AIRPOWER '03, Zeltweg, Austria 27 -28 June
Geoff Stockle/Aeromedia took a whistlestop visit last summer. Photography by the author and Paul Downes.
Whilst most UK enthusiasts used the last weekend of June to attend Waddington's annual airshow, a smaller but much hardier number made the rather longer trek to Austria for 'Airpower 03'. This large international show organised jointly by the Austrian Air Force, Styrian Province and the 'Red Bull' drink company is now set to become a biennial event.
This year's two-day show took place on Friday 27 and Saturday 28 June, allowing the more intrepid (mad!?) enthusiast to fly home and make it to Waddo on the Sunday (like us!). It would appear that the vast majority of the local population attended, the free entrance and warm weather (albeit with torrential thundery showers on the Friday) contributed to the swelling of the crowd to about 250,000. Zeltweg-Hinterstoisser military airfield is located in the south of the country surrounded by impressive scenery, some forty miles from the Slovenian border. It has the dubious distinction of having the shortest European runway (only some 5,249 ft/1,600 m in length) regularly used by military combat aircraft, being home to 1 Staffel of Fliegerregiment 2, flying J35OE Drakens.
The Fliegerschule, equipped with the Pilatus PC-7 (locally called Viper), is also based here but these trainers can obviously cope with the lack of runway length far easier than the twelve-tonne, 1960s vintage, mach-two afterburning fighters! The lack of facilities certainly didn't cause lack of participation - some seventeen nations contributed aircraft to the event, the host nation exhibiting just about everything in its small but varied inventory including recently delivered S-70 Blackhawks and a single static ex-RAF C-130K.
Along with civilian operators some 220 aircraft were directly involved, either in the static display or extensive flying programme. Highlights of the former included a special scheme Pilatus PC-6, PC-7 and OH-58 from the home team, two CF188Bs displaying 'Clean Hunter' exercise badges, an Irish Air Corps Beech King Air, SFOR marked Slovenian AB412, JA37 Viggen, German two-seat Mig-29, 'Blue Lightning' special scheme Tornado (which flew to Waddington late on Saturday), Polish Air Force Sokol and Slovakian Mil-24 and Mil-17 helos.
The only notable absentee from the advertised static list was a Croatian Air Force Mig-21 that would have proved to be a highly valuable prize to the enthusiasts. Unfortunately for photographers, the static was largely impossible to shoot, being closely barriered, wing (or rotor) tip-to-tip and with the huge crowd on both sides. Happily, the exact opposite could be said for the flying display, with a taxiway used by aircraft returning to the flightlines and runway and flying activities close enough for good shots. Added to this, the sun was behind the crowd for most of the day and the Seckauer Alps range acts as a superlative backdrop.
Flying began promptly at 09:00 with Alouette IIIs parading flags, joined immediately by six Drakens performing a series of formation manoeuvres and a final opposition splitting break. The flying continued for the scheduled ten hours, although due to weather problems and the Frecce Tricolori having to lose one of its aircraft due to an as yet unclarified mishap, flying on the Friday didn't end until well after 20:00. There were nine actual aerobatic teams - the Red Arrows (Friday only), Patrouille Suisse, Patrouille de France (Saturday only), Il Frecce Tricolori (Friday only), Turkish Stars (with support C-130 in team colours in the static), Patrulla Aguilla, Breitling Eagles, 'Red Bull' team and Team 2000 comprising four Saab 91 Safirs. The four Zlin 50LXs of the 'Red Bull' team proved quite outstanding, their display spending more time inverted and performing negative G than upright, positive manoeuvres. They made the Breitling Eagles look very tame, given as they fly one the world's newest,most capable aerobatic machines in the shape of four Sukhoi SU-29s and a solo SU-31. We've all seen the hovering, cobras and convention-defying antics of these growling radial beasts before but the Eagles display could have been flown by much less impressive aircraft. The display teams were boosted by six-ship displays by Drakens, Saab 105s and Blackhawks, and further to this a 'Red Bull' Air Race, comprising six assorted Extras and Sukhois racing individually around some inflatable pylons, became rapidly tedious and as usual for photographers, took up hours of valuable sunshine!
The remainder of the flying included a battle assault demo by nine AB212s, four minigun armed OH-58s and the aforementioned Blackhawks. Other items included a rare appearance by an Airbus A300-608ST Beluga, Austrian and Dutch PC-7, Slovenian PC-9, Swedish C-130, Swiss AS532UL Cougar, Saab 105 and Italian G222 and MB339CD. Fast jets comprised the superb but perhaps the last, pending retirement, solo Draken display, Dutch F-16, FAA Sea Harrier and, not surprisingly, the Italian Eurofighter. Also present was the 'Red Bull' Sea Vixen, which your author considers to be awful in that scheme! Funfair type paint jobs and OTT commercial advertising slogans belong on Zlins, Extras, Pitts Specials, etc., not unique examples of Britain's once world-beating aviation industry and the Royal Navy's distinguished carrier-borne history. I'd rather see it grounded and preserved in its original drone or naval colours than paraded around like a cheap, tacky circus act. Anyway that's my opinion and I will now step down from my lofty soap box!! (Air-Scene UK would like to point out we don't always agree with our correspondents! - Ed).
A notable extra provided by the German Navy was two Tornados flying a buddy-buddy refuelling flypast prior to the solo display - what a novel idea - more please! A very sad event took place on Saturday with the last official Swedish Air Force Viggen display - specially marked 37447 of 2 Jaktflygdivision/F16 blasted wonderfully around the skies and on Friday gave mother nature some competition during a quite fierce storm - thunderbolt and thunderclap trying to out do each other in the noise stakes! Historics included a Fokker Dr1 replica, PT-17 Kaydet, P-51, ex-Swiss Air Force Venom and 'Red Bull's own B-25J and F-4U-4 Corsair. Even older types were represented by a Bleriot replica and a similar vintage Pischof Autoplan replica, Austria's first aircraft type. Austria's current aircraft industry was represented by a DA24 Twin Star, a light twin powered by diesel engines. 'Red Bull's Alpha Jet provided a nice solo display (but those colours!!), a Fiesler Storch, Dornier 27 and PC-6 tried to out do each other in the (very) short take-off and landing category. An oddity that should imminently make its first flight was the MAL-04. This is an 'aircraft' using a (wait for it) converted F-4 Phantom drop tank as a fuselage!! It remained ground borne drawing much curiosity from everyone.
All-in-all an excellent show aided by a very attractive and informative web site and superb organisation for the visiting crowds and crews. Here's to 2005!
to the Airpower press team