All photos me too (copyrighted)
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…
A formation that hasn’t been seen in European skies for a long time. A twin-stick MiG-21UM is seen leading an echelon formation including two single-seat MiG-29Bs and a two-seat MiG-29UB. The only remaining examples in Europe (and its proximity), B models are downgraded export versions, and feature a less powerful radar and simpler avionics
In contrast to the B model, this unmarked M2 – operated by the Russian AF – represents the opposite side of the MIG-29 spectrum. A comprehensive, new-built rework of the classic MiG-29, the M2 – sometimes known as the MiG-33 – includes fly-by-wire controls, improved aerodynamics, more powerful and (slightly) less smoky engines and vastly improved avionics that can carry a wider range of modern air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons. The M2 also addresses the Achilles’ heal of the original design, its woefully poor range, by introducing a larger fuel capacity
Looking resplendent in its special paint scheme, the SerbAF solo display J-22 Orao is seen taxiing past the press area on its way to the main apron. A design outwardly very similar to the Anglo-French SEPECAT Jaguar, the J-22 was designed as a lightweight, low-level strike aircraft that would use the maximum amount of “home-grown” technologies. Developed in cooperation with IAR of Romania – whose own version is called the IAR-93 Vultur – the Orao is powered by two Rolls-Royce Viper Mk.22 turbojet engines, produced locally under license and fitted with a locally-developed reheat system. Subsonic like the Jag, the Orao is in service only with the Serbian and Bosnian AF, and is one of the last dedicated ground attack aircraft serving anywhere in Europe
Following the MiG-29M2 wherever it goes is this shabby-looking An-12 transporter, operated by the MiG design bureau. One of the Soviet Union’s most successful turboprop workhorses, the An-12 can still be seen at Europe’s cargo hubs, flying freight charters to and from Africa and the CIS
By contrast, this Il-76 support aircraft is immaculate, seeming like it had just rolled off the production line. The most successful Soviet transporter, the Il-76’s successes and exploits – as well as its durability and versatility – is on par to that of the C-130 Hercules
Fast, agile, tough and armed – quite a combination for a light combat helicopter. A license-built version of the venerable Aerospatiale Gazelle, the GAMA – a contraction of “GAzela MAljutka” – can be armed with four 9M14M Malyutka wire-guided anti tank missiles, known in the West as the AT-3 Sagger. Quite probably the Soviet Union’s most successful light anti-tank missile, the 9M14M has also been license produced in Serbia, making the GAMA almost a fully “self contained” product
For a hopeless GA geek like me, a visit to this cockpit was more attractive than seeing a MiG-29. One of Germany’s first post-WW2 aircraft, the twin-engine Skyservant is an incredibly rare sight today. This example is still airworthy (just) and is normally used for surveillance and aerial mapping. Quite a clean shot otherwise, this photo was ruined unfortunately by dust on my UV filter (very dusty conditions), which I’d failed to notice until after taking the photo…