Radom Airshow – Poland’s Aviation Showcase

On the 22nd and 23rd August 2015 Radom Air Base in Poland hosted the biennial air show to showcase the country’s military aviation and aerospace industry. The elements of the Navy, Army and Air Force provide an intriguing insight into the Cold War era Soviet designed and built weapons platforms, and the US and European ones that have replaced them since the Country integrated into the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).

Poland joined the alliance on the 12th March 1999 with its former Warsaw Pact allies Hungary and the Czech Republic. Always on the front line, Poland formed part of the Eastern European barrier between the West and the Soviet Union from the end of World War 2 until the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in 1991. It is now facing the opposite direction and plays a significant role in thwarting Russian aggression in Europe.

Construction of the airfield at Radom began in 1929 with the aim of building a facility to train civilian pilots, in 1932 it was handed over to the Ministry of military affairs, and this prompted an expansion in building barracks and hangars so that it could be used to train military pilots and paratroopers, this continued to the outbreak of the war in 1939.

The opening salvos of the Second World War saw the airfield being attacked by the Luftwaffe, destroying hangars and aircraft, forcing the personnel to evacuate. Following the occupation of Poland the base was taken over by the Luftwaffe, and its training role continued by preparing pilots for the battle on the Eastern front.

The Polish military returned in March 1945 and the base has remained an integral part of military flying training to this day and currently operates the Polish designed and built PZL130TC Orlik, this is a single engine turboprop trainer, which also forms the mount of the Air Forces “Team Orlik” display team.

The base reporting unit is 42. BLSz and its main task is the training of military cadets in preparation for the more advanced training programme at Deblin, where they move onto the SW4 for helicopter pilots, or the PZL TS11 Iskra for fixed wing.

In 2000 Radom was given the task of hosting an International Air show, and this continues to the present day. Once the military and political dignitaries have arrived the flying display proper commences with the inventory flypast, waves of aircraft from the Army and Air Force units form up and fly past the crowds that have gathered from all over Europe to watch.

Wave 1 is formed of 5 TS11 Iskra training aircraft that had taken off from Radom earlier, in the colours of the “Iskry” display team they would return later for their own routine.

Waves 2-9 had taken off from Deblin comprising the following:

Wave 2: 6 PZL SW4 Puszczyk (Tawny Owl) from 41. BLSz, the SW4 is a single engine five-seat helicopter optimised for training, transport, patrol and surveillance missions. It is used by the Polish Air Force for primary and advanced helicopter training from its base at Deblin.

Wave 3: 4 Mil Mi-2 which has the NATO reporting name Hoplite, the wave consisted of variants in the transport, aerial command and gunship configurations, although it was designed in the Soviet Union the Mi-2 was built in Poland by the PZL Company between 1965 and 1998.

Wave 4: 4 PZL W3 Sokol (Falcon), this is the first helicopter to have been designed and built in Poland, it is a twin engine helicopter used by the Polish Army, and the version on display carries twin 23mm cannon as well as 4 hard points for weapons.

Wave 5: 4 Mil Mi-8 with the NATO reporting name of Hip, the examples on display are the Mi-8T which in addition to carrying 24 troops can be armed with rockets and anti-tank guided missiles.

Wave 6: 4 Mil Mi-24, this aircraft has the NATO reporting name of Hind, it is a large gunship attack helicopter designed and manufactured in the Soviet Union and Russia. The type has seen service in wars and conflicts around the world and was used extensively by Soviet forces in Afghanistan. Polish examples have also seen service in this theatre when they formed part of the operation against the Taliban.

Wave 7: 4 PZL M28B Skytruck short take-off and landing twin engine transport aircraft. The M28 has been developed from the Antonov An-28 and has been in production in this form since 1993.

Wave 8: 3 EADS CASA C295M twin turboprop tactical transport aircraft, 16 aircraft are in service based at Krakow-Balice air base and were purchased to replace the Antonov An-26 that had been operated since the days of the Cold War.

Wave 9: This comprised 2 further examples of the C295M as well as a single C130E Hercules. The Hercules is one of 5 that were donated by the United States to boost its allies cargo and troop carrying capacity, examples had been handed over direct from the USAF at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, making the short hop to their new home at Powidz.

Waves 10-12 comprised the fast jet element of the Polish Air Force with aircraft assigned to their NATO roles of ground attack and air defence.

Wave 10: 6 examples of the Sukhoi Su-22 (Nato code name Fitter) ground attack and strike aircraft flew from the fast jet base at Minsk. Designed and built in the Soviet Union the Su-22 entered Polish Air Force services in 1984 and 110 examples were delivered. As well as its ground attack role, it also had a nuclear strike capability that could be used against both military and civilian targets. Around 30 examples of this aircraft remain in service today and there were 2 further visits during the show in a base attack and role demonstration.

Wave 11: 6 Mikoyan Mig-29 (NATO code name Fulcrum) fighter aircraft that are used in the Air Defence role. Introduced into service with the Soviet Union in 1981 over 1600 examples have been built and remain in service around the world. The Polish Air Force operates 2 wings at Minsk And Malbork with examples that were delivered new and also second hand from Germany and the Czech Republic.

Wave 12: 6 F16 Fighting Falcon aircraft purchased from the United Sates and delivered from 2006, 3 Squadrons operate from Poznan and Lask in a multirole combat capacity where they can carry modern US precision ordnance and the latest export authorised air to air weapons.

Wave 13: 8 PZL 130 based aircraft ended the flypast and this heralded the start of the usual air show favourites.

Contributions from the Polish military did not end there with role demonstrations from the F16/Su-22 in a simulated airfield attack, the Su-22 again showcasing its swing wing technology, and then a further display from 2 Mil-24 helicopters. The Mig-29 was also impressive with a solo aerobatic routine.

Of course the Polish military was very abundant in the static display also, virtually every aircraft in service today represented in one form or another. Of particular note was the Navy Kaman SH-2G Seasprite plus a section for the public to really get close to various aviation assets with crews to talk to the eager and enthusiastic locals.
Billed as an International Air show meant that it was more than Poland showing off their aeronautical wares with aircraft from across Europe on display at Radom. Austria with their Pilatus PC-7’s, had an example in the static and one in the air display. Belgium with the ever impressive F-16AM demo backed this up on the ground with an Embraer ERJ-145LRfrom 21 Squadron. To keep the heavy metal noise over this area of Poland was a French Air Force Rafale, Hellenic Air Force F-16C, Slovak Air Force MiG 29 and Romania with the veteran MiG-21 Lancer C.
Highlight of the static park was a Lockheed KC-130H from 131 Squadron of the Israeli Air Force.Display teams from Denmark, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the civilian Baltic Bees impressed the gathered masses and were backed up with appearances from other countries such as Germany, Lithuania, Norway, Turkey and the United Kingdom. A truly international line up.
This air show is one of the gems of the European circuit, it can be challenging for photographers for flying shots because of the sun, but its variety in aircraft types compensates for that. There are plenty of concessions for food and drink, and at a price that visitors to similar displays in the UK could only dream about. Entry is cash at the gate and we did not experience any delays as the numbers of booths are plentiful. From this point it is a short walk to the airfield entry point and the security check.

Parking in the local area was easy with local homes and businesses opening their parking areas for visitors, charges were uniform and inexpensive, alternatively there are large car parking areas where a park and ride operates to within a 10-minute walk of the entrance.

Poland is aviation friendly and has a rich heritage of preserved and museum exhibits, a little planning can make this the centre point of a very enjoyable 3-day break, and one that we are certain we will be making again in 2017.