|A lot of airshow enthusiasts lament what they call the lack of variation at European airshows nowadays, with airforces relying on the same types of aircraft. One exception is the Serbian air force, which held an airshow to celebrate 100 years of aviation in Serbia on Sunday 2 September 2012.
The Serbian airforce has plenty of exotica in its inventory. Aircraft like the Super Galeb Utva 75, Lasta and Orao cannot be found anywhere else in Europe for instance, and Gazelle and Mig-21 displays have also become a rare occurrence in recent years. Add to that rare foreign appearances by a Mig-29M2 sent over from Russia by RSK-Mig and the Russian air force display team Striji and you have a show that's well on its way to claim its place in the memory of visitors.
Batajnica still bears the scars from the intensive NATO bombing campaign in 1999, but NATO aircraft were still more than welcome on the tarmac there, the USAF KC-135 being the biggest by far. Austria, Italy, Hungary, Slovenia and Denmark even sent over flying displays, while Bulgaria, Turkey, France and Romania only participated in the static display. One of the hangars was dedicated to the Serbian aviation industry which is picking itself up and gaining some commercial foreign sales in recent years.
The showground had a bit of an awkward layout, due in large part to the decision to park the display aircraft in front of the audience after their performance. This led people to crowd together in the grass field next to the taxi way, closer to the runway than the crowdline at the ramp for display aircraft. This resulted in severe overcrowding in the grassfield, whereas a more even distribution could have been achieved with a straight crowdline. The runway itself was distant anyway, and there was a 2-meter high fence between the public and the runway. This posed a challenge for photographers as Serbian displays often perform extreme low-level flypasses.
The static display was accessible from both sides so was difficult for photographers to get clean shots, but it could be done with some creativity, and Serbian aircrews were more than happy to assist foreign photographers. The static line-up included all types currently in service with the Serbian air force, and was therefore a real treat for foreign visitors.
Watch the complete report above (30 minutes)
Security was tight in certain places but a few friendly words went a long way to sort out any problems on showday. The weather was blisteringly hot, and drink stands were located well back from the crowdline. Fortunately, the Serbians kindly arranged regular water resupplies to the press area, a nice gesture from the hosts! Catering prices in general were more than reasonable, as was the entrance fee. Access from Belgrade was easy enough using the suburban train, though with overcrowded shuttle buses, it was advisable to walk the five kilometres from the station to the entrance to the showground, even in the soaring temperatures. Traffic jams were inevitable, with only one road leading to the entrance, and most visitors travelling from and to Belgrade, a city which is also very hospitable and more than worth a visit itself.
With the flying display lasting about 5 hours, with gaps towards the end, and the long static line, there was plenty to watch and the base personnel made sure visitors enjoyed their time on base. While the press day on Saturday ran a little chaotic, this should not detract from the effort the organizers put into making the event a positive memory. Very few of the foreign photographers would qualify as press at other occasions, so moans seem a little unappreciative of the hospitality.
Batajnica was certainly not the biggest airshow in 2012, but the organizers had clearly made every effort to make it a memorable show for positive reasons, and showing Serbia in a positive light to all visitors. Perhaps the information above about the high fence and odd public area layout will bring future visitors expectations down a little, but an airshow in Serbia is definitely worth a visit!
by Chris Janssens
Lay-out and content by Chris Janssens, 2005 - present