in Romania - Part one
ROMANIAN INTERNATIONAL AIR SHOW, MIHAIL KOGALNICEANU AIR BASE, 25-26 AUGUST
Roger Cook/Pynelea Photo Bureau and Hugo Mambour/AviaScribe took time out this summer to visit Romania, something that would have probably seen them imprisoned a few years ago!
The first really international airshow to take place in Romania since the thirties was organised at Mihail Kogalniceanu airbase on 25/26 August 2001. The Romanian International Airshow (ROIAS) was also the biggest air event ever organised in Romania to date. Mihail Kogalniceanu airbase, which is located at a few kilometres from the big coastal city of Constanza, is a mixed airfield with a civilian terminal. It serves as Constanta International Airport and used to be a popular destination for some package holidays to the Black Sea resort of Mamaia.
Themes of the show were the 50th anniversary of jet aviation in the air force and the future allegiance of the country to NATO. The organisers benefited from the advice of their British colleagues, responsible for the Royal International Air Tattoo. This was the first full-blown air show attempted by the Romanian Air Force, other previous events having been base open days mainly aimed at the local population. The air show had an admission price of 50,000lei (about £1.75) that included a printed flying schedule (RIAT take note!). All of the gate money was being donated to support various orphanages throughout Romania.
One hundred and twenty-one military aircraft from sixteen different countries were present. Although the 'official' stars of the airshow were the Italian national aerobatic team 'Il Frecce Tricolori', present for the first time in Romania, the most interesting visiting aircraft from a westerner's point of view were the MiG-29s of the 'Ukrainian Falcons', another Ukrainian AF Sukhoi Su-27, two Croatian PC-9 and their Antonov An-32 support aircraft. Curiously, Romania's Bulgarian and Hungarian neighbours did not participate, although a delegation from both countries visited the airbase with their respective An-26s on the Thursday before the show.
Nevertheless, the most attractive aircraft were, of course, those of the Fortele Aeriene Romane (Romanian Air Force). Each aircraft and helicopter type in service with the FAR, from the old H-5 (Ilyushin Il-28) to the UAV, was placed on static display. Furthermore, some aircraft of the Otopeni (Bucharest) museum had been repainted and transported to Mihail Kogalniceanu to head the static display line, which was imaginatively and sensibly laid out. Walking up the static line it just got better and better! Starting with an IAR 80, past Yak-23, Mig-15, Mig-17 and Mig-19, all borrowed from the Romanian Air Force Museum, to two variants of current Mig-21 aircraft - the Lancer A and Lancer C, recently retired Mig-23 to locally based Mig-29. Current helicopter types were represented by IAR-316 (Alouette III), IAR-330 (Puma) and a MI-8PS from the 90 ABT based at Otopeni. Star award of the static must go to Harbin HJ-5 408. Foreign Air Forces provided good support with Danish Air Force F-16C and F-16D, specially marked German Air Force Tornado 44+21 from JBG31, a Croatian Air Force PC-9 and two nicely marked F-16s from 143 Filo, Turkish Air Force. The Americans were there with two F-16Cs from 31 FW Aviano, an AH-64A and a brace of UH-60Ls of the US Army.
The highlight of the airshow was the daily opening flypast composed of no less than forty-six aircraft and helicopters of the FAR. Waves of current FAR types started with nine Mig-21 Lancers, followed by three IAR-330s, fifteen IAR-316s, three more IAR-330s, four Yak-52s, a C-130 with L-39s and six IAR-99s off each wing tip, six L-29s and the only three remaining Mig-23s - one two seater Mig-23UB that would also perform a solo display later in the day, and two single seat Mig-23MFs. The Mig-21s cheated by coming round again as three waves of three to bring up the rear. The fast jet aircraft operated from Borcea-Fetesti and the helicopters from Tuzla Air Bases. Ironically, no MiG-29 took part in the flypast (Mihail Kogalniceanu is the home base of the Grupul 57 and its MiG-29).
The flying started gently with some light aircraft (Croatian AF PC-9), gliders and parachute displays but the heavy metal arrived later with Swedish AF Saab 39 Gripen, Austrian AF Saab 35 Draken, Czech AF L-159A, Frecce Tricolori and Belgian and Dutch AF F-16 solo displays. The noise really started building with the Ukrainian AF solo SU-27, French AF Mirage 2000 and the Ukrainian Falcons Team - the six attractively marked Mig-29s. The flying display finished with a mass parachute drop from a C-130 and two AN-26s. Although one of the very last operational 'Floggers' (the two-seater MiG-23UB) performed a solo display, no H-5 was seen in the air. The crash of H-5 n°310 on 21 July while rehearsing before its participation in RIAT at Cottesmore could indeed lead to the 'early' withdrawal of those veteran aircraft used for reconnaissance missions in the FAR. Three aircraft (one twin-seater and two single-seaters) were still airworthy in August.
The first ROIAS was successful thanks to a good mix of local and foreign aircraft, the particular tastes of both local and foreign visitors being satisfied. It remains to be seen if a second airshow will ever take place, as, despite extensive advertising, only the local population and a few hard-core enthusiasts seemed to have attended. The crowd was very enthusiastic (and very well dressed!) who applauded every aerobatic manoeuvre, with the Ukrainian Falcons, Frecce Tricolori and RAF Harrier receiving very voluble accolades.
It was great to watch an air show in good weather with temperatures in the mid 30s, amongst a very enthusiastic and appreciative crowd. Romanians find it difficult to purchase imported goods and there is a restriction on goods brought back into the country - as a consequence of this, quality cameras are difficult to come by and we received some interested (envious?) looks while hauling our expensive gear about. Strange to notice - no cameras means no ladders!
As Roger walked away from the crowd line towards the end of the show the Harrier was just about to start its display - several Romanians enthusiastically accosted him pointing to the sky with the words 'Arrier! 'Arrier! A refreshing change as us Western Europeans can get a bit blasé at times with the high quality air shows in the UK and Western Europe. Well done, Romania!