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Czech 'em out

Swift decision

Andrew Bates reports on the Czech International Air Fest (CIAF 05), 10-11 September 2005. Pictures by the author and Matthew Clements/ MCaviationimages.com

Following close scrutiny of the 2005 European airshow calendar, your scribe quickly determined that it was high time he sampled a show with a distinctly eastern European flavour. After careful deliberation, the now well-established Czech International Air Fest (CIAF 05) was chosen. Held over two days in early September, this well-organised event subsequently proved to be a very good choice. Having flown to Prague the day before, Brno-Turany Airport, which is located just southeast of the Czech Republic's second city, was easily reached by car in just under two hours. The off-airfield parking was fairly straightforward, simply anywhere you could at the side of the road, then it was just a short shuttle bus ride to the main entrance gate. This was located adjacent to the static park, which for the average enthusiast contained a most interesting and varied line-up. Consequently, the camera was being heavily utilised within minutes of arrival.

Initially, a very smart Austrian Air Force PC-6B, in an attractive blue livery, tended to draw one's attention, though it looked deceptively smaller than usual by virtue of it being flanked by a Czech AF Tupolev Tu-154M and a Romanian AF C-130B Hercules. However, the eyes were quickly drawn further up the line by the very welcome sight of a trio of aircraft from the Serbian and Montenegro AF. These three comprised of an Antonov An-26 from 677 Trae, whilst the VOC (Vazduhoplovni Opitni Centar or Flight Test Centre) had sent an example of the G-4 Super Galeb and NJ-22 Orao.

Naturally, there was a good selection of Czech AF hardware on static display, with an example of the latest acquisition, a JAS-39A Gripen taking pride of place. Understandably, this was attracting much attention from both media and public alike, but this unfortunately kept it permanently surrounded by bodies, all eager for a closer inspection, so any thoughts of photography were quickly dispelled. However, this was the exception rather than the rule, as generally other types were fairly well placed for photos, which for the Czech contingent included an example of the L-39ZA, L-159A, Mi-2, Mi-17, Mi-24V, W-3A and Z-142. Participation from neighbouring Slovakia was also forthcoming in the shape of an An-26, MI-17 and Mi-24V, whilst arguably the most attractive helicopter on static was the Romanian AF IAR-330, which is essentially a Puma but with added bite!

Swift response

Just to make UK enthusiasts feel at home, there were a pair of 41 Squadron Jaguars in attendance, along with a single example of the Tornado F3 from 11 Squadron, whilst other familiar types included a pair of USAFE A-10s from the 52nd FW, a pair of Mirage F1CRs from ER 02.033, Luftwaffe Tornado from AKG51 and a Greek F-16D from 340 Mira. Whilst undoubtedly the Hellenic AF contribution was especially favoured by all the enthusiasts present, the A-10s certainly seemed to attract the popular vote from all the locals, with the sight of those nose-mounted 30mm rotary cannons proving quite irresistible to one and all.

In terms of the actual flying display, this element of the show was to prove as equally interesting as the static, as well as being most entertaining. It was no surprise at the start of the show to see proceedings being dominated by demonstrations from the Czech AF, which comprised of a number of different three-ship formation flypasts. These successively consisted of trios of M-17s, Mi-24s, L-39s, L-159s and of course, Gripens, with one of the latter types then breaking out of formation for a singleton display.

Whilst a trio of brand new Gripens were an undoubted highlight of the flying programme, star billing had to belong to the Russian AF display team, the Swifts, with their three single-seat and two twin-seat Mig-29 Fulcrums. If just one word was needed to describe their display, it would be simply this: breathtaking. There were two elements to their show, a singleton display in the morning, with the full formation display in the afternoon. This was a dynamic and well-choreographed display that had an enthralled audience literally gasping out loud in awe and amazement at some of the close formation flying and manoeuvres being performed that day. The routine involving the liberal use of flares proved especially popular with the crowd, and was most spectacular. In truth, some elements of the display were actually more exciting than they should have been by virtue of some of the formation passes being especially close to the crowdline. Whilst all members of the team seemed quite proficient, it is quite likely that some of their manoeuvres would have been curtailed by most western airshow committees, so should an invite to RIAT ever be forthcoming, they may well require a few drastic modifications to their routine! It was a stunning display nevertheless, with full marks for entertainment value.

Of the many other highlights of the flying display, those that stood out from all the others included contributions from the Serbian and Montenegro AF with separate solo demos from a Super Galeb and Orao (additional to the static examples), whilst there was another Mig-29 display courtesy of the Hungarian AF. The Czech Police AB412 was probably the most prolific performer of the day, with no less than three separate displays during which the disciplines of fire fighting, SAR, and the rapid insertion of a SWAT team were progressively demonstrated. Meanwhile, prize for the most unusual formation team had to be the quartet of privately owned Saab Safirs. OK, they seemed at bit slow and tame when compared to the sheer power and agility of the Russian Mig-29s, but they somehow added an element of sophistication and elegance to proceedings and appeared to be well-received by the audience.

Despite Brno-Turany being a fairly busy airport, it was business as usual as far as the airlines were concerned, so remarkably, all the normal arrivals and departures were seamlessly dovetailed into the flying programme with little or no disruption. Overall the entire sequence of events seemed to run quite smoothly with very few noticeable gaps in the display, so the organising committee should be congratulated on a job well done.

As a first time visitor to a Czech show, your scribe was suitably impressed by the overall organisation and content of the whole event. So, with the additional benefit of having three major museum collections within fairly easy reach (Kbely/Vyskov/Zruc), this was what could be best described as a most productive weekend.

 

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