Found in the north-eastern corner of the Czech Republic near the border with Poland, the small city of Ostrava is the capital of the Moravian-Silesian Region and, since its inception in 2001, been the setting for the annual NATO days show. Duncan Monk reports from Ostrava NATO days 2016.
This show has grown from a small ‘after work hours’ capability demonstration of various army and police units at the Ostrava exhibition ground in Černá louka to a fully blown two day security event showcasing both NATO and Czech forces at the Leoš Janáček Ostrava Airport.
With the motto of the show being “Our security cannot be taken for granted and there is no prosperity without security”, the aim is to present to the public a whole spectrum of units and capability demonstrations that belong to the Czech Republic and its allies. Despite rising costs, the European Airshow Council – or EAC – award-winning show has and will always remain free for the public to enter, making it a very attractive show to attend.
The annual attendance for the show has grown nearly ten-fold from around 25,000 at its first year at the airport in 2003, to well over 225,000 people last year. This being partly down to a resurgence in United States Air Force assets attending, notably this year a RAF Mildenhall based CV-22B Osprey (of the 7th Special Operations Wing) and the mighty B-52H Stratofortress. However, this year’s attendance was well down on 2015s with just 45,000 walking through the gates on the Saturday and 85,000 on Sunday. Saturday’s poor turnout was largely due to forecast heavy rain that duly arrived as the main flying display began and continued to pour down for around four hours. After weeks of wall-to-wall sunshine, it was such a shame the weather decided to break for the airshow weekend. Kudos to the skilled pilots of the displaying air arms, who continued to fly in consistently heavy rain, albeit with a good cloud base – that said the Slovakian L-39 ‘scrubbed’ its planned display.
The 2016 edition of NATO Days again saw the might of the USAF attending in good numbers with the return of a KC-135 – this year coming from the 155th ARW of the Nebraska Air National Guard and the previously mentioned CV-22B Osprey and B-52H – the latter coming from the 307th Bomber Wing based at Barksdale Air Force Base. Making the types first visit to Ostrava, and a rare appearance at a European airshow, was a Rockwell B-1B strategic bomber from the 7th Bomber Wing based at Dyess Air Force Base in Texas. The US Army were also in attendance, with a rare outing of a UH-60 Blackhawk from the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade based in Germany for static display.
This year’s flying display was the biggest and longest in the history of the event with flying commencing at 0850 on Saturday and 0900 on Sunday. Although the flying was not continuous, it has to be slotted in and around the ongoing ground displays, some of which utilise rotary assets on show.
For the first time ever at a show, all five European Eurofighter Typhoon operators were in attendance at the same airshow – with each air arm presenting various dynamic displays of their aircraft in the flying display. The finale on Sunday should have seen a historic flypast of all five of the countries aircraft together, but sadly for some reason or another both the RAF and Luftwaffe jets did not take part leaving the the other three operators – Austria, Italy and Spain – to perform the flypast.
Every year one NATO member is selected to be the partner nation and for 2016 that was Germany, which was also the last to confirm that it would display its EF-2000 at the show – its only foreign performance for 2016, a huge coup for the organisers. Last year’s partner nation was Sweden who this year brought a TP-84T Hercules for static and provided the Saab Viggen, Draken, 105 and J29F Tunnan of the Swedish Air Force Historic Flight for the flying display.
In addition to the special anniversary marked EF-2000 celebrating 60 years of the Luftwaffe which performed in the flying display (plus examples for static) the air arm also helped fill the static display up with examples of their A400M, C160 Transall, and Panavia Tornado aircraft. The German Army provided a Bo-105 in both the flying and static display along with NH90 and Tiger attack helicopter on static. Not to be left out, the German Navy provided a Sea King, Sea Lynx and P-3C Orion for static.
The flying display was certainly varied, despite having five Typhoon displays, two F-16 Fighting Falcon displays (from The Belgian Air Component and Team Zeus from the Hellenic Air Force) were scheduled to fly. Unfortunately, the Belgian example from Kleine Brogel Air Base pulled out of the show during the run up to the event along with the Swiss national aerobatic team, the Patrouille Swiss, with their elegantly painted F-5 Tigers.
The French Air Force displayed an example of the Rafale C – their premier frontline aircraft – with an incredibly tight and entertaining routine whilst the Swiss Air Force brought their F/A-18 Hornet solo display flown immaculately, and somewhat aggressively, by Captain Julien ‘Teddy’ Meister. It was frustrating for some in the crowds that the Staffel 11 ‘Tiger’ jet that was on site did not display on either the Friday or Sunday.
Czech’s neighbours Slovakia and Poland provided aircraft for the flying display with the Slovaks demonstrating their L-39 Albatross (when the weather played ball!) whilst the Polish provided two helicopters rarely seen displaying, the SW-4 Puszczyk and W-3 Sokół. Sadly, in the run up to the show the much-anticipated display of a Slovak MiG-29UB was withdrawn with operational reasons being cited. The Slovenian Air Force provided one flying item with a Pilatus PC-9M Hudournik from Cerklje ob Krki Airbase put through its paces in the best weather on the Sunday providing some great light on the dark camouflaged schemed aircraft.
The home team also supplied four items for the flying display in the form of a JAS-39C Gripen (complete with flares!), two L-159 ALCAs and three helicopters – the sublime Mi-24 Hind, multi-purpose Mi-171š Hip and a Bell 412 of the countries police force. The Italians, not content with just bringing their Eurofighter, brought some flair, colour and panache to the display with the Frecce Tricolori flying their ten MB-339’s – the colourful national team’s display being accompanied by their usual enthusiastic and very patriotic commentary.
The highlight of the flying display without doubt was the Romanian Air Force flying the venerable yet aesthetic Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 LanceR. A rare airshow performer in Europe, it raced around the Ostrava skies in full afterburner leaving huge smiles on the faces of the thousands of enthusiasts ensconced around the airfield – although it seemed a little ‘toned down’ when compared to the rehearsal witnessed on Friday!
Not content with the excellent German and United States offerings in the static park, the organisers provided a huge selection of other NATO hardware to wet the appetite. Given the small size of the airfield the show takes place on, it was a surprise to see that it wasn’t all wedged in too tightly – kudos to them.
Although not in the flying display, the Lithuanian Air Force brought four aircraft comprising their C-27J Spartan, L-39C & L-39ZA Albatross and the ultimately rare search and rescue Airbus Helicopters AS365N3+ Dauphin. The Dutch provided two F-16MLUs, the Polish Navy a AN-28 Bryza along with a Polish Air Force F-16 and Casa 295M,PZL SW-4 Puszczyk while a Mi-8 was also in the flying display briefly. A second Romanian MiG-21 LanceR was provided for the huge crowd to drool over in the static, along with their support aircraft – a smart looking C-27J Spartan
The United Kingdom embraced the 2016 edition of NATO Days by bringing more aircraft than in the past. Complementing the Typhoon Display Team was another Eurofighter Typhoon and a Tornado GR4, whilst the Royal Navy provided a Hawk from 736 Naval Air Squadron based at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall, piloted by USMC Exchange pilot Capt Leary. A Hungarian JAS-39 Gripen belonging to the 59th ‘Szentgyörgyi Dezső’ Tactical Wing was put alongside a Czech Example from 211 Tactical Squadron sporting an eye catching Tiger scheme, whilst the Slovaks showed off an L-39 Albatross and Mi-17 in an green digital came scheme which also graced the show in 2015. Not to be left out, the Czechs had a great line up of static aircraft including the previously mentioned JAS-39C Gripen, an L-39, L-159, Mi-24 and Mi-171.
Although not an out and out airshow, the NATO Days program in Ostrava has expanded from its early conception as a security show to now incorporate the Czech Air Force days that is now in its seventh year. Nevertheless, it has not lost its early values and traits that highlight the whole of the security forces family.
The ‘show ground’ has plenty to offer away from aviation, with a massive line up of tanks and vehicles (and not just military) to climb over, sit in and watch as they are demonstrated in a public arena. Along with motorcycles, police horses, hostage scenarios and Presidential guard it really provides the public with an all-round look at how diverse and complex security is throughout the Czech Republic and NATO as a whole.
The fact that this show has picked up so many accolades over the years from the EAC shows you the organisers are doing a remarkable job that continues to impress and improve year after year. This year’s lineup both on the ground and in the air is that is right up there with the Royal International Air Tattoo with regard to quality over quantity in the author’s opinion. At this year’s EAC award ceremony in Malta, NATO Days was awarded the prestigious Airshow Photography award, a third place for media and marketing and the coveted Paul Bowen trophy for its outstanding contribution to the airshow community.
The one thing that can stop the show growing further is the space available, for not only aircraft, but the public too. Last year’s show was incredibly packed and hard to move around due to the huge volume of people that attended, due in part to the good weather and the influx of USAF Aircraft. However the organisers did a good job with the static, which was fairly well spaced out considering. The lack of barriers around the B-52 and B-1 was somewhat surprising yet refreshing, giving thousands of people the chance to get underneath, touch both aircraft, and even photograph the bomb bay of the B-1. With the bomber crews on hand to answer questions it was a really good bit of ‘PR’ by both the show and the USAF. Given the incredible overkill we see in the UK security wise with not only fencing and cones but heavily armed police standing ‘guard’ around USAF assets at shows like RIAT, it makes you wonder why shows like Sliač in Slovakia and Ostrava have little security around the same aircraft, yet actively encourage the public to get close?
Once again, the Ostrava NATO Days 2016 organisers have to be applauded as they put on a huge record breaking varied and entertaining two-day security and airshow. The coup of having all five European Eurofighter operators display at one show, along with rarities from countries like Lithuania and a pair of United States bombers is not born out of luck, but the result of well-deserved hard work. Although crowds were down due to Saturday’s forecasted rain, the show in itself was a huge success and next year’s Ostrava NATO Days 2017 is already being eagerly anticipated!