Karup AB Danish Air Show Report

Sunday 22nd June 2014

The Danish Airshow, although previously an annual event, is now held every two years, hosted at a different airfield each time and, like many other European military-run air shows, boasts free entry to the public. This year it was the turn of Karup Air Base to host the event.

Iain Thomson travelled to Denmark to report for UK Airshow Review.

Karup is situated in the Viborg Municipality, in the North of Denmark and is home to the Helicopter Wing, comprising of Esk722, Esk723 and Esk724 - flying the EH101 Merlin, Lynx Mk.90B and AS.550C2 Fennec respectively, as well as the Flyveskolen (Flying School) with their T-17 Supporters.

Entry to the air show was free and the Official show programme was also free, being handed out at the two entry points. The day was blessed with wonderful weather in the main, the sun blazing in blue skies with the occasional cloud passing through. With a 09/27 runway running east/west, the sun was behind the audience for the full day. Accompanying this however was a very strong wind, blowing from the west, and this brought the temperatures right down and surprisingly long sleeves were the order for the day. The weather conditions also brought a lot of haze and despite the proximity of the crowd line to the runway it was still very much evident.

The extent of the showground was fairly compact, the area of the airfield being used was to the south east with the old cross-runway acting as the western edge of the showground and also the southern flight line, where a selection of the display items were parked.

The static layout was well considered and items were put into different themed areas including 'Search & Rescue', 'History' and 'The Fight Against Terrorism' as examples. Unfortunately it was not always the most photographer-friendly as there were a mixture of barrier arrangements. Aircraft with no barriers around them, some with rope/tape barriers and some surrounded by metal barriers, and where they were in use, they were also very close to the aircraft. This was great for the public attending as it allowed them close and, in places, 'unrestricted' access to the aircraft; however for the photographers it was sometimes a challenge obtain images without barriers, people or other obstructions in the way.

Denmark are currently identifying their options for their future fighter aircraft and three of the four competing manufacturers appeared in the static park. Lockheed Martin was present with a Full Scale Mockup of the F-35 in full Danish livery, whilst Eurofighter had also brought along an FSM for the public to get up close to. This was joined by a trio of the real thing, with the RAF sending a Typhoon T.3 and FGR.4 from 29(R) Squadron and 11(F) Squadron respectively. Sandwiched between them was an Italian example from 4°Stormo. SAAB were present with a Swedish Air Force JAS.39D Gripen, and there was also a second example elsewhere in the static, another JAS.39D Gripen from the Hungarian Air Force. This particular aircraft was also taking part in the NATO Tiger Meet just over the border at Schleswig-Jagel. Boeing did not have any example of their contender in the static; the two flying examples of the F/A-18F Super Hornet were both hidden away on the north side with the other flying fast jet assets.

Examples of all the Royal Danish Air Force aircraft were in the static park; a C-130J and CL.604 Challenger representing the transport element, F-16s and of course the based aircraft. It was interesting to see the different Merlin fits on show, from the standard fit to the SAR finish - with the luminous panels - and also a Merlin TTT (Tactical Troop Transport) which was fitted with GPMGs to the rear door and two front doors. Amongst the modern Danish Aircraft there was also examples of older Danish aircraft, in particular three Drakens. One two-seat variant, the TF-35, and two examples of the reconnaissance version, the RF-35. The TF- and one of the RF-35 are owned by Draken Team Karup and maintained in a taxiable condition. The other RF-35 was positioned as to simulate being rigged up to a crane, although was not hoisted.

Particular highlights came from the Estonian Air Force who sent an example of each aircraft in their inventory to the show. There was one An-2 Colt, and one Robinson R44 helicopter and in the flying display, one of their L-39 Albatross, in the Baltic Bees colour scheme. A Serbian Air Force An-26 had made the journey to take part in the show, and was even sporting a sticker on the nose celebrating the their Air Force's 100th Anniversary.

The flying display was officially opened by a mixed formation flypast of the based aircraft - five T-17 Supporters led three Fennecs, a Lynx and a pair of Merlins. The same sequence also took to the air again marking the end of the flying display. After the flypast, the display began with the historic aircraft, and there were some pristine examples of Danish built KZ-Series aircraft that took to the air, and of particular interest was the KZIV Ambulance that is the flagship of the Danmarks Flymuseum. Special mention has to go to the pilots of those smaller historic aircraft, as the strong wind did its best to disrupt their routines and landings, especially the Tiger Moth pilot and the pilots of the Piper Cubs who were buffeted somewhat by the strong gusts.

The fighter competition took to the air and Boeing showed off their F/A-18F Super Hornet, which actually displayed twice during the day, the first using a jet in VFA-106 "Gladiators" markings, the second jet unmarked except for the Navy titles. The routine seemed comparatively short, however it wowed the crowds with some of its signature moves, seemingly keeping the nose in one place and 'sliding' the tail around it, that many in the crowd may not have seen before. Of course it was accompanied by a typically American commentary/sales pitch, but not to the same extent as the full patriotic Demo Team commentaries. EADS displayed the Eurofighter Typhoon, borrowing a Luftwaffe example. The display was full of energy, extremely dynamic and was one of the best Typhoon displays I have witnessed. Not forgetting SAAB, who displayed the JAS.39C Gripen, using a Swedish Air Force example. They gave a solid display that like the Typhoon, was full of energy, giving many rolls and loops. Despite the tricks that the F/A-18F has up its sleeve, for me the Typhoon gave the best display out of the three.

Flares certainly have not gone out of fashion in Europe as yet, with a number of the display items using them in their routines. Their use was most noticeable in the Finnish Air Force F/A-18C display, as with almost every climb, the pilot popped out flares, allowing for many photo opportunities! The RDAF F-16A took to skies and also used flares extensively throughout its solo display. Not to be outdone, the Czech Air Force L-159A ALCA also got in on the act. However the award for best use of flares with most impact would have to go to the RDAF C-130J Hercules. After a short take off and arrival from behind the crowd, the Hercules performed a number of fly-throughs and on its final fast pass pulled up into a climb, releasing flares and chaff before returning to land.

The Danish Air Force know how to put on a tactical demonstration and the crowd was treated to a number of different set-pieces throughout the day. All were fast-paced and packed with plenty of action. These routines were certainly suited to the Karup and the length of the crowd line. Had they been performed at a show with a much longer crowd line, at the likes of RIAT or Waddington for example, they would have lost their impact, especially away from crowd centre.

The first set-piece involved the Helicopter Wing stopping a vehicle. Two Fennecs, a Lynx and Merlin were involved in chasing a sports car down the runway. The Lynx and a Fennec forced the vehicle to stop whilst the Merlin dropped off troops that came under simulated fire whilst 'apprehending' the driver. As this was happening, the second Fennec was circling overhead. A super demonstration that kept the audience enthralled with constant action and activity.

The helicopters all took to the sky later on again with another demonstration, this time arresting someone using a quick 'insertion' with personnel rappelling from the Fennecs and Lynx, whilst a quad-bike and motorbike exited the Merlin and went riding around in front of the crowd. The Merlin helicopter had not finished its displays with that, and an example was on show yet again with a SAR Demonstration, winching a crewman down then returning to rescue him.

The fast jets were not going to be left out and were involved in their own demonstration. After completing a diamond-nine flypast, the F-16s returned for an airfield attack. This was very much a blink and you miss it routine, with a pair arriving at high speed from crowd-right at the same time a singleton was coming in on a strafing run from the opposite direction. As these three departed, further attack runs were completed by more pairs coming from different directions again. Once the second attack run in had been completed, the F-16s disappeared, just as quickly as they had arrived. The only sign of their presence was a smoking airfield. Luckily for the crowd this was only where an aircraft had inadvertently set fire to the grass with one of its released flares, and not from dropping ordnance. It truly demonstrated the effect of an attack as the crowd did not know which way to look for the next piece of action and showed how surprising and confusing it could be to be on the receiving end of any such an assault.

It appeared that there may have been two display lines that were being flown by different aircraft. The active runway appeared to be the datum for the historic aircraft and also the set-piece demonstrations from the helicopters, but the secondary runway further north was used by the majority of the display items. This suited the larger acts like the Hercules, and fast jet displays, however it was not ideal for the German Heeresflieger Bo.105 which was sporting a lovely special anniversary colour scheme, nor Baby Blue, the Danish Aerobatic Team in their T-17 Supporters. The solo element of Baby Blue and the Bolkow were just too far away, even for a 400mm lens.

The Red Arrows, in their 50th Anniversary season, arrived in typical style during the afternoon - well eight of them did, the ninth followed sometime afterwards. After landing and refuelling, they were ready to take to the skies and performed as the final act of the day. Their display will be seen many times within the UK and the Danish crowd seemed to appreciate the opportunity to watch their display, which was as always, a flawless example of close formation flying.

Arriving shortly after the advertised gate opening time of 0800, there was no traffic delays and heading onto the base was simple, with our party parked-up and heading into the showground via the southern entrance with ease. It was clear that the day was going to be busy; the organisers stating that in previous years there had regularly been attendances from 50,000 up to 120,000. This year proved just as popular with the attendance estimated at between 120,000 and 130,000. It was evident at the end of the day how busy it had been, as there were some traffic delays leaving the airfield. Those who decided to leave early contributed to the queues exiting the base, with some people remaining stationary for well over an hour by 1630 with the marshals trying their best to get about six queues, one from each car park field, down into two lanes. All the while Fennecs were monitoring the situation from above.

Overall the show had a wonderful free flowing and relaxed feel to it, and although relatively small in size, the variety and quality on offer certainly made up for that. It was particularly nice to see more of the Danish hardware that is certainly less frequently seen in the UK and the even rarer historic aircraft. The next show will be hosted in 2016 by Skrydstrup Air Base.