SLOVAK INTERNATIONAL AIR FEST 2015   -  Sliac / Slovakia

This year the Slovak International Air Fest (SIAF) celebrated its 5th anniversary on the weekend of the 31st August and 1st September. Slovakia’s biggest aviation event was organized by the Slovak aviation agency in cooperation with the Ministries for Defense, Interior and Transport, Construction and Regional Development of the Slovak Republic, Museum of Slovak National Uprising and the Institute of Military History. The venue for the show was Sliac air base which is also home of the 1st Fighter Squadron with their recently updated Mikoyan & Gurevich MiG 29AS/UBS (NATO Code: FULCRUM) and the 2nd Tactical Training Squadron equipped with Aero L-39ZAM ALBATROS. 

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After the opening ceremony the flying display commenced with paratroopers jumping from a vintage Slovak Air Force Antonov An-26 (NATO Codename: CURL) while displaying the flags of the participating nations. Following this was a formation fly-past in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. No less than one-fifth of Royal Air Force pilots were of non British background with nearly 90 of them being Czechoslovakian airmen. These pilots served in No 310 and 312 (Czechoslovak) Squadrons of the Royal Air Force, equipped with Hawker HURRICANE and Supermarine SPITFIRE fighters. The Czechoslovak pilots were famous for their aggressive nature in aerial combat, claiming almost 60 German aircraft shot down. One of the most significant Slovak-born pilots was Squadron Leader Otto Smik credited with 12 aircraft victories and three Fieseler Fi-103 V-1 flying bomb kills thus becoming the fifth highest scoring Czechoslovak airman of the war. In tribute to this brave airman the Slovak Air Force painted a portrait of him on the tail fin of an Aero L-39ZAM ALBATROS with this aircraft heading a three-ship formation together with a Royal Air Force Bae HAWK T.Mk1 and a Czech Air Force Aero L-159A ALCA. 

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Part of the flying program was also dedicated to the ongoing modernisation of the Slovak Air Force. This program comprises of the acquisition of new fighter and transport aircraft as well as new helicopters to replace the now obsolete Soviet-era legacy equipment. Flying in three formations, the current types and their successors were presented to the public with the first pair being a Mikoyan & Gurevich MiG 29UBS (NATO Codename: FULCRUM) and a Saab JAS-39D GRIPEN of the Swedish Air Force. Unfortunately due to a technical malfunction with the GRIPEN on the following day, this formation could only be seen during the rehearsal on Friday.
About a year ago the Slovakian Minister of Defence confirmed the GRIPEN as the fighter of choice for his country.  As Slovakia cannot afford to purchase new combat aircraft they may lease eight to twelve Saab JAS 39C/D GRIPEN as has neighboring countries Hungary and the Czech Republic. It is planned that the GRIPEN will enter service from 2016 when the lease of the FULCRUM’s is due to end. There are six Mikoyan & Gurevich MiG 29AS and two Mikoyan & Gurevich MiG 29UBS currently in Slovakian service although experts believe that only two of them remain fully operational.  This highlights the urgent need for Slovakia to acquire a new supersonic fighter aircraft to avoid any capability gap.  Investigations are also currently underway between Slovakia and the Czech Republic regarding increased co-operation in the QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) sector where Slovakia’s acquisition of the GRIPEN would be of clear benefit.

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The second formation consisted of an Antonov An-26 (NATO Codename: CURL) from the 1st Transport Flight based at Malacky-Kuchyna and a Romanian Alenia C-27J SPARTAN. In October 2014 the Slovakian government had agreed to purchase two SPARTAN tactical transport aircraft of which the first is expected to be received next year. During the long procurement process, which started in December 2008, the Alenia bid prevailed against rivals Airbus Defense and Space with the C-295 and the C-130J HERCULES of Lockheed Martin.
Finally a Mil Mi-17 LZPS in SAR (Search and Rescue) configuration from the 1st Training and SAR Squadron of the Helicopter Wing in Presov was presented together with an Austrian Sikorsky S-70A-42 BLACK HAWK. In a deal worth approximately 260 million US Dollars Slovakia will receive nine BLACK HAWK helicopters in a package that includes pilots and ground personnel training, logistics and maintenance.  Delivery of the choppers is expected between 2016 and 2019 when the ten Mil Mi-17 HIP helicopters currently in service will reach the end of their operational career. 

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The flying displays offered a great mix of aviation performers which included eight solo jet displays, four military aerobatic teams including the famous FRECCE TRICOLORI and the PATROUILLE DE FRANCE, vintage aircraft such as the North American P-51D MUSTANG and a four-ship glider aerobatic team from Slovakia called OCOVSKI BACOVIA. Various helicopter displays included the brand new Bell Helicopter Bell 429 of the Slovakian police and last but not least the sensational Hungarian aerobatics pilot Véres Zoltán. Beside the premiere showing of a Eurocopter TIGER from the German Army Aviation Corps, highlights of the static display were undoubtedly two Boeing F-15C EAGLE of the USAF. One EAGLE was from the 125th Fighter Wing, Florida Air National Guard and the other from the 142nd Fighter Wing, Oregon Air National Guard. Getting to Sliac was not as long as it may seem as the Air National Guard airmen are currently stationed at Campia Turzii / Romania as part of the NATO Operation Atlantic Resolve.

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Summary: Looking back at SIAF 2015 the flying program offered a great mix of Eastern and Western hardware with a strong focus on Slovak Aviation. The static displays included some really nice birds and despite this there was still free space for even more to put on show. The event itself was extremely well organized by the authorities and its worth mentioning that there were no traffic jams before and after the show while the weather was great with no clouds in the sky..
Special thanks goes to Monika Pastuchová, Spokeswoman of SIAF 2015 and her crew for their support that made my visit to SIAF a great success for CHECKSIX.

Christian Spreitzer / CHK 6 Austria

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