100th Anniversary Russian Air Force

Zhukovsky (Moscow), 11-12 August 2012


For years, MAKS was a popular show among western aviation enthusiasts as it was one of the few opportunities to see lots of Russian hardware in action, but the plans of the Russian air force in 2012 created an even stronger buzz than the famous bi-annual trade show at Zhukovsky: a large international airshow to celebrate 100 years of military aviation in Russia. And then the trouble started.


No doubt the everlasting memory of the show will be the eventful run-up to the display at the Gromov test facility at Zhukovsky-Ramenskoye near Moscow. The 2 day event turned out to be a one day event, with only the Sunday accessible to the general public, Saturday being reserved to a very select group of VIPs and President Putin. After most had already made their travel arrangements, in the last few days before the show, the Russians suddenly decided to open up during rehearsal day on Friday, in effect adding a public day, though this came too late for most foreign visitors who had already booked their tickets and made their visa arrangements for just the weekend.

The question for most was whether they would be able to see the show at all. A few short weeks before the event, it was announced access to the airfield on the public day would be by invitation only, but how one was supposed to receive an invitation was a big mystery. Slowly, more information became available, but this did little to clarify everyone’s situation. At first, there was a quiz in Russian only to win invitations, not the easiest but nothing Google couldn’t handle. Unfortunately, this quiz only accepted Russian passport numbers. Soon afterwards, the Russians published an English page for foreign visitors but western spotters were still not out of the woods: the invitations were limited in number and had to be collected within 48 hours of activating the personal registration code. In effect, foreigners had to hope Russian visitors would be slow to collect their tickets from 2 locations in downtown Moscow (including one extremely fancy hotel!) so invitations would not have run out by the time planes flew the western enthusiasts to the Russian capital. Strong rumours about extraordinary security measures were rife and so tension was higher than usual among foreign visitors whether or not they’d be able to see the show.



In the end, everything went without a hitch. Security was out in force but they let everyone be around the airfield on the public days and on the VIP-Saturday. So, what was all excitement about?

The Russian airforce had spared no effort or money for that matter to present a spectacular show. Countless historical aircraft from Western Europe and Scandinavia joined a collection of Russian vintage planes, the Mig-3 and Mig-15 being particularly welcome sights. Foreign display teams also joined the Russian airforce’s birthday party, though the Red Arrows and Frecce Tricolori both did so in an incomplete composition. The French sent over the Rafale solo-display, in honour of the Normandy-Niemen French fighter pilots who fought with the Soviet airforce during World War II.


Of course, the above wouldn’t cause that level of excitement in foreign visitors. It was the prospect of seeing lots of Russian military aircraft that got everyone’s blood pumping! The Russians did not disappoint, flying formations of most of their inventory in flypasts: Lots of Tupolev bombers (Tu-95, Tu-22 and Tu-160), Antonov and Ilyushin tranports (Tu-134, An-22, Il-80, …) , Mig and Sukhoi fighters (Mig-31, SU-24, SU-25, …) complemented the various Russian military displays. Of course, there were displays by the Russian Knights and Striji, but the SU-27s of the Russian Eagles and the Mi-28s of the Berkut-formation were impressive team displays. Plenty of solo work too with the SU-34 fighter-bomber, KA-52 and of course the stunningly agile SU-35 as undisputed highlights. There were also civilian display teams: Team Rus with their L-39s and First Flight with a mix of Yak-52s and a Yak 54.


The static display only contained Russian air force aircraft, no planes from countries that were part of the Soviet Union. That still left plenty to admire of course. The showground got very cramped with 100000 visitors on Sunday. Even outside the airfield it got very busy with the small roads opposite the crowd also getting congested. Catering outside the airfield was very well-organized with a wide selection of affordable food and drinks in an improvised catering court.


Standing outside had the added advantage of not looking into the sun the whole day, though of course you lose the ambiance of the event. The aerial displays seemed quite distant from the audience which was no doubt a disappointment for spectators inside the public area. Even when standing outisde the field, some acts still took place facing the sun at times!


The sound at the end of the Sunday show told the story though, a loud applause and equally loud cheers burst from the airfield almost as loud as any jet that had performed during the day, showing what an awesome spectacle the birthday bash had been. Let’s hope it will not be too long before the Russian airforce decides to showcase itself that way again. Attendance would be highly recommended!