Berlin Air Show (ILA) 2008 Review
Tuesday 27th May - Sunday 1st June
With Ryanair operating a service direct from Stansted to Berlin-Schönefeld, home of the biennial ILA trade show, and with a jam-packed flying programme, it seemed rude not to take advantage of the situation and have a continental away day. An 0315 start was required in order to get to Stansted for our 0430 check-in, and we arrived in Berlin shortly after 0900. After clearing immigration we headed outside to where the complimentary airshow shuttle buses were operating from.
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The Schönefeld site is something of a building site at present, and after wending our way to the air show entrance we arrived to find quite a queue as the gates didn't open till 1000. We spoke to a representative who explained that if we had tickets we could bypass the queue for those booths, so we did, though it's somewhat debatable as to whether it was only the queues for the booths that we bypassed!
We cleared security (a standard bag search and metal detector test) and were on our way. Unfortunately by this stage the flying display had already commenced - very few people could have seen the early items as gaining entry was far from speedy!
Having negotiated the static maze we headed left towards the tower. The crowds were much thinner there and we seemed to be roughly crowd centre so far as the displays were concerned.
The first full display we were actually in position to photograph was the spritely Heersflieger Bolkow Bo105, the first of many rotary participants during the day.
Perhaps the biggest draw for many of the people present were the Luftwaffe and Heersflieger demonstrations, and it fell to the former to perform their one first.
This particular spectacle comprised four EF2000s (two each from JG-73 and JG-74), a single F-4F Phantom from JG-71, four JbG-33 Tornado IDS, including a pair performing a buddy-buddy refuelling demo, a further four from JbG-31, as well as a pair from AG-51, a pair of JbG-32 Tornado ECRs, two C160D Transalls, and finally a pair of UH-1Ds providing cover.
After intercepting and escorting the rogue 'aggressor' Phantom, one of the EF2000s shadowed it in for an approach.
With air supremacy secured, the Tornado ECRs could come through to take out the ground stations and radar threats, whilst the EF2000s kept a watch on proceedings.
After the hostile threats had all been removed, the ground attack phase could then be completed.
With the impending arrival of the Transalls, the UH-1Ds moved in to provide top cover to the troops who would soon be on the ground. It didn't take them long to capture the terrorists. Good job!
The demo could have been enhanced by the pyrotechnics of the sort we see in the RAF Role Demo, however, that in turn could benefit from having access to the number of assets that the Luftwaffe one has! Either way it was great to see, but it didn't quite capture the imagination like the RAF one does.
An arrival next which took us all slightly by surprise; a Polish AF MiG-29A Fulcrum. There had been one on the list for the flying, but alas this was its arrival in Germany and it would need to validate before it would be allowed to display. Sadly this happened when we were firmly ensconced back in the terminal building at the end of the day.
Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) were one of ILA's partner companies and were present with no less than eight of their own Dhruv helicopters; five belonging to the display team, The Sarangs, and three in standard Indian Army colours. Examples of both performed during the show.
Next up was the featured event that I had most been looking forward to; the Heersflieger demonstration.
It was a real shame that the air wasn't clearer because the sight of all of those helicopters was something to behold. In total there were ten CH-53s, a Bo105, three Tigers and a NH-90 - the first time I'd shot either of those last two named types.
The demo featured underslung loads and showed off the Army's ability to fast rope from its helicopters. The final pass comprised the whole of the package and was rather special.
It was around this point that things started to get slightly more frustrating. Evidently in previous years, Schönefeld has had two runways to utilise, so commercial traffic has used one, leaving the display items free to use the other. This was not the case this year because of the aforementioned building work. As a result all operations were being conducted from the sole runway, and this meant that anytime an aircraft was scheduled to display and a commercial movement was expected, said display item was pushed several hundred metres further back, making it impossible to photograph and in many cases almost impossible to see!
Real sufferers of this were the OV-10 Bronco, the Hungarian AF Mi-24 Hind, the RAF Chinook and the RNLAF F-16, to name but a few.
The BBMF sent along a Spitfire and the Dakota and paid tribute to both the German and the allied losses during the WW2 campaign.
In a bid to be different the Airbus A380 elected to take off in the opposite direction to the rest of the display items. It didn't seem to be flown with quite the same vigour as at Farnborough 2006, and the aircraft in question was a bit of a mess aesthetically.
After a rather lovely looking Polish AF AN-26, support for the MiG-29 arrived, the Patrouille Suisse put on a special display for ILA. Understandably due to the Ramstein disaster, rules for display teams are somewhat different in Germany, so this routine was unique.
A Junkers Ju-52 operated flights throughout the day, taking off and landing between acts. It would've been nice to have seen a display from it, but the programme was already so crowded that a number of items were restricted to just a couple of passes as it was.
More rotary action next with the RAF Chinook (who was forced to display somewhere close to the Danish border), followed by the NH90 and Tiger demonstrations by crews from WTD-61 at Manching - the German Test and Evaluation unit.
By now the sun was right down the runway, and the JG-73 EF2000 demo was difficult to photograph as a consequence.
Red Bull displayed their B-25 Mitchell, DC-6B and their Bo105 - none managing more than a few minutes in the air due to the compressed nature of the flying programme.
The Rockwell B-1B from the 7th BW, Dyess TX, put on a nice routine and would've looked superb had it displayed a few hours earlier when the light was better.
Flying shots by now seemed pointless, so the Croatian Wings Of Storm and their PC-9s were just shot taxying in.
Unfortunately the anticipated Messerschmitt particpation by way of the EADS Me-109 and Me-262s didn't happen. The 109 had ground looped earlier in the week, while the 262 had a brake issue which prompted the need for some taxying runs before it was cleared to fly. Fortunately this occurred at the end of the day, so we did at least get to shoot it 'engines running', so to speak. Such a good looking aircraft and one I hope to photograph in the skies before too long.
And with that the show came to a close and we were asked to vacate the airfield.
For a grand total of about £55 for flights and entry, I think it has to go down as money well spent. There were a few frustrations, most notably the slow entry coupled with flying commencing so soon after the opening of the gates, and the at times very distant display line, but it'll be interesting to see what the implications are when the new second runway (to the south) opens. I'd certainly be keen to go back so long as we're not going to be forced to shoot into the sun...