Even though most large airshows on the European continent seem little affected by the world’s economic woes, out here on the periphery things are not going so well. Despite 2012 marking the centenary of aviation in many countries of the Balkans (as did the preceding 2011), celebrations are by economic necessity curtailed, unimpressive and in many cases held just for form’s sake. Case in point in Croatia is the yearly Lučko Airshow, which will – by most accounts – be degraded this year to a “rump airshow”, held simply to avoid breaking its continuity :D.
However, one event that has always seemed more resilient is the Batajnica Airshow, held at Batajnica Airbase (LYBT) just outside Belgrade, Serbia. Like Hungary’s own Kecskemet Airshow – held just a hundred or so kilometers north – Batajnica is primarily a military affair, though civilian aircraft do make up a sizable amount of the static display. Having been deprived of any serious airshow all year – the last one being MAKS in August 2011 – I was naturally quick to plan a trip east and see what has the Serbian AF managed to cook up for its de facto 100th birthday… 🙂
MiGs at 6 o’clock!
In common with many air forces on the Balkans, the chief attraction of the Serbian AF is the rarity of its aircraft, most of which are of Soviet and Yugoslav make. Alongside various transports such as the An-26 – which can still be occasionally seen on cargo runs across Europe – the SerbAF also operates a handful of much rarer MiG-21 and MiG-29 fighters, types which are nowadays generally endemic to the Balkans. To drive the point – and attraction – home, in Europe airworthy (more-or-less :D) MiG-21s can only be found in Croatia, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria, while the potent MiG-29 only in Serbia, Bulgaria and Poland. Locally-produced types from the heyday of Yugoslav aviation are hardly less attractive and feature some of the world’s last airworthy Soko G-2 Galeb (seagull) and G-4 Super Galeb trainers, and the Jaguar-lookalike J-22 Orao (eagle) strike aircraft.
However, while the above list sounds juicy even to the locals, accustomed to seeing these aircraft on a frequent basis, there is a catch attached: like their counterparts in other air forces of the region, SerbAF combat aircraft are quite old and near the ends of their service lives (a mounting problem faced by the Croatian MiG-21 fleet as well). Consequently, their crews have neither the available flight hours nor the mechanical security to take the aircraft to their limits, resulting mostly in tame and lackluster displays (as was most evident during the MiG-29 interception demo).
But, flight routines aside, the show is still an excellent opportunity to simply enjoy the sight, sound – and smell 😀 – of some good ol’ proper aircraft :). And while there were some obstructions to quality photography even with generous access – lots of visitors swarming around static aircraft and horrid heat haze out on the runway – the following gallery I believe captures the essence of the show and its aircraft quite nicely…