International Air and Military Show

Kecskemet, 3-4 August 2013


“My hovercraft is full of eels.” Probably that sentence from the famous Monty Python sketch about Hungarians in England crossed the mind of foreign visitors to the airshow of Kecskemét, Hungary’s main fighter base, armed with an advance ticket and then faced with signs only in Hungarian to direct advance ticket holders to the correct desk.

The chaos at the entrance on Saturday seemed almost complete, with people queuing at the wrong ticket desks in vain, leading to quite a few frustrations. Your scribe was one of the lucky ones who, by chance, queued at the correct desk, but with lots of people in the wrong place it still took a while to exchange the advance ticket for a wristband to enter the base. Adding to the problem was a lengthy procedure which involved copying the number of a ticket on a manual typewriter and then once again by hand on a receipt. Not the peak of organization, for certain!
That’s not to say the organization was careless, in fact very much the opposite. The organizers had set up an impressive array of spotter options to make the life of foreign visitors as carefree as possible, including complete packages with hotels thrown in, almost putting Club Med to shame. While on the first spotters day there were a few kinks to iron out, the organizers proved to be quick learners and all concerns were quickly and swiftly remedied. I myself only bought a spotters ticket for Sunday, the final showday, by which time all issues had been completely worked out making the whole experience absolutely painless. On base, spotters had a choice of two dedicated locations, either end of the showground during arrivals, showdays and departures, all for very reasonable prices, even more so when considering what was on display.

Spotters with a special ticket were collected at a sports center just outside downtown Kecskemét, and ferried to the base by bus, very early in the morning, and back to the sports center at the end of the day. Before entering the base, there was a security check for explosives by a search dog. This went smoothly enough for spotters to get on base before other visitors and stock up on free(!) water from one of the hangars. Everyone carried as much water as he/she could carry. Temperatures throughout the whole airshow period soared, usually around 40°C in the shade, so drinking plenty of fluids was vital. Of course, the water got very warm in a big hurry, but the aim was to add the fluids one was sweating, the temperature of the drinks was only a minor concern, without exaggeration. Water, water and more water was the order of the day.


Just as a sign of how hot it got, on Saturday, when the author was on the showground itself, the temperature was such that from around 15:00, there were no non-alcoholic beverages available anymore from the catering stands and people were queuing in excess of 30 minutes at the free watering points. The (obviously predominantly) Hungarian audience, usually not shy of a drink, steered clear of alcoholic beverages in general, but beer would have been a very unwise decision under the circumstances.


During arrivals, for people standing outside the base, the heat made life very difficult. Fortunately, the author had grown accustomed to the temperatures thanks to a week-long stay in Hungary just prior to the show, with similar temperatures, but the “new” arrivals found the heat impossible to stomach. About one kilometer from the main spotters point at the eastern runway threshold was no doubt doing better business in one day than they usually do in a whole year.



So, why did so many people, foreign and domestic, turn up at Kecskemét? The show has built a solid reputation among aviation enthusiasts for providing a show unlike any other, both for the different acts and also the length of the flying display. It is doubtful even the most hardened airshow visitors managed to see all acts at the show, the programme running for close to 12 hours on each of the two show days! In addition to the countless military acts, the organization had booked enough civilian acts to make any airshow organizer jealous. It is almost a shame for the civilian acts as their early and extremely late slots probably did not win them a lot of attention.


As usual at Kecskemét, the static brought quite a few disappointments, especially considering the aircraft present. Some aircraft that were part of the NATO Tiger association (of which the Kecskemét-based Puma squadron flying Gripens is a probationary member) exhibition were parked inside a hangar. The Bulgarian Su-25, probably one of the most sought-after combat aircraft in Europe, was under cover for most of the show. The Russian Il-76 and NATO E-3, together with several other transport aircraft, were parked far away from the public area, and several helicopters were surrounded by high fences or had signs placed against them. Oddly, the Hungarian airforce had refused the Ukrainian Su-27 permission to take part in the flying programme much to the disappointment of the Su-27 pilot and many visitors.


You could be forgiven for thinking this review is negative, but that would be a grave injustice to the event. The Hungarian airforce’s 75th birthday party was certainly memorable for positive reasons. The Hungarian airforce made every effort to present itself through dynamic role demonstrations, including plenty of flares and ground pyrotechnics. On Sunday, some ground pyrotechnics set a field on the opposite side of the runway ablaze, but the role demonstration carried on as planned, including a landing and take-off by A NATO C-17, based at Papa in Hungary. Firefighters could not get permission to cross the runway which was quite a scary sight as the fire spread.
Some of the helicopter demonstrations on Saturday took place on the side of the airfield where the VIPs were watching, leaving the main crowd a little disappointed. As luck would have it, on Sunday, when the author was standing at the location where the demonstrations took place on Saturday, the demos moved to crowd center. This was particularly frustrating in the case of an Italian Coast Guard AW-139, on a sales pitch in Hungary, seeking the contract to replace the aging Mi-17s.


There were fewer fast jets at the show than in previous editions, but still plenty of action from the usual suspects on the European scene, plus some rarer ones such as the Polish Su-22 pair and Romanian Mig-21 LanceR. Other foreign military acts included the Belgian A109 with a re-vamped and –-dare we say it– very entertaining routine with plenty of nice photo opportunities thanks to its well-timed use of flares, Czech Mi-35 which blew so much debris on the runway on Saturday the show had to be halted to clean the runway, and the ever-impressive C-27 Spartan, also looking for a sale in Hungary to replace the An-26.


Display teams aplenty at Kecskemét, with the Turkish Stars performing the Turkish version of their display which would certainly cause some Western-European display directors sleepless nights, the Frecce Tricolori, Spanish Patrulla Aguila and the unrivalled Croatian Wings of Storm, once again performing their varied, spectacular routine with such precision it defies belief, they really rank among the world’s best display teams, let there be no doubt!


Taking pride of place though were the Russian Knights, the famous Russian national aerobatic team with their five Su-27 interceptor fighters. Despite their 6G limit, their presence demanded awe. On Saturday, they performed towards the end of the programme. As everyone had stayed to watch their display, this threw any hopes of a staggered crowd departure out the window, creating chaos when everyone left at the same time, not to mention an enormous dust cloud! Their routine in the setting sun was superb though, so the chaos was an insignificant by-product. Having learned their lesson, the organizers re-jigged the Sunday programme, putting the Russian Knights on around mid-day, so people left more progressively during the afternoon.


Remove the Russian Knights though and the show already looks very different, a clear illustration that even the biggest shows in Europe struggle to provide an entertaining day-filling programme. With the Knights present as they were, nobody will have minded. Kecskemét still provided lots of enjoyment, not found elsewhere, putting it among the top shows in Europe in 2013. The show had set its standards so high after previous editions, the 2007 and 2008 shows being prime examples, it would inevitably lead to closer scrutiny and any negative points in this review should be taken as such: not as a weakness of the show but as an item which makes the event miss just a step from airshow perfection. Or in other words: “I will not buy this tobacconist, it is scratched.”