KLu Open Dagen, Gilze-Rijen 2005 Review
Friday 17th June - Saturday 18th June
Consider the perfect airshow…take a few minutes to think about the many different ingredients - perhaps mix in friendly crowds of 250,000, spatter in bevy of rare and classic jets, add in the zest of Dutch liberalism and bake for eight hours under wall-to-wall sunshine, do not allow to cool however, consume there and then and you should come up with the neatly packaged Netherlands Air Force Open Dagen 2005, probably the finest airshow of the year, yet...
spent a day char-broiling himself at Gilze-Rijen. All photos by the author.
Held this year at the helicopter base of Gilze-Rijen near Breda, this year's Open Dagen was by far and away one of the finest airshows your author has ever had the pleasure of visiting, in fact to be almost brutal, British shows now seem tame by comparison. Now you may think this unfair, but when you witness the RNLAF's Tactical Demo, flare releases from Apaches and F-16s and one of the last-ever displays by the Draken you'll understand why.
On Friday's attendees would have been forgiven for thinking the gods were against them when the Dutch weather simply decided not to play ball with grey skies making life hard, but on Saturday all that changed with temperatures soaring to 30C during the early afternoon, but more of that later.
The show had of course started earlier in the week with arrivals from the Hellenic AF F-4 Phantom, and the Turkish AF RF-4s - incidentally the stars of the static - along with a Polet An-124 transporter, but it was when an Egyptian AF Hercules C-130 turned up that started chins wagging until it disgorged its rare and unusual cargo - a Gomhouria Mk.8, a two-seat trainer almost unheard of outside Egypt, which was surprising star of the static. It was later revealed that the little yellow monoplane was one of the last three of type in service.
The airfield was the perfect venue, a typical NATO airfield formally used by the F-5s of the RNLAF, the forests contained a complex of hardened aircraft shelters while the cross runway was used as the static park which also contained an NATO E-3 AWACS, a RNLAF KDC-10, an Austrian AF Skyvan and even an Irish Air Corps Beech King Air.
Gilze-Rijen being home to the RNLAF's helicopter fleet, meant there was a great emphasis on the role of the helicopter with the first display of the day from a Belgian Defence SAR Sea King in a dramatic and graceful role demonstration. This was closely followed by the Belgian Magister and then a demo from the Swiss AF Super Puma, the pilot of which managed to chuck this large machine around the sky with ease.
Then from a sizable contingent from our very own RAF as the Harrier GR7 took to the skies, but not for long, as it seemed the hot weather was taking much out of the jets performance - the display soon ending after its quick hover dance, it was a disappointing start for the RAF displays, but it got worse with the C-130J display and the Tornado F3 looking as if they just didn't didn't to be there with very poor performances, but these were soon kicked into place by the Red Arrows, the BBMF and the Chinook - all three of which were well received by the Dutch crowds with cheers and applause.
Other hot displays came from the Golden Apple T-33 and the stunning Belgian F-16, whose white smoke hung in the sky. These were quickly followed by warbirds including a gorgeous Spitfire, the Duke of Brabant B-25 and a Saab Safair.
But the best was yet to come and at 12.30 the show's landmark Tactical Demo got underway with Gusto with no less than eight Apaches taking to the air from one side of the airfield, F-16s in pairs pounded the airfield with awesome pyrotechnics, before six Cougars came in with the Apaches to deliver troops and vehicles as underslung loads, one of two RNLAF Hercules came in deliver more equipment onto the now smoke covered airfield before a mass flypast of Falcons, helicopters and the other KDC-10 in all different directions came over the airfield - all this taking place in around 30 minutes, it was easy to shoot off 512mbs-worth of pictures in that short time.
Later displays saw the French AF Alpha Jet, the British Army's Blue Eagles, the Royal Jordanian Falcons and more mixed formations as aircraft departed for other shows including Kemble, but one aircraft had enthusiasts waiting on tenterhooks all day - the Austrian Draken - and there was a collective sigh of relief as the 60s delta taxied out and performed an electrifying display of top-sides and simple brute force, before the Swiss AF Hornet and the Breitling Team closed the show.
It had been a truly exhilarating day, but you could not help thinking how much British shows could learn from the KLu, free entry, no queues, free bottles of water at the end and that awesome tactical demo, this show is just what's needed in the UK, it just needs the British weather to ruin it.