Dave Eade looks back at Koksijde's 2004 event, held over 3/4 July
Any seasoned airshow-goer is well used to the fact that, from a spectator's point of view, most airfields are built the wrong way around. How many have struggled not to take silhouettes at Mildenhall, Cosford and Waddington. The problem is even worse at Koksijde - trust me!
From the days when continental travel was a major adventure, we now look at the annual 'Open Door' at Koksijde as a day trip! Judicious booking, coupled with an unearthly start time from Suffolk, enabled three intrepid enthusiasts, for the total cost on the day of £30 each, to take a car via the Channel Tunnel to Calais after which the thirty-minute drive to Koksijde was a mere saunter.
Open Day 2003 was a massive event, being a National Defence Day, so it was with some cynicism that yours truly ventured off to Belgium this year. Ironically, the 2002 show had been really poor and it was the expectancy of similar that made me less than enthusiastic for 2004. I suppose a halfway house was the best we could expect - and that's exactly what we got! With a list of some fifty-plus aircraft and a full flying show, things looked set fair for a good day.
In fairness to the organisers it was the best they could do with what they had. As I said above, they are hampered by the geography of the airfield from the start. The runway distance from the static line, hangars and public areas is too far - without a 400mm lens of very good quality, photography is very limited. I worked with a 300mm plus a 1.4x converter and still struggled with the fast jets. The day was made worse by a violent on-crowd wind which made holding a camera and telephoto a particularly hazardous task.
The second point of geographical limitation comes from the location of this year's static display. Having not learned apparently from 2003, when the north/south taxiway/spare runway was used, this year's selection was, in the main, parked nose-to-tail on the east/west tarmac near the hangars. Access to the south side of the parked airframes was strictly forbidden, despite appeals to security and aircrew who were under no illusions as to what the rules of the day were. So an interesting line-up, in the sun (for most of the afternoon) became almost impossible to photograph well, success only possible with the few larger types on the NS/EW intersection.
Enough of the negative, what was there to 'make your day'? The existence of a large pan to the south of the E/W taxiway has always allowed the organisers to set a mini-line of choice aircraft. This year's selection consisted of a Harrier GR7, a Gripen and three special colour-scheme F-16s. Being picky, one still had to wait for the sun to get round to catch the Harrier, but that's photography!
Despite not being impressed enough with the vastness of the Hercules hold to want to wander through it, it soon became the thing to do as on exit one was south of the first few aircraft in the static line-up and could get half decent shots. A very respectable line-up of choppers was to be seen either side of the main crowd area, including examples from Denmark, Italy and France. A point of interest here is the yearly presence of a Gendarmerie Ecuriel from France, with the accompanying aircrew, who viewed the spotters with such suspicion, doing anything to avoid being photographed themselves. Weird!
Suffering slightly from the lack of one of the jet teams, the organisers had to rely on a four-ship T-29 Supporter team from the Danish Air Force, who struggled with low power against the aforesaid high winds. It has to be said that it was a brave attempt and taught some teams I have seen a thing or too about formation keeping. Too small to photograph and not very noisy, the team did not get the public support they deserved for their efforts.
Italy sent the RSV line-up of G222 (complete with barrel roll and propeller feather), Tornado, AMX and MB339 - all guaranteed to perform to their limits. From Holland came the F-16AM 'Teamwork' machine from 323 Squadron - we all have our favourites but for me, the Dutch F-16 wins every time. Cost was the excuse given for not using flares on this occasion. Sweden sent a further Gripen and spare from F21, and the USAFE flew a pair of F-16Cs from Aviano to add to the static line. The RAF sent a circus of types with two Jaguars (single and two-seat), two Harriers, three Tornados, a Hawk and a Dominie. Flying were the 15(R) Squadron Tornado and the 208(R) Squadron Hawk.
Recommendations? Make Koksijde a two-day trip and spend arrivals day along the road by the Flying Club. Whichever way aircraft are landing there are fabulous views to be had here. There is excellent accommodation and food to be had in nearby Veune. On showday the road is closed, I understand. All in all, Koksijde is a good day out but don't expect great pictures if you cannot get south-side.