Following the announcement in 2012 that Kecskemét Airshow was going to take place in 2013 to mark the 75th Anniversary of the Hungarian Air Force, together with the renown reputation of being one of the best airshows in Europe and the promise of Eastern European military exotica, MAR members flocked towards Kecskemét Air Base on the first weekend of August to attend Kecskemét Airshow 2013.

Being located in Central Europe surrounded by various countries, Kecskemét Airshow always manages to attract varied aircraft types, including a good mix of Western & Eastern military hardware. This year was no different, with the main highlight being the Russian Air Force display team, the ‘Russian Knights’, flying 6 Su-27 Flankers.

The show itself was very challenging, not in terms of photography which was awesome since all days of the show were sunny, but in terms of keeping hydrated and focused since the temperatures reached highs of 38 degrees C on each day. Rumours about the Russian knights attending were confirmed when on the Wednesday before the show, the Russians turned up with 5 Su-27 flankers and an Il-76 in support, much to all aviation enthusiast’s joy, as most had never seen the Russian Air Force Demo displaying at any other event in Europe until this show. 

On Friday, we positioned ourselves at various designated spots specifically designed for spotters throughout the day in order to make best use of the available photo opportunities that would present themselves throughout the day. Several aircraft had already arrived on the Thursday before the show (Spanish Air Force Casa-295, Spanish Air Force Patrulla Aguila, Turkish Stars Display Team, Belgian Air Force C-130H, Austrian Air Force SAAB 105 & Pc-7, etc.) and some of them could be photographed from these spots in the morning, such as the Russian Air Force Il-76 and the Patrulla Aguila Display Team.

Our day kicked off with the arrival of two Airbus Casa C-295Ms acting as support aircraft, one from the Czech Air Force and one from the Polish Air Force, both bringing support equipment and personnel for the Czech Mi-35 hind demo, the Czech SAAB Gripen demo, the Czech L-159 ALCA demo, and the Polish Air Force Su-22 demo team, respectively.

Following the arrival of these support aircraft, a trio of Polish Air Force Su-22 fitters made a spectacular run in and break to land, one destined for the static display and the remaining fitters for the flying display. This set the mood nicely for the rest of the day as more and more aircraft from around Europe arrived and were seen holding in the skies above Kecskemet.

More arrivals in the morning consisted of a rarely seen Bulgarian Sukhoi Su-25UBK Frogfoot operated by the 1st Ground Attack Squadron from Bezmer Air Base, as well as a C27J Spartan acting as support. Adding to the static was a Ukrainian Air Force Sukhoi Su-27UB Flanker, originally hoped to be flying, but unfortunately relegated to static due to safety concerns. The Flanker pilots still managed to entertain all spotters by completing an aileron role following a touch and go, before breaking into the circuit. Supporting the Ukrainian fighter was an Antonov An-26 Curl. Further notable mentions for morning arrivals included a Slovakian air force Mig-29 for the static display sporting tiger markings, a Romanian C-27J Spartan and a Serbian Air Force An-26 as well as the rarely seen Wings of Storm Display Team from the Croatian Air Force. 

More arrivals were scheduled in the afternoon, including the arrival of the much anticipated Romanian Air Force Mig-21 Lancer that was to take part in the flying display and the Romanian Air Force IAR-330L that was also a first for many western European aviation enthusiasts. Other rotor highlights that arrived in the afternoon included a search and rescue Mi-17 Hip from Slovakia and an extremely rare Slovenian Air Force Bell-412. These were complemented by a German Navy Seaking Mk.41 (89+55) painted in a special scheme to mark the hundredth anniversary of the German Naval Air Arm, and a German Navy Dornier 228.

Additional helicopters at the show came in the form of two Belgian Air Force Agusta A-109s, and two Italian AW-139s, one belonging to the Italian Air Force and one belonging to the Italian Coast Guard. It is rumoured that the participation of the Italian military helicopters was to try an attract sales of Leonardo’s AW-139 for the Hungarian military, to replace the ageing hips for Search and Rescue (SAR) and other related duties. An C-27J Spartan belonging to the Reparto Sperimentale Volo was also present at the show, in an effort by Alenia to attract the sale of the aircraft type to replace the ageing An-26s in Hungarian Service.

The day ended with the arrival of the Royal Air Force, that participated with 2 RAF Hawk T1s belonging to 100 sqn and one Panavia Tornado Gr4 with serial ‘ZA602’ belonging to 15 squadron, also known as ‘Freddie’. In addition, some pilots also chose to practice their demos on Friday, including the Czech ALCA, the Romanian Mig-21 and the Orange Lion from the Royal Netherlands Air Force. 

Upon entering the show gates early on Saturday, we were greeted with a vast array of aircraft that served with the Hungarian Air Force. All aircraft were parked close to each other and the public could get quite close and personal with these aircraft, since most were also open for the public to either see the inside of the aircraft or the cockpit. These numerous historic aircraft coupled with the numerous stored Mig-29s and An-26s around the base created a unique setting that is not normally seen at airshows in Europe. Being one of the main bases of the Hungarian Air Force were most types of the air force are based, it was a unique experience to compare the aircraft of the past and the aircraft that currently serve with the Hungarian Air Force.

The airshow days were both blessed with clear blue skies and scorching temperatures, providing many photographic opportunities for us aviation enthusiasts. The most notable highlight were the displays by the Romanian Air Force Mig-21 Lancer and the display by the Russian Knights, a truly memorable experience seeing them display especially on Saturday in the Golden Light at sunset. At first there was some apprehension if they would make it for the display due to the fact that the Czech Mi-35 demo had left lots of grass on the runway that needed cleaning up and it was unsure whether the Knights would be allowed to take off in time before it got dark. However a few minutes later the green light was given and we were treated to an absolute spectacle of flight.

Even more memorable was the signature ‘boom’ heard in the sky as the Mig-21 engaged its afterburner. Needless to say, me and colleagues at MAR were beaming and smiling on both days as many spotting dreams came through during this show.

In addition to the foreign participants, the Hungarian Air Force were quite keen on displaying their military hardware, both in the static display and in the flying display. On both days of the show, the HuAF performed a series of flypasts using all aircraft within their inventory, starting with a pair of YaK-52s, a sole Mi-17 sporting the Hungarian Air Force Flag, and a sole Antonov An-26 flanked on each side by a pair of SAAB JAS-39D Gripens. . Following the formation with the An-26, the Gripens would break off and perform a simulated dog fight using flares, and the MI-17 would also perform a role demo, a real treat for all aviation enthusiasts present. Finally, a formation of 5 SAAB JAS-39C Gripens would then close the Hungarian Air Force celebrations.

In addition to the Romanian Mig and the Russian Knights, other airshow acts that brought along several cheers and applauds included the Polish Air Force Su-22 fitter demo team, the Frecce Tricolori and the Turkish Stars with their F-5 freedom fighters. However, after the Russian Knights, our votes for the best display team surely have to go to the Croatian Wings of Storm. The team were exceptional throughout the weekend, and put on some mighty and unique maneuvers throughout their routine that are not commonly seen among other display teams, especially in Europe.

In Hungary, there is a detachment of 3 C-17 Globemaster aircraft at PAPA Air base, the only active air base in Western Hungary. The base was selected as the Main Operating Base (MOB) hosting three SAC C-17 aircraft for NATO in 2007. Its multinational strategic airlift unit was officially activated on 27 July 2009 as part of the multinational Strategic Airlift Capability consortium. During the show, one of the based C-17s performed a role demo at the show, showing the superb capabilities of the C-17. In addition to the C-17, NATO also sent a Boeing E-3A Sentry Awacs for the static display, albeit being parked in a distant apron that could not be accessed by the general public during the public show days.

The Austrian Air Force is a common attendee at Kecskemet Air Show, owing to the close proximity between countries. This year was no different, with the Austrians sending over four aircraft for the show including 2 SAAB 105s and 2 Pilatus Pc-7 Aircraft. While one of the SAABs and one of the Pc-7s performed a flying display, the spare aircraft were towed to the apron and participated in the static part of the show. A bonus addition to the show was the visit by an Austrian Air Force Pc-6, that acted as a support aircraft for the other Austrian aircraft participating at the show.

Another strong supporter of Kecskemet Air Show is the Czech Air Force. In 2013, the Czech Air Force sent over an L-159 ALCA, a single seat SAAB JAS-39C Gripen ‘9240’, and a sole Mi-35 all for the flying display, in addition to the Casa C-295 that arrived on the Friday before the show to act as a support aircraft for all demos.

More regular visitors at Kecskemet airshow and at other European events were the Belgian Armed Forces together with the Royal Netherlands Air Force. Both Air Forces sent over their colourful F-16 demos. In addition to the F-16, the Belgian Air Force also sent over an additional 3 F-16s, one as a spare jet for the demo, a single seat version sporting tiger markings for the static display, and a two seat version also for the static display. Furthermore, the Belgians also sent over a C-130H Hercules as a support aircraft together with two Agusta A-109s that participated in the flying display.

The Slovenian Armed Forces are also regular attendees at Kecskemet. In addition to the rarely seen Bell 412HP, the Slovenian Air Force also sent its solo Pilatus PC-9M Hudournik demo to the show, demonstrating the super agility of the aircraft in a breathtaking demo. The spare aircraft was also towed to the static park for closer inspection by the general public.

Other visiting aircraft during the airshow weekend included a Dassault Falcon 900 from the Italian Air Force and a Swedish Air Force Gulfstream IV that brought VIPs to the show. In addition, despite the US sequestration from airshows that was in effect in 2013, a US Air Force Beech C-12C Huron normally based in Hungary took part in the static show.

No airshow would be the same without the usual assortment of civil aviation acts that fill up the static grounds and also complete the flying displays. Kecskemet 2013 was not different, with a multitude of Eastern European civil acts that are not normally seen on the west side of the European continent.

It was indeed a event to remember, hopefully to return soon in the European Display Calendar.