|The first airshow I ever filmed was in Bulgaria back in 2009. The first airshow where I really worked for the organization was in 2011 in Bulgaria. It was therefore only appropriate that the first 4K/UHD report should be about a Bulgarian airshow. Traditions and all…
Graf Ignatievo is Bulgaria’s main fighter base since 2000. Now, it is home only to the country’s fleet of Mig-29s since the retirement of the Mig-21s. The base is located just south of the country’s second city, Plovdiv. It is surprisingly easily reachable with public transport (bus or train) and Plovdiv has plenty to offer for a long weekend out, even becoming European Capital of Culture in 2019.
Despite a lack of publicity for the event, about 25000 people still found their way to Graf Ignatievo, some arriving well before the opening time of the base, causing some traffic problems on the road from Plovdiv.
Once the gates opened, the welcome was very heartily Bulgarian making sure visitors had a good time. Graf Ignatievo regularly hosts international exercises so the base personnel has experience with visitors. The base’s preserved aircraft dotted among the buildings were free to explore and photograph with base personnel happy to talk about the planes. The same was true for the static aircraft, that were even open to the public to see inside with crews talking about the aircraft and the tasks it performs. Parked among the static aircraft were two out-of-service Mig-21s, next to a Mig-29 still wearing the anniversary markings for 25 years of service. Also exhibited were some of the weapons of the air force and aircraft engines, base support equipment. There was even a souvenir shop area where visitors could buy memorabilia from the squadrons of the Bulgarian air force. Press hospitality was also excellent.
The reason for the open door was the anniversary of three types In Bulgarian service: 20 years for the Jetranger, 30 years for the Mig-29 and 40 years for the Mi-24. All would take centre stage during the flying display, which ran from 11:30 until 15:00. It only featured Bulgarian air force aircraft, a remarkable feat!
Opening the show at 11:00 was former Mig-29 pilot Rumen Radev, who is now Bulgaria’s president, performing a troop inspection. His wife would later on greet all members of press and even made it a point to meet with foreign visitors in particular. To both the president and First Lady, the open door was clearly a reunion with old friends and colleagues.
Watch the report above (34 minutes)
The flying display featured most of the types in the Bulgarian inventory, starting with an Mi-17 performing a flag pass, later returning to show off its firefighting capabilities with a bambi-bucket. The first part of the show was a simulated Combat Search & Rescue Operation, featuring 2 Cougars, L-39, 2 SU-25 strike aircraft, Jetranger and an Mi-24. At the end, two Mig-29s demonstrated the intercept of an aircraft that no longer responded to ATC, role played by a C-27.
The second part of the programme consisted of mostly solo performances, with solo displays by the PC-9, L-39, C-27, Jetranger, Mi-24 and Mig-29, supplemented by a dogfight demo by two Mig-29s. The dogfight featured some impressive tight manoeuvring, while the solo act even included two tailslides! To end the display, the anniversary aircraft performed a final fly-by. Between performances, those aircraft that did not operate straight from their homebases taxied by the crowd, much to their delight. The flying did take place a little distantly but the quality was superb.
Airshows are a rare event in Bulgaria. While most bases have an open door on a regular basis, a comprehensive flying programme as seen at Graf Ignatievo is rarely seen. No doubt, any future show in Bulgaria should be high on any enthusiast’s list. Not only is Bulgaria a wonderfully welcoming country, it also has some interesting hardware in service. Given that the last major event was in Sofia in 2014, it may be a while though before we see another show of this magnitude. On the other hand, with the recent veto of the Bulgarian president to purchase F-16Vs, there is always a chance that a future show may still see the Mig-29 in the air, itself an increasingly rare aircraft in European skies.
In any case, the 2019 open day at Graf Ignatievo made 25000 visitors, be it from Bulgaria or abroad, very happy and the Bulgarian air force is to be commended for this showcase of its capabilities with their limited means. Blagodarya!
|Thanks to the Graf Ignatievo air base PR Air Office
Report by Chris Janssens
Lay-out and content by Chris Janssens, 2005 - present