National Air Days 2010  -  Piestany / Slovak Republic

On the last weekend of May the fourth edition of the NATIONAL AIR DAYS was held in Piestany. It is the successor event of the popular SLOVAK INTERNATIONAL AIR DISPLAY, better known by its abbreviation SIAD, which was held up until 2004 in a two-year cycle at the International Airport of Bratislava. Due to the constantly growing number of flights the organizers saw no possibility of completing a show of this size. As a replacement a smaller event - the NATIONAL AIR DAYS - was created and Piestany was chosen as its venue. Piestany is located about 90 km northeast of the capital Brastislava and is known primarily for its healing spa. The local airport served in the past as a training base for the Slovak Air Force and due to its relatively low number of flights it is an ideal location for the realization of aviation events.

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Although the weather forecast for the whole weekend was not at all promising, (continuous rain was announced), the weather gods showed mercy with the organizers and so you could see at the end of the first show day many cheerful but red faces. Also on Sunday - it offered more or less the same flying programme – the weather started fine until the afternoon, when a violent storm swept over the terrain. The flight program was opened with a mass fly past of the Slovak Air Force. Led by a Mil Mi-17 (NATO Code: HIP) , followed three Mil Mi-24 (NATO Code: HIND), three Aero L-39 ALBATROS in the colours of the former national aerobatic team BIELE ALBATROSY and three MiG-29AS (NATO Code: FULCRUM). Finally, an Antonov An-26 (NATO Code: CURL) set off high altitude parachutists and came back for a low fly past over the runway.

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The first solo display of the day came from a Slovak Aero L-39 ALBATROS, which also was still wearing the colours of the in 2004 disbanded BIELE ALBATROSY team. It followed the first highlight of the event: a fantastic demonstration of an Italian Eurofighter EF-2000 TYPHOON, piloted by a true master of his business. Signore Matteo Maurizio, test pilot of Alenia Aeronautica, showed one of the best displays that is a marvel at the moment in the European skies. It was in contrast to the Austrian Eurofighter demonstration, which consisted, unfortunately, only of two passes on Saturday. The Eurofighter Company was able to enforce its claims with this impressive demonstration to the succession of the aging MiG-29 fleet. As the main sponsor Alenia Aeronautica furthermore was presenting the C-27 SPARTAN in its – as always - spectacular way. Recently the SPARTAN was chosen by the Slovak Air Force as the successor for the antiquated Antonov fleet. Currently there are contract negotiations over the delivery of two machines (plus one optional). The SPARTAN should mainly transport troops and military equipment for the Slovak UN peace operations.

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After the powerful and noisy TYPHOON demonstration a quieter but no less spectacular display followed. No less than Zoltan Veres, Hungarian aerobatic European champion, showed off his Extra-300 with which maneuvers he regularly lands on the podium in international competitions. Even in an altitude of less than one meter, he still had enough time to wave to the audience. It followed, as in the previous year, a demonstration of the Dutch Lockheed Martin F-16AM Demo team in their beautifully painted FIGHTING FALCON. In those two seasons the team is comprised of personnel of the Squadron No. 322 and No. 323 from Leeuwarden air base. Captain Tobias Schutte (Callsign: Hitec) showed in his first year as display pilot a great performance, in which, as always, a lot of flares were part of the show. After a fine display of a Slovak Air Force Mil Mi-24V (NATO Code: HIND), which had forgotten the enormous size of this helicopter for a moment, the Swedish multi-role combat aircraft SAAB JAS 39C GRIPEN was shown by both the Hungarian and the Czech Air Force. The Czech aircraft presents itself, much to the delight of the photographers, in an attractive special paint scheme. Furthermore an Aero Vodochody L-159 ALCA and a PZL W-3A SOKOL were represented by the Czech Republic in the flying program.

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The next program action was the display of the FLYING BULLS in four Zlin Z -50LX aircraft. After the cancellation of the Croatian STORM OF WINGS and the Polish ORLIK team, this was unfortunately the only aerobatic team on site. Worth mentioning is that the leader position of the FLYING BULLS is taken by a woman. Before Radka Machova entered the FLYING BULLS in 2001 she was also a member of the Czechoslovak aerobatics team. An Austrian Pilatus PC-6 TURBO PORTER demonstrated that also without powerful engine thrust and use of afterburner the audience could be astonished. The extremely short takeoff and landing distances and the excellent low speed flying qualities were shown in a very impressive way. A water drop from the 800-liter tank - it can be installed in less than 10 min - was also part of the show. Since the display line was directly over a railway line, there was an unusual and very interesting show act in the program: It was a simulated air attack on an armed and armoured train from World War II. Zlin 226 machines painted in the colours of the German Luftwaffe simulated the attackers using a lot of pyrotechnics. In the ensuing dogfight Zlin 526 and Yak-52 played the counterparts in Russian markings. In addition to the Slovak Retro Sky Team, the players on the ground in its uniforms and vehicles, true in detail to its originals, were a welcome change in the show programme.

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After this short excursion into history a huge block of demonstrations of the Slovak Armed Forces followed. It started with a solid display of a MiG-29AS, which was painted in a digital pixel camouflage. Unfortunately, this FULCRUM could not be seen on the ground like several other Slovak display machines, because they were all based at the air base of Malacky. This had on Sunday the additional disadvantage that some attractions of the program were cancelled, caused by the poor weather conditions around this air base. Currently Malacky is home of the entire 1st Fighter Squadron from Sliac, as their original home base will be closed for extensive reconstruction work for a longer time. Fans of the FULCRUM could at least see one MiG-29UBS in tiger stripes in the static display. As next point of the program a Tupolev Tu-154M of the Slovak government was announced. Those who expected only a normal flyby were absolutely wrong. The Tupolev performed extreme low-passes, which resulted in subsequent furor. For many of the approximately 50,000 visitors it was clear that this pilot must be a former fighter pilot. As next aircraft the Slovak Air Force demonstrated their light combat and training jet - the Aero L-39 ALBATROS. Two of them simulated with much use of pyrotechnics an attack on ground targets. The subsequent display of a pair of Mig-29 could not fulfill the expectation of some visitors completely, as they had seen in the past action-packed dogfights of Slovakian MiG’s, with an extensive use of flares. But where you have nowadays, especially on European air shows the opportunity to see a formation flight of MiG-29?

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Special Forces of the army in a Mil Mi-171 (NATO Code: HIP), escorted by two Mi-24 (NATO Code: HIND) showed commando actions, as they are nowadays practiced in conflict zones. After landing in the combat zone the soldiers stormed a suspicious truck and captured enemy forces, while HIND gunships supervised the action. The last act of the flying program was performed by the Czech Heritage of Flying Legends team with their Antonov An-2 biplanes and by two rarities from Hungary - a Polikarpov Po-2 and a Lisunov Li-2 (license built Russian DC-3). The somewhat sparse static display consisted mainly of the current inventory of the Slovak Air Force and from machines on the local aviation museum. In addition, Czech and Hungarian JAS 39 GRIPEN, a French AMD MIRAGE 2000D and particularly, the Ukrainian Antonov An-26 with its MedEvac module (Medical Evacuation) were the highlights.

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Verdict: Although there were many cancellations (especially the Su-35, which was advertised in advance) it was still a successful event with a very varied flying display. How the NATIONAL AIR DAYS can grow in the future is questionable, because of the small dimensions of the airfield. We would like to take this opportunity to thank Tomas Kika and his team for their hospitality and the interesting press program. We are looking forward to the next edition of the “National Air Days".

Christian Spreitzer / CHK6 Austria

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