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1 May 2008

Since the tragic accident at Ramstein in 1988, airshows in Germany are rare events. Nowadays most aerial events there are festivals or fly-ins with very limited flying display. On April 30 and May 1, Niederrhein airport near Weeze, close to the Dutch border, organized an airport festival to celebrate its 5th anniversary. Military aviation fans may know the airfield under its former name, however: RAF Laarbruch.

Small surprise then that the former occupants of the airfield returned in force to take part in the static display. A single n°3 squadron Typhoon, a Hawk T1 and no fewer than 4 Harrier Gr9s from n°4 squadron, based at Wittering, the latter treating the crowd to a spectacular flypass on may 1 upon their return home. The only other active military aircraft on base came from Nörvenich in the shape of a Tornado IDS, courtesy of the German airforce.

The main attraction for many were 2 beautifully restored F-104 Starfighters: KG101, the first Fokker-built Starfighter, and the Belgian FX52, back in its 1978 Tigermeet colourscheme. These static aircraft were nicely positioned in the static area, even allowing pictures from atop the adjoining wall.

When the RAF left the base in 1999, it lay disused until a group of Dutch investors bought the airfield in 2001 and received permission to start civilian traffic operations. In 2003, upon completion of a new passenger terminal, Ryanair commenced commercial flights to London from what had become Niederrhein airport. Now, the airport serves close to a million passengers per year and sees over 10000 take-offs and landings per year, quite a change from the former military traffic at the airfield.

The event got off to a shaky start on May 30, with a number of cancellations to due unserviceability and bad weather conditions. Luckily, things looked up on May 1 and the audience was treated to a varied programme.

Most civilian planes were positioned along the flightline, as most of them also took part in the flying display. The only military act in the flying programme came from Great Britain: a Spitfire, Hurricane and Dakota from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, based at RAF Coningsby, brought back memories of the early days after World War II. The current occupants of the airfield, Ryanair, also made regular appearances throughout the day as their commercial flights departed and returned.

The Klu Historic Flight also had a sizeable presence, with an impressive solo display by their B-25 Mitchell, a solo aerobatic performance by the Saab Safir, and a nice formation routine with 2 Harvards alongside a Beech 18. One of the Harvards wore a brilliant new camouflage, hailing back to days when this aircraft performed photo reconnaissance missions with the Royal Netherlands Air Force.
Another Dutch formation were the Fokker Four with 4 S11 initial training aircraft. Also from the Netherlands came a demonstration by a Harvard and a Zlin Z526. The Dutch Catalina only appeared in flight when it returned home at the end of the day.

Solo aerobatics came from from Mike Rottland in an Extra 300 and from 2 Yak-52s, one of which put on a most impressive display after the official programme had finished. The Antonov An-2 that performed pleasure flights throughout the day put on an inadvertent ground aerobatics display when it did a ground loop upon landing, furtunately without damage or injuries.

Aerobatics of a different sort were performed by Peggy Krainz on top of a Boeing Stearman, definitely a very different routine from Team Guinot as she also climbs between the biplane's wings.
Painted in German tow-plane colours, the OV-10 Bronco flew a most spectacular display demonstrating unexpected agility. Its short-field landing characteristics deserve particular mention!
A final highlight of the day was the wonderful performance with plenty of topside passes by the Scandinavian Historic Flight's P-51 Mustang 'Old Crow', flown by Belgian Frederic Vormezeele.

While backlight and the occasional shower made from some challenging light conditions, the start of the 2008-season was most definitely a success. Even with a limited flying programme, the organizers managed to put together an entertaining day out. The relaxed athmosphere makes any future event at Niederrhein airport well worth the trip!



Report by Chris Janssens

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