Dave Eade & Gary Parsons report that even the non-appearance of the expected F8 Crusaders from Landivisiau could not cast a shadow over the sun-drenched fields of Beauvechain during the weekend of September 4/5th. Clear skies and temperatures in the upper seventies guaranteed big sales for the ice cream and drinks sellers, to say nothing of Messrs. Kodak, Fuji and Ambre-Soleil. A smooth entry, ample car parking and this years cheapest programme brochure at about £1.50 all added to the general feeling that this was a well-run airshow. Several themes were being celebrated; 50 years of NATO, 40 years of the Magister and 20 years for the Alpha Jet.
The main static line-up held few surprises for the enthusiast including, as expected, a good smattering of current Euro-hardware. The Italian Air Force continued their trend of late in sending a pair each of 61 St. MB339As (MM54518/61-70 and MM 54550/61-110), 22 Gruppo AMXs (MM7189/51-03 and MM7139/51-16) and the ever-delightful F104S-ASAs from 9 Stormo (MM6735/9-50 and MM6720/9-51). Their German counterparts included a Tornado (46+11 from MFG2) plus a rare (well for me anyway) VIP c/s UH-1D from the Heeresflieger (71+13). Tornados, both F3 (ZE794/A and ZE342/W courtesy of 111 Squadron) and GR1A (ZA592/C and ZA449/Q from 2 Squadron) and a pair of Pumas represented the RAF, while our neighbours to the south sent Mirage 2000D 651/3-XA from EC01.003. A nice selection of helicopters was exemplified by a Polish Sokol, Agusta A109 and new MD900 Explorer, which mysteriously disappeared on the Sunday.
It is rare for the appearance of nose or engine covers to improve the appearance of an aircraft, but the appliance of the regal purple examples to the two F16CJs from the 510th FS (88-0413 and '444) got the cameras clicking.
For those enthusiasts who missed her Fairford appearance, it was a case of "last but not least" for the blue E-3 from NAEWF. In her special "NATO-50 yrs" colour scheme, and positioned as the final item in the static line-up, this aircraft is one of the prettiest since the arrival way back of the Dutch Tiger Tails. Surely sponsored by a decal or paint manufacturer, this scheme will keep the photographers and model-makers busy for some time to come.
Easily missed, unless you knew the base layout, were the gems in the crown. In a separate static near the southern HAS site were a collection of the old, new-ish and downright special. The sight of the two preserved F104s (FX04 in silver and FX94 in a resplendent blue scheme representing the Salvage Team of 21 Logistics Group) raised the pulse-rate, while three civil restored CM170s, including a navalised Zephyr (which had disappeared by Sunday), made this area a photographer's dream. As an added bonus, the trio of Alpha Jets from 11 Smaldeel in special colour schemes were carefully posed, despite being part of each days flying display. Not to be over-looked were the home team CM170 in 'Red Devils' colours, the NATO 50 Yrs. F-16 (FA60) of 31 Sm., seen at Fairford, a MIG 29 (29+03) from Jg73, Tornado, F21 Viggen and a further Mirage 2000D from EC03-003 (617/3-XA).
Number-chasers looking to fill their note-books had ample offerings of the based Alpha-Jets and SF260s, although not to be out-done were the French (E140) and Portuguese (15220 & 15237) who sent their own offerings of Alphas, and the Irish Training Wing with their SF260 examples in the flying and static.
Any airshow that manages to capture aerobatic teams from the UK, France, Switzerland and Spain deserves attention. A morning hors d'euvre of older types plus a SAR demonstration was followed in the afternoon by the main course of fast jets, display teams and home displays. Structured very much in the way of RIAT, several themes were staged throughout the programme, such as 'All that Acro' which featured the best routine of the show by a Breitling Sukhoi Su26, flown by Xavier de Lapparent. A stunning routine defying the laws of physics was given, completely eclipsing all displays that followed. One problem with the flying was the distance from the crowd, a common occurence at foreign shows it seems, with the crowdline being behind the static line and some hundreds of yards from the runway. Safety is important of course, but it has come to the point where the flying is just too far away, to the extent where little excitement can be generated as the spectacle is too diminished. At times the fast jets were out of sight and earshot, displaying somewhere over Holland. An exception was the flypast given by a BAe 146 from Sabena, which was very low, wonder what the passengers made of that!
Other highlights included a formation of based and preserved aircraft representing training through the years, culminating in a diamond nine of Alpha Jets, CM170 and SF260, which, with the difference in power available to each type, could not have been too easy to fly. At this stage of the season, all the performers have honed their respective displays to a fine art, and the displays, both solo and team, were of exceptional quality. The Staff at Beauvechain are to be congratulated in putting together a display of exceptional quality.