SLOVAK INTERNATIONAL AIR FEST 2016   -  Sliac / Slovakia

The late 1990’s and early 2000’s saw what was to become one of Europe's best airshow screens emanating from the then fledgling Slovak Republic (Slovakia achieved its independence from the former Czechoslovakia on 1st January 1993). In the Slovak capital of Bratislava the biannual Slovak International Air Display (SIAD) took place and is a show that is included amongst the top five events in this area. Unfortunately, the last SIAD took place in 2004 and since then only a few smaller events such the ones held in Piestany have been run, these being named Národnych leteckych dní (NLD or National Air Day). Although the NLD's have been great events in their own right, they have never came up to the same standard as SIAD. It is during this time an organization called the Slovak Aviation Agency (SAA) began to take shape and set itself the goal of providing an annual air event of an international standard while ensuring the grand old days of the SIAD Bratislava shows still continued. This was the de-facto birth of the Slovak International Air Fest also known as SIAF.

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Every successful aviation event requires a good location that not only includes a long  runway but also other facilities such as good approach paths, aircraft parking facilities, etc. SIAF has been held at a combined military/civilian airfield located at Sliac since 2011 and the history of this airport dates back to before the Second World War. This base with the euphonious name "Tri Duby" (Three Oaks) has historically played a crucial role especially during the Slovak uprising against the German occupying powers in September/October of 1944. By the end of the war Tri Duby was used both by the Czechoslovak Air Force (Ceskoslovenské Vojenské letectvo) and civilian aircraft and its use still continues to this day. The airbase with its 2,450m long runway is home to the Tactical Squadron Brigadier Otto Smika Sliac (Taktické Krídlo Generálmajora Otta Smika Sliac) consisting of the 1st Fighter Squadron (1st Bojová Letka) and the 2nd Training Squadron (2nd Vycviková Letka).

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The 1st Fighter Squadron (1st Bojová Letka) currently operates 12 Mikoyan & Gurevich MiG 29 & AS (NATO codename: FULCRUM) fighters, which represent the backbone of the Slovak Air Force. These aircraft (10 x MiG 29AS single-seater and 2 x MiG 29 UBS dual-seater) were rebuilt and modernized after the NATO accession of Slovakia (2004) to bring them up to NATO standards. The extensive avionics upgrade included among other things a new multi-function display (MFI-54), a ILS-31 head-up display, a variety of new navigation and communication systems (TACAN AN/ARN-153 (V); AN/ARN-147) and replacement of the computer for the weapons control system (BTSVM MVK-03). Additionally, the Russian company RAC MiG (RAC MiG = Russian Aircraft Corporation, the successor to the legendary Mikoyan & Gurevich OKB) carried out structural changes to the airframe not only providing an increase in capacity but also extending the overall life expectancy of the MiG 29 AS dramatically.

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The MiG-29 AS and UBS of the Slovak Air Force are primarily used for air surveillance (and Air Policing) within that country’s boarders). As these aircraft are slowly becoming more out dated they are due to be replaced in the near future by much more modern and capable aircraft of western origin, however talks regarding the lease of eight Swedish SAAB JAS 39 GRIPEN aircraft have recently been postponed. The reason for this was provided by the Slovak Defence Minister pointing out that the way the Swedish negotiate was not acceptable to the Slovak government and that the asking price does not correspond with what the Slovaks had in mind. This is why an extension of the maintenance contract for the remaining MiG 29 AS/UBS was required. Slovakia has recently ordered (and has partially received) two new Lockheed Alenia C-27J SPARTAN tactical transports as a replacement for their now out dated Antonov An-26 transport aircraft along with eight Sikorsky UH-60M BLACKHAWK battlefield helicopters that are to replace the now somewhat out dated Mil Mi-17. In addition to the aforementioned procurements the Slovak government has replaced its old Tupolev Tu-154M with a used Airbus A319-115CJ (the spectacular display of this aircraft at SIAF included an extremely low flyby). Clearly the financial capacity of Slovakia has been impacted by the procurement of new combat aircraft and the type of new fighter aircraft that will be selected by the Slovak Air Force yet reminds to be seen. For the numerous aviation enthusiasts assembled at SIAF the fact that some of Europe’s last operational MiG 29`s (apart from the Polish and the Serbian Air Force the Slovak Air Force is the sole remaining operator of this Cold War warrior) will  remain in active service for a little while longer is anything but bad news!

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A special feature of this year's show was the large number of Cold War era aircraft in attendance, especially those of Soviet-Russian production. Apart from the aforementioned MiG 29 AS/UBS of the Slovak Air Force it was the participation of the Romanian Air Force with its Mikoyan & Gurevich MiG 21 LanceR and two Ukrainian Sukhoi Su-27 (NATO codename: FLANKER) that gave this event a very special touch.  Romanian MiG 21`s are already regular guests at air shows, however their participation was often limited to the static display. In addition to the single-seat MiG 21 LanceR - C (MF) displayed in the static, a two-seat MiG 21 LanceR - B (UM) also took part in the flying program. The latter comes from No. 712 Squadron based at Câmpia Turzii (71st Air Base). How long the Romanian Air Force (Fortele Aeriene Române) will keep operating the elderly Fishbed's (FISHBED is the types NATO codename) is unknown (possibly until the end of 2017) but their days are definitely numbered. A contract was signed in 2013 for the supply of 12 used and modernized Lockheed Martin F-16A/B formerly owned by the Portuguese Air Force (9 x F-16A Block 20 MLU & 3 x F-16B Block 20 MLU) was amended to include an additional 12 aircraft of the type. Delivery from Lockheed Martin of the overhauled aircraft will begin in September 2016, however from where/whom the next 12 F-16’s will come from is unknown at this time.

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An absolute highlight at Sliac was the participation of an Ukrainian Sukhoi Su-27P1M and a two-seat Su-27UB1M (in static only) which were accompanied by an Antonov An-26. Although these aircraft were upgraded by the Ukrainian State Aircraft Repair Plant in Zaporizhzhya (hence the 1M designation) in recent years, this is still basically a first generation aircraft of Soviet production. Painted in its relatively new blue digital camouflage, the Ukrainian FLANKER provided a truly great contrast when compared to the low-visibility grey which has now established itself as the standard scheme for most (western) combat aircraft. Accordingly, the demonstration of the Su-27 during the show days was not only interesting from the aeronautical perspective but was also a great visual highlight.

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Rounding out the displays of famous MiG aircraft was a MiG-15 UTI (NATO codename: MIDGET) dual-seater owned by the Czech Flying Legends of Hradec Králové. This particular aircraft was license built in 1955 by the Czech company Aero Vodochody under the designation of CS-102. The MiG 15 UTI (UTI: Uchebno Trenirovich Istrebitjel = Instruction and Training Fighter) was built in large numbers (more than 6,000 being produced) and served until the late 1980’s in the advanced trainer role with many Warsaw Pact air forces and their allies. Another aircraft that served alongside the MiG 15 as a trainer (also manufactured by Aero Vodochody) was on display at Sliac in the form of the Aero L-29 DELFIN (NATO codename: MAYA). This aircraft was also produced in large numbers (production ended in 1974 with a total of 3,665 aircraft coming off the assembly lines) and was one of the few success stories for aircraft of non-Russian origin from the former Soviet Bloc. The L-29 is powered by a single Motorlet M-701 jet engine producing a maximum of 1,960 lb/t providing a top speed of approx. 407 mph.

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Western European partner nations were rather moderately represented at Sliac, at least in the flying displays. An exception was the Belgian air component which sent, besides the obligatory F-16 AM solo display, a rather rare (at least outside Belgium) guest to SIAF. We are talking about the RED DEVILS aerobatic team flying their SIAI Marchetti SF-260 basic trainers and sporting a bright red/yellow/black paint scheme of the Belgian national colours.  This team performed alongside the sole jet aerobatic display team, the Spanish PATRULLA AGUILA, with both teams providing the military aerobatic component of the show. Also in attendance were the civil FLYING BULLS aerobatic team along with aerobatic pilots Jurgis Kayris from Lithuania and Zoltan Veres from Hungary both of whom rounded of a really good mix of aerobatic display flying.

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Verdict: Simply said, SIAF 2016 was a grand event! Taking place during the best summer weather, the organizers have shown that they can provide an interesting and varied flying program especially in a time when not only the quantity but also the type of military aircraft available is limited. At Sliac you somehow had a feeling of being transformed back to the early days of the 1990’s - a time when all over Europe a colourful conglomeration of aircraft from East and West performed. The only (minor) downside was that the Polish Sukhoi Su-22M3 (NATO codename: FITTER) that was present was to be seen on static display only. But that was just a very minor gripe. So with that: pozri si, ze na SIAF 2017 (CU at SIAF 2017!)

Robert Kysela / CHK6

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