Last September Steven Coe visited the Czech International Air Festival (CIAF) and here he reports for Global Aviation Resource. All photos by the author.
The announcement of a flying Ukrainian AF Su-24 Fencer was enough to tempt me to make a first visit to the CIAF… sadly it cancelled just before the show! Disappointed, but with the prospect of seeing their Su-27 display along with one or two other unusual items, I decided to continue as planned.
I travelled with a small group and our plan was to fly with Ryanair from Stansted to Prague on Friday evening, drive the 90 minutes or so to Hradec Králové, stay there for two nights with two days at the show before returning late on Sunday. Following the cancellation of the Fencer, our bad luck continued as a rain delay at Stansted and subsequent late arrival in Prague meant the hire car office was closed! With limited options we spent an uncomfortable night on the floor of the airport and then drove direct to our hotel on Saturday morning.
We stayed at the Hotel Cernigov, as did many of the airshow participants. It is a bit of a Cold War relic but is opposite the railway station and from there we were able to get a shuttle bus direct to the show for a very small fee. Attendance was pretty light so entry to the show was straightforward and we got to the crowd line just in time for the start of the flying on day one!
Hradec Králové is a fairly small ex-military airfield with a single concrete runway. It describes itself as an international airport although there are no scheduled flights and traffic is predominantly private jets and general aviation. We entered the show through the old military complex, much of which is no longer in use. At the base of the old control tower is a preserved Czech AF Mig-15bis ‘3947’; the type being based there in the past along with Mig-21R, L-29, Su-22M4/UM3K, An-30, L-410FG and Mi-17.
The crowd line ran parallel to the main runway with the adjacent taxiway being used for some of the flying and static aircraft. The Ukrainian IL-76MD and spare Su-27UB dominated this area. As you faced the runway, the right of the taxiway was open to the public, with the left reserved for VIPs. Some of the flying aircraft, including the Su-27, were located at the left hand end out of reach of cameras, with some of the lighter aircraft positioned on the grass in front of the crowd. The static display was very light with most aircraft involved in the flying.
The rest of the show ground was made up of trade stalls and food outlets – the quality and value of the latter putting UK shows to shame – and a number of military ground exhibitions. It is a small show with a moderate crowd so there was plenty of room to move around. Good views can be had from the crowd line or further back with a number of raised areas offering elevated views. Most aircraft taxied in front of the crowd and the view of the runway is largely unobstructed so there are plenty of photographic opportunities.
Much of Europe had been gripped by a heatwave during August but the week before the show the weather broke, bringing atrocious conditions on the arrival days. Whilst the weekend remained dry but cloudy, the rain took its toll and caused a number of cancellations. Notably two RAF Typhoons had to divert to nearby Pardubice with the first running off the end of the runway in the wet conditions. As a result the second aircraft didn’t attempt a landing and returned to the UK. Fortunately no injuries resulted other than to the pilot’s pride!
Other no shows included the Red Bull Cobra, Italian Yak-11, RAF King Air and Belgian C-130. This left the static park very thin and created gaps in the flying program which, to their credit, the organisers filled by putting some displays on twice.
Opening the show was a flypast comprising two L159 ALCA and two JAS-39 Gripen either side of a Casa C-295M. We had hoped for individual displays or flybys but, after two passes, the formation split and the aircraft departed to their respective bases. Next was the Mi-24 ‘Alien’ Hind which gave an awesome display using smoke to good effect. The paint scheme makes a menacing machine look even more menacing than usual! Along with the Mi-2 and solo Gripen later in the day, that was the extent of the Czech Air Force flying contribution. With just a single Mi-17 on static display, the support from the home team was a bit light.
The ‘Flying Bulls’ were next flying four Czech registered XtremeAir XA42, a new type for the team having previously flown Zlin 50 LX. An experienced team, they gave a very impressive display comprising formation and pairs manoeuvres.
Classic Cold War jets were represented in the form of a Mig-15UTI and TS-11 Iskra. The MiG is based at Hradec Králové and is an ex-Polish AF machine operated by Czech Flying Legends. It carries Czech AF markings representing aircraft ‘2514’ that flew with 30th Fighter Bomber Air Regiment from the airfield until 1983. Its Klimov VK-1 centrifugal flow turbojet creates a unique sound to accompany a very spirited display. Iskra ‘1214’/SP-YBC wears Polish AF markings and gave a more sedate display that is typical of the type. The two also flew as a pair later in the day.
Hungarian Red Bull Air Race legend Peter Besenyei then took to the skies in his Corvus Racer. He put on a sublime display of aerobatics showcasing his years of experience including some very low knife-edge passes.
Next came the first of two displays from the Ukrainian AF Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker. It was fantastic to see this beast of an aircraft at relatively close quarters. Despite low clouds, ‘Blue 58’ gave a tight powerful display with surprisingly little use of the burners. Its blue splinter camo scheme looking great against the dark clouds. The first display may have been a display validation as the weather had prevented this on the Friday and no flares were used. No complaints though as this was the highlight of the show so to see it twice in a day was a bonus and something not repeated on the Sunday.
A PZL Mi-2 ‘Hoplite’ from the CLV (Centre of Flight Training) at nearby Pardubice than gave a very spirited display in some rare sunshine. The type is the entry level helicopter for rotary wing training before pilots move onto the Mi-17 or the Mi-24/35. The CLV only operates a handful so this was a very welcome sight. An L39C Albatros from the same unit arrived for static display on Sunday. Sadly the Mi-17 that had been scheduled to fly stayed in the static park, we understand this was due to it receiving damage to its rotor blades while on the ground.
A gentle display from a privately owned Aero C-104S OK-WAL 72 in Czech AF markings followed. The type is a post war version of the Bücker Bü 131 Jungmann, one of 260 built at the Aero Vodochody factory in Prague in the late 1940s.
The second fast jet display came in the form of a Czech AF Saab JAS39C Gripen ‘9238’ from 211 squadron based at Caslav airbase. Sadly it was plain grey and not one in tiger meet markings. Despite that, it gave a very impressive display showing off its speed and manoeuvrability with flares used for good measure.
One of two Czech designed and built types displayed either side of the Baltic Bees. The first was an Evektor EV-55 Outback which is a twin engine passenger/utility aircraft. The type first flew in 2011 and is still undergoing flight testing having had a protracted development period. The aircraft on display OK-DRM is one of only two flying with type certification expected in 2019. An interesting looking aircraft with its high wing, winglets and sleek design it put on a fine, and very quiet display including a fly past with one engine feathered.
The Orbis Avia SM-92TE Praga Alfa is an multi-purpose, single engine, high wing, all-metal turboprop aircraft with fixed landing gear. It is a derivative of the SM-92T which was conceived as a replacement for the ageing An-2 that was so prevalent in Eastern European air arms. The -TE variant on display was a prototype with the type aiming to achieve certification in 2017.
The only jet display team on display was the Latvia based Baltic Bees with their six L-39C Albatros. They gave a fine account of themselves and managed to find some sunshine which showed off their smartly painted aircraft to good effect. Their #5 aircraft got airborne a short while later for a solo display featuring some ‘crazy flying’.
Having seen individual displays earlier we were treated to a pairing of the Mi-24 and Mi-2 which really showed off the size difference between the two. By now the events of Friday were catching up with me and I confess to missing some of what you might describe as a ‘lazy lunch’ section. This included the Polish AT-3 team with their interesting registrations, SP-ICY for example, and solo routines from an XtremeAir sBach 300 and Zlin 50.
The Slovak glider team Očovskí Bačovia with their four L-13 Blaník were a highlight I regretted missing. Having been towed into the air together by a single Zlin Z-37 Bumblebee, the team gave a superb display of formation flying including a spiral descent using their smoke to good effect. I made a point of watching them on Sunday but the light was nowhere near as good, sadly.
For the second Flanker display I decided to move back from the crowd line to one of the raised bunker areas. This elevated view provided some alternative angles on another excellent display of raw power this time finishing with a huge burst of flares.
An unusual pairing of a Belgian A109 and civilian MD500 came next. They took off as a pair before giving individual displays. The 109 gave a polished performance but it was the 500 that stole the show. The pilot threw the machine around the sky during a lengthy slot before finishing with a ‘rolling’ landing on skids at crowd centre! The Belgian display was not repeated on Sunday, we believe this was due to a tragic incident during a display in Belgium on the Saturday that saw the pilot fall to his death.
The show concluded with a WW1 dog fight set piece featuring a replica Fokker Triplane DR.1 in the colours of the Red Baron and a replica Curtiss JN-4 Jenny. An unusual pairing perhaps but they put on a great performance with the DR.1 eventually claiming victory.
Tired but having had a good first day, we headed back to the hotel. The show coincides with the annual Queen Elisabeth Festival in Hradec Králové. On the Saturday evening we walked into the historic centre where there is live entertainment and a street market selling crafts, local food and a wide selection of local beers. The festival finishes on the Saturday with a fantastic firework display from the roof of the White Tower that dominates the main square.
On Sunday we elected to view the show from the outside to get some different angles and to ensure a swift getaway for our flight home – not that traffic was a problem at all as it turned out. Based on what we had seen on Saturday, the field opposite the show area seemed to be the place to head for and this was pretty straightforward to get to. The show itself was pretty much identical to Saturday and it was good to have another look at the displays at close quarters. The weather was more overcast than Saturday and typically the sun came out as the show finished.
Overall I enjoyed my first visit to the CIAF which provided some excellent photographic opportunities. The weather was mixed but could have been worse and the no shows were disappointing but these are both factors beyond the organisers control and are always a risk. It is an easy show to do on a limited budget with plenty of flight options to Prague. The local festival, aviation museums in Prague and the proximity to other nearby bases also give options to extend the trip and more than just the show. I look forward to a return visit at some stage. CIAF 2018 is on the 8th-9th of September.
Global Aviation Resource would like to thank Steven Coe.