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ILA Berlin

1 June 2008

If you build a train station for an airshow, it can only mean one of two things: you have too much time on your hands, or you're German. It was quite convenient to be able to take the train from Berlin centre to the airshow, though, so this is an initiative that deserves praise. Once off the train at around 9:50, you could get on the showground by 10:05, including ticket and security check, so a very swift and smooth procedure indeed, considering the crowd that showed up for the event on Sunday June 1.

If only the rest of the show went as smoothly as this! Owing to a number of circumstances, mostly outside the control of the organizers, the show suffered severe body blows, making it a tedious spectacle at times.

ILA is the oldest aviation trade show in the world. It is organized biennually in Berlin, having moved there in the 90s from Hannover. Yet, all is not well in ILA country.

One of the most limiting factors is the location where ILA (Internationale Luft-und Raumfahrtausstellung) is organized: Berlin Schoenefeld, which will soon become Berlin Brandenburg International Airport. With the planned closing of Tempelhof airport and the current development plans, Berlin-Brandenburg is destined to become Berlin's leading airport. Still, traffic at Schoenefeld is already considerable at times, not just with low-cost airlines such as Easyjet and Germanwings, but also with national airlines like Aeroflot. This traffic had a severe impact on the display at ILA: each time civilian traffic took off or was on approach, the display line moved to 800 metres from the crowd! This resulted in displays losing all impact, a Hind at 800 metres is very small indeed, an Extra 300 smaller still.

Another shortcoming of the location are the strict noise regulations, limiting the number of 'noisy' acts during the week. This led to the cancellation of several star items on the final day of ILA, like the Dutch F-16, USAF B-1B and Polish Mig-29 solo display.

In fact, after 15:30 display flying was very limited, restricted mostly to planes returning home. One can't help but feel disappointed about this, considering other acts that flew during the week, such as the Bronco, the C-17 and the Blades. The landing accident of an Me-109 from EADS on the first day of ILA did nothing to help matters obviously to fill the flying display. While the flying display may have kicked off and seemed energetic and flowing at 10:30 in the morning, it quickly lost pace and dragged itself towards the end on Sunday.

So, what did fly?

The Indian participation was quite limited compared to what was announced last year by the organizers, with a solo display by a Dhruv tactical transport helicopter and the helicopter display team Sarang, flying 4 helicopters of the same type. Their display is rather sedate and lacks some excitement, despite what their commentator claims. The distance between the helicopters in formation is also considerably bigger than what we usually see from, for instance, the Blue Eagles. The solo Dhruv somehow looked more impressive. Other display teams present on Sunday were the Blackjacks, flying a combination of 2 Yak-50s and 2 Yak-52s, the Patrouille Suisse flying a routine modified especially for the Berlin airshow, eliminating crossing manoeuvres, and the Croatian Wings of Storm with their 5 PC-9s, closing the show with their polished routine. A formation of a different kind was flown by father and son Eichhorn with a L-29 Delphin and T-6 Harvard.

Classic aircraft were also present but rather than present them in a firm block, possibly with some combination acts, they were all presented as solo acts: Peggy Krainz wingwalking on a Stearman, 2 C-47 solo presentations, a DC-6, a B-25, both from Red Bull, a Mustang, Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Spitfire and the EADS Me-262 replica, flown energetically around the Berlin sky. It is a pity this jet does not feature on the circuit more prominently. One remarkable aircraft was a 1/2 scale replica of the Me-109, being sold as a sports plane in Germany. A German fighter posing as a tourist and sports aircraft produced in considerable numbers, there's a new idea!

Current German airpower was well-represented at the show. Solo-displays with the Bo105, CH-53, NH-90, a spectacular Eurocopter Tiger and a Typhoon flown by testpilot Chris Wörning were complemented by 2 German mass demonstrations: one by the airforce and one by the army.
The army demonstration included no fewer than 10 CH-53s carrying all kinds of cargo, 2 NH90s, 2 Tigers and a Bo-105, quite an interesting demonstration.

This could not be said about the airforce presentation. Despite using a dozen Tornados, a single Phantom acting as intruder, 4 Typhoons, 2 UH-1s and 2 Transalls, the demo never managed to keep interest up.
The scenario was an evacuation of European citizens from a war zone. Ground forces and forward air controllers guided the Tornados to their targets, after the ECRs had flown a recce of the area and had eliminated all surface-to-air threats. 4 Typhoons provided air cover, but the dogfight between two Jagdgeschwader 73 aircraft with a single Phantom that had entered the combat zone never seemed like a fair fight. A Transall dropped additional equipment for the ground forces, while another one landed to pick up the civilians.
Even the music from Hans Zimmer could not hide the fact that the demonstration was hopelessly devoid of action, as most aircraft only performed a single pass. Probably the highlight of this segment was the buddy-refuelling impression of 2 Tornados, something which is rarely seen at airshows.

Oddly enough for a trade show, only one aircraft was presented in the flying display by a manufacturer, the gigantic Airbus A380, showing remarkable agility for such a beast.
Unfortunately, the Russian aircraft industry was absent from this show, which is quite a change from their previous support at ILA.

Keeping with trade shows traditions, however, the static show was very difficult to photograph, with too many aircraft parked too closely together on the ramp. It contained just about all aircraft types in service with the German forces, but also some foreign gems like a Croatian Mi-17, Hungarian Gripen, Slovak Mig-29, French Rafale and a USAF C-5 Galaxy. Elsewhere, civilian aircraft of various backgrounds and types were gathered. The hangars were filled with exhibitors supplying all kinds of aviation-related equipment, handing out a ton of brochures and free gadgets to present themselves.

Food and drink prices were outrageous, which made life difficult with the hot weather that the show enjoyed. The commentary was performed in German, Russian and in English, the latter presenter, Tim Callaway, being by far the most entertaining with a mix of wit and knowledge, doing his best to keep spirits up despite the cancellations.

With over 5 billion Euro in trade and well over 240000 visitors, ILA 2008 will enter the books as a major success. Still, with its shortcomings, it's a difficult show to love and enjoy. Add to that the missing star acts due to environmental reasons and you have a recipe for disaster, a shame in an otherwise already troubled German airshow world.



Report by Chris Janssens

Lay-out and content by Chris Janssens, 2005 - present