|Few airshows get aviation photographers' blood flowing like Airpower at Zeltweg, the bi-annual airshow of the Austrian airforce, with strong support from Austrian energy drink producer Red Bull. And it's easy to see why!
Zeltweg is blessed with a magnificent backdrop, a high mountain, which can result in some stunning photographs, a change from blue skies (or more likely grey, with the fickle European summer weather). Sure, the static is not ideally positioned due to the very limited ramp space in the crowd area, but there's plenty of exotic aircraft to be found there worthy of attention even under less than ideal circumstances, including some German special paint schemes.
Chances are the neighbours are watching the event though, as is most of the Austrian population, or so it seems at least. When the gates open at 7, there is already a healthy audience waiting to take up a prime position on the crowdline. By the time the first aircraft get airborne at 8:30 to position themselves for the opening segment, the base is heaving with people. By 10AM on Saturday, the second day of the event, it seemed as though even shoehorning people in would have been impossible, the base was well and truly completely packed. Well over 250000 people visited the event over the two days in 2013 and it is doubtful it would be possible to increase that number. Catering on Saturday had a hard time dealing with the excessive amount of visitors, at least food-wise. Drink stands were amply available, but food outlets had mind-boggling queues, even with their position well to the rear of the crowd area. Forming a queue even that far back was difficult as the crowd was still packed at the same density as at the front, it has to be seen if you truly want to get an idea of just how busy the airfield was! People made themselves comfortable to watch a full day's flying, or at least until 18:00, and they were not disappointed.
Special mention must go to the effort the Austrian airforce goes through to present itself at Airpower. Obviously, they show of all solo demonstrations which sometimes also appear abroad, but they also mount impressive role demonstrations with for instance the different roles performed by their helicopters with several of each type in the inventory showing their usual operational tasks simultaneously along the length of the crowdline (which of course means the audience position dictates which helicopter they get the best view of) or an intercept demonstration of a C-130 by 2 Typhoons which are scrambled to force it to land, followed by a demonstration of basic dogfighting maneuvers by these two Typhoons. Other airforces would leave it at that, most extraordinary though that effort already is. The Austrians take it a step further though, drawing the Austrian flag in the sky with dyed water dropping from 3 PC6s demonstrating their limited firefighting capability during the opening segment, mounting a full demonstration complete with formation looping and rolls with 4 Saab 105 jet trainers, or a formation display with 4 Alouette III helicopters, all just for the occasion. The work involved in preparing these demonstrations, as indeed the whole of Airpower is staggering and demands nothing but full respect.
Red Bull equally impresses with one-off demonstrations and special formations at Airpower with their Flying Bulls from Hangar 7 at Salzburg, even without one of their pride-mounts, the P38 having stayed behind with a sick engine at Le Bourget in France.
Watch the complete report above (93 minutes)
The Flying Bulls and the Austrian air force alone would probably lure most enthusiasts to Zeltweg by themselves, but in addition to these two main participants, Airpower always boasts a line-up with aircraft from across Europe, and sometimes even further afield.
For most shows, this would result in a dramatically less attractive flying programme, but at Zeltweg, it served as testament to the impressive line-up which left nothing to be desired even with these dropouts.
With Patrulla Aguila, Frecce Tricolori, Patrouille suisse and the Turkish Stars to close the show, there were still 4 high-profile foreign military display teams. The Belgian and Dutch F-16 displays and the Hungarian Gripen provided some foreign combat aircraft noise, while on the classic aircraft front, there were some aircraft rarely seen in Northwestern Europe, such as the P-51 “Moonbeam McSwine” and the Spitfire of the German Classic Aircraft Displays, plus much, much more. Naming all the highlights would be a list far too long. Red Bull also added to the foreign fun with the Flying Bulls from the Czech Republic flying their astounding 4-ship routine on Zlin 50.
Perhaps the most surprising element of the show was the exit at the end though. With such enormous crowds, you would expect a lengthy exit. Nothing of the sort: Less than 90 minutes after the show, the traffic jams were nowhere to be found. It helps to have a main highway next to the base, but getting the parkings emptied in such a short timeframe should make anyone notice this organization is on top of everything.
by Chris Janssens
Lay-out and content by Chris Janssens, 2005 - present