2014 marks the 15th anniversary of Poland joining NATO, and to celebrate the Polish Armed Forces held an airshow at the 23rd Air Base at Mińsk Mazowiecki, East of Warsaw, on 10-11 May. Dean West reports for GAR.
Booking flights to the show at Mińsk Mazowiecki mid-April was a bit of a gamble. The event had only been announced a month earlier and the lack of any official website or participation list, save for ever-changing rumours on a Polish internet forum, meant that there was no real accurate steer on what was attending. However, the gamble paid off as almost every fixed wing and rotary type from the Polish Armed Forces was on display over the weekend at what was a very enjoyable event.
When a MiG-29A is the most often seen aircraft out of a static line-up you know you’re in for some real quality. Alongside the Fulcrum were examples of the Polish Air Force’s other fast movers – a Su-22UM3K and an F-16C-52+, complete with conformal fuel tanks, while a CASA C-295M, M-28B Bryza and TS-11 Iskra made up the remainder of the fixed-wing static line up. However it was the rotary assets that were the star of the static displays. The Polish Air Force presented an unusual looking SW-4 Puszczyk while the Polish Navy was represented by a Mi-14PL Haze and, my highlight of the static display, an SH-2G Super Seasprite. The Polish Navy only operate four of the type, which they received from the US Navy in 2003, and are seldom seen outside of Poland, so to get up close to one at Mińsk Mazowiecki was treat. The Polish Land Forces completed the impressive line-up of helicopters with a W-3PL ‘Głuszec’, an upgraded version of the Sokol with a glass cockpit and an impressive 12.7mm machine gun under the nose, and the beastly Mi-24 Hind which was parked alongside a Mi-17, all painted in a drab olive scheme – a photographer’s nightmare!
The flying display lasted no more than four hours, but once again this was a display of quality rather than quantity. Mińsk Mazowiecki is home to 1.ELT flying the MiG-29 and as such it was no surprise that the Fulcrum display was a crowd favourite and luckily for both them, and us, we were treated to two marginally different MiG-29A solo displays each day. All the commentary was obviously in Polish and so I’m unsure whether they were flown by different pilots or if they were the low and medium shows, they certainly didn’t vary too much in height, but nonetheless each display certainly got the aircraft’s huge Klimov RD-33 producing some impressive smoke trails over the skies of Minsk.
Sticking with the fast air, both the F-16 and Su-22 were present in the flying display. A six-ship of F-16s opened the show on each day with a single flypast, with a little help from a Team Iskry smoke pass, while two F-16s returned later in the day alongside a pair of Fitters. The ten minute segment had been billed as 2x F-16s and 2x Su-22s but rather frustratingly the Vipers were only present for a single flypast, in a very loose formation with the Fitters, before hitting the burners and returning to their home base. Being the new toy in the Polish Air Force inventory you’d imagine that it’s the type they’d be most keen to display, but the two flypasts were all we saw of the F-16s in the air over the weekend – c’est la vie. Fortunately we saw much more of the Su-22s, of which two were in the air on each day. It wasn’t the Fitter pairs display that has been seen around Europe in the past few years, but a much more sedate presentation of two single-seat aircraft performing missed approaches for just over five minutes. Admittedly it wasn’t the most dynamic demonstration but still nice to see. Speaking of nice to see, the crowds were treated to a fly-by of the Polish fixed wing transports; a C-130E Hercules flanked by a CASA C-295M on each wingtip.
The Polish helicopters made up a significant portion of the flying display. Two Polish Army Mi-24 Hinds were the pick of a rare collection of types, the pair performing a fairly slow, relatively graceful (for a machine as aggressive as the Hind!) routine which started off with a few shadow passes before coming in closer to crowd centre and hovering in front of the VIP enclosure. The Polish Navy provided a full display from a Mi-14 Haze, with the anti-submarine warfare helicopter performing some impressive low-level hovering manoeuvres, which were so low it blew the display centre marker out of position on the Saturday, while the second half of the display was more orientated around the ASW role of the helicopter. If W-3 Sokols are your thing then you wouldn’t have been disappointed as no less than four examples of the type took to the air. Three of the Polish built helicopters were involved in a role demo with ground troops while a sole Sokol displayed separately as part of a search and rescue demonstration, which also featured an all too brief appearance from a Polish Army Mi-17 Hip.
The Polish Air Force is one of few air arms to have two display teams and both Team Orlik and Team Iskry displayed at the Fulcrum base. Frustratingly both teams were fairly distant from the crowdline with the jet trainers of the TS-11 Iskras actually lacking more punch than their turboprop trainer counterparts, accentuated even further by the fact that Team Iskry were only displaying with five aircraft as opposed to the seven they’ve used in shows across Europe in recent years.
However, it would be harsh to leave the review on a negative when it really was a superb show, full of rare items and admission was a bargain too – free! Aside from the cracking value for money the organisation was good, with plenty of facilities on the showground for the visiting public and great value food too. I’d certainly recommend a Polish airshow to any enthusiast, the country provides a great balance of retro Soviet hardware and modern but rare indigenous types.