Lucien Blok, Four Aces Aviation Photography was at the Czech International Air Fest, 4/5 September, Brno-Turany Airfield. Photos by the author and Leonard van den Broek, Four Aces Aviation Photography
With so much attention given to the Swiss International Air Show at Payerne, one would almost forget that another interesting air show took place that same weekend of 4/5 September. Held this year for the eleventh time, the Czech International Air Fest (CIAF) has become a major event in the European air show scene, attracting some 100,000 spectators to the civil airfield of Brno-Turany.
Because of the Swiss air show that same weekend, all the usual display teams were absent at Brno. CIAF managed to attract one display team, the Polish aerobatic team 'Orlik' with their PZL-130s. The organisers also put much effort in attracting the 'Russian Knights', but like last year this invitation did not materialise. Sadly, a Flanker from the team had already been prominently portrayed on the CIAF 2004 leaflet, but a good alternative was provided, in the shape of two Flankers from the Ukrainian Air Force!
Each of these two Flankers wore different operational camouflage colours. Both belong to the 831 IAP (Fighter Regiment) from Mirgorod Air Base, Ukraine, and were accompanied by an IL-76MD Candid. The IL-76 and one of the Flankers (Blue 08) were put on static display, where the public could see the Flanker's cockpit and walk through the IL-76, all for the expense of 100 Czech Crowns. The other aircraft (Blue 56) performed a flying display - with Lieutenant Colonel Fedir Tyshchuk at the controls, the Flanker showed its legendary manoeuvrability. Tyshchuk has been participating in air displays since 1994, celebrating his tenth anniversary. A few days later, the Ukraine Defence Ministry's press service proudly stated that Tyschuk was recognised as the 'ace of aces' at CIAF 2004. Also present was a An-74 from the Kharkov State Aircraft Manufacturing Plant, demonstrating its manoeuvrability and short take-off and landing.
Visiting this major Czech air show, one would expect to see a demo by the MIG-21, especially with the absence of demo teams. This was only wishful thinking... With one straight level pass from left to right at around 10:00, the flight display was opened by a pair of Caslav-based MIG-21MFNs and a pair of Aero L-159As. This one pass was all the flying we would see by Czech fighter jets at CIAF this year! Fortunately one MIG-21MFN represented the type in the static display line, alongside an Aero L-159, L-39ZA and L-39C. This was still an improvement over CIAF 2003, when the MIG was completely absent! CIAF 2004 was probably the last event of significance to see this veteran Russian fighter before its retirement from Czech service as its replacement, the JAS-39C Gripen, is due to start arriving in April 2005. At Brno, the spectators were offered a glimpse of the near future, with a Swedish Air Force JAS-39C in the flight programme and a twin seat JAS-39B on static.
Other Czech attributions to the static display were a Let L-410 and An-26 from Praha-Kbely, a Zlin-142 basic trainer and a mix of helicopters, including an Mi-24V Hind, an Mi-2, an Mi-8 and an Mi-17 from Prerov. Czech participation in the flying display programme included a SAR display by a W3 Sokol, and display by an Mi-24V Hind. The Czech Air Force is set to prolong its use of Russian helicopters, as new Mi-35 Hinds and Mi-17s are being received as part of the ongoing payment settlement for Russian Federation debts.
At Brno, there also was a large delegation of the Serbian en Montenegro Air Force, represented by two G-4 Super Galebs, two J-22 Oraos and an An-26 Curl transport aircraft. One Orao was actually a rare two-seat NJ-22. Both Oraos and Galebs were from the Batajnica based 'Vazduhoplovni Opitni Centar' (VOC, or Flight Test Centre). The An-26 support aircraft belonged to the 677 'Trae Labudovi' (Swans Squadron) at Batajnica. One of the Galebs and the single-seat J-22 performed a flying during the weekend.
Without question, the F-16A and F-16B 'Netz' (Sparrow Hawk) of the Israeli Defence Force/Air Force (IDF/AF) were the stars of the show. Along with a C-130E Hercules, the jets made their journey non-stop, supported by an IDF/AF B707 Tanker. Unfortunately, the tanker returned to its home base at Ben-Gurion (Tel-Aviv) after having refuelled the jets. The F-16s came from Nevatim Air Base in southern Israel and fly with 140 and 116 Fighter-Bomber squadrons. 116 squadron is now named 'Defenders of the South', but was previously known as 'Taveset Ha'Kanaf Ha'Meofeef' (Flying Wing) squadron. This unit once had the unofficial nickname of 'The Wire Cutters', earned during the Suez Campaign, when its aircraft deliberately flew through Egyptian telegraph wires in the Sinai to hamper Egyptian communications. Its sister squadron at Nevatim is 140 'Tayeset Nesher Ha'Zahav' (Golden Eagle) squadron. The mission markings on the F-16A indicate an impressive history - 243 destroyed a Syrian aircraft during the Peace for Galilee War (1982-1986). The triangular symbol identifies this aircraft as one of the eight F-16s involved in the bombing of an Iraqi nuclear facility during 'Operation Opera' on 7 June 1981. It was flown by Colonel Ilan Ramon, who later became the first Israeli astronaut and died in the Discovery Space Shuttle disaster in February 2003. The C-130E Hercules belongs to the Ben-Gurion based 103 Tayeset 'Ha'Piel Ha'Meofeef' (The Flying Elephant) Squadron. The unit's C-130s were involved in 'Operation Yehonatan' (returning hostages from Entebbe) as well as 'Operation Solomon' (the airlift of 15,000 Falasha Jews from Ethiopia to Israel on 24-25 May 1991). Next to the Hercules a display illustrated SAR tasks and equipment of the IDF/AF. The public had the opportunity to wear the 'Dash 3' visor helmet connected to test equipment. Inside, the Hercules was transformed into a cinema to show films about the IDF/AF and its (humanitarian) role during missions in Rwanda, Armenia, and India.
Besides the 'stars of the show' there were many other air show regulars. The RAF attended CIAF with two Harriers from 1 Squadron at Cottesmore, a Hawk from 100 Squadron performed in the air with the Tornado F3 from 56(R) Squadron, which is the Tornado F3 Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) 'Firebirds'. Flown by Flight Lieutenant Tim Freeman, this Tornado display was as dynamic as it could get. The German Air Force also brought two Tornados from JBG 33 based at Büchel. One was put on static display, while the other performed a flying display, offering a completely different show than the Tornado flown by the RAF. With less emphasis on manoeuvrability, the German Tornado crew decided to make it loud and fast. The Germans also repeated last year's SAR demonstration with the UH-1. The French Air Force was represented by a Mirage 2000D from the Nancy-Ochey based EC 02.003. Two Belgian F-16AMs and one F-16BM also attended the show, all belonging to the Florennes-based 2nd Wing. The USAFE showed a Hercules from the 37th Air Lift Squadron at Ramstein and two F-16s from the 31st Wing at Aviano. The Slovak Air Force brought its sole L-410UVP-S, belonging to the VIP-fleet at Trencin, as well as a former Soviet Air Force MiG-29UB. Although destined for static display, the MIG made some impressive low-level high-speed passes upon arrival.
CIAF 2004 may have suffered a lack of demo teams, but managed to keep the flight programme most interesting. Along with its unique highlights and the good weather over the weekend, it is certainly one more show for the history books.