Kecskemet Air Show, Hungary

11 August 2007

One of the last events on the 2007 airshow calender was the Hungarian Air Force Air Show at their Kesckemet Air Base. Situated in the centre of the country, this former Soviet fighter base now houses all the fast jet assets of the Magyar Légierö, as the Hungarians refer to their air force. Based unit is the 59th Tactical Fighter Wing, named for Hungarian fighter ace Szentgyörgyi Deszö (34 kills during World War II). The unit flies three types of aircraft. Apart from the MiG.29 obtained from Russia as debt repayment and L.39ZO Albatross trainers from former East German stocks, there is the factory fresh SAAB JAS.39C/D Gripen. So proud are the Hungarians of the Gripen that Gripen sandwiches could be had at a certain sales stand!

Along with neighbouring Czech Republic, Hungary relies on this latest Swedish fighter for its air defence needs. Not surprisingly, all three nations´ Gripens could be seen both on the ground and in the air. Seeing the jets in the air presented its own set of unique problems however, as the show organisers had seen fit to seperate the active part of the base from the public area by means of a 6 feet tall fence of the kind that is being used to fence off construction sites. This necessitated some Uri Geller-esque activities to bend the vertical strands into a modified shape in order to let through big telephoto lenses. Another problem for which the organisers were not to blame was the considerable amount of smog in the air, causing many a blurred picture. 

Back to the flying program, which brought a.o. this specially painted Mi.24V combat helicopter from the 2nd Combat Helicopter Squadron at Szolnok, the other of only two active air bases in todays Hungary. It wasn't the only Mi.24V to be shown, for a Slovak Air Force example displayed during the day as well.

Special colour schemes were to be seen on some other aicraft as well. To the left and center are two of Hungary's L.39ZO Albatross trainers still active in the advanced training role. Both had been given a great white shark- inspired paint scheme. The prototype Aero L.159B ALCA, rebuilt from a single seat L.159A single seater Advanced Light Combat Aircraft surplus to Czech Air Force requirements can be seen to the right.

An Mi.17 helicopter without its rear clamshell doors installed is a strange sight indeed. Yet, it is being done regularly by Mi.8/Mi.17 operators in order to faciltate ingress and egress of troops. This 86th Helicopter Wing machine was one of the opening acts of the show, flying the Hungarian flag at one stage during its display. 

Hungary is on the border between Western Europe and the Balkans. This fact no doubt enabled the Serbian Air Force to take part in the Kecskemet Air Show. This SOKO J-22 Orao is a SEPECAT Jaguar inspired tactical fighter bomber developed in cooperation with Romania. Although the Romanian Air Force retired their Oraos around 2000, the Serbian Air Force continues to fly these jets. It was capably demonstrated at Kecskemet.

Another Serbian Air Force jet was this SOKO G-4 Super Galeb. Designed to augment and replace the G-2 Galeb, the Super Galeb could have had a bright future as a low cost Hawk alternative, if it hadn't been for the Yugoslav civil war. The survivors now equip Serb Air Force training squadrons.

The aforementioned SOKO G-2 Galeb still flies in service today. These however belong to a four-strong aerobatic team called Flying Stars. Back in the late 80's  the then Yugoslav Air Force had a demonstration team of G-4's, these civil registered G-2's now try to bring back this memory. Although many manoeuvres were borrowed from other teams like Patrouille Suisse and Frecce Tricolori, they were a joy to watch.

During the Yugoslav Civil War they fought each other, now these two countries' air forces can be seen together at airshows. Croatia's Oluja (Storm) demonstration team flies these Pilatus PC.9 primary trainers. 

With nice warm weather, although a bit smoggy at times, Kecskemet had a delightfully varied air show. At least for Western European eyes, the Serbian Air Force Orao must count as one of the highlights. It is to be hoped however that for future shows a vendor of more decently sized crowd barriers can be found.