International Air Show Radom
Saturday 26th August - Sunday 27th August 2023
It's been five years since the last airshow at Radom, traditionally Poland's premier air event, with 2017 and 2018's shows being popular although not entirely successful affairs. When this year's show was announced, many saw it as a must-attend on their calendars, especially as it offered what could be the last chance to see some of the disappearing Soviet types in the Polish inventory. The show was again a partial success, with appearances from almost every type in Poland and great foreign attendance but marred by some missed chances and poor organisation.
battled the Polish heat to report for UK Airshow Review. Photography by the Staff Team.
Eastern European air shows have long been a strong pull for UK enthusiasts. They offer the chance to see exotic or rare types in home team lineups that are rarely seen in the UK with displays put on that can occasionally be a bit more creative than expected, usually accompanied by a cheaper holiday than a trip just over the Channel. Prior to 2018 Radom was beginning to build a smallish reputation for attracting some pretty exotic types such as a static Su-25 from Ukraine or JF-17 flying display from Pakistan. While the 2023 show held a five year gap from those results the interest was nevertheless justified in what they could bring back as well as what could be expected as a last chance to see some Soviet-era aircraft in the air before retirement, such as the Polish Air Force's (PAF) Su-22M4 Fitters or Navy's Mi-14 Haze.
As far as ticking off those types went, the show provided. The show timetable was centred by a mass flypast of Polish military aircraft encompassing nearly every type in the Polish armed forces. Everything from Air Force Academy DA-42s and Mi-2s to W-3 Sokoɫs and Mi-8s, through the jet trainers and fighter types and even a VIP 737-800, Polish military aviation was superbly represented. It's surprising to see such a large (64 aircraft or thereabouts) parade put on for no real anniversary milestone, but perhaps events in neighbouring Ukraine have played their part in wanting to send a message. It also featured aircraft from the Polish Navy (an aforementioned Mi-14), Army and even an S-70 from the special forces unit GROM, with most types also being represented on the ground as well.
The parade was closed by a "handing over" formation of a PAF MiG-29 Fulcrum and one of the service's newest type, the Korean Aerospace Industries FA-50GF Golden Eagle. Only two have been delivered to Poland, with the other taking part in the static, and Radom marked the first airshow appearance of the light fighter since they arrived in July. Notably, despite being formally in Polish service the aircraft were flown by Korean pilots with Polish pilots in the backseats.
Other new types in service were shown off at the show as well in the form of a Leonardo helicopter segment, demonstrating Leonardo-owned Polish company PZL-Swidnik's products. As well as a general manufacturer display of the company's AW109 Trekker, flying routines were put on of a pre-delivery Polish Army AW149, built by PZL in Poland and a pre-delivery Polish Navy AW101, which is replacing the services' Hazes, built at Yeovil but at the time undergoing testing at Swidnik. As expected from test pilot routines they were pretty punchy, but the Merlin in particular stood out by its sheer presence, reminding us of its absence in the UK display scene.
Poland's current defence spending spree could also be aptly seen on the ground with examples of their new K2 and M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks and K239 Chunmoo and M142 HIMARS artillery systems, all proudly sporting crowds of children climbing all over them.
As well as the customary Polish civilian acts (including a brilliant pairs routine from a TS-11 Iskra pair and an hilarious demonstration by a Rainbow Skyreach BushCat with a train horn attached(!?)) the show certainly attracted a smorgasbord of the continent's premier jet displays as well as a handful of interesting static participants. In the flying programme it was certainly a good weekend for F-16 fans with Danish, Belgian and Greek examples all joining their Polish counterpart on the schedule although the strongest demo was surely the Finnish F/A-18 Hornet demonstration. Possibly robbed of the As the Crow Flies trophy at RIAT this year, Captain Henri Toppari put the aircraft through the stunning display aided by one of the best examples of flares usage in a fast jet demo with a seemingly unlimited supply of them accentuating the turns and loops in the routine.
On the ground, Poland's recent acquisition of 96 AH-64E Apaches was represented by an example from the US Army while other overseas rotary wing gems saw a Croatian OH-58 Kiowa Warrior and UH-60M Blackhawk join an (unannounced) Hungarian H145M. Similarly unannounced was a Lithuanian L-410 accompanied by a Slovakian example.
A first for the Radom in 2023 was a nightshow on the Saturday. Though far from the first in Poland with Lezno air show having run a night display for the past three years, it was Radom's first attempt and pretty much a successful one too, with a heavy emphasis in the marketing put on the fact that the show was holding one this year. In actuality it simply flowed on from the daytime programme as the PAF's Tiger F-16 demo in the sunset light moved into one of the Iskras appropriately shooting out sparks from wing-mounted pods, and various other typical nightshow acts taking part as the light got lesser and less.
Though many were more or less the same formula, gliders, light types or helicopters shooting fireworks or trailing sparks, or both, or with lights, it didn't diminish the inherently enjoyable spectacle of an air show at night. One civilian act stood out, the Flying Dragons team composed of seven paramotors in a column formation. Each aircraft was lit by LEDs pulsating and flashing in rhythm with the music playing over the speakers which created a very joyful sight in the sky, although they did, of course, also shoot off a bunch of fireworks too.
The PAF's contribution to the nightshow, though comprising only two acts, was sensational. Familiar to a Leszno-goer was a C-130 flare dump that absolutely lit up the night sky with dozens and dozens of flares all at once, completely illuminating the aircraft as it arced in front of the crowdline, but the definite highlight was a truly unique appearance by a Su-22. For the first time ever at a public display, at least in Poland, the Fitter did two passes in the dark equipped with a KKR reconnaissance pod mounted on the centreline. As it ran in down the airfield, the pod fired out flash flares designed to illuminate an area for the film camera on board which exploded with incredibly bright light and loud noise as it went past, each run dropping a good few dozen of the flares which left small balls of smoke visible behind it as well. On the crowdline this was totally unexpected but an absolutely phenomenal sight (and sound) and not one that could ever be repeated with a modern aircraft. Credit has to go to the Polish Air Force for considering this as a demonstration for the nightshow and it produced a spectacle that won't be long forgotten.
However, as fantastic as that was, it was one of the few appearances of the country's Soviet-era aircraft in the flying display at all. In fact, until only a few days before the show, it was ostensibly the type's only announced appearance at the show, much to the consternation of the photographers attending who wanted what might be their last ever photos of the unique European type in daylight. As it turned out, not only did three also take part in the flypast, but two also conducted simulated bombing runs (including pyrotechnics on the ground) right after. However, they were pretty far from the crowdline and it was all over pretty quickly compared with what a full display would have offered.
No Mi-24 Hinds were present at the show at all, the Mi-14 only took part in the flypast but most noticeably absent was a MiG-29 solo display, with the only extra participation being the passes with the FA-50GF. Since both the Fitter and Fulcrum are reduced to just a single squadron in Polish service it's understandable that there aren't many hours going spare but it's still disappointing as a showgoer to miss a display from the famously smokey fighter, which is itself diminishing in numbers in Europe, especially when the Polish government isn't exactly afraid of throwing money at its military. For many foreign spotters these types will have been one of the primary drivers behind attending the show and they will have perhaps felt a little short changed that those aircraft, that may not end up being at another show again, weren't given much of a limelight.
Others that may have felt short changed was anyone attending the show on Sunday. Aside from the (obvious and known) lack of nightshow three military displays were missing from the Sunday timetable - a Polish Navy W-3 Anakonda SAR demo and Air Force M28 Bryza and C295 solo displays, all extremely rare in their own right. Though the C295 that displayed on Saturday did take part in the flypast on Sunday, the lack of these heavy, military machinery acts from Sunday's timetable with no replacements ended up making the day feel very 'filler'-heavy compared with the previous day's schedule, despite all the fast jet displays.
The only area in which Saturday was worse than Sunday, although not by much, was in the organisation of the show, which was genuinely shocking in one particular area. Notwithstanding the fact that the gates were opened so late that even those first in line were missing some of the first display acts, before the show the organisers announced that there was a hard limit on liquids brought into the show: no more than a single, 500ml bottle could be brought in and anything else would be confiscated. However, it was also told, you could refill this for free at a number of points in the show. On the days, temperatures were already in the high twenties before the gates even opened and went over 30 degrees for much of the afternoon.
People were fainting in the queues for the gates before the show even started due to the heat (and those 500ml bottles were rarely full by the time you got through the checks) and it goes without saying that the water bottles you could buy at the various stalls were running out by lunch. However, the dangerous part is that the water refill points were woefully inadequate. Rather than the public bowsers and high-pressure taps we see at some shows in the UK, the water available was distributed by a water company from a handful of stalls from excruciatingly slow spigots and small water jugs, resulting in queues of over an hour for water as people waited to refill their bottles. It was very apparent how many people were being shuttled away on the medical carts from the heat and the whole rule felt utterly irresponsible. Social media was full of an endless stream of complaints about the fact, to the point that the show did, to their credit, relax the rule on the Sunday (although only to the point of being able to bring in more than one 500ml bottle).
For whatever reason this rule was brought in, it made being inside the show a struggle with most of the day being a battle with the heat as you waited for what fluids you could get. The overriding impression was one of irresponsibility on that front and even the station's firefighters had to relent and open up a water point with their hoses. This isn't the first year that the show has had this rule but there's no doubt, judging by Polish reactions, that it has had the biggest effect on people and it can only be hoped that the rule is revised for the next edition, scheduled to take place in August 2024.
The sad truth is that it marred what was overall a very decent airshow. The quality and diversity of the acts was as good as anywhere else, and while you wanted for displays from the various Soviet types at the end of their lives they were nevertheless in the air in the flypast, itself a spectacle worth going to see on its own. As a show on the European circuit it offered much to a western European enthusiast with many rare Polish types, old and new, to take in at once and the nightshow was certainly a great addition with two unique acts that you can't see in any other country. Photography is difficult as it's a south-facing crowdline but no doubt the photographically-inclined reader will figure that one out.
Radom is a show to return to, but probably most urgently while they still have many of their Soviet-era aircraft around. Within a mere few years the Fitters, Fulcrums and Hazes will be gone and the Polish military will be increasingly modernised. However, the potential for a good show will always be there and with some interesting procurements going on there will be a decent airshow to look forward to for many years to come.