Founded in 2008, Morocco has since held an biennial air show with the aim of the show to establish a meeting point on the African continent for the civilian and military aircraft sector. During the last three shows, the International aerospace community from China, Russia, Europe and the Americas have all shown interest. Jason Grant attended for AeroResource.
This year’s show was held between Wednesday 23rd April and Saturday 26th April with only Saturday being open to the public. The venue was Marrakech Menara Airport, a five-minute drive from the centre of Marrakech and is served by several European airlines. This provided easy access to the show which is situated on the far side of the airport, away from the civilian terminal.
One of the very few foreign military participants at the show, the United States Air Force (USAF) provided a Boeing KC-135R and a Lockheed Martin C-130J-30 (the extended fuselage version). Both aircraft proved very popular with the locals and long lines of people formed, all wanting a look inside or a photograph with the aircrew, it was very friendly atmosphere.
From here, it opened up to the main static area with many different types of aircraft on show from both the civilian and military sector although this report focusses on the military aspect of the show. Many trade areas had also been set up around the perimeter of the static aircraft with most big named aerospace companies represented.
Of particular interest within the static display were the desert camouflaged military aircraft belonging to the Royal Moroccan Air Force (RMAF). Although tightly lined up within each area and surrounded by barriers, making photography challenging, the camouflaged aircraft stood out in very strong spring sunshine with blue skies all around.
Standing out from the rest of the static display aircraft were the larger types operated by the RMAF. Three different variants of transport aircraft were on display: the Lockheed C-130H, the CASA CN-235M and the Alenia C-27J. At the end of the line was a Bombardier CL-415 which is used as a water bomber for fire fighting, one of 5 recently purchased aircraft, with delivery taking place between 2011 and 2013. Situated in the same area as the C-130H was an Alpha Jet of the RMAF in desert camouflage which was joined by two Beechcraft T-6C Texan IIs used at the Pilot School, based at Marrakech Menara airport, and a CAP 10B used for basic training. Also in this area were several helicopters, again all in camouflage: an Aerospatiale SA.342L Gazelle used in the attack helicopter role, an Aerospatiale SA.330F Puma used for transport. An Agusta-Bell AB.206B Jet Ranger and an Agusta-Bell AB.205A were also on view, both filling the multi-purpose helicopter role and the later was displayed with a crop spraying set up.
Within the RMAF fast jet area was a Northrop F-5E, a type that was originally purchased from the USA in 1966. This aircraft was one of 12 F-5Es purchased from the USA in 1990 where it served as part of an Aggressor squadron. Next to the F-5 was a Mirage F.1. Originally purchased from Dassault in 1975 with deliveries made in 1978, this particular F.1 is one of 27 versions upgraded whilst in service with the RMAF and designated MF-1EM-VI. Next to the F.1 were the latest additions to the RMAF – two block 52 F-16C Fighting Falcons. The F-16s are part of Morocco’s modernization program with the first aircraft delivered on 4th August, 2011 and a total of 24 F-16s have been ordered. Behind the fast jets was a second RMAF Alpha Jet, a Beech King Air 100 used as a multi-engine training aircraft and a King Air 200 which is used for VIP transport . Both King Airs are painted in a civilian colour scheme despite their military role. An MC-27J from Alenia and an Italian Air Force Agusta HH-139A completed this area.
The final military aircraft display area contained a Royal Moroccan Navy Aerospatiale AS565MB Panther painted in a two-tone grey scheme. Also present were Royal Moroccan Gendarmerie aircraft owned by the Ministry of Defence and in an all grey scheme, consisting of Aerospatiale SA330L Puma, an AS.355F1 Ecureuil, an SA.330L Puma, an Alouette 2 and finally a Titan Tornado II that is used in the surveillance role. Also in this area were a Eurocopter EC135T2 and an EC145 both of which are used as air ambulances.
With a small military flying display taking place every afternoon, the best position for the sun and photographs was outside and over to the far side of the airport. This area of town seemed very deprived but the locals seemed friendly enough towards the handful of European photographers who had gathered for the flypast and display every afternoon that week.
A pair of Puma helicopters launched, the first draping the national flag with the second helicopter displaying a Marrakech air show flag signalling the start of the display. Next up were the Patrulla Aguila Spanish Air Force display team, flying 7 CASA C-101EB Aviojets. The bright coloured aircraft and tight formation flying thrilled the locals that had now gathered to watch the show.
Following on from the Patrulla Aguila, four T-6 aircraft with a two-tone blue and white colour scheme flew past in formation, followed by 5 camouflaged Alpha Jets and 4 camouflaged F-5s. Next and flying at speed, 4 Mirage F.1s headed towards us, breaking formation one at a time, pulling up hard as they flew past. Several minutes later, a KC-130H flew past with 2 F-5s attached to the refuelling drogue. A pair of F.1s and F-16s were also in formation with the tanker.
It was now time for the water bombing demonstration. A pair of Bombardier CL-415s took off and formed up and, following a couple of flypasts, both aircraft dumped their cargo which turned out to be coloured water: green and red to signify the two colours of the national flag.
The familiar sound of the rotary-wing display started with an Agusta-Bell AB.205A fly past. This aircraft was similar to the one in the static display with a crop spraying set-up and was followed by a formation of four Jet Rangers, which flew overhead, and four Gazelles, all with a camouflage scheme. Once these had landed, the Royal Moroccan Air Force aerobatic display team “Marche Verte” (Green March) took to the sky in their brightly painted prop aircraft. Again, another demonstration of close formation flying with all seven CAP-232 aircraft tied together for the early part of their display before breaking apart to complete the routine.
Four F-16s, flying just under the speed of sound ran in along the runway, and as they approached, broke formation pulling up hard. One by one they disappeared in to the deep blue sky. The show was over once the Moroccan military parachute team that had jumped out of a CASA CN-235, landed back on the airfield.
Marrakech’s biennial air show benefits from fantastic African spring weather and some beautiful aircraft colour schemes. The usual precautions need to be heeded in a hot country, making sure that fluids are continuously available. Photography is challenging with aircraft tightly bunched together in the static park and barriers close to the aircraft, the flying display is silhouetted against the sky. To make the most of the photography of the flying aircraft, it is better to travel outside the show and on to the far side of the airport, but be aware that some of these areas are very poor and if you chose to drive, etiquette seems to be with who can get into any gap first; a car, moped or donkey. Good luck.