|Hellenic Air Force Phantoms, F-16 and Mirage 2000 fly in formation over Tanagra AFB during Athens Flying Week 2019.|
During the fourth weekend of September 2019, Greece’s biggest air show, the Athens Flying Week, “took off” from Tanagra Air Base for the fourth year in a row. The Athens Flying Week 2019, which was the 8th event since its beginning, was a great success despite the absence of some noteworthy participants. Around 40,000 spectators gathered at Tanagra air base during the third weekend of September to admire the aerobatic displays of the air show, something that is still quite new to most Greeks.
The main attraction was and always will be the great diversity of the air assets of all the Hellenic Armed Forces, especially the Hellenic Air Force (HAF) which supports the air show, not only by being the host in Tanagra, but also by participating with multiple aircraft displays. Both HAF solo display teams, “Zeus” with the F-16C and “Daedalus” with the T-6A, performed exceptional displays on both days of the show.
Thousands of fans were rewarded by the presence of so many different aircraft of the Air Arms. Two Phantoms of 338 Squadron (the only surviving squadron) flew in from Andravida Air Base to simulate a low altitude airfield attack (low apex) on Tanagra Air Base. Once again, a Μirage 2000BGM from 332 Squadron based at Tanagra engaged with a 330 Squadron F-16C Block 30 from Volos and performed a unique choreography of advanced combat manoeuvres for an epic dogfight act at low altitude. All the above mentioned fighters also performed a low pass over the field before starting their display.
Among other Hellenic Armed Forces aircraft was again the Apache “Pegasus” Demo of the Hellenic Army Aviation, showing off the Apache’s agility. A Hellenic Air Force CL-415 fire fighting along with a very rare nowadays, PZL M-18BS (two-seat version) Dromader aircraft once again flew in to water bomb the runway of Tanagra, which cooled off the hot tarmac as the temperatures got really high during the show. The fire Department sent also a Super Puma, which also made a water drop from its basket that it was carrying.
The Hellenic Navy was again present in AFW 2019, but this time not only with one or two assets, but with three! Along with the two navy helicopters, the AB-212 ASW and the S-70B Aegean Hawk, which deployed navy seals by fast rope into the simulated battlefield, the Hellenic Navy presented its upgraded P-3B Orion. This maritime aircraft was absent for ten years and returned to duty recently. This particular Orion has been overhauled by Hellenic Aerospace Industries and was delivered to the Hellenic Navy last May. It stands alone as an intermediate solution before a total of 4 aircraft will complete a Mid-Life upgrade. The pilots of the Orion, gave a very distinctive display with lots of high speed passes and large bank angles. At the end of their display all three aircraft lined up on the runway and gave their salute to their crowd while at the same time the pilots of the Orion were transmitting via radio their farewell.
There were two firsts for the Hellenic Armed Forces which were waiting the crowd in this year’s AFW. The first was the new basic trainer of the HAF, the Tecnam P-2002JF which made a flypast on both days. And the second was the recently received OH-58D Kiowa of the Hellenic Army, which was stationed at the static display.
The “heavy metal” participants’ list had only one foreign display. It was once again the F-16 from Belgian Air Force. After the Hellenic Armed Forces, the Belgian Air Force is the greatest supporter of the AFW. The F-16 solo display act again thrilled the crowds with its precise and perfectly executed flying display, but this year in its striking D-Day 75 years commemoration livery. Unfortunately there were no other international front-line fighter participants, which made the show poorer in terms of noise and afterburner.
The famous French aerobatic team Patrouille de France was this year’s AFW headlining demo team. The team, flying nine Alpha Jets, flew to Tanagra on Sunday morning after attending Ostrava’s airshow in order to perform one only display during the same afternoon.
A very welcomed highlight was the attendance of three different assets of the famous Flying Bulls team. These aircraft attended Athens Flying Week for the first time and their presence was highly admired by the Greek audience. The team sent three different aircraft to Tanagra. Two aeroplanes and one helicopter. The aeroplanes were the classic airliner Douglas DC-6 and the famous warbird of WWII, Vought F-4U Corsair. These two aircraft flew together on Saturday offering some unique photo shooting possibilities. The third air asset was the very agile Bo-105 C, flown by the famous acrobat pilot Rainer Wilke. The things that this helicopter can do are absolutely amazing!
Power and unpowered aerobatics
Four different aerobatic aircraft, three of them seen in previous airshows returned this year to perform unlimited aerobatics; the Italian “Silver Chicken” CAP 21DS and the “Dutch Rush” Su-26MX from the Netherlands and Mika Brageot with its Extra 330. The “new kid on the block” was the German Martin Graef with his Extra 300. Each presented a unique demonstration that kept everyone’s attention! The sole civilian helicopter act was again the smoke pod equipped ‘Wizard helicopter aerobatics’ EC-120B, courtesy of a Greek transport company.
Once again, both of last year’s glider displays performed their spectacular shows during the day but also during the evening. The two famous champions in glider aerobatics, Johan Gustaffson and Luca Bertossio, were also there to perform their spectacular displays during the day but also during the night. There were also some R/C aircraft that performed while each glider was being towed to altitude.
Most probably one of the biggest highlights of the show was the 20th anniversary of Aegean Airlines, the major air carrier of Greece. The company celebrated this memorable moment with a unique spectacle where past met present. On Sunday the DC-6 of the Flying Bulls flew in formation with an A321 of Aegean Airlines and made several passes over the crowd. At the end, the aircraft of Aegean Airlines made a spectacular high speed low pass over a huge birthday cake that was stationed in front of the crowd. Definitely an act to remember! Happy birthday Aegean Airlines!
On Saturday, a Dash 8 Q-400 made also one flypast, this time in formation with the Su-26MX of the “Dutch Rush”.
What makes the Athens Flying Week special is the fact that it combines all the aspects of modern aviation. This year visitors could also get close to and admire frontline military jets and helicopters, in addition to the trainers, vintage aircraft, light aircraft, airliners, gliders and even radio controlled models.
With no doubt, this year’s AFW was again a very successful air show. The event attracts more and more aviation enthusiasts every year and we really hope to become one major airshow in the Southern European airshow scene.
Text and Pics: George Karavantos