To say we were happy with our haul come Sunday evening at Hahnweide would be a massive understatement. We'd had four absolutely fantastic days with countless highlights and moments that will live forever in the memory, and I think we all expected to spend a quiet Monday enjoying the last few hours of our time in Germany before heading home in the evening.
With several visiting French warbirds still sat on the grass at Hahnweide, some perhaps forced to overnight again on Sunday by the persistent inclement weather, it seemed logical that they would depart on Monday and taking a short ride over to the airfield seemed like the right thing to do. Let's be honest, we were never going to be doing anything else!
Arriving at Hahnweide around 10am, we found an airfield that bore very little suggestion that it had played host to 300+ aircraft and tens of thousands of people a mere 24 hours ago. Most of the food outlets and seating areas had been packed away and the crowd barriers had been removed, leaving a small band of visitors free to roam around the flightline, mingling with the pilots and engineers as they prepared their aircraft for departure in an extension of Hahnweide's world-class hospitality.
There was a distinct absence of any health and safety red tape here: save for a few marshals on hand to steer any wayward spectators away from the runway, visitors were practically given free run of the place; a delightful bonus, and one which I really can't imagine being allowed to happen at a private airfield in the UK.
The French Bronco was the first to leave (not before a group photograph with the organisers). Following its take-off, the Bronco pilot could be heard calling up the tower; "Bronco requesting clearance for low pass down the runway."
"Bronco, cleared for flypast at your discretion", came the response. And so it began - the first of many passes that would ultimately provide some of the defining moments of the whole weekend. The Bronco banked into the circuit, diving in towards the airfield until it was below tree-top height, storming in between our position on the flightline and the runway for a low, fast pass that drew cheers of appreciation from the small crowd.
I seem to remember Fiddy commenting at this point that the Bronco's flypast had immediately become one of the high points of his weekend; none of us had realised that it was just the beginning!
One by one the visiting warbirds were pushed out of their respective positions on the flightline before the pilots crewed in, always offering a goodbye wave and thank-you to the assembled enthusiasts before firing up and taxying past, mere feet away.
Each time, after departure, they returned to beat up the place, very low and very close. Honestly, the departures alone were worth the trip to Germany. They were the things that our dreams are made of: a dazzling send-off to an airshow that had exceeded our expectations in practically every way.
Marc Mathis deserves particular credit for his departure; following a very fast pass at low altitude, he flew a further top-side pass and a half-cuban before heading back to France. One of the weekend's most dramatic moments came with the departure of Christophe Jacquard and Eric Goujon in the Dijon-based Sea Fury FB11 and Spitfire PRXIX. Their low formation pass was so close that the smoke from the Fury's smoke system engulfed us in a swirling mass of white moments after the Fury had rocketed by!
The hour or so that we were at the airfield saw some of the most invigorating, life-affirming flying any of us had ever seen. That we were permitted - nay, encouraged - to stay and watch it all at such close quarters was a terrific bonus that none of us had expected.
It was the last, triumphant farewell from our German friends at Hahnweide, as if the quite astonishing four days prior wasn't quite enough. With the airfield empty, save for a British Jungmann, the S-38 and a lone Stampe, we decided to reluctantly leave the airfield for the final time, heading to McDonald's to drown our sorrows in fat and milkshakes.
How could I possibly summarise five wonderful days at Hahnweide? In truth, it's practically impossible to do the whole experience justice - because it is an experience, born out of both the little touches that make the event so enjoyable, and the staggering depth and quality of the aircraft in attendance.
So many of the innovations could be incorporated into British airshows with a bit of work; proper flightline walks, windowless photo-buses strategically positioned along the crowdline for aerial views of the flightline and runway, night-shoots, live music, even the novel concept of good, reasonably priced food - all are possible.
At Hahnweide, none of that felt extra-curricular. It was all part of an aviation package prepared meticulously by genuine enthusiasts who clearly want to put on the absolute best show for the public.
We were so warmly welcomed by the airshow organisers from day one that it was difficult not to fall in love with the place, a feeling shared by Huw, who summarised the experience nicely with the following:
"Our trip to Hahnweide this year was my first foray to a European airshow. What this gave me was the realisation that it is an incredibly easy thing to do - getting from home to our hotel in about six hours, without fuss. The innovation displayed by the organisers is what will continue to stick in my memory - the unrestricted flightline walks at dawn, the evening music and light shows, the airfield staying open long into the night with bars and eating establishments, the array of pleasure flight aircraft and of course the stunning flying programme.
"The airshow itself was one of the most wonderful aviation experiences of my life as a whole, with the world class flying being bolstered by the friendliest people, great food and drink and a tremendous all round atmosphere - set at the most fantastic airfield you could think of."
I'll leave the last word to Fiddy: "To sum up, Hahnweide provided one of the most rewarding aviation experiences of my airshow-going life. I honestly think it's a show worth travelling to the ends of the Earth for, and there were many moments that, on their own, would have made the short flight to Germany worthwhile.
"Sincere congratulations to the organisers for staging something really very special - an event where aircraft aren't just displayed, but honoured, paraded and celebrated. Truly, Hahnweide is an airshow as it should be."
2011-12-08 - Kai Hansen
Thank you chaps for the 3 part report on Hahnweide 2011. I was there but for two days only with Ian Allen tours. No problem navigating :-)) from the hotel to the airfield when you are in a comfy bus.
I came all the way from Canada and must agree with you that this show is worth travelling for from the westcoast of Canada or the end of the world.
After having read your article I can only agree with all your observations about the organizing, the freedom of movement and the mood on both Friday and Saturday when I was there.
I actually met a few Germans who spoke very decent English and enjoyed every minute of my time there.
Thanks for bringing me back in memory and sharing your stories.
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