Leszno: A growing gem of the European air show calendar.
We’ve been worryingly observing the Polish air show calendar this year. Leszno has always been and still is, one of its highlights, nonetheless, the cancelation of the LOTOS Gdynia Aerobaltic (caused by the war in Ukraine) has brought in some concern as to what would happen to the second most significant aviation event planned in Poland, at the small Leszno Flying Club. Leszno-Strzyżewice (EPLS) is a small, but growing GA (General Aviation) airport, with a grass strip. Now it also has a hardened runway, and a set of runway lights which is unusual for a Polish GA airstrip, but seems to be a natural way to go, given the fact that the venue is the home of the Antidotum Airshow – currently one of a very few, and certainly the biggest of the Polish air shows that consistently organizes day and sunset/night display programs.
The show took place on Jun. 17 and Jun. 18, 2022. It is an afternoon/evening event, with the displays scheduled between 4 PM and 11 PM. The airfield’s location, with the beautiful sunsets providing a stunning backdrop for the spectacle in the air only adds to the spectacular, stunning nature of what was happening in the air.
Not everything according to the plan
Unfortunately, the organizers this year also had to overcome some obstacles.
For instance, neither did the pre-announced A-26 Invader, nor the original Yak-3 come to perform at the show – the owner of both aircraft is still working on the A-26’s transatlantic transit tackling relevant formalities with the FAA. This was somewhat causing distress among the show’s social media crowd, but that matter remained out of the hands of the organizers. They, righteously, focused on what they could have done. Last-minute confirmations resulted in the appearance of the single-seater Lim-2 (MiG-15) and Yak-3UPW in the Leszno sky – so all credit for saving the program gaps go to the Antidotum Air Show team. The Red Bull’s P-38 and B-25 – even though their participation was also confirmed – also could not have made it to Leszno because of technical problems.
Red Bull Special – Trojan is back
The highlights of the show included the new Red Bull’s T-28 Trojan. The airframe wears its original US Navy livery – and for now, at least – it also does not have the smoke system that was one of the trademarks of the former RB T-28. The Red Bull flying department seems to like the air show at Leszno – despite the tragic accident en route back last year, with the loss of the T-28 – the Austrian aviation heritage restorers came to Leszno in numbers. Apart from the T-28 they also brought the F-4U Corsair and Cessna Push-Pull to perform at Leszno. Red Bull also brought its Piper Carbon Cub with the Air Race’s Luke Czepiela flying it in a comedy act – copying Kyle Franklin’s drunk pilot comedy routine.
Additionally, the show also included Luca Baumann, who did RC model aerobatics, and Blacky, who performed a hang glider aerobatic routine, with smoke and pyro – an unusual sight at an airshow of any kind.
In the warbirds department, we also had the chance to watch the OV-10 Bronco display during the day, and night portion of the show as well. The aircraft wore a very special Desert Storm livery, whilst the night display also involved lights and pyro show. It could have come by as a surprise how dynamic that airframe is, and how agile the Bronco can be!
The program also involved skydivers, and they were using a very unique platform in their display – a Hungarian Lisunov Li-2 (Soviet-made DC-3 copy), which is a very unique aircraft, and a rare treat at any air show.
This year’s Leszno helicopters line-up was quite rich, with five very different dynamic displays performed. The first was the Czech Air Force W-3 SAR role display demo. This has to be one of the best SAR/helicopter displays in Europe right now. Not only are the Czechs showing what a proper SAR operation should look like, but the Sokol’s pilot also seems to squeeze every inch of performance out of his ride. The second helicopter display came in a form of the Red Bull’s Cobra – a very challenging aircraft to photograph given its twin-blade main rotor. One needs a slow shutter speed to show it move.
The show organizers in Leszno like to improvise, and Cobra flew a duo display with Bronco this year. The third helicopter display was the Polish Bolkov Bo-105 display team, with smoke and pyro – the Bolkov did two, fantastic displays solo – at night, and during the day, and also one display together with the British Aerosparx display team – that one was arranged in Leszno ad hoc. If there’s one lesson that this air show teaches its audience, it is that you may expect the unexpected.
The fourth, and the most expected of the helicopter displays was the Swiss Super Puma Demo Team, the display of which also involves a massive flares drop in its final phase – especially spectacular when done in the late part of the show, with the sun beginning to set. The fifth helicopter partaking in the show was a Polish military Mi-17, showing off a spectacular display, showcasing some elements of SOF flying tactics.
Jets – Vintage
Unusually for an “air picnic” at a small GA airport, the Antidotum Air Show distinguishes itself by the fact that jet displays may also be expected. And both vintage aircraft invited to Leszno this year were unique in their own way. The first one – the Polish MiG-15/Lim-2 is unique because it, for now, remains the only single-seat MiG-15 aircraft in Europe. Its participation was unexpected, but the aircraft filled in the gap left in the program by the A-26 – this shows great flexibility and willingness to put on the best show of the organizers – even if one piece of the puzzle disappears, the Leszno airfield team still has an ace up its sleeve.
The uniqueness of the second aircraft stems from the fact that it landed at Leszno, using a grass strip – this refers to the L-29 Delfin. It did this last year as well, but still, seeing a military trainer aircraft land at a small GA airport is a sight to behold.
Jets – Modern
Modern military aviation is not a very usual sight at a small air show – yet, the Antidotum Air Show in Leszno featured two acts of the kind: the Polish Air Force F-16 Tiger Demo Team, and the Luftwaffe’s Eurofighter Demo. Both of these aircraft were reaching the venue flying from the Krzesiny (EPKS) airbase.
The personnel at the Krzesiny base helped the organizers in securing these displays, as both aircraft can be proudly distinguished as members of the NATO Tigers community. The personnel from Krzesiny openly said they were amazed by the air show, and this may be a sign that Leszno would host more military aircraft in the future. Possibly, this could mean that there would be a necessity to reformulate the air show and arrange it as a classic, weekend (Saturday and Sunday) event, but we will see what the future may bring.
Also, one more military highlight came in a form of a Slovenian PC-9 demo – with copious amount of impressive negative G maneuvers being the highlight of the routine.
Gliders and Wilgas
One of the more interesting displays was performed by a trio of Leszno-based Wilgas, towing the Flying Club’s gliders and flying in a 6-aircraft formation. Wilga alone is an exotic sight to behold, three Wilgas towing gliders are a treat. Wilga was also used as a tow plane by Guy Westgate, in his GliderFX act including a pyro-take-off, and roll-on-tow elements. Notably, the Leszno show has its roots in the Glider Picnic series of events held there, and it is nice to see that the organizers are not forgetting their sailplanes heritage. A pair of Alon A2 Ercoupes was another act performed on behalf of the Aeroklub Leszczyński.
Polish Military Props
The Polish 33rd Airlift Base also made a unique contribution to the Leszno program. First, we have seen a dynamic display of the Polish Air Force’s C-130 Hercules and M-28 Bryza STOL aircraft. And this was during the daytime portion of the show. Secondly, the C-130, as it did last year, also has shown its spectacular flares drop, releasing all of its flares at once, in a single pass, leaving the audience amazed. The C-130’s flare display has now, undoubtedly, become a trademark of the Leszno show and no images or videos do it justice – it must be witnessed live.
The Hercules was opening the night pyro portion of the show. This part has been a usually spectacular (however ridiculous it may sound) part of Leszno’s magic – AeroSPARX, OV-10 Bronco, and The Flying Dragons Team on paramotors, all performed a stunning, night spectacle. So far the evening/night portion of the show has been the main reason to go to Leszno, it seems now that the organizers are starting to strike the right balance between the night and day sections (with the daytime section now being so expansive and rich).
Overall, it is great to witness the growth of this small, Polish GA show, to the size of a proper international display. We do hope, and we have our fingers crossed, that Leszno would soon become a solid element of the European air show calendars, attracting more than just the local audiences. A show like that deserves to evolve and grow at a rapid pace, considering the amount of effort and passion the small team of organizers has for this event.