Danish Air Show

Sunday 19th June 2022

Why bother with foreign shows? Why bother planning a trip, particularly within Europe, when so many of the line-ups can be, let's face it, a bit samey? When yer Sanicoles and Zeltwegs and What-Nots all begin to blend into one big airshow soup of Belgian F-16s, Swiss F-18s and all the other acts which reliably support all the major European events, what's the justification for the logistical hassle and expense of travelling abroad, especially if modern military is your 'bag' and we have RIAT right here on our own doorstep? Well, one such reason might be the opportunity to catch the home team doing their thing for a domestic audience, and on that metric alone, the Danish show at Karup Airbase absolutely did not disappoint.

Gordon Duncan reports back from Jutland for UKAR. Photography by the Staff Team.

The Danish Air Force runs its airshow on a biennial basis, with each of the three main airfields taking turns to host. This year the responsibility fell on Karup and the Helicopter Wing, and against the challenging backdrop of increased operational tempo and sensitivity due to the return of major conflict in Europe, they managed to deliver a very fine airshow indeed. Some pre-show speculation had implied that the crowd might be located north of the runway, but come show-day such fears proved to be unfounded, with the runway more or less due north of the spectators and thus providing optimal photographic conditions. Even the notoriously changeable Jutland weather managed to play ball, and whilst it wasn't exactly roasting it did at least remain more or less dry throughout.

Unlike many similar European events, this is a one-day-only affair, although the spotter package did provide access to the base on the Saturday to shoot arrivals and rehearsals, for those lucky (and persistent!) enough to navigate the somewhat convoluted booking process. The airshow itself, meanwhile, in the tradition of many such open days, remains completely free… a very welcome state of affairs in these inflation-addled times. Speaking of 'signs of the times', a decision was taken not to produce physical programmes, with spectators instead encouraged to download a (free) programme which could then be accessed by smartphone during the show. Whilst the environmental benefits of not printing reams of glossy paper are clear, nonetheless it feels a shame to lose such a reliably familiar piece of airshow memorabilia, especially for those of us who take pride in a collection of programmes stretching back several decades.

If that all seems terribly modern, in many other respects the show felt almost reassuringly old-fashioned, with an excellent programme which successfully balanced modern military hardware with warbirds and vintage types, creating an overall impression of a genuine celebration of aviation. Of clear interest to the enthusiast community - and the cause of considerable pre-show excitement - were the Saab historic jets, represented by the magnificent trio of Lansen, Draken and Viggen, with all three participating in the flying display. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the standout among the vintage participants (and source of much billing and cooing from the UKAR contingent) was the lovely SAI KZ IV, which had flown in from the nearby Stauning Museum. With its unique 'art-deco' looks, this aircraft evokes a bygone era of aviation, in which aesthetic elegance seemed to be as much a feature of aircraft design as aerodynamic efficiency. Visiting the (very fine) Stauning collection the day after the show, it was quite remarkable to see the KZ IV parked in its usual berth, looking to all the world like just another immaculate museum exhibit, when not 24 hours previously it had been flying in front of tens of thousands of spectators at a major international event. It's worth noting that only two of these beautiful machines were ever built, so to see one still flying really is an extraordinary privilege.

Joining the KZ IV from the Stauning collection in the flying display were several other SAI KZ types, each a stunning (pun intended) rarity in its own right, as well as two Chipmunks which provided a pairs flying demonstration under the daft but amusing name the 'Chip Chaps'. All such aircraft were neatly presented in their own cordoned-off compound located in the middle of the showground, giving spectators the chance to enjoy these venerable types taxiing up-close as well as flying; a nice touch from the organisers.

One of the first sights which greets the visitor to Karup is a beautifully presented J-35 Draken gate-guardian overlooking the road which runs past the main gate. Three more ex-Danish Air Force Drakens (including a twin-stick) were to be found on static display at the airshow. Judging from the numbers crowding around them throughout the show-day, there is clearly still huge affection for the type in Denmark, with the Draken perhaps occupying a position in the psyche of the Danish airshow-goer roughly analogous to that of the Harrier in this country: a noisy, charismatic jet which instantly calls to mind the 'golden age' of the European airshow during the latter days of the Cold War-era. The three examples on static display at Karup all looked capable of flying tomorrow, and with their retro-futuristic looks they didn't seem at all out of place next to the contemporary front-line gems on offer, which included a pair of Swiss F/A-18s, and solid contributions from the Polish Air Force in the shape of an F-16C and Su-22M4 'Fitter'. Space for static exhibits is somewhat restricted at Karup, so the decision to go for quality over quantity felt intuitively correct, with other top-notch foreign participation including a German Navy Lynx, and Slovak Let-410. Not to be outdone, the 'home team' was also present with a full complement of types including AS550 C2 Fennecs, MH-60 Seahawks and F-16s.

Of course, the static Draken trio (plus well-preserved cockpit section) were by no means the only classic Saab jets present at the show. The Swedish Air Force Historic Flight provided magnificent support for the flying display with star turns from the Lansen, Draken and Viggen, each type providing punchy, well-flown routines probably not hugely dissimilar to what they would have flown during their operational heyday. The Lansen is an odd beast - there's bits of T-33, Hunter and perhaps even Super-Etendard mixed in there - but the reverberating 'thump' when its afterburner engages would have been worth the admission money alone (had we been asked to pay any). The Draken which flew was a single-seat example in fetching camouflage; again the residual affection for the type in Denmark was clear, with all eyes to the skies when this unique double-delta blasted into the air. But the Viggen… oh lord, the Viggen. An impossibly cool machine, it completely stole the show with its party-piece of landing in front of the crowd, coming to a screeching halt in no distance at all, reversing down the runway, then getting airborne again, and all seemingly within about as much space as a suburban driveway. The fact that in 2022 we can enjoy not one but two flying Viggens in Europe is frankly ridiculous; that at least one of them should be providing airshow demos like this which still blow the crowds away is almost beyond comprehension.

There was a danger that against such stiff competition the other fast jet routines might have felt like something of an afterthought, though there were still excellent turns from the ever-reliable Belgian and Greek F-16s, the Armée de l'Air Rafale, and the Swedes again with their JAS-39 Gripen demo, which departed immediately after the end of the flying display along with the 'holy trinity' of its illustrious Saab forerunners. Our own Red Arrows provided the formation-team element of the fast jet component; the reduction from nine aircraft to seven in no way dampening the enthusiasm of the Danish crowds for the iconic red Hawks.

Even for a fast jet addict, a show consisting of nothing but solo displays would rapidly become a bit tiresome. It's why show organisers go out of their way to mix things up, with massed formations, teams and role demonstrations. As a genuine 'At Home' day, of the type which we used to enjoy so frequently in the UK but which have now, alas, all-but disappeared, the main purpose of this event is of course to showcase the Danish military, and to demonstrate to the Danish taxpayer just where all their Krone are going. And, gratifyingly, this element of the show is what stands out the most when looking back on the event. The set-pieces involving the Danish Air Force were nothing short of sensational, at least rivalling if not surpassing similar routines which, for example, the KLu have cooked up over the years at the equivalent Dutch airshows.

The afternoon 'Air Power' demonstration was particularly eye-catching, with based Merlins and MH-60s carrying out troop insertion and extraction manoeuvres close to the crowd whilst no fewer than nine F-16s charged around overhead providing simulated CAP cover. Poignantly, it was very reminiscent of exactly the sort of routine which the RAF used to perform brilliantly, around 2006-2008, and served as a reminder that just a little imagination can go an awfully long way. None of these are particularly rare or unusual types in their own right - few people nowadays jump out of bed on the morning of an airshow at the prospect of seeing an F-16, after all - but stick them all together in a routine which showcases something of their operational role, and suddenly you have pure airshow theatre. Indeed the F-16 segment was especially well received, with the aircraft buzzing the crowd in a variety of formations and configurations - fast passes, slow passes with the gear extended, two-ships, three-ships, missed approaches etc - a superb way to show-off a type with which everyone is already very familiar. Were the RAF to do something similar featuring, say, a Typhoon/F-35 combo, incorporating (in the Danish style) helicopters and heavies in an airfield attack scenario, there's no question that it would absolutely bring the house down.

Aside from the role demos there was excellent domestic support elsewhere, with a Danish C-130 providing its now famous flare-tastic demonstration; the wonderfully sedate formation flying of Baby Blue in their charming little T-17s; and of course the unmistakeable 'Dannebrog' F-16 solo, in its all-over Danish flag colour scheme, which delivered not one but two full demos throughout the day. Indeed 'Dannebrog' even found the time to race a high-performance motorbike down the runway, in another moment of pure entertainment, although (whisper it) we reckoned the motorbike actually won…

No airshow is flawless, and indeed the aftermath of the event at Karup was marred by tales of woeful traffic issues, with some people reporting hours to vacate the car parks. However, such issues are rarely insurmountable, and hopefully this can be addressed when the event next returns to Karup. After such a positive experience it would be churlish indeed to finish on a sour note, so credit where it is due… the Danish Air Force delivered a cracking spectacle in a picturesque setting, which hit exactly the right note in balancing various types of airshow acts, and which succeeded where perhaps it matters most: in showcasing the prowess of the local forces in a dynamic and thrillingly entertaining way. If things remain true to form then Skrysdtrup should be next up, in 2024, and if you've never been then this is one event which you definitely want to get on your radar. Worth the effort? You betcha. Tak!