International Sanicole "Tiger" Airshow 2009 Review
Sunday 20th September
The annual Sanicole "Tiger" airshow, organised by the same named flying club, takes place at the civilian airfield at Leopoldsburg, set in the vast Belgian Army training area that extends between the town and Hexel. The airfield itself is tiny, with a paved 600m runway but no hard surface taxiways and limited hardstanding, much of the remaining area consisting of gorse covered heathland. For such a small, almost bizarre venue, the organising team have consistently put on a first rate event with generous military participation and world class civilian acts that are the envy of many a top military funded show.
reports for UK Airshow Review. All photography by the author.
2009 proved to be no exception, aided by the annual NATO Tiger Meet taking place over the airshow period at nearby Kleine Brogel air base, a mere 5 or so miles to the North East. Indeed, the organisers moved the event from the usual July slot to late September to take advantage of this. KB always provide the host for any high performance aircraft for the show due to Sanicole's size and so a good rapport has been set up between the team and 10Wing TAC.
My first visit to this show left me feeling I was part of a very well organised event with easy parking across the main road and all the usual stalls and stands, no doubt boosted this year by the invasion of the Tiger squadrons selling their wares. For the spectator and photographer alike conditions are difficult as the crowd face into the sun all day. Obviously the static aircraft display is limited to light types and helicopters though a good selection was on view including a Czech Mi24, Italian AB212, preserved F-16 and F84 being notable amongst the "spam". Obviously any flying display aircraft are all parked at close quarters for inspection, adding to the static line up.
Of course, any air show is nothing without the aerial activities and, a truly superb flying display had been arranged, running from 10am - 6pm. All the more pity then that the display was badly affected by some of the worst conditions this writer has witnessed - even though the sun was out pretty much all day, the haze was awful, reducing visibility to a paltry 1.5 km at times, well below the minima for many display acts. It must have been like trying to display an aircraft but having to look through some fine net curtains that your least favourite Nan had just hung around the canopy!
That said, the only items to actually cancel were the French Mirage 2000 4 ship (they had planned an air-air interception demo) solo Alpha Jet (they were all heard in the area but could not even see the airfield) Swiss Tiger Hunter, BBMF (though the Dak made it) and USAF KC-135. A special mention has to be made here to all the aircrew for putting on such creditable displays in truly awful conditions - even finding the airfield must have been difficult, let alone carrying out any high energy manouveres. Fantastic show all round…Put it this way, the vis was so bad it was the first time I had seen Bill Ramsey's flat show in the Tutor!
The fast jets (home team and Dutch F-16, Spanish Mirage F1, Dutch Hunter, Hungarian Gripen) carried out very truncated flat displays and it wasn't until the Spanish Hornet and second bash for the Belgian solo F-16 in the late afternoon that a full fast jet show could be performed. Helicopter displays were performed easily of course, the Belgian Sea King and superb Czech Mi24 looking very impressive so close to the crowd at such a small venue. Both paled into insignificance though for pure high energy helicopter antics compared to the truly awesome Red Bull MBB Bo105 display. Having seen the great Charly Zimmerman many years ago, and later German Army Bo105 aerobatics, I was expecting an exciting display, but nothing prepared me for this! Apart from the rolls, loops and hesitation pedal turns, many other flips and contortions were demonstrated, culminating in what can only be described as a helicopter lomcevak. Outstanding stuff ! Red Bull supported the show with several items ,and though not exactly my cup of tea, certainly added to the variety on show with a paramotor, B-25, P-38, F-4U Corsair and the very impressive "wing suit" jumper.
Formations were very much to the fore - Victors team of 4x PA28 and distinctly out of place Extra 300, Jordanian Falcons, Blades who also formated on a Jetairfly Boeing 737 (for some would admit, too long) Team Guinot (admittedly a solo act), four ship 31 Smaldeel F-16s, Breitling Jet team and ever professional Patrouille Suisse who managed a full show as the finale to the flying as the haze had cleared somewhat. The opening few passes were accompanied by the solo Belgian F-16, who had been very busy having also been accompanied by the P-51 for a "heritage flypast", though I can't quite work out the connection…
A very special flypast was the inclusion of the "Tiger Tail" parade including all the special painted jets from the tiger meet, similar to the one seen at the KB spotters day. Each aircraft then returned for a solo pass so both sides of the special schemes could be seen (albeit through the haze!). Other items included Yak 52s, Melissa Andrzejewski in a very well received Extra 300 display, RAF King Air, Harvard pair, Sally B, Catalina and the Vulcan.
The Vulcan display commenced with a very strange formation flypast. It appeared flanked by 4 Belgian F-16s in what could have been a very impressive flyby only to have the Vulcan begin wing rocking before they reached the airfield with the F-16s following suite in what appeared to be a turn. The F-16s appeared very confused with this and must have been very glad to have reformed in the murk after losing the Vulcan. The Vulcan display consisted merely of a few 360s culminating in a shallow climb with only the merest hint of an "Olympus trumpet". I'm sure many of the crowd wondered what all the fuss was about, me included, but I'm sure the adverse weather played a part in the lacklustre performance. Certainly for me a unique delta aeroplane stole the show, but it could fit in the nose wheel well of a Vulcan. The Verhees Delta was spotted on a tow bar in the morning, leading to my believing that it was non flying mock up. However at the end of the show, it taxied out and carried a out a few nicely positioned flypasts - for all the world looking like a Cylon raider ship from the front elevation. A very odd aeroplane but interesting none the less!
Conclusion - a very well organised show with a first rate line up, easily one of the best, varied flying displays of 2009 with a military line up that put many self-titled "biggest and best" UK shows to shame. A pity that the visibility hampered the proceedings somewhat but the professionalism and determination of the crews was something to be admired. Certainly a bumper 35,000 crowd proved this and I don't think for a minute that the Vulcan on the list added to this total. They were all out for a varied display with a very strong military theme and they got it - Vulcan or not…