Feel the Power
Electrifying a 290.000 people crowd in Styria.
Air Base Hinterstoisser in Styria held its bi-annual AirPower Flugtag last June 1st and 2nd, 2011. Overall quality of the event was such high that it took a few weeks to select a few shots only of what happened. While most military airshows have closed in NATO countries in the past twenty years, it must be known that AirPower is the only huge and regular air event that was invented anywhere in Europe since the end of the Cold War. First AirPower was in 2001. As such the Austrian Forces made it the clever way to my point of view : they understood that instead of holding anual open days and so often sedate types of events - always poorly attractive for sponsors and the public, and ignored by national media and TV chanels - the forces created a sole annual national - and international - airshow, assuming that it had to be their only military showcase in two years. As a matter of facts, they are attracting Austrian visitors not only holding strong displays of power - involving their helicopters, C-130s, paratroops, and Typhoons - but they are highly supported by the Government of the Land of Styria who was wise enough to understand that a big airshow is healthy for tourism. During AirPower, all hotels inside a 80 km area around the airfield are fully booked. As everyone knows, Red Bull company is always ready to provide strong sponsoring to any event involved with airplanes and high speed stuffs, and so they sized the opportunity of creating AirPower with the Austrian forces as a kind of showcase of their own. Interestingly enough, AirPower is the only air event in the world where Red Bull flying stuffs from both North America - such as the Bo-105 ... - warbirds from Salzbug's Flying Bulls, as well as aerobatic teams supported by the company - flying gliders or Zlins ... - are all gathered on the same site. AirPower is a wedding between the Austrian forces, Styria and a ' rich ' private drinks company having love with airplanes.
Somewhat lazy airshow organisers - I have heard so many complaining ...- must remind that sponsorhip and money do not fill the bill alone to secure a good display line-up. Look alone the case at Zeltweg again. Not only the AirPower show coordinators are from the Air Force, but they are real air enthusiasts calling guys and headquarters all over the world to gather all what is possible to imagine and get to the show. As far as I guess, they may be already taking a few steps forward for the next show... It looked unbelievable that the Royal Saudi Air Force performed at Zeltweg on July 1st, as their first ever display in Europe, as a starter for a three weeks European tour but according to several sources, that tour looks as it was confirmed far after having secured the AirPower plan alone. Amazingly these gentlemen flying the Royal Saudi Hawks jets acquainted themselves well with local geography and the rain, having to fly around dark green mountains. They flew under conditions that they may never have met before, above the sunny and dry desert over Saudi Arabia and over Al Ain (UAE). On Friday 1st, one of the Royal Saudi Hawks suffered a small bird strike that curtailed their show, but the Hawk was made ready again to fly the day after (!) Congratulations to all these Saudi chaps. They were joined by two Royal Saudi Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon jets for the static display.
Austrian people are lucky to share their frontiers with no less than eight separate countries : Switzerland, Germany, the Czech Republik, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia and Italy. Closest frontier to Zeltweg Air Base is Slovenia, and Croatia is not much further. Interestingly, Croatian Air Force founder, Rudolph Perezin's MiG-21 is displayed in the Air Force Museum that is located on Hinterstoisser. It is a Cold War relic not to be missed. Croatian Air Force national team are breathtaking ' Krila Oluje ' flying nine Pilatus PC-9 and always taking part to the show. All eight countries contribute at their best to the AirPower display. Having been explained many times - by airshow coordinators - how difficult it is these days to get a MiG-29 in a display flying program, the Slovak Air Force MiG-29 solo display was secured as a precious gem by the AirPower team who had the clever idea to introduce it each day, as the last jet to fly, before the Italian Air Force Frecce Tricolori closed the show. We've been nearly lucky enough to see the solo MiG-29 display from Poland as well, but that polish aircraft finally remained parked in the static display. Coming back to the Slovak Fulcrum, the extended display by her pilot was absolutely gorgeous, showing sheer power and sleek lines, and flying with grace. The slovak guy also cut his show with a magnificent touch-and-go, flying into the dawning sun. Being a Central Europe traveller, I am happy to guess it may not be my last MiG-29 display, as I still haven't seen any other twin-engine jet fighter that match a well flown Fulcrum for a complete flying routine. The Fulcrum is so charismatic ..., and is growling quite finely.
As another proof this show looks like no other ones in Europe, I always noticed - unlike most airshows manage to - AirPowers always introduce rare airplanes. As said, strong sponsorship and clever organisation help to. The EADS Heritage Flight Me-262 was not flown much in airshows, and probably it flew for the first time abroad Germany, here at Hinterstoisser. Noticeably - and fortunately - this twin-jet german warplane was easier to fly as the real ones were, being a replica with ' F-5 ' types on engines that do not sound as real ones may have. Geri Kratenbuhl was flying the Me-262 , and famous Bf-109 G-4 ' Rote Sieben ' - also from EADS Flight - was part of these warbird park with Klaus Plasa at the stick and rudders. The planned Saab J-29 Tunnan failed to make it from Sweden probably for serviceability reasons at the time, but I have few doubts it might fly in to next AirPower. Another vintage jet, the MiG-15 SB Lim-2 from the Fundacja Polskie Orly was a real surprise. Coming back to the Fulcrum, it was exceptionnal to compare 50 years of Mikoyan design with this MiG-15, in an airshow organised in Styria. Even in Moscow I have not seen a flying MiG-15 and I will not expect to. Red Bull introduced a freshly delivered DB-5J from the States. The gentleman flying the mini jet almost featured like Roger Moore in Octopussy. As a frenchman it is a long time since I had witnessed four Alouette IIIs flying alltogether as a perfect aerobatic team. The Austrian Forces run special formations for one show only..., such as this one, and also we saw a four Saab-105s team reminding the 1970s ' Karo As ' national team famed in the first british Air Tattoos. The Eurofighter Typhoon was displayed for the first time ever by the Autrian forces as a solo item, and also as an impressive duo having a dogfight above the superb mountains. Amazingly one of these Typhoons formated closely and flew with a C-130 (!)
No wonder how Zeltweg is attractive for participating Air Forces, as no less than 290.000 people, not only from Austria, but also from Germany, Italy and central Europe.., gathered on the airfield for two days. The atmosphere surrounded by jet engines is unique, nearly like a rock concert celebrated with Red Bull drinks and beers. Some teams managed to capture the crowds emotion more than they may do anywhere else, even in their home show, electrifying people such as the Turkish Air Force Turkish Stars do with their six noisy Northrop F-5 A/B Freedom Fighter. Suffice to say their dynamic and entertaining speaker does part of the job himself attracting everyone's attention, never adding sedate details nor stupid comments. Obviously in 2011, the Turkish Air Force has established as one of the main players in the european airscene. It is true that Turkish Stars are already 20 years old and they are somewhat part of the club of the very experienced national teams. I remind laughs in crowds when they had started two decades ago. But never laugh too much as new teams may be the last ones to fly and close the shows in a few years times if such great ones are the british ' Reds ' happened to disappear on some kind of political or financial grounds... Noticeably newly Turkish F-16 solo display - not taking part to AirPower this year... - was awarded the Display Sword at RIAT 2011 in England for the best flying demo... What a trophy for a first display season. Neighbouring Austria, Swiss Air Force also make a stir at Zeltweg with their breathtaking solo F/A-18 Hornet and the Patrouille Suisse. Turkish Stars and Patrouille Suisse are not alone on top of the hills, as AirPower is a perfect theater of the sky for Frecce Tricolori. But as the Frecce are a full show alone, here is a next story to come ...