2014 marks the 15th anniversary of Poland becoming a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). To celebrate the occasion, the Armed Forces of the Republic of Poland (Siły Zbrojne Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej) staged a two day “open house” event (10-11 May) titled “Days with the Polish Armed Forces” and hosted at the 23rd Tactical Air Base near Janow just outside Minsk Mazowiecki.
It was a good opportunity to get acquainted both with the modern equipment the Polish armed forces use, as well as the soldiers, airmen and sailors themselves and their work. Events accompanying the celebrations were also held in the city centre of Minsk Mazowiecki where, in addition to static displays of equipment and armament of the army, the program also included a parade and a concert of military bands.
Accompanying all of this was an airshow consisting of a small but neat static display showing off almost every type of aircraft that the Polish Armed Forces have in their inventory and a four hour flying display comprising of a Polish Air Force MiG-29, Su-22, Six-ship F-16 flypast, SW-4, C-295, C-130, Polish Navy Mi-14 and a Polish Army Mi-24, Mi-17 & W-3 along with the two Polish Display Teams of Team Iskry (Biało-Czerwone Iskry) and Team Orlik.
Upon entering the show the first thing to greet visitors to the static was a MiG-29 equipped with four rocket pods which certainly gave it a more menacing stance, especially head-on. Next to the MiG was an F-16CJ complete with Conformal Fuel Tanks (CFTs), a nice contrast of the changing face of the Polish Air force from the Soviet/Eastern Bloc aircraft to Western equipment highlighting the ever tighter integration with NATO and the West.
The static area had other gems such as a Mil Mi-24 and Navy Mil Mi-14PL which, even in Poland, is a rare visitor to airshows. Rounding out the static was a two seat Su-22UM3K, TS-11R Iskra, Polish Navy Kaman SH-2G Super Seasprite, PZL-130TC-1 Turbo Orlik from “Team Orlik”, W-3PL Gluszec complete with rocket pods, a modernised Mil Mi-171V, M-28 Bryza and finally a CASA C-295M.
The flying display was set to start at 11:15 but early visitors had a treat of a MiG-29UB getting airborne and doing a few circuits before landing. The display was opened with a fly-past by Team Iskry trailing red and white smoke in the colour of the Polish flag and proceedings were under way.
First display item was the Polish Navy Mil Mi-14 and those who were at the Royal International Air Tattoo in 2012 would have recognised this particular aircraft, resplendent with the Killer Whale mural along its sides and text recognising 50 years of Naval Aviation at Darlowo, Poland and this particular helicopter also has the nickname “Orca”.
Some nice low passes, hovers with the gear up and down and finishing the display with deploying the sonar equipment while making one final pass, all of this looking very nice against the wooded backdrop of the forest that sits behind the air base.
With the Mi-14 completing its display there was a brief pause before 6 F-16s from 31 BLT, Poznan-Krzesiny AFB made a single pass. A pair of F-16’s would return later for a display with the Su-22’s.
Next up was a pair of Mi-24’s from the Polish Army. The “Hind” is an imposing and menacing looking machine with a real sense of purpose, it’s Soviet-era rugged looks gives one an idea of how it got the nickname “the flying tank” from Soviet pilots. For such a large and heavy helicopter the pair put on a surprisingly spritely display, not on the same level as say an Apache display, but certainly showing off some of the helicopters abilities.
Always a crowd favourite wherever it displays is the MiG-29 and this Cold War era fighter never disappoints with lots of noise, smoke and something that isn’t seen in a UK MiG-29 display, flares! The display was everything that one comes to expect from a MiG-29 display but upon getting airborne the pilots fires off flares, which is repeated a couple more times as the jet climbs after completing a pass.
A couple of nice slow passes with the display pilot then piling on the afterburners resulting in that lovely black smoky trail that the MiG-29 is so famous for. An all-round great display. The added bonus was that later in the day the crowd were treated to an encore and got another display!
After the fast jet action, it was back to the helicopters and the turn of the Polish Army again, this time three W-3 Sokol staging a role demo where they drop in to the airfield whilst soldiers fast-rope out of the helicopters and retake the airfield.
Another fly-through followed the army role-demo however this time it was the turn of the transporters – a C-130J flanked by two CASA C-295Ms making a steady fly-past to the crowd.
More helo action again with a very nimble display from the SW-4 Puszczyk, again not a common sight, this is a light utility helicopter developed in Poland and the primary user of the type is the Polish Armed Forces. A nice display showing how agile it is with some fast spiraling dives and rapid turns.
First of the two Polish Air Force display teams were on after the SW-4 display. Team Orlik put on a wonderful display in their PZL 130 Orlik aircraft including a mirror turn from syncro-pair which for one of the pilots is a rather unpleasant long negative-g turn.
Another role demo, this time involving Special Forces and a Mil Mi-17 with the rear doors section removed included more fast-roping from the special forces troops out of the Mi-17 followed by some loud explosions and mock gunfire, pretty dramatic stuff.
After the second of the Mig-29 displays it was the turn of another Cold War warrior this time the Su-22 Fitter. The pair were sat at the other end of the runway for quite some time while they warmed up and did their checks, the noise was incredible too. Once cleared for take off they climbed slowly away to take up position and were joined by two F-16s, as they all flew though they popped flares in a mock strafing run avoiding getting a lock from heat seeking SAMs.
Both Fitters made several passes, the lead aircraft making a nice low pass and turning hard while the number two jet was that bit higher. A wonderful sight and the only place to see the Su-22 display this year. A real crowd-pleasing display. Closing the airshow was the Polish Air Forces main display team, Team Iskry, with a great display in their TS-11’s.
In closing this was a very enjoyable weekend in Poland, a free entry show that had everything in it, a decent small static display that was laid out fairly well, with friendly pilots and crews who were happy to chat about their work and aircraft, the ground displays are also worth mentioning, plenty of armoured vehicles and weaponry on display to touch and interact with.
The display programme was good with only a few breaks and pauses but it certainly archived what it set out to do which was to showcase the Polish Armed Forces. From a personal point of view a dynamic display from the F-16 would have been a welcome addition along with a more elaborate role demo set piece towards the end of the show but these are minor criticisms. Hopefully, with the success of this event, the Polish Armed Forces may decide to run a similar event next year on the same or larger scale.