City of Angels
Martin Sykes reviews Leeuwarden's Open Dagen 2006, held over 16/17 June
Sat in the departure lounge at Liverpool airport, I watched England play in the World Cup - the weather was very hot with blue skies. A few cool beers later, with England through to the next round, my flight was called - EasyJet 737 to Schipol Amsterdam. The flight lasted a mere fifty-five minutes and, as we descended, to my horror we entered thick cloud, leaving behind the blue skies in England.
Once at the airport I met up with three friends who had flown in from Stansted - we collected the hire car and drove to Harlingen, a lovely town with some very expensive-looking luxury yachts in the extensive marina. Next morning we set of for Leeuwarden just seven miles away. Into the off-base parking, we jumped aboard specially laid on buses that took us into the airfield - there was hardly any queuing, with plenty of buses (RIAT take note!) Once through the gate (free entry!) a (free!) airshow programme was thrust into our hands - looking good so far!
We decided to spend the first day on the crowdline that was filling up fast - a quick glance at the programme showed the highlight for many, the Blue Angels, were to close the show. A few aircraft were still arriving, such as P-51D Mustang 'Damn Yankee' and the Dutch Catalina. Friday's first display items were a very nice Dutch Spitfire, followed by two Hunters, one in Patrouille Swiss colours and the other (G-HVIP) in a light-blue civilian scheme. Then a big surprise - the Angels taxied out to do a flypast with the Red Arrows! Once the Angels and Arrows were airborne there was a short wait for their return in formation - the light wasn't great for photography, but you could hear the firing of camera shutters resonate along the crowdline.
The next items up included the Finnish Air Force 'Midnight Hawks' with their four Hawk aircraft, giving a spirited show; the Patrouille Swiss and the Patrouille de France (though not together, sadly); the Spanish Air Force EF-18A gave a great display with vapour pouring off its wings; two colourful Alpha Jets of the Portuguese Air Force's much-reduced 'Asas do Portugal' team; the Royal Jordanian Falcons, with their four Extra 300s; and our lads, the Royal Air Force, carrying out a Tactical Demo with a C-130J complete with Land Rovers adorned with England flags, followed by the Red Arrows.
The next item was a strange affair - a guy called Christian Moullec, flying in a microlight in formation with some Canada Geese, which he has apparently raised from chicks! The commentator made fun, calling out "Goose 7 banking left", etc.! F-16s were next - Belgian and Dutch displays were, as usual, excellent with lots of vapour in the damp weather. Fellow Netherlanders displaying were the PC-7 and AB412, the latter giving a Search and Rescue demo, winching a man on board. Another chopper was a nicely-painted Czech Air Force Mi-24V Hind gunship, giving a very spirited display.
Something not normally seen in Europe is the F-15E Demo Team from the States, but they borrowed a jet from the 48th FW at Lakenheath for this one-off demonstration. The 'Dedication Pass' gave a nice top-shot with plenty of vapour for the photographers! Friday's 'Netherlands Heritage Display' consisted of B-25 'Sarinah' flying with the F-16, but then it was the time I had waited for - the Blue Angels! First up was the C-130 'Fat Albert', without the use of the RATO packs - instead the pilot's take-off roll was short, holding it low (very low!) until the end of the runway, pulling up into a steep climb before returning for several passes, a very high 'Khe Sahn' approach and a very short roll-out - I can still smell the rubber!
But at last it was onto the Blue Angels - they start off with the commentator introducing the crew as they (very smartly) march to their aircraft, the ground crew strapping them in before the canopies come down in unison. Engines start and they are ready to taxi with the words "We own the airfield! We own the airspace!" With "You are cleared for display" echoing around the base the Angels roll with a group of four taking off first, followed by the final two. Number 5 was supposed to take off and enter a roll immediately after takeoff but, as he passed this didn't happen - something was wrong. On looking at the back of my camera I could see he had suffered a tyre blow-out, confirmed on the large television screen at crowd centre. The pilot returned and captured the arresting wire, climbing out and being rushed to the spare two-seat aircraft. The display carried on, the weather only permitting a flat display but the vapour shots were well worth it!
After the display the Angels taxied in, climbed out of their jets and shook each others' hands before meeting the public, signing pictures, etc. For us, it was time to photograph the static displays which were very well laid out for photographers. Gems included two Turkish Air Force F-5Ds, a Polish Air Force Mig-29, the cleanest German Air Force F-4F I have ever seen, and many more types.
Saturday we awoke to blue skies - it would be a scorcher! A lot busier, we enjoyed some shopping at the various stalls for tee-shirts, patches and the mandatory Blue Angels cap. We sampled a Dutch Burger or two - the ticket system of buying food and drink took some getting used to (six muntens equals one Burger?). Anyway, after filling up we went to the centre of the field to photograph the flying instead of jostling in the crowdline.
The flying programme was similar to Friday with the addition of a couple of acts - an airfield attack by no less than eight F-16s, each flying in from different directions to accompanying pyrotechnic explosions. With aircraft banking hard, vapour bursting off the aircraft and flares being fired I now know what it must be like to be in the front line of a war zone! The other item was a KDC-10 tanker and F-16 trailing as if refuelling - superb in the blue sky.
All in all this show was fantastic - well worth the trip! A big 'thank you' must go out to the hosts, the Dutch Air Force, the Leeuwarden team for such a good day out - thanks for the bottled water (free!) which was very welcome on Saturday!