Festa al Cel Barcelona
3-4 October 2009
|One of the more active countries of the European airshow scene is Spain, with a number of popular high-quality displays on the circuit. Surprisingly, Spanish airshows are a big unknown to most European airshow enthusiasts, and seemingly also to foreign airforce staffs, judging by the limited number of foreign displays Spanish airshows generally attract.
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Like Great-Britain, Spain has a significant number of civilian-run shows at the seaside. One of the more famous ones is Festa al Cel, held on the shore of Barcelona. Usually, the show there is run in the morning so as not to interfere with increased afternoon traffic from nearby El Prat airport, but in 2009, the organizers got a way around the problem and managed to hold their display in the afternoon, starting just before 13:00.
Crowds in excess of 800.000 according to the organizers flocked to the beach to watch the displays and witness the final round of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship 2009 on Sunday October 4. The race promised great excitement as UK's Paul Bonhomme and Austria's Hannes Arch, the defending world champion, would battle it out for the title that day. Bonhomme entered the race in the lead, but the Barcelona track was better-suited to Arch's aircraft, so the crowd were indeed treated to a thriller race, with Bonhomme flying very measuredly on Saturday and the first Sunday race, just scraping by to qualify for the final 8. When it mattered, however, he pulled out all the stops and flew the fastest time in the final 8. In the final 4, Bonhomme set a very sharp time again. Arch, who flew last, got a six second penalty for hitting a pylon, costing him the race, as he finished fourth after Paul Bonhomme, Nigel Lamb and Mathias Dolderer from Germany.
The way the air race is set up is to provide entertainment for most of the afternoon at non-airshow venues. The race also brings some support acts from the Red Bull and Breitling stables, Breitling providing the time-keeping technology which is essential in a sport where hundreds of a second can make the difference between first and last place. At Festa al Cel 2009, the supporting acts of the air race were Red Bull's F4U Corsair, skydivers and the unbelievable Bo-105 helicopter aerobatics display of Rainer Wilke, Breitling's new DC-3 and Breitling Jet Team, who have been flying a very consistent season.
The infrastructure the Red Bull Air Race brings to bear is also impressive. Apart from the dedicated travelling airport with pit lane they build at a nearby airfield, the public area is completely dedicated to the air race: trade stalls, VIP stage, a number of large jumbo screens, countless camera crews, 3 camera helicopters, live feeds from cameras inside the aircraft, everything down to the last detail. The crowd cannot only watch the live feeds from the aircraft, but they also see data such as airspeed and g-force in real-time, truly a spectacle for this high-tech age. With all the electronic gadgets, one can wonder why the circuit was placed so close to the beach, as some of the manoeuvres seemed closer than they would usually be allowed at airshows, and, because they have to fly between the pylons, also a fair bit lower. If ever an accident occurs, it will hopefully be without casualties among the crowd, seeing how numerous spectators are at these races. With all the electronic gadgets, flying a bit further out would probably not hinder the public's view of the proceedings.
One thing the air race does though is take the pace out of the air display. As the original format is designed to fill a few hours, they use quite a bit of filler items such as instructional videos on the rules, the pilots, the infrastructure etc It also gets a bit tedious when attending both the qualifying rounds and the main race day, with the same manoeuvres being flown by similar aircraft flying the same circuit. Still, for one day, it provides quite a bit of fun for the masses.
The rest of the Festa al Cel programme was rather limited this year, but did show that Spain has a lively air demonstration scene, with vintage aircraft flypasts by a Bucker Jungmeister, a Zlin Z-526 and Z-326, a Parasol and a classic HA-220 Super Saeta Spanish-built jet trainer. A Fireboss waterbomber not only displayed its impressive internal water tank capacity, but also surprising agility. Another Spanish act were a pair of SU-26 aircraft, which together form the Patrulla Culebra, who unfortunately fly a routine which hardly does the high energy and agility level of their Sukhoi mounts any justice.
20O9 also saw the 90th anniversary of commercial flight in Barcelona. To commemorate this, some classic transport aircraft performed some flypasses, including the French DC-3 sporting the mixed Air France / KLM livery, an AN2 Colt and the Ju-52 from the Amicale Jean Salis, based at La Ferté Alais. On Saturday, Vuelling showed off one of its A320s, while Spanair did the same on Sunday.
The only foreign military participation came from the French airforce, which sent over their excellent Alpha Jet solo display, as well as their stunning Extra 330 display of the Equippe de Voltige. The pilot, Renaud Ecale, won the world aerobatic championship 2009 at Silverstone in England, beating other world famous pilots flying established aerobatic planes such as the Edge 540 and Sukhoi Su-29s, a testament to the stunning performance of this latest plane from the Extra stable. Also from the French Equippe de Voltige was François Le Vot, flying a Seat-sponsored Extra 300. During the 2009 Aerobatic World Championship at Silverstone, he came in third place.
The Spanish military participated with 3 acts: the Armada briefly showed off the hovering capabilities of their AV-8B Harrier II, while the Spanish airforce sent over 2 official display teams. The first of these was the parachute display team Papea, with a combination of solo jumps with flags and jumps in stacks. At around 18:30 on Sunday, the Spanish helicopter display team Patrulla Aspa brought the show to a close with their elegant aerial ballet, flown with 5 EC120 Kolibris, used for helicopter pilot training in the Spanish air force.
It was unfortunate that the acts after 17:15 on Sunday had to compete for attention from the audience with the award ceremony of the Red Bull Air Race, as these excellent demonstrations deserved better.
The commentators seemed entertaining enough for the public, but the accompanying music was awfully loud on the beach. One interesting feature was the inclusion of commercial breaks in the display, just like on TV, where the jumbo screens and sound system were used to broadcast commercials of the major sponsors of the airshow. Somehow, this seems like a natural break to visit the toilet or get a drink, certainly if more organizers seize this opportunity to secure additional sponsorship money.
Another way Festa al Cel is different from a lot of airshow is that it is loud, very loud, with music blasting over the PA system nonstop. Photographers should also be aware that the Spanish public watches the show sitting or lying down, and therefore frowns upon anyone standing up, thereby blocking their view.
All in all, the afternoon provided plenty of entertainment for the masses, with a varied display, if bit lengthy because of the Air Race, even with the full support of 21st century audio-visual technology. If some more foreign military participants could be lured to participate in such shows, Spanish airshows would certainly gain more of a reputation abroad, as their basis is already firm. Throw the gorgeous city of Barcelona into the deal and it could be the ideal trip for spotters and partners alike. With their holiday destination sorted out, all spotters would still have to do is find a partner, something which will undoubtedly require 22nd century technology.
by Chris Janssens
Lay-out and content by Chris Janssens, 2005 - present