Athens Flying Week is considered Greece’s annual international aviation event, distinguished as one of the most successful aerial events in southeast Europe. The event consists of an entire week dedicated to aviation in numerous ways, such as themed events in the city, private and educational visits within Tanagra Air Base, a two-day main event at Tanagra Air Base and finally departures day. MAR visited Tanagra Air Base from the 3rd till the 6th of September, covering the rehearsals day, the two-day main event (public days) and departures day. This year’s participants consisted mostly of military assets, with a couple of civilian operated aircraft on display. 

This year’s 9th edition of Athens Flying Week took place on the 4th and 5th of September at Tanagra Air Base. Tanagra Air Base is home to the 114th Combat Wing, within the Hellenic Air Force, home to the 331st and 332nd All-Weather Squadrons. Both 331st and 332nd squadrons operate the French-built Dassault Mirage 2000 fighter jet. The squadron’s mission is to maintain a high level of readiness and effectiveness. It is achieved by the appropriate organization, training of personnel and maintenance of the available means and systems. Additionally, the undertaking and carrying out of air operations, at any given time, in total success.

On Saturday and Sunday, the gates opened at 10:00 for the general public to enter the show grounds and enjoy a good number of aircraft on static display. The flying display was scheduled to commence at 1500 on Saturday and 1230 on Sunday. The aerial display was divided into two parts. The Hellenic Armed Forces opened the flying program on both days, followed by the international participants that went on until late in the evening.

The static display was divided into two areas, on the west side, one could photograph five rotary assets from both the Hellenic Army and Hellenic Navy in the ideal morning sunlight, whilst also one could perfectly photograph a stored Hellenic Air Force C-130H. On the East side of the airfield, assets from the Hellenic Air Force, Danish Air Force, German Air Force, Austrian Air Force, Italian Air Force and Royal Saudi Arabian Air Force were on display. 

Without any shadow of a doubt, the main highlight of this year’s show was the Hellenic Air Force’s Supermarine Spitfire Mk.IXc with serial number “MJ755”.  This iconic warbird arrived in Greece on the 27th of May, 2021 after a three-year restoration project. This airframe was fully restored to flying condition at Biggin Hill Heritage Hanger at the former RAF base “RAF Biggin Hill”. During the Spitfire’s display, all background music was turned off, the euphonious Merlin engine sound pleased our ears while screaming in the skies above us. The pilot, Dan Griffith, flew a phenomenal display to the crowd’s amusement, displaying the Spitfire’s great maneuverability, speed, and elegance in the sky.

The Hellenic Air Force participated in this year’s AFW with a very good number of its assets, displayed both in the static and flying displays, such as the Tecnam P-2002JF, Dassault Mirage 2000, Lockheed Martin F-16, North American T-2 Buckeye, T-6 Texan, Lockheed C-130 Hercules, McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom, Eurocopter Super Puma, Zeus Demo team, and a Canadair CL-415 Superscooper.

The newly acquired Tecnam P-2002JT basic trainer opened the flying display program on both days with a nice low fly-by on the runway flying directly from Tatoi Air Base, home of the Hellenic Air Force Air Training Academy, and part of the 360th Air Training Squadron (THALIS). The P-2002JF with serial numbers “336” and “337”, opened the flying displays on Saturday and Sunday respectively. This aircraft is currently replacing the ageing T-41D Mescalero in the Airforce’s inventory for basic trainer aircraft.

The Canadair CL-415 Super-scooper is the workhorse during the forest fire season in Greece. Part of the 133 Combat Wing and 383 MEEA Special Operations & Air Fire Fighting Squadron (PROTEAS), this CL-415 with serial number “2049” flew directly from its home Thessaloniki Air Base (LGTS) on both days to perform a spectacular low water drop run in front of a numerous crowd. A total of seven CL-415s are currently in service with the Hellenic Air Force.

One of the most exciting and thrilling aerial displays at this year’s event was a dog fight act between a Hellenic Dassault Mirage 2000-5EG and a Lockheed Martin F-16C. The Mirage 2000-5 with serial number “555” forms part of the 114 Combat Wing and 331 All-Weather Squadron (THISEAS) based at Tanagra Air Base, while the F-16C with serial number “068” forms part of the 111 Combat Wing and 341st Fighter Squadron (VELOS) based at Nea Anchialos Air Base. The pair performed some breathtaking combat manoeuvres during their display, showcasing the ability of both jets and their capability to execute tactical manoeuvres during this dog fight act. Another Mirage 2000-5BG with serial number “509” was also displayed in the static park. A total of forty-two Mirage 2000 variants and one hundred fifty-four F-16 variants are currently in service in the Hellenic Air Force.

Two F-4E Phantoms flew in from Andravida Air Base (LGAD), home of the 117th Combat Wing. Both F-4’s that belong to the 338th Squadron (ARIS), flew in over the runway accompanied by the previously mentioned Mirage 2000 and F-16 in a spectacular four-ship flyby. Carrying serial numbers “01507” and “71755”, both F-4s simulated a low altitude airfield attack at Tanagra Air Base. Another F-4 Phantom with a serial number of “01530” was also displayed in the static park. A total of thirty-three F-4E AUPs are currently in service within the Hellenic Air Force.

As mentioned earlier, a stored Lockheed C-130H was also noted at the static park. Carrying serial number “743”, this airframe is seen in very good condition, despite being in storage for a couple of years. Currently, the Hellenic Air Force has less than ten active C-130’s in its fleet. This airframe was part of the 112th Combat Wing and 356th Tactical Transport Squadron (IRAKLIS) based at Elefsis Air Base (LGEL).

The North American T-6A Texan II with serial number “036” was also displayed in the static park, not a common sight for the Hellenic Air Force’s “Daedalus” Demo Team not to perform its stunning aerial display. The Daedalus Demo Team was formed in 2005 following intensive training with USAF flight instructors at the 120th Air Training Wing in Kalamata Air Base. A total of five pilots from the 361st Air Training Squadron were trained and two were finally chosen to be display pilots of the newly formed Demo Team. On Sunday, 18th September 2005, the T-6A Demo Team performed its first public display in front of the crowd at Tanagra International Airshow “Archangel”, held in honour of the Hellenic Air Force’s Patrons, Archangels Michael and Gabriel. A total of forty-three T-6As are currently in active service in the Hellenic Air Force’s inventory, all based at the 120th Air Training Wing, 361st (MYSTRAS) and 364th (PELOPS) Air Training Squadron at Kalamata Air Base (LGKL).

Another highlight at this year’s show was the North American T-2C Buckeye. This airframe with serial number “158910” was seen in the static park. Part of the 120th Air Training Wing, 362nd (NESTOR) and 363rd (DANAOS) Air Training Squadrons based at Kalamata Air Base, a total of four T-2Cs and eight T-2Es are currently in service in the Hellenic Air Force. The T-2 Buckeye is used by the Air Force as an advanced jet trainer and a total of forty T-2Es have been in service since 1976. Further to these, an additional twenty-two T-2C have been delivered to Greece over the years to be used both in active service and for spare parts.

The Eurocopter AS332C1 Super Puma with Serial number “2780” performed a very nice display, showcasing its abilities in the crucial role in the SAR sector. Its delightful blue and grey camouflage in the blazing Greek sunlight made this helicopter very pleasant to be photographed. This multi-role helicopter is ideal for combat missions and SAR missions due to its great resilience, reliability and flexibility in all weather conditions and terrains. All twelve Hellenic Super Pumas form part of the 122nd Combat Wing, 384th Search and Rescue Squadron (PUMA), based at Elefsina Air Base (LGEL).

The Hellenic Air Force’s F-16 Demo Team, “Zeus” displays the Air Force’s airpower by exhibiting the professionalism and skills of the Air force’s pilots. The team’s name and callsign, “ZEUS”, represents the father of the Olympian Gods of ancient Greek Mythology. Another abnormal occurrence was the absence of the “colour-full” F-16, normally used during the displays. The team performed its first-ever display on the 7th November 2010 and celebrated its tenth anniversary last year.

This Lockheed Martin F-16C Block-52 with serial number “525” was used for the aerial display, forms part of 115th Combat Wing, 343rd Squadron (ASTERI) based at Souda Air Base (LGSA). This squadron’s F-16s carry a blue tail-band with yellow stars, relating to the squadron’s name. All Hellenic F-16s have this so-called “Aegean Ghost” camouflage colour scheme, but in this particular squadron, all F-16C Block-52 models have a special coating called “Have-Glass II”, which help to reduce the Radar Cross Section of the aircraft. Together with its “Have-Glass” and “Aegean Ghost” paint, this “dirty” metallic-looking scheme looks as fabulous as it can be.

One of the main sponsors and supporters of the Athens Flying Week, is Greece’s national flag carrier airline, Aegean Airlines. Showcasing its brand-new state of the art Airbus A320Neo (New Engine Option), the airline offered a spectacle in the air on both Saturday and Sunday. Sporting the airline’s new livery, both A320N’s with registrations “SX-NEB” and “SX-NED” performed fly-bys together with the Zeus Demo Team to close the show on Saturday and together with the Royal Saudi Hawks Display Team to close the show on Sunday while the audience stood on their feet for Greece’s National anthem. This patriotic closing (and the strong number of Hellenic military assets) was all due to the celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the Greek revolution which gave the people of Greece independence from the Ottoman empire.

The airline’s new logo is part of a new era of growth as Greece’s flag carrier celebrated its 20th-anniversary last year. It features a modernized take on the old design featuring two seagulls, with the whites and silver blues of the Greek skies and the vibrant blue of the Aegean Sea. The sharp edges and rounded details also evoke classical Greek Architecture. Aegean Airlines currently operate five A320Neo aircraft from a total fleet size of fifty aircraft. The Airline is set to receive around forty-five new aircraft by the year 2025, consisting of a mix of A320 and A321 Neo Aircraft.

Hellenic Navy at AFW21

The Hellenic Navy is made up of a total of four Navy Aircraft Squadrons, based at Elefsis (LGEL) and Kotroni (LGKN). Its state-of-the-art Sikorsky S-70B Aegean Hawk, forming part of the 2nd Helicopter Squadron based at Kotroni Naval base, Marathonas, Greece represented the Navy at Athens Flying Week this year both in the static and flying displays.  

The squadron operates eleven S-70B helicopters, eight of which are designated as S-70B-6 configured with analogue flight instruments and three more modern S-70B helicopters configured with a glass cockpit. The first S-70B-6 was delivered to the Hellenic Navy in April 1997. We took our time to well observe and chat with the crew of the S-70B-6 with serial number “PN56” on the static park. As the crew well explained, all helicopters are fitted with high tech systems, to be able to accomplish missions such as anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, surface surveillance and Search and Rescue missions. We also had the opportunity to photograph another S-70B-6 with serial number “PN53” in Saturday’s flying display and an S-70B with serial number “PN59” in Sunday’s display. 

Hellenic Army at AFW21

The Hellenic Army had its fair share of assets displayed at this year’s Athens Flying Week. The Boeing AH-64A+/DHA Apache, CH-47D/SD Chinook, the Bell Helicopters OH-58D Kiowa, UH-1H Huey, and an NH Industries NH-90TTH were all displayed in the static park. These assets also performed a spectacular flying display on both public days. During the flying display, the Hellenic Army showcased its abilities in a Close Air Support (CAS) evacuation scenario, a unique spectacle to watch most of the Army’s assets all operating together.

The Hellenic Army’s aviation assets are stationed in numerous squadrons divided into two Army Aviation Divisions and four Army Aviation Battalions that operate from a total of four different bases in Greece. These bases are Alexandria (LGAX), Megara (LGMG), Sedes (LGSD) and Stefanovikon (LGSV). The Army Aviation School is stationed at Alexandria Air Base, while the only squadron based at Sedes is the 307TSYAY (Hellenic Army Aviation Maintenance). 

The Boeing AH-64DHA Apache with serial number “ES1024” on static display and AH-64A+ with serial number “ES1007” in flying display, form part of 1st and 2nd Army Aviation Divisions respectively and both are based at Stefanovikon Air Base, Thessaly, Greece. The Hellenic Army operates a total of twenty-eight AH-64’s, nineteen AH-64A+, and nine AH-64DHA variants. All the AH-64A variants were delivered to the Hellenic Army in December 1995, while the AH-64DHA variants were delivered in March 2007 and April 2008. 

The Boeing CH-47SD with serial number “ES914” on static display and the CH-47D with serial number “ES929” in the flying display both form part of the 4th Army Aviation Battalion and are assigned to 1LE/2LE squadrons based at Megara Air Base, West Attica, Greece. The Army operates a total of nineteen CH-47D variants and six CH-47SD variants. The first CH-47’s arrived in Greece in November 1989 and recently received the last batch of ex-United States Army CH-47D’s from November 2016 till May 2019. 

The Bell Helicopters, OH-58D Kiowa with serial numbers “ES577” on static display and “ES529” in the flying display also form part of 1st and 2nd Army Aviation Divisions and are both based at Stefanovikon Air Base, Thessaly, Greece. Seventy former United States Army Kiowa Warriors arrived in Greece by ship at the port of Volos in May 2019. The deal included thirty-six fully operational helicopters, twenty-four incomplete models for training purposes and ten airframes to be used for spare parts. This asset was vital to Greece’s requirement of an attack and observation helicopter in its inventory. 

The NH-Industries NH-90TTH with serial number “ES851”, from the 2nd Army Aviation Battalion, also based at Megara Air Base, West Attica, Greece was only displayed in the static park. “ES851 is the last delivered NH-90 to the Army, while the first NH-90 was delivered in 2005. A total of fourteen NH-90’s have been delivered to date to the Hellenic Army while the final six of twenty troop transport helicopters will start delivery in 2022. Two of the six mentioned helicopters will be configured into a special operations version, while all NH-90’s can be reconfigured into a medical evacuation helicopter.

The Agusta-Bell AB-205A and the Bell UH-1H Huey, with serial numbers “ES670” and ES692 from the 2nd Army Aviation Battalion, only participated in the CAS demo at this year’s event. Both helicopters are based at Megara Air Base, West Attica, Greece. The Army received the first batch of UH-1 helicopters in 1969, whilst other batches followed, these were joined by the Italian-built AB-205s. A total number of fourthy AB-205’s and sixty-four UH-1’s remain in service in the Hellenic Army to date. This single turboshaft engine, utility helicopter is a multi-purpose helicopter capable of fulfilling many different roles such as medical evacuations, troop transport, VIP transport, cargo transport, and much more. This remains one of the Hellenic Army’s most important assets due to the variety of tasks it can be utilized for.

Both show days started with a display by the Glider Aerobatic show flown by Luca Bertossio, performing an exceptionally highly manoeuvrable flying display using smoke generators and fireworks attached to the aircraft’s wingtips to produce special effects. The glider was towed in the sky by Athens Gliding Club’s Maule ‘MXT7’. Luca Bertossio is an Italian aerobatics pilot performing glider aerobatics, competing for the Italian National Glider Aerobatic Team, and is also a professional Airshow pilot and Flight Instructor. Luca Bertossio is the first Italian to have won 9 FAI Gold medals, 8 Silver and 4 Bronze FAI medals for the glider aerobatics discipline, and the titles of Advanced Vice-World Champion 2011 and Advanced World Champion of Glider’s Aerobatics in the 2012 WAGAC competition championship, World Air Games Champion 2015, Vice-World Games Champion 2017 and 3 Times Vice-World Overall Unlimited Champion 2015, 2018 and 2021.

Bertossio’s flight activity is based mainly at the National Italian Glider’s Aerobatic Centers of Ozzano nell’Emilia (BO) and in the past as an instructor at the International Glider Aerobatic Academy in Williams, CA (USA).In the Italian aerobatics history Bertossio reached the best ever placement in the Unlimited category of the WGAC World Championship. He became Vice-World Champion 2015,2018 and 2021. He is the youngest ever World Air Games Champion 2015-Dubai. In 2017, Bertossio also ranked second at The World Games.

The most anticipated flying display of the day was the French Air Force Dassault Rafale Solo display team, supported by a French Air Force C-130H Hercules. This year, the Rafale demo displayed its Rafale C fighter jet with serial number “139” and coded “4-GR”, and carried a new special livery for the 2021 Airshow season. The new special scheme was designed by the internationally famous French designer Regis Rocca. The design is usually introduced every Spring, before the start of the airshow season and removed at the end of the season. This jet belongs to ETR03.004 based at BA113 Saint-Dizier-Robinson Air Base, Champagne-Ardenne region in northeastern France. This canard delta-wing design, multi-role fighter jet took off showcasing its agility and manoeuvrability whilst roaring its twin Snecma M88 afterburning engines in the Greek skies over Tanagra Air Base. Needless to say, this was personally one of the most breathtaking displays at this year’s Athens Flying Week.

The presence of the Rafale at Athens Flying Week was significant, as it gave the Greek public a taste of things to come above the skies at Tanagra Air Force Base in the coming years. In January, Athens placed an order for 18 of the planes, 12 of them second-hand, in a 2.5-billion-euro deal aimed at boosting Greece’s defenses faced with growing tensions with neighboring Turkey.

Recently, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis revealed plans to acquire an additional six Rafales. “I announced the purchase of 18 Rafale. Soon there will be 24,” he said during the Thessaloniki International Fair, adding that the first aircraft, a second-hand model from France’s own air force, would be flying Greek colours “before the end of the year”.

“The Rafale will provide the HAF with a latest-generation multirole fighter, enabling the Hellenic Republic to ensure its geostrategic stance in full sovereignty,” Dassault said in a statement.

“The delivery of the first Rafale is a clear demonstration of France’s determination to meet the government of the Hellenic Republic’s expectations and to participate actively in protecting the sovereignty of the country,” it said.

“Following the Mirage F1 in 1974, the Mirage 2000 in 1985 and the Mirage 2000-5 in 2000, the Rafale is now proudly flying with the Hellenic Air Force colors,” said Dassault chairman and CEO Eric Trappier, describing the Rafale as a “strategic game changer” for Greece.

“The Rafale will play an active role by securing Greece’s leadership as a major regional power,” he said.

In addition to the Rafale, the French Air Force also sent its aerobatic team, the Patrouille de France, that was supported by an Airbus A400M. 2021 marks the 75th anniversary of the publication in France of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s novel, first published in the United States in 1943. To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the publication of The Little Prince, the Patrouille de France adorned its planes with the little hero of Saint-Exupéry.

“This tribute thus honors the memory and the universal humanist values ​​of the world-famous writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, aviation pioneer and French fighter,” said the Air Force and the Foundation in a joint statement. The tribute takes the form of “visuals inspired by the watercolors of The Little Prince on the 10 drifts of the Alpha Jets of the Patrouille de France”, they added. We see the character with blond hair and green coat, against a background of a starry sky.

Saint-Exupéry, in charge of aerial reconnaissance during the German invasion of 1940, had recounted this experience in Pilote de guerre , published in 1942. The Little Prince was his next book, a tale originally inspired by an accident in Libya in December 1935. Falling in the middle of the desert, he had been saved by a caravan of Bedouins. The planetary success of The Little Prince , the most widely read work of French literature in the world, came after the author’s death in July 1944 during a mission in the Mediterranean.

The always amusing Royal Saudi Air Force aerobatic display team, the Saudi Hawks, was formed in June 1998 at King Abdul Aziz Air Base, Saudi Arabia forming part of the 88th Squadron. The Saudi Hawks first public display took place at the Saudi Kingdom’s capital, Riyadh, in January 1999 commemorating Saudi Arabia’s 100th-anniversary celebrations. A month later, (February 1999) the team was re-located to King Faisal Air Base in Tabuk, Saudi Arabia, were they are still based to date. The team flies seven, BAE Hawk MK.65 trainers painted in an all green colour scheme with white trim. Green, white and red smoke is usually used throughout a normal flying display. On this occasion, blue smoke was also used so that the team could illustrate the Greek flag in the skies above Tanagra. The team’s flying display is composed of two halves, at first instance, the team performs with a seven-ship formation aerobatic manoeuvres, consisting of several fly-bys in different shaped formations.

In the second half of the show, the display embellished itself when the team split into two-ship and five-ship formations. The team also used their smoke to display their trademark manoeuver, the national symbol of Saudi Arabia, a palm tree crossed with two swords. It is imperative to say that the Saudi Hawks executed a magnificent and precise aerial display in luminous late afternoon light conditions.

In addition to the Saudi Hawks Display Team, Saudi Arabia also sent a Tornado and an F-15C, both sporting special liveries marking the 90th anniversary of the Saudi National Day, commemorating the renaming of the Kingdom of Nejd and Hejaz to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia through a royal decree from King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud in 1932. Both of these aircraft also had Vision 2030 markings. Vision 2030 is a roadmap drawn by his Royal Highness the Crown Prince to harness the strengths God bestowed upon Saudi Arabian citizens, Saudi Arabia’s strategic position, investment power and place at the centre of Arab and Islamic worlds, to achieve the ambitions of the Royal Saudi Kingdom by 2030. To achieve the goals of the kingdom, Saudi Arabia will continue to enable citizens and businesses to unleash their fullest potential, and will work on diversifying the economy, supporting local content and develop innovative opportunities for the future. This will be through creating an attractive environment for local and foreign investments, in addition to the Public Investment Fund developing and unlocking new sectors. https://www.vision2030.gov.sa/