All the action from AirPower05 at Zeltweg, Austria, held over 24/25 June. Text and pictures by Lucien Blok, Four Aces Aviation Photography
On Friday 24 and Saturday 25 June, the Zeltweg-Hinterstoisser airfield in Austria hosted AirPower05. Becoming recognised by an increasing number of aviation enthusiasts, the Zeltweg air show is a perfect event for photographers - the sun is behind you during most of the day and the Seckauer Alpine range provides a unique backdrop. Like previous years, Zeltweg offered a mixture of over two hundred military and civilian operated aircraft from twenty nations, thus upholding its place in the top of the international airshow establishment.
Not just a civil airfield, Zeltweg was also home to the 1st Staffel of Fliegerregiment No 2, flying the Saab J35Ö Draken. The Austrian Air Force's flight school (Fliegerschule) flying the Pilatus PC-7 'Viper' is also stationed at Zeltweg. To create space for the large event, the Fliegerschule relocated its fleet of trainer aircraft to nearby Linz-Hörsching Air Base for the duration. AirPower05 is organised jointly by the Austrian Air Force, the Styrian Province and the biggest sponsor of the event, Red Bull. For the Styrian Province, the biennial 'AirPower' air show is by far the biggest and most profitable event on the calendar - according to rough estimates by the regional tourism authorities, no less than fifteen million Euros is normally spent in the region by the crowd of up to 250,000 people - this year saw a new record, partially attributed to the splendid sunny weather on Friday and Saturday morning. Even the massive two-hour thunderstorm on Saturday (a déjà vu for those who also visited Zeltweg in 2003) could not detract the visitor numbers.
AirPower05 was the most important opportunity for the Austrian Air Force to publicly celebrate its fiftieth anniversary. Its origin in military aviation history was displayed by a unique Yak 11, a type that marked the very beginning of the Austrian Air Force in 1955. Later 'Team 2000' performed in their four Saab Safirs, a type that has flown with the Austrian 'Bundesheer-Pilotenausbildung' (Austrian AF pilot training) since 1964. A solo display was flown by the Saab 105 (in its tiger colour scheme), on the inventory for jet training since 1970.
For those enthusiasts in need of expanding their image collections of Austrian military hardware, AirPower05 offered nearly all types in current inventory. A single (former RAF) C-130K Hercules from 4th Transportstaffel at Linz-Hörsching Air Base was included in the static display, three of these transporters entering service in 2002, an investment which has already proven its value. Many important international missions have already been flown with these venerable Hercs, including relief flights for the Tsunami disaster and the terrorist attack in Beslan, Russia. Like previous years, the static display was 'Mission Impossible' for photographers, as ropes hung close to the aircraft and the public could pass on both sides. But flying display lasting over eight hours of almost-continuous flying, makes up for a lot of that.
AirPower05 marked the first major public display of a newcomer to the Austrian inventory, the F-5E Tiger II. These aircraft are only temporarily in Austrian service, as they're on loan from the Swiss Air Force. The Tigers have been acquired to close the gap between the 1960s Draken and the new Eurofighter Typhoon, of which the first deliveries are not expected until 2007 or 2008. Surprisingly, the F-5E was absent in the static display, but four examples from nearby Graz-Thalerhof Air Base performed on both days, flying a four-ship formation together with a six-ship formation of Saab 105s. The public was already offered a glimpse of the near future by a full-scale mock-up of the Eurofighter in Austrian colours, which of course drew lots of attention. It still remains to be seen if the first Eurofighter will be operational with the Austrian Air Force on time, to perform during the next edition of AirPower in 2007. This year, the German Luftwaffe sent two operational dual-seat Typhoons, recently delivered to JG 73 at Laage. Apparently, pilot training still has priority over display flying at Laage, as the display was flown by an EADS test pilot.
Coinciding with the presentation to the audience of the 'new' F-5Es, AirPower05 also marked the very last public demonstration of the legendary Saab Draken. Though upgraded to J35Ö standard, it was already somewhat outdated when it entered Austrian service in 1988. By the end of 2005 it will be over when Austria, as the last Draken operator, will finally retire the type. To mark this sad occasion, the crowd was offered the unique six-ship Draken formation for the last time. Later during the day that was followed by a solo-display of the well-known red-and-white Draken. With thanks to the Austrian Air Force, we have been able to see this legendary aircraft fly well into the 21st century!
The Austrian Air Force repeated the helicopter battle assault demonstration it first performed during AirPower03, suggesting this unique display could become a Zeltweg tradition. The crowd was treated with a massive fly-by of a mixture of nearly all helicopter types in Austrian service, like the AB-212, OH-58B Kiowa, SA-316B (Alouette III) and the recently acquired S-70A Blackhawk.
When visiting the airshow, it was nearly impossible to escape what seems to be Austria's national beverage (besides lager) - Red Bull! The company that produces this energy drink was not only the main sponsor of the show (thus making its presence very much felt on flags, signs and brochures), but the brand was also present in the flying display. It boasts a whole fleet of vintage aircraft, called the 'Flying Bulls', which includes a B-25J Mitchell, a T-28 Trojan, a F4U Corsair and a Douglas DC-6B (which was once used as a personal transport by Yugoslavian dictator Tito). Ironically, at Zeltweg the DC-6 transported thirteen high-ranking European Air Force chiefs to the show. The only airworthy Sea Vixen (former XP924), well-known because it looks like a flying tray of Red Bull cans in a television ad, was present as well, of course. Flying those old aircraft should not be taken for granted: the previously mentioned Corsair F4U for instance, is a demanding plane. Approximately forty maintenance hours are needed for every flight hour and the fuel consumption amounts to an average of four hundred litres per hour.
Besides the sponsored warbirds, there were several other vintage aircraft present during AirPower05. These included a former Swiss Air Force Vampire (retired in 1990) and two former Swiss AF Hunters (one of them a rare T68), all based in Switzerland. These three vintage jets flew an interesting 'heritage formation' with the Swiss display Hornet. AirPower05 also welcomed the sight of some visiting Eastern European air forces, including Romania with a single MiG-21 Lancer and an Antonov 26. Slovenia sent a recently acquired Cougar and the Hungarians offered a noisy display with their ever-impressive MiG-29 Fulcrum. But other than these, the show could not boast any other 'exotic' highlights.
Perhaps a nuisance for the military spotter, but a highlight to the general public, was the 'Red Bull Air Race World Series 2005' on Saturday. Nine world-class aerobatics pilots are racing a slalom course against the clock and each other in their Extra 300s and Sukhois around inflatable pylons, in what is called 'Formula 1 of the air'. Zeltweg was the third 'stop' in the 2005 World Series tour. Former US adversary pilot Mike Mangold came across the finish line eight seconds ahead of number two, the Hungarian Peter Besenyei. As he already won the second race in Rotterdam, Mangold then led the World Series. Other locations include Abu Dhabi, San Francisco and Budapest.
You can only think back and remember the 2000 air show at Zeltweg: many will never forget the Russian Mig-29 and Il-76 and the Ukranian Su-27 the organisers managed to attract back then. All we can do is hope that the next edition of AirPower at Zeltweg in 2007 will have some of the stars of 2000!