Radom has established itself as not only Poland’s biggest airshow, but one of the most highly anticipated events on the calendar. The 2015 edition did not disappoint and delivered one of the best modern military line-ups in Europe. Dean West reports for GAR.
Held across the weekend of 22-23 August 2015, the bi-annual Radom Airshow returned, attracting over 200 aircraft from 22 nations and a staggering 180,000 spectators through the gate, making it Europe’s largest aviation event. It’s no surprise that so many flocked to the central Polish city as tickets for the show were priced at 40 Polish Zloty – approximately £7! For this the paying public enjoyed seven hours of flying displays as well as a high quality static exhibition of over 30 aircraft.
Following the gates opening at 0830, the flying activity started at 0900 with the Polish Aeroclub taking to the air for almost three hours, this ranging from microlight formations through to the world’s only privately owned airworthy Iskra display. Although this volume of light aircraft flying may sound strange at a predominantly military show it actually provided a great opportunity for a casual stroll around the airfield, taking in the static display aircraft and merchandise stalls before the main flying display kicked off at 1230.
Wandering around the airfield the public were greeted with an impressive variety of types on static display. The undoubted highlight came in the shape of an Israeli & Space Air Force KC-130H Hercules, in a beautiful three tone sand camouflage scheme, from 103 Squadron at Nevatim. The Israelis obviously take the security of their aircraft and crew very seriously as the Hercules was devoid of any markings, bar the 436 code on the tail, which isn’t at all surprising or unusual for an IAF aircraft. What was a little curious though was the ‘secret agent’ style officials who were dotted around the aircraft in plain clothes but all recognisable as security because of the subtle ear pieces and typical spy style sunglasses!
The Polish forces were well represented with one of almost every type in their inventory present. An Mi-2RL Hoplite, the Air Force’s training and light transport helicopter, and a Polish Navy SH-2G Super Seasprite, one of only four in their inventory, were two stand out rotary items while twin stick variants of the Polish Air Force’s fast jets were also on the ground at Radom – the MiG-29UB Fulcrum, F-16D-52+ Jastrząb and Su-22UM3K Fitter, the latter sporting an all over matte black scheme.
Strangely enough the one Polish item that is seen regularly outside of Poland, the Polish Navy PZL M-28 Bryza, was nowhere to be seen; instead the Air Force represented the type with a camouflaged M-28B which was parked alongside a very smart Mi-8S used for VIP transport duties and the small W-3PL Głuszec gunship from the Polish Land Forces.
The static park also featured a small C-27J Spartan meet with examples from Italy, Romania and Lithuania present, while the latter nation also sent an example of the diminutive L-410 which was parked behind a smart Falcon 20ECM from the Royal Norwegian Air Force, one of only two the Norwegians have for electronic countermeasure duties.
What seemed surprising was the lack of British support for the event, with a single Hawk T1 from 100 Squadron on static display being the sole UK participant. Considering the UK has seen two Polish Air Force MiG-29 solos (plus the planned Cosford display that was withdrawn due to the fleet’s grounding) this year, as well as no less than four static aircraft from the Polish armed forces at RIAT, the reciprocal participation by the UK forces at Poland’s largest airshow only appeared underwhelming in this, the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
Radom has always had a knack of attracting exotica; 2003 saw a trio of Israeli Air Force F-15Ds, while more recently 2013 saw a solo display from a Ukrainian Air Force Su-27, but this year it was the turn of the Eastern MiGs to take the spotlight.
With the Romanian Air Force assessing options for the MiG-21’s replacement the solo display at Radom could be one of the last opportunities to see the Fishbed in action considering how irregularly the display is seen throughout Europe. Considering the age of the airframe, a design dating back to the 1950s, the display was not to the standards of the Typhoon and Rafale although that didn’t mean the crowds didn’t appreciate the aircraft’s appearance. Considering the Fishbed has the turning circle of the moon the pilot performed an incredibly well constructed display that kept the aircraft mainly along the a-axis with a series of manoeuvres along the length of Radom’s runway to keep the aircraft as close to the crowdline as possible. The display used a not-insignificant amount of afterburner which not only had an aesthetic appeal with the shock diamonds being almost as big as the aircraft but also produced a distinctive and powerful thud whenever the reheat kicked in – very cool!
Slovakian Air Force appearances at European events are somewhat volatile, with a tendency to cancel participation after confirmation – such as the L-39 cancelling from RIAT 2015 and the MiG-29 changing from flying to static at Payerne’s AIR14. Radom had no such bad luck though, in fact it was quite the opposite with the previously mentioned L-410 being joined by a L-39CM Albatros in the static display, the latter sporting a special tail celebrating Sqn Ldr Otto Smik DFC, who flew with the Royal Air Force in World War Two before losing his life in 1944 at the age of just 22. Parked alongside the Albatros was a MiG-29UBS, resplendent in an all over special tiger scheme that the aircraft has worn for over 20 years!
The Slovakian Fulcrum display was performed by a single seat AS model, flown with the power and aggression expected of a MiG-29 solo – the Saturday display being particularly impressive with the aircraft’s burners illuminating brightly in the late evening sky.
Continuing with the Eastern hardware, the Polish Air Force went to impressive lengths to display their fleet at Radom. Each afternoon’s flying display kicked off with a flypast of no less than 65 different rotary and fixed wing aircraft from the Polish Air Force consisting of all types within its inventory, with the exception of the VIP flight ERJ-175s, as Team Iskry lead formations of helicopters, transports and fast jets with Team Orlik bringing up the rear. Not only was it an awesome sight to see so many aircraft in the air in a short space of time but the opportunity to see formations of rare types such as four Mi-2 Hoplites or six MiG-29s made it all the more striking.
The flypast was one of two opportunities to see the Polish Air Force’s most elusive fast jet type – the F-16 Jastrząb. The fleet doesn’t appear at European events as much as the Su-22 or MiG-29 displays and rumours of Radom offering the debut of a Polish F-16 solo display got the enthusiasts excited, although this unfortunately never materialised. The other opportunity came in a blink-and-you-miss-it Close Air Support demonstration by two F-16s and two Su-22s. The Fitters made one fast pass along the runway, complete with an impressive row of pyrotechnic explosions, with a pair of F-16s following up and popping flares on two passes – and that was it! It was the punchy, fast paced action you want from fast jets at an airshow but frustratingly too short. Perhaps the purpose of such a short demonstration was to illustrate how quickly the Polish aircraft can take out an airfield?!
The Fitters were fortunately in action again as part of their hugely popular role demonstration. Crowds across Europe have grown to love the display which doesn’t offer any fancy aerobatic manoeuvres or particularly photogenic topside passes, but instead features a dying breed of Cold War warrior storming around the skies simulating airfield attacks and strafing runs. Wrapping up the Polish fast jet contingency was the Air Force’s own MiG-29 solo display which was a crowd pleaser, the pilot keeping the Soviet fighter tight to the airfield’s boundaries for the duration of the display. The Polish rotary assets were given a rare outing in the flying display too. From the Polish Army we were graced with a Mi-24V Hind pairs routine which saw the two huge gunships start with a series of relatively tight formation passes before some majestic hovering work. We were also treated to a nippy solo routine from the training and light transport helicopter, the SW-4 Puszczyk, with the workhorse of the Polish forces, the W-3 Sokół, being displayed in a three-ship role demonstration.
Both of Poland’s national display teams were present at Radom. Team Iskry displayed with a six-ship of TS-11 Iskras, interestingly an increase of one aircraft as the team were noted displaying with five aircraft in 2014 but a decrease from the seven Iskras they had been displaying with in previous years. Regardless, the display still frustratingly struggled to make much of an impact, which was undoubtedly down to the fact that the Iskra is hugely underpowered. Team Orlik also displayed with eight aircraft and the turboprop aircraft delivered a tighter, punchier routine that their jet team counterparts.
Fans of display teams would not have been disappointed at the show with seven other teams present, while those who aren’t too keen on them may have lost interest in the flying display at times. Radom provided a rare opportunity to see both Spanish Air Force display teams at one event; the Patrulla Aguila are seen regularly in their CASA 101s throughout Europe but their rotary counterparts, the Patrulla ASPA, performed a rare display outside of Spain. They displayed five EC-120 Colibris in a routine that certainly stood out with some tight formation work around crowd centre, although this would have been less impactful for those at the far ends of the display line.
With the future of the Patrouille Suisse currently unclear it was a pleasure to see them at Radom. Strong rumours suggest that the team will cease to fly the F-5E Tiger IIs at the end of 2016, with many hinting there are plans to continue the team with a four-ship of F/A-18 Hornets which would be unlikely to receive any special schemes. This uncertainty only meant that the performance was more valued and appreciated, the six Tigers hurtling across the Radom skies with the likes of the shadow and mirror passes being two of the stand out moments. One little bonus for the enthusiasts was the use of a grey, operational looking F-5E which made a rare public appearance as it was employed as the spare aircraft for the weekend. Considering the Royal Jordanian Falcons have been huge supporters of the European airshow scene for decades it was a surprise to learn that the team were making their Radom debut at the 2015 event. Competing the display team line up were the Royal Danish Air Force’s Baby Blue, the Baltic Bees in their five L-39s and the Italian Air Force’s Frecce Tricolori.
The Italian Air Force’s Reparto Sperimentale Volo (RSV) has a sterling reputation for its punchy, dynamic displays at European events, having exhibited a variety of types over the years ranging from the P-180 Avanti to the AMX and the C-27J Spartan. Radom 2015 was graced with the RSV’s EF2000 solo which was easily the most spectacular display of the weekend with a tight, flowing routine that kept the aircraft as close within the airfield boundaries as possible and not only positioned the aircraft well for the public along the display line but strived to hold the crowd’s attention while the aircraft was re-positioning by igniting the burner to keep the noise levels, and the excitement, as high as possible.
The closest competition the EF2000 had in the fighter category over the weekend was from the French Air Force’s Rafale solo. The display was flown in the ‘Marmite’ green tiger special schemed Rafale C, using the aircraft’s agility to full effect keeping close to the display line. A good serving of burner provided aesthetic appeal for spectators and photographers alike.
It wouldn’t be a modern military airshow without a solo from an F-16 and Radom was gifted with two Fighting Falcons, with appearances from the Belgian Air Force and the Hellenic Air Force. A stalwart of the European airshow circuit, the Belgian F-16 demonstration, this year flown by Cdt Tom ‘Gizmo‘ De Moortel, put on a high energy routine to the usual high standards expected from the Belgian solo display.
The Greek Block 52+ may look the business with its conformal fuel tanks and special Zeus scheme the display is still fairly underwhelming for a fast jet. Having been trained by the US Air Force demo crew the display unsurprisingly features a lot of similarities with the American demos we used to see – the dedication pass for example is taken straight from the old USAF F-16 demos – which means the Hellenic routine isn’t as punchy and fluid as the likes of the Belgian example, taking a relatively long time to re-position for some manoeuvres. On top of this the aircraft isn’t presented as close to the display as some of the other fast jets which means it struggled to pack the same punch as the likes of the RSV EF2000 and French Rafale.
Two unusual European participants came in the shape of a PC-7 from the Austrian Air Force, with a routine that was sharp and crisp but frustratingly too short being only six minutes long, as well as a Turkish Army T-129. The helicopter is a development of the Agusta A-129 Mangusta with Turkish Aircraft Industries (TAI) having adapted the airframe to match the requirements of the Turkish Armed Forces for a platform that can operate effectively in hot and high environments. The T-129 at Radom was participating as part of a mini-Polish tour with the airframe remaining in the country for a fortnight after the event with TAI hoping to sell the helicopter to the Polish Land Forces as a replacement for their ageing Mi-24V Hinds under the Kruk program.
Completing what was an incredibly varied line-up at Radom were two solos from the neighbouring Czech Air Force with a Mi-24V Hind as well as the surprisingly noisy L-159A.
Radom 2015 can only be classed as a huge success. It offers outstanding value for money with a top quality assortment of aircraft both on the ground in the air. If you have the desire to get a good fix of Eastern European hardware then keep an eye on Radom 2017, no doubt it’ll be another cracker.