AF requirement for a Yak-40 replacement. However, not long before the show, the specification was amended to include a requirement for three engines, which left only the Falcon meeting the specification, leaving the Poles without a competitive tender. Doh! Back to the drawing board, guys!
And so to the 'home-grown' items. Several of the Polish AF items in the flying display were based out of Deblin, due to space constraints at Radom. These included the Bialo-Czerwone Iskry (Red-and-White Sparks) Aerobatic team, and there were visiting displays by a MiG-29 (a good aerobatic display) plus a tiger-striped MiG-21UM and a Su-22M, both of which did several flypasts. These displays included high-speed rolls by the MiG (which then had to go practically to the German border before it could turn round again, as is the way with MiG-21s!), and a touch-and-go by the Sukhoi (a most impressive machine, apparently known affectionately as the 'steam engine' by their crews, and my personal favourite of the weekend). Also based away from Radom was a German MiG-29 which participated in the flying display. This aircraft is soon to be handed over to the Polish AF, along with all the remaining German MiG-29s.
With Radom being the operating base for the PZL-130 Orlik in Polish service, there was a display by 'Team Orlik', now expanded to a full nine-aircraft team, since their displays in the UK at RIAT, Plymouth and Biggin Hill in recent years. Together with the 'Iskry', they used up the entire 'Top Gun' songbook several times over in the course of their display commentary soundtrack! Interesting to see a nine-ship aerobatic team of turboprop trainers - shape of the Red Arrows of the future, perhaps?
The static park was relatively sparse in terms of Polish types. A smart, two-tone grey camouflaged MiG-29UB, a white and grey tiger-striped MiG-21UM and a Su-22M represented the front-line Polish AF, the Sukhoi showing just how large an aircraft this single-seater is, in comparison with the Tornado and Mirage 2000 parked nearby. Trainers were represented by an Orlik and an Iskra, and Army rotary types by camouflaged Mi-24 Hind, Mi-2 Hoplite and W-3 Sokol. The Polish Navy displayed the Bryza painted in 304 Squadron Wellington markings which was seen at Fairford in July, and a specially-marked Mi-14, painted blue with a whale design on the sides of the fuselage - an extremely eye-catching scheme. The Polish Border Guard had a PZL Wilga and a PZL M-20 Mewa (licence-built Piper Seneca) on display.
Out on the helicopter flightline were found examples of Border Guard PZL Kania and W-3 Sokol, a red and white Navy Rescue W-3WSA Anaconda, and Army W-3 Sokol and menacing-looking dark green MI-24 Hind. Together with a prototype PZL SW-4 (which will be replacing the MI-2 in Polish service), all of these took part in the flying display. Also on this flightline were a SH-2G Seasprite (one of the final pair for the Polish Navy, delivered from the USA the previous week) and the Navy's only Mi-8MTV-1 Hip, in an overall grey scheme, both of which remained on the ground for the weekend.
Several vintage and civilian types were present on the flightlines and in the flying display. These included a Polish-built Po-2 (an interesting comparison to the example seen at Old Warden at the beginning of August), which flew accompanied by a large-scale model of the type, and a PZL TS-8 Bies ('Devil'), a radial-engined two-seat postwar Polish AF trainer. There were numerous Zlins, including the local 'Team Zelazny', a selection of Wilgas, gliders and microlights, and an excellent display from former World Aerobatic Champion Jurgis Kairys from Lithuania in his Su-26.
Various visiting aircraft included Warsaw-based Polish AF Mi-8s and Yak-40s, plus the Air Force's only Bell 412, configured for VIP transport. On the Sunday, this brought in the President of Poland, Aleksander Kwasniewski, who officially opened the show, and gave a long and repetitive speech, thanking the participating nations. This was followed, as on the Saturday, with a number of flypasts of Polish Air Force and Army aircraft against a dark and cloudy backdrop. Firstly, a rotary winged formation of two VIP Mi-8s, three Mi-2s and three W-3s. Then came the transports, two An-26s and an M-28 Bryza, from Krakow. These were followed by a fast jet formation of two MiG-21bis, three Su-22Ms and three MiG-29s (including a 'UB 2-seater). Finally, there was a trainer formation of three PZL-130 Orliks and four TS-11 Iskras. Then, a pair of An-2s flew across the airfield and dropped parachutists, each one carrying the flag of one of the fourteen participating nations.
Among the spectators were a considerable number of Polish Air Force veterans, many of whom had been present in Warsaw the week before the show for the unveiling and dedication of a memorial in one of the city's parks. There was also a static display from the Krakow Museum of Flight, with some half-dozen aircraft including their PZL-11 fighter, the only surviving combat aircraft from the September 1939 fighting with Germany, said to be the most important preserved aircraft in Poland.
Overall, an excellent weekend, although the weather could have been better, most of the flying taking place against stormy skies and low cloud. The parachutists did especially well on the Saturday, managing to drop on target in spite of high winds. The mix of flying displays contained predominantly military items, although with three F-16s (USAF, Dutch and Belgian, but hardly surprising given the recent Polish selection of the type as their next combat aircraft) and three MiG-29s, variety was somewhat lacking in some areas. This is believed to be the last in the series of shows at Radom, but there is planned to be another show at a different venue next year. I can thoroughly recommend the trip - you won't be disappointed!