At the Hop(sten)
Geoff Stockle & Paul Downes weren't just in Germany for the footie...
Saturday 8 September dawned cloudy, rainy and windy over much of central Europe, not least at Rheine-Hopsten, a mere stone's throw into Germany across the Dutch border. This resulted in some very sad faces on the 35,000 visitors (with a substantial quantity of Brits) making their way here for the free open day and airshow celebrating 40 years of this airbase and its resident Jagdgeschwader 72 "Westfalen". However as the first buses made their way from the surrounding car parks on to the base the sky was beginning to clear and resulted in a day of blustery showers interspersed with some glorious bursts of well-timed sunshine.
Since 1961 some 350,000 flying hours have been accumulated here on three types of aircraft. The wing was originally a dual-role fighter bomber unit (Jagdbombergeschwader 36) equipped with the F-84F Thunderstreak. 1965 saw the Starfighter era begin at Hopsten - like many other units that flew the immortal '104 it suffered a high attrition rate, but nevertheless accumulated 50,000 hours by 1971. The first F-4F arrived in November 1974 and the type is still in service, however with a rationalisation of the Luftwaffe due to the newly re-united Germanys during 1991 it was upgraded to become a pure fighter type, hence the change in title from a fighter-bomber unit to a pure fighter squadron and renumbering in line with the others from JBG36 to JG72. It seems unlikely that the F-4's replacement, the Taifun, will be seen here as the base is planned to close in 2004. Disappointing to many visitors was the total lack of any preserved previous types - not even a gate guard - indeed the only F-104G airframe was a complete wreck, visible only from the landing approach on the Friday.
As a Phantom base, the open day became a mecca for phabulous Phantom phanatics and I'm sure they didnt go home disappointed. Some 25 Phantoms were on view, but the only foreign visitors came from Turkey which sent two new F-4E2020 upgraded machines from 111 Filo. The Greeks pulled their two promised F-4Es at the last minute. Its a pity that Spain couldnt have been persuaded to attend and with the recent Israeli participation at NATO shows well, maybe next time!
For the event the home team had painted up 36+37 in a stunning national colours scheme, complete with a Starfighter outline underneath. This joined the other two current F-4F specials - the overall blue 38+31 from JG73 "Steinhoff" and the gorgeous 38+39 of JG74 "Molders" in its blue/white Bavarian check scheme. JG71 "Richtofhen" must have felt very left out, but at least their ordinary machine on static (38+32) was absolutely pristine.
As well as the special scheme Phantoms, the Germans had all of their other special schemes on view; the two tiger Tornadoes (46+44 from JBG32 and 44+65 from AG51), "Black Thunder" 125,000 hrs Tornado from JBG31 and the Mig-29 29+20 from JG73 which was used as the display ship.
The static park featured most current German types along with Danish, Dutch and Belgian F-16s, a pair of French Mirage F1CTs, Swiss F/A18C and a sizeable Italian contingent of Tornado IDS, AMX, and pairs of MB339CD and F104s. Perhaps of most interest to the enthusiasts were the two Turkish F-4E-2020 upgrade aircraft, resplendent in ex-USAF 'Egyptian 1' scheme and with a dorsal blade aerial as the only indication of change. Speaking of ex-USAF aircraft, one German impostor was F-4E 40+72, ex-75-0627 in use as a GIA. From a distance, initial hopes were of a Holloman based aircraft making a trek across the pond for the show, but closer examination proved otherwise!
The flying display was split into morning and afternoon sessions, though both were similar in content and ran superbly with immaculate timing - no gaps at all. The home team provided the special scheme machine for a rip-roaring solo display and a four-ship flew a couple of formation flybys with a noisy touch-and-go from each. A further based machine was used in a couple of races against a souped-up drag bike and AC Cobra. From poor German translation it seems as though the F-4 won, which I find surprising sure the Phantom can move when it's wound up, but from a standing start?! It's not the most sprightly of jets. Other displays were provided by the Belgian Alpha Jet, Mirage 2000C, Swiss F/A18C, Danish F-16A and various German types of which the water drop by a CH-53G, two SAR UH1Ds and the aerobatic performance of a HEER MBB BO105 were notable.
The finale of the afternoon session was a real occasion - after its solo display the special scheme Mig-29 joined the three special scheme Phantoms for a couple of formation passes bringing a very colourful end to a highly enjoyable show.
One note on an absentee - the promised RAF Tornado F3 failed to turn up, missing an excellent opportunity for a wind up - if a 5 Squadron machine had turned up, a bit of 'zapping' could have resulted in a very pointed message to the assembled crowds concerning a certain 5-1 victory a mere week earlier!