Langkawi Red Eagles
A journey to LIMA airscene, Langkawi, Malaysia,
Ranking as largest military and aerospace display in Asia,
From the 17th to the 21st of March, LIMA 15 international defense and airshow was held at Langkawi island. It was the 13th aviation and naval event since first LIMA was held in 1991. Langkawi int. airport is on west coast’s largest of all 99 archipelago islands, in the Andaman Sea. The Islands are part of Kedah territory, but 33 km of Malaysian continent west coast only. Noteworthy, they are close to frontier with Thailand. « Langkawi » means « red - brown Eagle » in old Malay. The name is believed to have existed back from the 15th Century. Nowadays these superb birds of pray still overfly the airport.
Though Langkawi has a reputation built upon tourism - coming from Asia and the Persian Gulf - ,once every two years, all local facilities and hotels are fully booked so as to satisfy thousands of industry executives and aviation enthusiasts all flowing into the area, with much contribution from local airlines, such as “ Malaysia ” daily schedules with Kuala Lumpur. LIMA also acts as a defense forum for the ASEAN Treaty countries (*) wishing to strengthen ties. Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore already have built a common military network to fight against piracy in the Straight of Malacca. Past years, ASEAN governments wished to develop their own industry and Langkawi should have been their booth. But obviously in 2015, they still have to import hardware from the USA and Russia, so as to fulfill their domestic military needs. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute revealed this week, that military spending in Asia, saw a 5% raise last year. 439 billions $ are estimated to be the amount of all the continent of Asia’s defense budgets in 2014.
(*members are Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam)
" Langkawi " means " red - brown Eagle " in old malay
Let alone China defense budget. It is estimated as 216 billion $. So military budgets from other nations part of Asia, altogether may represent around 223 billion $. It means China is spending half that continent’s military resources. China is willing to strengthen ties will all ASEAN nations, so it was not surprising that the People Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) sent its national team “August 1” to Langkawi to LIMA 15. The group was flying six Chengdu J-10s at the show (plus one spare), but most visitors will keep in mind, glamorous pictures. All in all, 10 pilots fly with “August 1”, and no less than 4 of them are ladies. For the time being, women pilot Yu Xu, Tao Jiali, Sheng Yifei and He Xiaoli, fly the team’s Chengdu J-10s on convoys and on parades.They record 800 hours. of flighteach, mostly on J-10s. One lady was flying backseat in a J-10B, and hopefully she will fly solo in the near future. Past years, it became a glamourous fashion to introduce ladies in national team cockpits elsewhere in European and American teams. Chinese ground crew also kindly invited me to walk as much as I desired around their airplanes, always keen on being photographed. The “ August 1 ” show was spirited, composed with four, or six airplane formations, with the traditional solo routines at pace. Huge improvements were obviously perceptible since I first saw them at Zhuhai in 2012. The 360° low speed turn with all six J-10s as a compact formation was marvelous. The purple, orange, and pink smokes added a personal and artistic touch not only reminding the national flag, but also colors in some of the Chinese big circus.
And we have learnt that now, China also has a huge ability to use " Soft Power " with airshows as well
Langkawi is a paradise. The airport with modern facilities, is close to tourism equipments and hotels, small houses owned by locals, and hills covered with forest and coconuts trees. West end of the flightline is surrounded by an emerald tinted sea. Temperatures are between 35° and 38°C daylong. So as a reporter and photographer, it is the only airfield I have been in the world where temperatures were so high, that I had to organize shootings, with limited periods of exposition under the sun limited to a few hours time. It was easy to achieve, given the fact the show is split into two periods a day. So there is a first flying display schedule starting at 10.00 AM and ending at 12.00 AM. Then a second display gap starts from 14.00 PM and ends at 16.00 PM. Already as reported once, there in my french “ chroniques ” http://www.sky-lens.com/admin/modif_reports-air-events.php?recordID=118 , business men looked starving with heat, and quick interviews with crews on the tarmac where limited and many an exchange and a statement ended such as “ sorry it is hot …, we must go … “. I could confess everyone seemed eager to go back to the hotel’s swimming pool, once his main business activity was over …. But main point is that Langkawi’s climate is as “ gold ” for a photographer, suffice to experience glorious sunshine light uninterrupted 7 days a week. Nowhere else can you expect such photographic conditions, especially with rare airplanes like the RMAF Su-27 MKM and helicopters, to name a few. When I saw Chinese Air Force J-10s at home in Zhuhai, they mainly flew into low altitude clouds charged with pollution. I have doubts the Chinese ever had experienced such tropical conditions to display before Langkawi.
Most vistors will keep in mind, glamourous pictures
LIMA acts as THE jet fighter display central scene in Asia. ASEAN nations military equipments are eclectic. Just remember the last ten years. Thailand bought 12 Jas-39 Gripens, Singapore bought F-16s and F-15s, Malaysia’s choice was the Sukhoi Su-30 MKMs, and neighboring Indonesia received Su-27s and 30s. Strangely this year, the airshow did not feature as many jet fighter solo displays as it did two years ago. Only Dassault Rafale was in Langkawi, as part as a campaign to convince Malaysian Ministry of Defense to become one the French jet next customers, its project to buy 18 jet fighters to give up its MiG-29s. Anyway some Malaysian officials declared that they still didn’t know exactly if they would really get rid of the RMAF Fulcrums. Rafale daily solo display by “ Tao “was awesome. Anyway, flying a dull dark grey all painted-jet, the team airplane “colors” impacted less than the official “ Rafale ” glow orange caps they distributed to visitors everywhere on the place.
Rafale daily display by " Tao " was awesome
Yes, I keep on saying these western European solo aircrafts waste impact on the public, the only reason for that, being that most of them are not adorned with a few flashy colors. A solution could have been using color stickers on the jets, to be removed before military ops. As a matter of facts, Rafale was shot - by my cameras - less times, that the Singapore Air Force red and white Black Knights F-16s all in all during LIMA 15 for obvious artistic reasons. Considering French patriotic pride with Rafale winning export markets with Egypt and India, it is time for the display teams to look forward, using a few colors paints and some flares as well. But “ Tao’s” last loop ending with landing gear down and touching the field for landing is unique in the business. USAF “ Pacific Air Forces” F-16 Viper display – enough dark grey jet … - did not match that Rafale at all, nor spectacular Royal Malaysian Air Forces Sukhoi Su-30 MKM from 11 « Panther » Squadron. The Malaysian Flanker performed most of its routine at near zero speed, and this looked all the more convincing for a photographer like me, shooting right under it. Coming back to the US Viper, I still wonder where the interest was, for the US Dept. to have sent a sedate routine in an airshow, taking into account the fact they should have read the program before, to read the list of other foreign that would obviously still all the attention. Only a Raptor would have filled the bill.
As usual, and compared to the USAF Viper display, Royal Singapore Air Force (RSAF) twin F-16 C team was rather attractive. Normally these RSAF Black Knights are a six F-16 jets display team, but only at the Singapore Airshow do they display all six airplanes. There is little available airspace in Singapore to rehearse a full time team. So Black Knights rehearsed a two Vipers routine only for a tour in Avalon, and then at Lankgawi, both events being very closed in the calendar. As a matter of facts, both guys flying were the performing the solo routine that is normally part of the Black Knights full show. Standing under the F-16s, it was interesting to see both guys were always reheating exactly at the same half of a second. Becoming regular on the international airscene is the UAE Air Force Al Fursan Team. In Europe, airshow visitors have been graced with the UAE pilots skills and ability to equal their french and italian mentors. Now it was Malaysian visitors, bearing in mind that Gulf States citizens are familiar with Langkawi as a holiday destination. As all « emerging » powers teams now do, the Frecce babies have introduced awesome smoke colors obviously based on their national flag, along with black - as petrol - and gold schemes on MB339s. On Sunday March 15th while on practice, two Korean Aerospace KT-1Bs from the Indonesian Air Force Jupiter team collided mid-air. All four aircrew ejected and were alive. One KT-1B crashed a few kms. away doth of the airfield, on a house. Fortunately, owners were not in their home at that time. But obviously, Jupiter team did not perform this year in the show.
(...) the UAE skills and ability to equal their french and italian mentors
So how about the Russian no show ? My point of view is that the Sukhoi Su-35 was a real strange no show, as were all Russian equipments this year at Lankgawi. Indonesia is eyeing this type of airplane according to latest reports. But it appears Sukhoi did not choose to fly the Flanker at the show and given that Russia has always been keen on showing military hardware there, the reason for that no show remain strange to me. Two years ago the Russian Knights team took part with five Su-27/27UB, and it looked obvious they would take part again this year, given the official declaration they published on their official Facebook page, only three weeks before the event. At last they did not make it. Officially the airshow could not fund them. Is Rubble crisis, the explanation for it ? Was the Russian MoD unable to fund its show there ? If so, it looks bleak for the future of the airscene, as Russia has been doing much to provide display acts in the last years at big shows, and doing so, it did much to prevent the airscene to become poor with jetfighters becoming rare ... US and european air enthusiasts will clearly understand what this means. It is amazing. Possibly western politicians condemning Russia with all sorts of bans - for bad or good reasons - seem not to be aware that after all, the Russian Govt. keeps a huge capability to achieve attraction on people anywhere, with the Russian Knights or Sukhoi jets. This is Russian “ Soft Power “ efficiency, still effective even when their airplanes and pilots are cancelled from an airshow. And we have learnt that now, China also has a huge ability to use " Soft Power " with airshows as well.
If you have never been to LIMA before, be there in 2017, mainly if you have something to do with aviation video or photography. I dedicate this report to all the citizens of Langkawi, who have shown so much hospitality and who kindly helped with everything at any time. Huge thanks to all the LIMA 15 Public Relations staff for your very kind reception and for interviews, before you will see some more of my LIMA pictures published in a next book here in Europe.