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Editor’s blog : looking back to 2011 airshows . 12/30/2011


Reviewing latest 2011 airshow season

It has never been an easy task for me, as an experienced photographer who makes books and magazines, to choose airshows that are worth expensive travels to spend for , and also worth some of the long travels I had to achieve with heavy photographic equipment . As now I have been attending and photographing all styles of air events for twenty years on and though I was disappointed with some events I always found that spice of life in airshows is diversity of air display acts and show organizers creativity. This is also reflected in latest book :


In fact the french Navy guys - such as this Rafale M and Super Etendard SEM shot this year at La Ferté alais - stole the Yeovilton show with much power on a Royal Navy Air Base

During the Yeovilton Air Day 2012 airshow in England, the French Navy displayed brilliantly a Super Etendard along with a Rafale M. As both airplanes parked after they had flown, there was a kind of silence in the crowd which says long. In fact the french guys stole the show with much power on their own conventional jets on a Royal Navy Air Base in UK that has no more combat aircraft to embark on an aircraft carrier... Even worse was the UK “ Defense Strategic Review” which abruptly withdraw all RAF Harriers from service though the forces are tasked with more and more missions in conflicts. Obviously air events in Europe are under threat because NATO air forces have little military jets to show in, and since one of the main task for airshows is to recruit future soldiers and pilots.., military services face uncertain style of communication with airshows with no jets from arms…. For obvious raesaons, RAF could not feature a solo Typhoon in air displays this year as “operation Tellic” needed all of them for the war. But the prospect to attend a 2012 season without any more USAF Air Combat Command solo display - apart from a single F-22 to be shared by US air events only.. – seem to trace a bleak future, but does it fully ?


"Central Europe” countries - to sum up facts -.., provide nearly 40 % of the jets , helicopters and aerobatic teams that we do see in airshows in Europe

It is true that Military Air Displays are no more NATO air days or so called “open days” from past times. And I must confess that I may probably be a rare air enthusiast being happy with what we have the opportunity to photograph nowadays. If you read this dispatch you will understand why. Since the end of the Cold War - that we celebrated this year - we still do get jets and helos from the eastern part of Europe in airshows, even if less are participating than ten years ago. Hence at MAKS in Moscow, I was discussing pros and cons of modern life nowadays with Russians chaps that do not regret anything from their childhood…., also happy to organize airshows with heavy jets of their own airfields near Moscow… instead of crowding at stores to find food… Nowadays I estimate Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland , Slovakia and too many “Central Europe” countries to sum up  may provide nearly 40 % of the jets , helicopters and aerobatic teams that we do see in airshows on the whole European territory. As an example alone Croatia, and new very small nation, now ranks with a top class team named “Krila Oluje”. Further to the Middle East, Turkey launched the “Solo Turk” F-16 solo this year and this one was prized at the Tattoo in England. If we were still living in the “ancient” world that we experienced 25 years ago, oh yes…, we would still “have” as many jets as then to taste…, but probably we would see less TYPES of aircraft being displayed : we would have huge tarmacs of dull grey F-16s… As an example, in most airshows I have been attending in 2011, I saw what are now established regular Jas-39 Gripens from Hungary and the Czech Republic, flying brilliantly.


Diversity. Using much TNT and pyros to blast the whole site is a fantastic way to enhance a display. This OV-10 Bronco "bombing" La Ferté-alais field last June is a great favourite

So modern airshows do attract people with diversity of flying displays and also, new air events that did not exist twenty years ago, have grown in the heart of Europe, such as the brilliant Zeltweg Air Power. Being right in the middle of Europe, Austria could attract most countries from the old continent for the flying or the static line up, and from further away. Sometimes it looks as if austrians succeed better than the old major international airshows of the past thirty years. It is also nice that these “new world” airshows manage so successfully to attract their citizens, bringing in visitors that were never blessed with so spectacular events in their own country before. Perhaps Izmir airshow in Turkey last June 2011, is an example of this. It was one of the largest airshows this year if not the best international display of the season. Turkish Air Force managed to get participating countries in such as Pakistan. Who knew before that the Pakistan Air Force had an F-16 and a JF-17 Thunder display before Izmir ? Oh yes…, we already saw that very Pakistan “Thunder” flying at Zhuhai in China in 2010… Suffice to introduce these new air display acts and these new international airshows, as so many aerobatic formations have risen in recent years. Pakistan fly the “Sherdils” aerobatic team. The Indian Air Force “Surya Kiran” will formate again with BAe Hawks in nearly three years. Korea and Singapore also have their own national team... Interestingly in 2011, European crowds witnessed a tour by the Saudi Arabia Air Force formation, the Saudi Hawks. These green BAe Hawks flew with much elegance at Zeltweg, Koksijde and Fairford, and I would add that the UAE “Al Fursan” team – flying seven Aermacchi MB339 - performed last November at Dubai trade fair for the first time ever. Enough to impress us is that amazing “August 1st " national team in the Chinese Air Force that flew in Zhuhai last year with bright colours. According to observers in China this was a rather spectacular formation flying no less than six J-10s jet fighters. Witnessing this “new world” of airshow acts and events that we are entering into, I would say amazingly, that just while current Power in the world belong to emerging nations such as Turkey… or China and other ones, success with organizing future air displays may belong to those who will attract a few of these new display acts coming far away from the “old NATO” Europe. And perhaps also, happy aviation photographers will be those who will travel far away from their “home days”.


Zeltweg provided a complete warfare scenario combining jet fighters, helicopters and airlift planes picking commandos, etc…,

But since 2001, insurance fees at airshows have risen more than 200%, and suffice to say that fuel costs did not go down in the period and that did not help airshow coordinators to fund airplanes flying at their events. Current financial crisis may make things even worse to gather sponsors. But for the time being, I am still astonished to see that few events such as Zeltweg, Leeuwarden, and Yeovilton may have provided a complete warfare scenario combining jet fighters, helicopters and airlift planes picking commandos, etc…, all blessed with spectacular explosions and fumes. Given the current state of European military forces who face needs to recruit and convince citizens with good reasons to strike in Afghanistan or Lybia.., it should be the obligatory display act for them to pack in most military flying programs instead of showing the same solo items as competing events. On the other hand it may also be the idea to pick for military organizers who complain with not having the airplanes participating at their show. But is it the only one ?

Yes, even in military events classic airplanes alone do enhance overall flying programs..., and this was the case with Christian Jacquard who introduced an inovative display with his Hawker Sea Fury

A few weeks before the Paris Air Show, at La Ferté-Alais I was gasped to hear an optimistic jet fighter fan telling me than he was about to visit Le Bourget just because he did not want to miss the ubiquitous Dassault Flamant flying display : the fact was latest technology airplanes withdraw from that world class trade show this year. Yes, even in trade shows and military events, classic airplanes alone do enhance overall flying programs. In UK the multi million Sterlings Avro Vulcan XH558 alone stole all shows and it was even more rewarding to watch it flying close to a Sea Vixen at Yeovilton. For all reasons mentioned above this enormous Cold War bomber provide so much emotion to crowds that it seems obvious that the airshow community should give her a priority for saving her from scrapyard. I think never in the history of airshows did a single warbird achieve so much to raise the “Wow factor” at so many events in a single display season. It also suffice to remind that if a single Mustang or a Spit joins with an F-16 for a Heritage Flight flypast, it can provide the small stone that enhance overall Flying program. Creativity with warbirds pay not only at airshows aimed at warbird displays such as Flying Legends in UK. Even the Sanicole Airshow Team in Belgium have managed to feature a Viper flying with a Mustang for a single photo pass for their event only, even though no “official” (ndlr) team exist in the country for such Heritage Flights.


At sunset, fireworks are used and items such as the Royal Netherlands Air Force Apache or the Belgian Air Force F-16 solo launching flares at Sanicole Sunset Air Display

Creativity also pay in expanding new kinds of air displays. Since long, only the Shuttleworth Collection in UK did provide airshows at dusk in Europe. The Finnish Air Force also owns a long established tradition with the Midnight Sun Airshows at Kauhava since 1945. I noticed there that any single flying pass is always charged with more emotion at dusk than it would have been at any other time of the day. At sunset, fireworks are used and items such as the Royal Netherlands Air Force Apache or the Belgian Air Force F-16 solo launching flares at Sanicole Sunset Air Display did much for us to remind that excellent airshow last season. And there are good reasons for me, to think that the Belgian Sanicole aeroclub behind the airshow at Hechtel in Belgium, ranks amongst the best international and military airshow organizing teams in Europe, though they don’t own a single airfield able to gather military airplanes. Not only do they attract the military items - even from the Czech Republik… - taking profit of nearby Kleine Brogel Air Force Base to house all that flying hardware, but who guessed that even tiniest display activities such as model airplanes flying did much more to fill the task ? While at Sanicole, I was waiting for the “full” flying display to be launched on Sunday lunchtime, as I saw a few guys launching a model Spitfire under a gorgeous autumn sunlight coming on the field. Bearing accurate RAF WWII tints of paints and also traces of gun smoke, the Spit looked quite real as it took off and flew. It also looked real on resulting photographs… It was just a model. So if airshow teams still work as well as they did in 2011, there will always be something to please everyone on the European airshow scene. So happy new year to everyone involved with the airshow world !


Bearing accurate RAF WWII tints of paints and also traces of gun smoke, the Spit looked quite real as it took off and flew





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