The beautiful, historical city of Varazdin, located in the North of Croatia, close to the borders with Slovenia and Hungary, was once again host of the biggest airshow of the region – the "Croatian International Airshow Varazdin" in short CIAV. The small airport of Varazdin is located just two kilometers outside the city and has a runway length of just 1700 meters. Nevertheless the Airclub Varazdin managed to present a nice line-up of aircrafts including a great surprise for the spectators.
The gates opened at 10 a.m. in the morning and at the beginning of the show the only exhibit in the static display was a single Mil Mi-171Sh (NATO Code: HIP) helicopter of the Croatian Air Force and Air Defense. Later on the flight line was opened for the public for about an hour to have a closer look to all participating aircrafts of the flying program. Flying display started at about 12:30 with some parachutists jumping out of an Antonov An-2 followed by the first jet display of the day, a privately owned Soko G-2 GALEB from Serbia. This classic jet aircraft could be seen once more in the afternoon performing some nice formation flights together with a Zivko Edge 540 V2, piloted by the European vice-champion in aerobatic Peter Podlunsek from Slovenia, who also showed a great solo aerobatic demonstration. Another famous pilot at CIAV was the Italian Luca Bertossio, who won the gold medal at the World Air Games in Dubai last year. He demonstrated with his Swift S-1 how stunning a glider display could be. Further interesting displays were flown by two vintage aircrafts, which had its origin in the former Soviet Union: A more than 80 years old Polikarpov Po-2 biplane, one of the most produced aircrafts with about 40.000 built pieces, and a Yakolev Yak-11, which was the standard advanced trainer of the Warsaw Pact countries from the beginning of the 1950s. Furthermore noteworthy were a fine display of a Saab JAS-39EBS HU GRIPEN of the Hungarian Air Force as well as the participation of the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Croatia with its Agusta-Bell 212 and Eurocopter EC-135 helicopters.
Undoubtedly the star of weekend was the legendary red/white painted Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-21UMD (NATO Code: MONGOL) fighter jet of the Croatian Air Force and Air Defense. From the locals just called “Kockica” (Croatian for cube), because of its paint scheme, this cold war jet arrived directly from 91st Air Force Base of Pleso, which is located within the complex of the International Airport of Zagreb. It was piloted by the Croatian aviation legend Brigadier Ivan Selak together with his co-pilot Zvonimir Milatovic. After a very powerful display a historical moment happened for the Airport of Varazdin. For the first time since 1997 a MiG-21 landed on the very short runway under the huge applause of the crowd.
In 2012 the parliament of Croatia decided to keep the ability of protecting the national air space. Due to the poor economic situation of the country there were not enough budget funds for the purchase of new aircrafts available and so the aging fleet of MiG fighters had to be overhauled once again. The Ministry of Defense signed a contract over 13.9 million Euro with the Ukrainian company Ukrspetexport to overhaul seven of its own MiG-21s and to purchase five “new” airframes. The integration of new avionics was accomplished by the Czech company Ceska Letecka Servisni Avionic Systems at Odessa Aircraft Repair Plant Odesaviaremservis in Ukraine. In July 2015 the twelve fighter aircrafts of MiG-21bisD (NATO Code: FISHBED) and MiG-21UMD (NATO Code: MONGOL) jets ('D' stands for “Doracen”, meaning modified) finalized all tests and test flights and were handed over to the 21st Fighter Squadron.
With the completion of the overhaul, the service life of the aircrafts was extended to a further 850 flying hours or ten years of operational life. However, already eight months later five aircrafts had to be withdrawn from operational use. Currently an investigation by the Croatian military police is ongoing, which already brought to light that the serial numbers on the engines of the aircrafts do not correspond to those specified in the documentation provided by the Ukrainian arms exporter Ukrspetexport. It is feared that the jets won’t be able to serve as long as planned as the air frames and engines are maybe older than their official construction dates. In the meantime the Croatian parliament has declared that a decision of new fighter aircrafts will follow before the end of 2016. The most promising candidates would be second hand Lockheed Martin F-16 FIGHTING FALCON from other NATO countries or Saab JAS-39C/D GRIPEN, which were already offered by the Swedish Defense and Security Export Agency FXM.
The grand finale was formed by the WINGS OF STORM (KRILA OLUJE) aerobatic display team of the Croatian Air Force and Air Defense with its six Pilatus PC-9M turboprop training aircrafts. Just two weeks before the team performed for the first time at the world’s largest military air show, the Royal International Air Tattoo in Fairford, Great Britain, where it won the King Hussein Memorial Sword, the highest award for the best overall flying demonstration. This is all the more remarkable because of the reformation of the team in 2015, which was necessary after all six former display pilots discontinued their military service. According to Croatian media reports these pilots received an excellent offer from Qatar, where they should help to establish an aerobatic display team on the new Pilatus PC-21 trainings aircrafts of the Qatar Emiri Air Force.
Verdict: the CIAV2016 was a small but nice airshow with some rarely seen birds in the sky and also the weather was against all predictions without any thunderstorms. The big disadvantage of the shortness of the runway and also the limited infrastructure made it really challenging for the organizers to arrange an attractive program especially the presence of fast jets. There are already rumors that the next edition would be held somewhere else on a different location. Let’s see what the future brings for the CIAV. Finally Checksix want to thank the organizers, who fulfilled all wishes spontaneously.
Christian Spreitzer / CHK6
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