Archangel 2005, Tanagra AFB 17-18 September
Neil Jones reports from Greece's first International Airshow
The decision of where to go on the weekend of the 17/18 September probably proved to be one of the hardest for a large number of aviation enthusiasts - should one stay in this country and say farewell to the Sea Harrier during Yeovilton's Air Day, or go to NAS Oceana and witness the final Tomcat display, or take a risk and travel to Greece to attend Archangel airshow, the Hellenic Air Force's first international show? The prospect of seeing Phantoms, Corsairs, Buckeyes and what promised to be a large number of foreign participants swayed my decision to go to Greece (the more than favourable odds of fine weather helped as well).
Tanagra Air Force base is situated around 75 km north of Athens, with excellent road and rail links from the capital to the base where a rail station is situated literally just outside the main gate. The airbase shares its runway with Hellenic Aerospace Industries (HAI) where all major servicing to the majority of the fixed-wing element of the HAF takes place. During the airshow weekend, the public was allowed access to view this enormous complex of hangars where Phantoms, Corsairs, Mirages, Buckeyes and Hercules were in the process of some very deep maintenance. Unfortunately no photographs were allowed inside, and at this early stage of the weekend I didn't want to upset the hosts.
Saturday 17 September was scheduled to be a practice day for the foreign participants in the flying display, however the gates were also open to the public to view the static displays. With the airfield looking more like a lake after Friday's torrential rain, was the event going to literally be a wash out? In short, no, as my first impressions were of a very thought-out and well planned placement of the static display on the taxiway, with the hardened aircraft shelters providing a fantastic back drop for a number of aircraft.
The Hellenic Air Force is currently looking to purchase around a hundred fighters for the future, so it was no small wonder that participating at the show in both the flying and static displays were the Eurofighter Typhoon, SAAB Gripen, Lockheed Martin F-16 and Dassault's Rafale. All four companies had stands next to each aircraft and were giving out thousands upon thousands of free gifts to the public. At one point, all you could see the public wearing were the bright orange baseball caps that Dassault gave away! There's nothing better for an air show than the host country looking for a new aircraft type as it's a sure way of having some state of the art heavy metal included in the participants.
Intermixed with these fighters were examples of the HAF's current aircraft - the main reason why I travelled to Greece. These included the remarkably painted A-7E Corsair II from 335 Mira and F-4E Phantom II from 337 Mira. Both these aircraft took part in the flying display on the Sunday and were then towed back in to the static after the flypast. Only one example of the HAF Mirage 2000 and F-16 were displayed, and unfortunately they were inside hardened aircraft shelters with a huge array of different ordnance on show in front of them. A pity really as the F-16 was the block 52+ variant with the conformal fuel tanks fitted and it would have been great to have seen this jet doing a solo display. A SA319B Alouette III from the Hellenic Navy was probably the rarest aircraft at the air show as it's rumoured that only two examples still fly, undertaking helicopter training to aircrew who will eventually fly the S-70B Aegean Hawk, which was also present in the static display, armed with an AGM-119 Penguin on the port side and a MK.46 Torpedo on the starboard. Just as rare was the HAF's Douglas Dakota which dominated a large area of the static display and even did an engine ground run for the public on the Sunday.
Foreign stars in the static included an Egyptian AF K-8A painted in the colours of the national display team, the Golden Knights, a pair of Romanian IAR-330 SOCAT Pumas and two MIG-21 Lancers and a Croatian AF AN-32. The Spanish AF brought along the international debut of an operational Eurofighter Typhoon from Ala 11 plus an EF-18A Hornet. Support for the Spanish fighters was brought in on a CASA CN-235, which was duly towed in to the transport section of the static display once it had been unloaded.
No airshow can survive on just static alone, so on Sunday the flying display heated up to match the fantastic sunshine that the crowds were enjoying. The first aircraft to fly were the specially marked A-7E and F-4E that were pulled out of the static for a unique flypast. Once the pair had taken off they were joined by a Mirage 2000C and an F-16C that had taken off from separate airbases and did two fly-bys of the crowdline in close formation. That formation alone had proved that my decision to go to Greece was justified, but throughout the day things just got better and better.
Next to fly was the Hellenic Air Force's QRA display where two locally based Mirage 2000Cs emerged from their QRA hangars and took off to engage two F-16s that were acting as 'enemy' aircraft. In a matter of minutes all four aircraft were in a dogfight over the airfield where loads of high 'G' turns and full afterburner was the order of the day. As soon as the Mirages drove the 'hostiles' away, all hell broke loose as twelve fast jets attacked the airfield! For the next ten minutes four A-7s, two F-4Es, two RF-4Es, four F-16s and four Mirage 2000s flew at breakneck speed all over the airfield, popping up from different directions. So tight were some of the turns that vapour was squeezed out of the very dry and warm air.
Throughout the rest of the day the flying was shared between flypasts from nearly all the aircraft types in the HAF's inventory and displays from the foreign participants. All the future HAF fighter contenders flew excellent displays and it was good to see a German Air Force Typhoon going through its paces. The bluish grey scheme used on the German Typhoons looks a lot better (in my opinion) than the standard grey used on the RAF versions. A first for me was the Romanian Air Force IAR-99 SOIM which may have not been that impressive flying but did warrant numerous photographs being taken of it due to its rarity.
No airshow is without a display team or two to get the general public going and the Hellenic Air Force managed to get one of the best, with the Frecce Tricolori flying an unfortunately long and for some reason broken display, where after a few passes the team disappeared for long periods before flying over the airfield again. Also displaying were the Polish Air Force Team Orlik in their PZL-130s and the Spanish Air Force's Patrulla Aguila flying their CASA 101s.
There were some excellent role displays by some of the HAF's aircraft, including a mock combat search and rescue mission with an AS532SC Cougar picking up a downed pilot, whilst two F-16Cs circled the scene keeping the enemy's heads down. Cooling down the heat were two Bombardier CL-415GR water bombers that flew in at low-level to extinguish a large fire that had been set up on the airfield.
Overall, this airshow was one of the finest I've ever been to, and for a first attempt from the Hellenic Air Force it ran extremely smoothly throughout the weekend. From the free entrance to the reasonably priced food and drink, to the excellently positioned static aircraft and the fantastic and varied flying display it was exceptional. Well over 150,000 people visited the show on the Sunday, which has helped persuade the Greek government and the Hellenic Air Force in to possibly hosting another show in two years time. If so, then I will most definitely be there!
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Hellenic Air Force for being such gracious hosts and especially to Lt. Panagiotis Poulos for being so helpful and patient throughout the weekend.