The Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition (LIMA) is a major trade show boasting a diverse flying programme of rare military types. Paul Filmer reports from Malaysia.
I’ve visited Malaysia in the past but never for aviation purposes, so when an opportunity to travel to the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition (LIMA 2015) came up, and with the pending retirement of the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) MiG-29 in mind, it seemed like a good time to go.
After traveling via Tokyo, Guam, Manila and Bangkok I arrived in Kuala Lumpur after flying for the first time on Air Asia. Another Air Asia flight to the island of Langkawi where LIMA takes place, and we were set for the week.
We arrived on the Monday morning before the trade part of the show, which starts on the Tuesday and runs until Thursday, in an attempt to catch some arrivals and the airshow practice sessions ahead of the public days on Friday and Saturday.
The first morning we were treated to a couple of RMAF rehearsals for the opening ceremony involving Su-30, F/A-18, Hawk and MB339 aircraft. This gave us an opportunity to gauge where the aircraft would fly for this one-off display, which was for the opening ceremony only.
Notable arrivals on Monday included a French Navy Falcon 200 and an Indonesian Air Force L-100-30.
The Indonesian Air Force display team, The Jupiters, flying KT-1B fast trainers, departed for home after being involved in an accident the previous week in which they lost two aircraft; thankfully, all four pilots ejected successfully. The KT-1B Woongbi is an indigenous aircraft from the Republic of Korea.
For the official opening ceremony demo on Tuesday we decided to shoot from up high on a hill that overlooks the airfield. Although the location is the furthest distance from the airfield of all the other photo locations, the display line was between the runway and us.
A nice surprise for the flypast at the end was the addition of the RMAF’s first Airbus A400M, which had been delivered only a couple of days prior to the event.
Malaysia is the first export customer for the European airlifter, outside of the partner countries involved with building the aircraft, and this is the first of four aircraft to be delivered to the RMAF. After landing the A400M became the centrepiece of the static display.
The displays on the trade days were performed in the middle of the day when the sun swings across the runway, so photography becomes a challenge. You have to peck away from various spots to get the shots you need, and we rarely ever shot from the same location twice. Luckily there are multiple places to shoot from outside the airfield, many of which are documented on the Internet, but there are also lots of other locations to be found if you’re prepared to explore.
Wednesday saw us go inside the airfield for the first time, and we took the opportunity to go in early and shoot some of the visitors and the hot ramp.
One of the highlights today was the Republic of Singapore Air Force Fokker 50UTA. We had missed it landing the evening before and there it was, spooling up to depart. We waited around 25 minutes for it to load its passengers and taxi out, but it was time well spent.
After this we explored the static display and one of the more unusual aircraft present was the Grob G-520T “Eye in the Sky”. This large composite high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft stopped here while on a worldwide sales tour.
We spied an unusual looking S-61A Nuri on the ramp, and after further investigation it transpired that this was one of two newly prepared ex-RMAF machines to be handed over to the Royal Malaysian Army. A further ten will follow on, and presumably all will be painted in this attractive digital camo scheme.
Nice to see were the Super Lynx operated by the Navy, with various nose radar configurations.
We shot another pair of Indonesian aircraft: the Navy CASA 295MPA was parked in the static display, and the Air Force Boeing 737-400 was visiting as support.
This day also saw the only flypast of the US Air Force B-52H. It performed a high-speed clean run and break, followed by a dirty flypast before departing without landing. This was the only day it appeared.
In the afternoon we travelled the short distance to Awana Harbour to see the maritime display. We’d tried this the day before, but the only participants were the high-speed boats. The displays here, although scheduled in advance, seemed to change every day with last-minute changes to the programme.
Today was the full display, however, and started with an ambush and extraction of personnel from a barge, which also involved high-speed boats, before the helicopters arrived to support.
A Super Lynx performed the extraction while a second example patrolled and provided air cover. An AS555SN provided surveillance and communications and hovered at a safe distance.
An AS365N3 from the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency deployed divers to set charges and blow up the barge before one of their CL-415MP water bombers arrived to put the resulting flames out.
The whole display was in close proximity to the crowd on the boardwalk and was a very impressive sequence indeed.
The Thursday saw a visit from Weststar Boeing 727-23 N800AK. This aircraft originally flew with American Airlines as N2913 from 1968 until 1980. This is a VIP aircraft and was visiting multiple times as Weststar were signing contracts to buy four new helicopters – three from AgustaWestland and one from Sikorsky.
I wanted a more head-on shot of the water drop at the harbour, so we went down again in the afternoon as it was on the schedule, and I scoped out a pier to get a different shot. Instead, a pair of Police AS355N carried out the demonstration. They flew close and tight to the crowd.
On Friday morning there was a sunrise photoshoot arranged for the media, although we were moved off the ramp before the sun really rose. It did give us a chance to shoot in half-dark, however, and get some different shots.
Again, it was back to the harbour to see if the full maritime display would take place. It did, and I got the shot I was after – persistence wins!
Our final day inside was the second public day on Saturday, and we wanted to shoot from the tower that the commentators used. We were told this would be okay, but were then denied as apparently the airshow boss hadn’t yet seen the display and wanted to watch unimpeded. Thwarted!
We hung around for a while and the guard had a word with his superior after I asked if we could shoot for just ten minutes before the show started, as the sun had now appeared. We were granted access and puffed and panted to the top to shoot what was available. About as good as we could have got given the circumstances.
A few aircraft departed immediately after the show and we hung around until sunset in case the PLAAF Il-76s turned up, but they didn’t.
The next day we were ready at sunrise and our patience paid off as mid-morning both Il-76s arrived. This was the second time I’d shot the Chinese J-10s and their support, the first being MAKS in Russia two years ago. This was only the team’s second trip outside China, and the first time they had female pilots in the team at an international event, with four women participating.
We never did see any MiG-29s. We gleaned that there were still four active and some photographers had shot them at Butterworth in QRA sheds. There may be hope for the future, as Malaysia are now considering upgrading the airframes to extend their lives as they are due for heavy checks and still need a replacement type.
What I took away from this trip was the sheer amount of interesting and unusual aircraft that can be found, both at the show on display, but mostly visiting as support aircraft.
The lighting can be tricky and harsh, and the temperature and humidity becomes very uncomfortable at times, but the people are very friendly and it seems like the whole island comes out to watch their free airshow for the week.