2011 European Airshows

SEP 14 2011
Airshows >> Europe: Hahnweide Oldtimer Fliegertreffen 2011 - Part 1

The show at Hahnweide has been running for decades, with 2011 marking the 16th oldtimer meeting, and it has developed a loyal following amongst German aviation enthusiasts. Perhaps surprisingly, the event doesn’t seem to have caught on internationally in the way that, say, Flying Legends has, with few overseas accents to be found in the crowd.

I say surprisingly because Hahnweide is cut from similar cloth to that of ‘Legends; there are warbirds aplenty and a strong emphasis on vintage aviation, with many foreign classics in attendance. Yet, despite this similarity, Hahnweide offers an altogether more rounded and layered flying programme, with the vintage elements interspersed with civilian solo aerobatics, classic jets, prop-liners, gliders and display teams.

Insofar as flying programmes go, Hahnweide’s is up there with the best of them for variety. It was an event that Fiddy, Huw, my brother Greg and I had been planning on visiting for over a year. A glance at the provisional list of attendees in the weeks leading up to the show unveiled a host of ‘firsts’ for all of us, as well as a good smattering of familiar faces.

Even up to the 11th hour, highlights were being added and the list continued to grow until the show days themselves; it really was quite a staggering line-up, and one with numerous stars. This was no one-act show.

From the ‘heavy metal’; Me-262, Bf-109, P-38 Lightning, B-25 Mitchell, two P-51D Mustangs, two Spitfires, Yak-9, two Yak-11s, Sea Fury, Kittyhawk, T-28 Fennec, Avenger, Morane Saulnier MS-406, Catalina, Sikorsky S-38, Nord Noratlas, six Junkers Ju-52s, six Fieseler Storch, OV-10 Bronco, the Breitling Jet Team, Bleriot XI, Lisunov Li-2, DC-3 Dakota, three Antonov An-2s, Dornier WC 3605 Alterhein... and that’s only grazing the surface!

Simply put, we had to be there. After months of anticipation, we finally left for Germany early doors on Thursday 1st September, flying from Stansted with Germanwings on an hour-and-twenty minute flight to Stuttgart Airport.

The flight was as smooth as they come and the beautiful blue skies afforded us some spectacular views of the countryside below as we transited over the Kent coast into continental European airspace.

Arriving at Stuttgart mid-morning, the excitement was palpable – not helped, I add, by the sighting of a US Air Force C-130 Hercules and the Lufthansa Junkers Ju-52 on the apron as we taxied in!

Luggage collected, Fiddy and I entered into negotiations with the various rental car agencies where we displayed tremendous fortitude and business-savvy in haggling to find a suitable ride for our five day holiday; all the while, I add, Greg and Huw were doing their bit by salivating over the latest edition of FlyPast magazine with ‘That would look nice at Flying Legends’ being the phrase of the hour.

Alas, our brief for a ‘medium-sized family car’ soon diminished to ‘the smallest and cheapest car you have’ once we realised that anything above a Ford Focus would require the sale of several kidneys... Keys to the Focus in hand, we set off for our hotel in Dettingen-unter-Teck, about a twenty minute drive from Stuttgart.

This was the first time I’d driven in Europe, and to say it was a daunting experience would be an understatement. Despite several failed starts – a minor collision with a barrier in the airport car park, a lengthy discussion over how to reverse (ending in one person’s suggestion that we simply push the car around ourselves) and the sheer terror of taking on an Autobahn dominated by German truck drivers who’d make Clarkson flinch in fear – we made it to the quaint Hotel Abaton in Dettingen in one piece and, all the more impressively, without the use of a map!

We wasted no time in heading to Hahnweide and a unanimous decision was made to walk from the hotel to the airfield, which was a countryside walk of about thirty minutes, give or take. We were hit immediately by the beauty of the surrounding hills and rolling fields and indeed, as Fiddy observed, it’d be a lovely place to spend a few days on holiday without the added attraction of an airshow.

Huw’s delight at walking through a genuine German orchard was a pleasure to witness; until he took it too far and was almost caught stealing an apple by a farmer packing a ridiculously oversized scythe that was clearly a prop from the latest instalment of ‘Final Destination’... but I digress.

Arriving at Hahnweide before mid-day and in perfect conditions for flying, we were greeted by an airfield in the midst of a transformation, with dozens of people setting up food/beer outlets and seating areas for the airshow.

On the flightline, parked almost close enough to touch, were a few lovely vintage types including a closed-cockpit Belgian Stampe, the Royal Jordanian Falcons’ Extra 300s and a US-registered Beech Staggerwing, amongst others.

Hahnweide is set in the middle of a towering forest, giving the airfield a tremendous natural backdrop of trees and rolling hills. The far left of the airfield is raised at a steep angle with a large hill overlooking the approach and threshold, offering unique ‘down the barrel’ views of aircraft turning into the approach and some excellent high angles of aircraft on short finals, with a lovely background of fields and trees to shoot against.

It’s quite unlike any other airfield scenery I’ve encountered and, throwing Teck castle into the mix in the distance, it offers innumerable photographic opportunities from practically every angle. It was quite breathtaking, truth be told, and we spent much of the afternoon discussing the natural beauty of the place.

Having excitedly blitzed the early-comers on the flightline, we decided to have a spot of lunch ahead of the afternoon’s promised arrivals. Hahnweide boasts a lovely aerodrome café, sitting just feet from the barriers with plenty of seating and shade for visitors.

Even better was the fact that this was more of a restaurant than a café, with full table service over lunch and dinner hours and a comprehensive menu of freshly cooked food that puts the likes of Duxford to shame. You won’t find any re-heated gristle here.

Our navigation of an entirely German menu was nothing short of sterling. Utilising all the stereotypical British tourist’s tricks of the trade – pointing, miming, looking confused and trying to pronounce German nouns with the flattest of accents – we managed to place our order without offending anyone too much and we settled in to a very nice pork schnitzel and chips, supplemented by an obligatory German bier. Granted, they weren’t the sausages we thought we’d ordered, but that’s neither here nor there.

Lunch lunched, we set up camp on the crowdline and enjoyed a steady stream of arrivals, each of them feeling completely fresh and, I’m happy to admit, exciting in a way that I can’t say I’ve felt at any British airshow.

With the Jordanian Falcons completing a tidy practice in the early afternoon and German aerobatics expert Klaus Lenhart flying a remarkably precise sequence of jaw-dropping manoeuvres, GAR’s resident aerobatics expert Paul Fiddian was well catered for!

The arrivals of a second Staggerwing, a rather nice Boeing Stearman, MeierMotors’ stunning bare metal Yak-11 and the Salis Collection Junkers Ju-52 (or CASA 352L for the purists) set the tone for the type of lovely vintage aircraft we’d soon grow used to seeing in the circuit. The Sikorsky S-38 upped the ante by buzzing into the circuit with a low-level beat-up below tree-top height, really emphasising how the natural terrain adds a whole other dramatic element to even a straight and level fly-by. As far as backdrops go, this one was unbeatable.

As the day went on and more aircraft arrived at Hahnweide – including the beastly PZL M21 Dromader Mini, which I was instantly smitten with – there was absolutely no rush from the airfield operators to get people off-site. Indeed, it was quite the opposite.

Food and drink vendors remained open until after dark, clearly recognising that there was still trade to be had "after hours". The airfield restaurant continued serving food, now with an efficient table service operating.

The crowdline was left open for visitors to shoot the aircraft against a quite lovely sunset and there was never really a feeling of anything winding down as visiting pilots and crews mingled with enthusiasts over bier and bratwurst.

Little did we realise that this was only the start of some superb hospitality from the Hahnweide organisers that went a long way towards making the trip more than just an airshow where you turn up, watch some displays and leave.

After a long day, all that was left was to take a gentle stroll back to the hotel in the dark before heading out into town to try our hand at a proper German restaurant...

Friday dawned damp and overcast, with the prospect of heavy rain showers throughout the day. That didn’t deter Team GAR, and we were back at Hahnweide bright and early, this time by way of the main airfield entrance where we paid a very reasonable 28 Euros to gain admission to the airfield on all three show days.

The day moved initially at a leisurely pace, with a local flight from the Yak-11 and another practice from the Royal Jordanian Falcons, this time accompanied by their quirky display soundtrack. We soon took refuge under a tree during one of the forecast heavy showers, but before long the tempo began to rise with a steady stream of arrivals coming in from across Europe, and the clouds broke to bathe the airfield in sunshine.

Highlight of Friday morning was the appearance by the Nord Noratlas, en route to Stuttgart Airport where it was based for the weekend. Arriving into the circuit with a low overshoot and steep climb, the Noratlas returned with a close top-side pass before disappearing into the distance; an effective teaser of the aircraft’s weekend demonstrations. I’d never seen a Noratlas before, and based on these brief initial perceptions, it was clearly going to be a bonafide star of the show.

Friday afternoon was, to put it simply, a historic aviation enthusiasts’ Heaven. The near constant stream of arrivals, low run-in-and-breaks and practice displays was quite overwhelming, with the vast majority of aircraft being either types or individual aircraft that I hadn’t seen before.

To list them all would be pointless; hopefully the many photographs accompanying this report, and indeed parts two and three of our European vacation, will give you an idea of the awesome variety and photographic opportunities afforded by this most amazing of places.

There are, however, some items that are particularly noteworthy. One of the most stirring sights I’ve ever seen – easily up there with the Flying Legends Balbos, sixteen Spitfires and the numerous state flypasts I’ve witnessed since I fell for this great hobby of ours as a child – was that of six Junkers Ju-52s looming into sight over the classic Germanic hills and countryside, their distant and ever growing rumble giving me genuine chills.

Hahnweide has been trying to assemble six Ju’s for years, and they’ve “only” ever managed five in the air together in the past, owing to poor weather preventing all of the European machines from converging on Hahn. To say the formation was evocative would be a massive understatement; one can only imagine what massed formations of these aircraft, carrying parachutist infantry into battle, would have looked and sounded like.

The surprisingly close six-ship formation made a number of passes over Hahnweide before splitting into the circuit, not before Stephen Stead’s Bremgarten clan arrived in the form of SF-260, Spitfire MkXVI and Yak-9, breaking underneath the approaching Junkers horde. The kind of stuff aviation enthusiasts’ dreams are made of.

I’m struggling to put it all into words to be honest, such was the sight and sound of half a dozen Iron Annies bringing both grace in their movement and foreboding with their nightmarish agricultural drone. Four of the Ju-52s belonged to the Swiss outfit Ju Air and, having all landed on alongside the examples from Lufthansa and the Salis Collection, all but one of the Swiss machines departed throughout the day, leaving a lone Ju Air ’52 to fly pleasure flights over the weekend alongside two Antonov An-2s, a Max Holste Broussard and a Dragon Rapide.

One of my abiding memories of the Hahnweide experience will surely be looking down on Mikael Carlson flying his Bleriot XI with typical verve and, on occasion, looking directly at the Bleriot’s nose as it turned directly towards us, all the while framed by the lush German forest bordering the aerodrome. Indeed, Mikael’s displays in the Bleriot over the weekend were nothing short of incredible and the huge round of applause he earned on each day was well deserved.

The good weather didn’t last, with towering cloudscapes building moment by moment in the distance and drawing ever closer, bringing with them storms and heavy rain. That certainly didn’t prevent continued arrivals and I’d wager that we only had maybe 15 minutes’ downtime throughout the day. RIAT, eat your heart out!

Even when the rain hit, aircraft continued to arrive, including Old Warden resident Peter Holloway in his Fieseler Storch, one of six to appear, completing an epic 12-hour journey from the UK. Spirits were not dampened in any way and we noted that no one really seemed to care that they were getting wet. People continued to mill around watching the arrivals; they got a bit soggy, but they weren’t going to let that spoil their day!

By about 6pm the flightline was packed with classic aircraft and warbirds, presenting an astounding line-up of different types that left us all feeling quite overcome! The central European warbird contingent, supplemented by the arrival of the familiar P-51D Mustang ‘Jumpin’ Jacques’ from Peter Teichman’s North Weald-based Hangar 11 Collection, was arguably second only to that found at Flying Legends.

There were a few notable absentees come Friday evening; Frédéric Akary’s Hawker Fury ISS, the Swiss P-3 Flyers and a Polikarpov Po2 from Hungary to name the most prominent losses; but the quantity and quality of the assembled line-up more than made up for any disappointment and I dare say that the cancellations didn’t cross our minds once!

Being British, we’re used to being booted unceremoniously out of airfields after about 6.30pm (Duxford in particular is notorious for its strict closing times, even on airshow days). Hahnweide presented the perfect alternative, as the airfield remained open until long after dark with live music in one of the hangars, all the food vendors serving long into the night (by way of comparisson to the UK, a sausage and chips would set you back a mere £2) and the airfield restaurant offering some excellent and reasonably priced home cooked food, which we ate al fresco on the terrace. On the flightline, a selection of warbirds was dramatically lit with an impressive array of lights.

The organisers have clearly created a winning formula; they care about the paying customers, and they do everything in their power to be accommodating and provide the most immersive of aviation experiences imaginable. Where else can you sit eating a freshly cooked pizza with a backdrop of some 10 or so warbirds lit by multi-coloured lighting and search lights, while drinking bier from a massive tankard?

Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, the warbirds lit on the flightline became the subjects of a stunning night-light show (the first of four lasting until after midnight), with coloured lightning effects choreographed to three very different pieces of music, including the Pirates of the Caribbean theme and a rocking metal track complete with outrageously over the top flashing lighting effects. It shouldn’t work, but it really does so brilliantly and the 'Hahnweide goosebumps' made a return during the first performance.

With our tripods put to good use shooting the beauties lit on the flightline, we decided to call it a night and head back to the hotel, for a 6am start beckoned the following morning and we’d already clocked up around 15 hours on the airfield on Friday alone! Saturday was looking set to be something very special indeed.

The ride back to the hotel with Fiddy at the helm was, well, “interesting”, with encounters with kamikaze pedestrians in Kircheim-unter-Teck and a terrifying traffic control-defunct level crossing in Dettingten (I’m sure the light on the tracks was heading towards us...). To Fiddy’s credit we got back in one piece in time to prepare for the next day’s airshow; well done that man!

Unfortunately for those staying on the third floor of the hotel, Huw’s idea of “preparing” was putting his European plug adaptor in upside down and blowing the electricity to the entire floor...

So then, first impressions? Putting aside the tremendous flying programme and quite ridiculous line-up, Hahnweide’s real strength was in its character. The little personal touches, all of which were very continental, made the weekend what it was; the photo bus positioned at crowd centre, open to photographers seeking a raised view of the flightline; the countless bars and vendors open until gone midnight; the commentator personally welcoming each new arrival to Hahnweide; the crews camping under their aircraft; the breaking down of the barriers between participants and punters with the nightly hangar parties; the free night photo-shoot and light shows...

You felt like the organisers wanted you to be part of something that goes beyond an airshow. There were no sterile corporate chalets here; it was all organic, and that’s where the real strength of Hahnweide lies.

It’s a carefully crafted, engrossing aviation experience, a celebration of all that is great and good in aviation held by enthusiasts, for enthusiasts. I’ve tried to describe the atmosphere that makes it all so special, but it’s almost impossible. I don’t have the words. Perhaps I'd be better placed to call it intangible for the time being for fear of losing myself in superlatives.

I think Paul Fiddian summed it up perfectly on Friday, and I couldn’t describe it any better myself.

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