AIRPOWER16   -  Zeltweg / Austria

After three years absence this September saw Austria’s famous AIRPOWER airshow return home to Zeltweg larger than ever for two action-packed days. Around 300,000 visitors watched about 240 aircraft from over 20 countries, including 53 belonging to the Austrian Armed Forces and 29 from the Flying Bulls, make AIRPOWER16 one of the largest aviation events in Europe.  Each day saw nine hours of non-stop flying displays that included military aircraft, the impressive Flying Bulls, six top aerobatic display teams, a head-to-head slalom race of wingsuited athletes and many other highlights, all performed for the many enthusiastic aviation fans in attendence. On both days the gates opened early at 07:00am, and following enhanced security checks (without causing any further delays) the huge static aircraft display was officially opened to visitors.

New at this years AIRPOWER was the separation of the static displays into specially themed areas that included one each for jets, warbirds, the Flying Bulls and one for a small version of Tiger Meet organized by the Jet Training Squadron of the Austrian Armed Forces which has been a full member of the Tiger Association since 2013. This “Mini Tiger Fly-in" included a German Eurofighter TYPHOON from Taktische Luftwaffengeschwader 74 in Neuburg, a Royal Navy Agusta-Westland MERLIN HM.2 of 814th Naval Air Squadron, a Spanish Boeing EF-18AM HORNET from Ala 15 based in Zaragoza, a Swiss Hawker HUNTER Mk.68, a Dassault-Breguet/Dornier ALPHA JET of the Flying Bulls and a Czech Air Force Saab JAS-39C GRIPEN from 211.taktick  letka in C slav which took part in the flying display only.

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At 08.45am the flying program was officially opened by a joint display of the three organizers of the event demonstrating the slowest to the fastest forms of flight. A combined flying display of a Eurofighter TYPHOON representing the Austrian Air Force, an Alpha Jet of the Red Bulls and a hot air balloon in the shape of the Green Heart of Styria provided by the tourism board of the state of Styria was followed by a spectacular red-white-red colored water fountain generated by three Pilatus PC-6 TURBO PORTER aircraft. An emotional highlight especially for Austrian aviation enthusiasts was the "Historic Jet Formation” of all jet aircraft types ever to have served in the Austrian Armed Forces. This family gathering included a de Havilland D.H. 115 VAMPIRE (operated from 1957 to 1972), a Fouga CM.170 MAGISTER (1959 – 1972), a Saab J-29 TUNNAN (1961 – 1972), a Saab J-35 DRAKEN (1987 – 2005), a Saab 105 OE (since 1970), a Northrop F-5E TIGER II (2005 – 2008) and of course the Eurofighter TYPHOON which has been in Austrian service since 2007. After three passes the Saab SK-35C DRAKEN of the Swedish Air Force Historic Flight (SwAFHF) broke out of formation to perform a short solo display. While this was another outstanding part of the flying program, it was particularly significant as Zeltweg was a former DRAKEN base with the last operational DRAKEN squadron being disbanded in 2005.

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For the Austrian Armed Forces AIRPOWER16 provided the perfect opportunity to present their highly specialized professionals to the general public and to create interest amongst the younger generation to a career in the armed forces. Every aircraft type in the inventory of the Austrian Air Force participated in excellent flying demonstrations as well as being on static display. Besides being seen in the opening ceremony, the most controversial equipment of the air force, the Eurofighter TYPHOON, also performed a solo demonstration in an impressive air combat display and also performed an interception demonstration of a Lockheed C-130K HERCULES, which was playing the bad guy. Saab J-105 OE jet trainers also made great appearances several times during the show with no less than seven aircraft attending from their home base at Linz-Hoersching. Apart from participation in the previously mentioned historic jet formation, a solo display in the brand new tiger scheme was also presented as well as a wonderful and precisely flown four-ship formation which no doubt also brought back some sad memories of the legendary KARO-AS aerobatic team for many of the older aviation enthusiasts.

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The KARO-AS aerobatic team was formed in 1975 with four Saab 105 OE jets and flew at more than 150 events with 50 of them being performed abroad. Their last appearance took place in 1984 when the KARO-AS team was disbanded in preparation for the introduction of the Saab DRAKEN that was to operate within the surveillance squadron. Of the 40 Saab 105 OE jets originally ordered 12 are still operational with all being recently updated. These updates were necessitated by new ICAO guidelines and revised IFR standards. It is expected that the remaining jets will reach the end of their operational service life by 2020 which is why a decision regarding a successor must be made this year. This decision will not only be about what aircraft type is to be acquired but also about what role the new jets will undertake and whether they should be bought or leased. There are two options concerning the role of the new jet trainer, either a light unarmed and therefore cost-effective model which is only suitable for training or an armed machine which can also be used for airspace monitoring. Within the later role, the Alenia Aermacchi M-346 MASTER, an aircraft in which Austrian pilots have already trained with, and the BAE Systems HAWK present the two most promising candidates.

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Helicopters of the Austrian Armed Forces were put on show in a huge demonstration of an evacuation scenario involving a “crisis situation”. A total of 15 choppers including Sikorsky S-70A-42 BLACKHAWK, Agusta Bell 212 HUEY and Sud Aviation SA-316B ALOUETTE III helicopters landed troops and evacuated civilians while with a mini-gun armed Bell OH-58B KIOWA provided cover. Similar combat demonstrations at previous AIRPOWER shows were a little more spectacular but nevertheless it was a great sight and sound. Time is also pressing for a planned helicopter purchase as all 34 ALOUETTE III and KIOWA helicopter are to be phased out of service by 2020. As a common replacement, a modern multi-purpose helicopter in the class of the Airbus H-145M, Bell 407MR or Augusta-Westland 109 or 169 seem most likely. According to the Ministry of Defense an invitation to tender for the replacement multi-purpose helicopter is scheduled by end of the year.  The BLACKHAWK fleet is also in need an urgent investment regarding cockpit upgrades as the manufacturer’s safety certification for the type’s onboard electronics is due to expire by 2018.

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Of course the Flying Bull team of co-organizer Red Bull had considerable involvement in the show with nearly its entire fleet being presented to the public. Apart from a lovely display of their Douglas DC-6, which included some very nice top-side passes, for the first time ever the Flying Bulls performed a formation display with their Chance Vought F4U-4 CORSAIR, Lockheed P-38L LIGHTNING, North American B-25J MITCHELL and two Alpha Jets. It was great to see the Alpha Jets and warbirds flying together side by side and making aerobatic maneuvers such as the "Cuban Eight". Another highlight was a joint display of a North American T-28B TROJAN and a Bristol 171 SYCAMORE. The two-seat TROJAN training aircraft, of which almost 2,000 were built, was the subject of an extensive restoration over the past few years and sported its entirely new olive-black livery.

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Making its airshow debut at AIRPOWER16 and undoubtedly one of the stars of the show was the world's last airworthy Bristol 171 SYCAMORE. This particular machine was built in 1957 and has been restored in Royal Air Force Air Support Command colors by the Flying Bulls technicians. The prototype made its maiden flight in 1947 and featured some innovative technologies for its time that helped make it into quite a commercial success such as rotor blades that could be folded towards the rear boom. A total of 178 SYCAMORE’s were built with most being in service with the air and naval forces of Australia, Belgium, Germany and Great Britain. SYCAMORE production ended in 1959. While the TROJAN was flying loops and rolls, in the background the less maneuverable SYCAMORE was carefully steered close to the public by none other than the Flying Bulls' chief helicopter pilot Siegfried "Blacky" Schwarz. Similarly, the Bell TAH-1F COBRA and the Messerschmitt-Boelkow-Blohm Bo 105CB were also performed together as a pair.

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Apart from the Austrian Armed Force and the Flying Bull teams thrilling performances, international participation in the flying displays was as equally as brilliant. While there were far too many high quality displays to mention, highlights included the beautiful Messerschmitt Me-262 B1-A SCHWALBE (Swallow) replica from the Airbus Heritage Flight, the powerful Saab JA-37 VIGGEN from the Swedish Air Force Historic Flight, a rarely seen performance of a Spanish McDonnell Douglas EF-18AM HORNET, the spectacular displays of the Polish Mikoyan & Gurewich MiG-29A (NATO CODE: FULCRUM) and the AMD RAFALE C from the Arm‚e de l’air, which is currently without a doubt the best European fast jet display. Some bad luck saw the Belgian F-16 Solo Display Team with a compressor stall during their performance on Saturday which forced the pilot to immediately abandon the program. As a surprise guest on Friday, Airbus demonstrated its troubled A400M ATLAS military transporter with some nice fly-bys.

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The crowd enjoyed no fewer than six military aerobatic display teams at AIRPOWER16 which are always very popular amongst the spectators. Because of the precise maneuvers performed in close formation with very attractively painted aircraft, teams such as the FRECCE TRICOLORI, (the world's biggest aerobatic display team) were an absolute crowd favorite. This year’s show was also a little emotional for team commentator Capt. Andrea Saia, who at Zeltweg made his last appearance as commentator. Another legendary display team returned to AIRPOWER in the form of the PATROUILLE DE FRANCE with their eight Dassault-Breguet/Dornier ALPHA JET. The Spanish Air Force again sent its PATRULLA AGUILA team that provided a greatly improved performance when compared to former years and can now equally match any of the top display teams on the continent. In addition to the jet display teams there were also three teams operating turboprop trainer aircraft. The Polish ORLIK team with eight PZL-130TC-II aircraft, the Swiss Air Force PC-7 TEAM making its debut at AIRPOWER16 with their PILATUS NCPC-7 aircraft and the Croatian KRILA OLUJE team, better known as WINGS OF STORM operating the Pilatus PC-9M.

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With around 300,000 visitors in attendance AIRPOWER16 was once again one of the largest aviation events in Europe and featured a program that catered for every taste in aviation. As a huge folk festival with enormous economic importance for the region the organization of this years show was perfect despite the increased security measures present. The decision not to put highlights of the flying display at the end of the program was a very smart move. The only point of criticism, as with many other shows, was once again the positioning of the barriers in the static displays which, for the photographers, were placed much too close to the aircraft on display.

During the show Austria’s Defense Minister promised that there will be another AIRPOWER show however as to when the next one will be he could not say. Because of Austria’s EU chairmanship, due to the Brexit in 2018, the next event is likely to take place in three years time. We will be there again for sure.

Christian Spreitzer / CHK 6 Austria

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