Danish Air Show 2018

Danish Air Show 2018

Report and photos by Gabriele Rivera

October 23, 2018

“Good things come in small packages”. This is the first idea that I have thought of after having been one of the 25,000 people who attended the Danish Air Show 2018; the Flyvevåbnet (Royal Danish Air Force) sets up an air show every two years, rotating the location among her three bases, Karup, Skrydstrup e Aalborg, which has hosted this year’s edition. Air Transport Wing Aalborg, home base of the 721 Squadron, equipped with four C-130J-30 Hercules and three CL-604 Challengers, shares the runway system with the civilian airport, so the dynamic exhibitions had to be interleaved with the liners’ traffic.

The airshow has been a one-day event held on Sunday, but the previous day over 250 spotters and journos had the opportunity to attend to the rehearsals and arrivals; this spotter-day has benefited of the exceptional long-lasting wonderful weather that has characterised northern Europe this spring. The general impression regarding the dynamic performances of most of the aircraft involved has been one of impressive level, flown at a reasonable low altitude and very aggressive.

One understandable exception has been the exhibition of two Vampires and a MiG-15 UTI, all of them operated by the Norwegian Air Force Historical Squadron; due to their particular status of warbirds they have flown several passages, some of whom all together, respecting their aged airframes. The MiG-15, a Polish-built SB Lim-2 produced in 1952, is painted and marked as “RED 18”, paying tribute to Yuri Gagarin, the Russian cosmonaut who, before to start the training to become the first human to reach the outer space, was a military pilot flying a MiG-15 based few miles from the Norwegian border.

A part worthy of praise has been the one performed by the Hercules’ crews; obviously, being Aalborg their home base, they have shown to know how to handle a deck, flying low level in a rough fashion and closing a performance with a touch of humour; after having stopped, the Herky opened the ramp and the loadmaster came down holding a rope tied to the airframe, pretending to pull backwards the bulky plane.

Another accent must be placed on one feature that is disappeared from several airshows, due to safety reasons; the launch of flares. In this event many participants have been allowed to make intense use of this spectacular opportunity, always deeply appreciated by the photographers.

In the period from 1964 to 1986 Aalborg has been the base for fifty-one Starfighters, assigned to 723 and 726 Squadrons; quite obviously, the gate guardian is an F-104 and the aircraft on the pole sports a mannequin as a pilot, really a nice idea! During more than 20 years of service the F-104s flown over 141,000 hours. Out of 51, 22 were bought from Canada, and after 32 years another Canadian Starfighter, this time with Norwegian insignia, was bound to land on this runway; the well-known CF-104D “637 LN-STF”, the unique flying Starfighter in Europe, was the special guest of the airshow, performing her first exhibition outside Norway since her debut the previous year.

Everybody knew that in the previous hours the aircraft had just executed her first domestic flight in Stavanger (long awaited after 2017’s last minute cancellation); regrettably, when the Spotter’s Day organizers asked all of us to leave the base, no news of the Starfighter’s take-off from Norway was known, so trepidation about her timetable started to increase. Waiting and hoping for her arrival small groups of photographers aligned along the approach path outside the base, snapping pictures of the incoming traffic.

After a while planes started to take-off in the opposite direction; those of us which were still deciding about going to the other side of the runway were caught by surprise by the very sudden appearance of the Starfighter which, performing a wide bank on the left, gave us a few moments to shoot a couple of pictures of her flying in a wonderful afternoon light. I am quite sure that hearing the characteristic sound of the J79, together with that few perfect seconds of flight, will be a remembrance for which I will never forget.

On Sunday, the day of the airshow, weather decided not to play ball; heavy rain was predicted in a few hours, and sadly in a few hours forecast became reality. Visiting the static area reserved some interesting views; the Royal Danish Air Force brought every type of asset of her inventory, opening the hangars and letting everyone to understand how maintenance is performed on Hercules and Fighting Falcons. An interesting display was an F-16 exhibited with the entire panoply of guided bombs and other payloads.

Another peculiar hardware on display were the items used by Danish forces in the arctic theatre; Denmark has the responsibility for the defense of Greenland and the Faroe Islands, so operating in a such harsh environment is a must for the country’s armed forces. One of the task of the 721 Squadron is the logistic support of men and stations based in Greenland; an impressive experience in CDS (Container Delivery Systems) airdrop operations has been gained year after year, experience usefully exploited during redeployments in Afghanistan. Looking at the examples of droppable loads one interesting detail meets the eye; at the bottom of each of them there are one or more layers of honeycombed cardboard, capable of absorbing the impact with the terrain.

One intriguing item on display is a black Chevrolet Camaro christened Bosnia-Express; the car belongs to Helge Meyer, a Danish special forces officer who decided to offer himself to bring medicine and other much needed stuff to the victims of war fro Germany to Bosnia-Herzegovina. The car underwent several upgrades, like a nitrous oxide booster system, steel and Kevlar plates to protect the driver, a ram to remove obstacles, foam-filled tires and infrared illuminator, allowing Meyer to drive in the dark keeping the lights off. Last but not least, the black paint absorbed the infrared signature of this very special sports car, which allowed Meyer to perform numerous humanitarian missions

The airshow starts with over sixty skydivers that, jumping from two Hercules, try to perform the biggest jump ever attempted in Denmark. After several dynamic exhibitions it’s time for the Air Power Demo; the previous day’s rehearsal had let us watch the evolutions of two AS550 Fennec, one EH-101 Merlin and one MH-60R Seahawk, reinforced on Sunday with an unexpected “attack” brought by four RDAF F-16s, covering their passages with an intense use of flares. One can only imagine the stunned expressions of the passengers seated in the Ryanair Boeing taxiing in the midst of the action!

As expected the rain started to pour down, and as it intensified, a growing fear started to spread among many of us; will the Starfighter take to the sky? A few minutes later the answer came in the form of an intermittent howl; the F-104, after having left the apron, started to cover the taxiway like a catwalk model, under the gaze of hundreds of excited people. The take-off and the following six minutes of passages went on under the worst rain of the day, but the emotion to witness the flight of such a beautiful aircraft is not easy to describe. I think that the Starfighter’s performance in Aalborg (as already said, it was her debut outside Norway) has grab the whole scene, winning the contest for the most admired aircraft with the Ukrainian Su-27, whose display, an exhibition of sheer power topped with a generous release of flares, has in any case been one of the most impressive performance of this event.

Pity for the Sunday’s weather, but Danish Air Show has really been a satisfying experience; add to this the opportunity to pay a visit to the local Defence and Garrison Museum, where several planes (including a Danish F-104) and tanks are on display inside a German-built World War II hangar. The Royal Danish Air Force invites everybody to attend the next edition of the Air Show, which will be held in Karup in June 2020. See you there!

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Gabriele Rivera on Email
Gabriele Rivera
Photojournalist at Aviation Photography Digest
Gabriele was born in Turin, Italy, grew up in Sicily and now lives in Rome. His love for aviation goes back to the days when he was seven years old, he started to collect the ‘History of Aviation’ sold weekly at the nearby newsstand. With that, he realized that his goal was to become a military pilot. This dream met a harsh reality when, during the medical tests, a defect in his chromatic sense of sight was discovered.

His interest in photography arose a few years later, when he bought from a colleague his first single-lens reflex camera, a Pentax ME Super. Then everyday life took its toll; working as an IT analyst, studying for an MD in political science and starting a family left no time for enjoying his old interest for aviation. One day in 2008, he decided to revive the passion, starting again to take pictures of aircraft each time he has a chance. Now, using Canon gear, he is striving to become a photojournalist.

Gabriele can be reached at: [email protected]
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