NATO Days 2022: Projecting Unity In A Period Of Crisis

L-39NG trainer from Aero Vodochody was one of the highlights of NATO Days 2022. (All images: Author)

Czech defense and security show: a useful part of NATO’s PR strategy

Yet again we have attended the NATO Days show in the vicinity of Ostrava, Czech Republic. Being more than just an air show, this event focuses on defense and security attracting numerous visitors – not only from the UE region.  This year’s edition was somewhat unique, given the current geopolitical circumstances in Europe – with the war in Ukraine waging on. Also, it was the first one since 2020 that did not suffer from the impact of the COVID-19  pandemic.

As we explained in our report last year, the NATO Days 2021 event was a sign things were getting back to normal; organization and attendance-wise, the NATO Days 2022 event brought everything back to European air show defaults. This was not that obvious, given the war in Ukraine that broke out in February that also shocked the European air show calendar this year. Some events were canceled (such as Gdynia Aerobaltic) but Ostrava did not give up, with the event being organized as usual and gathering lots of interesting participants.

German Air Force A400M Atlas, during its dynamic display in Ostrava.

The event this year saw the participation of 19 partner nations. The number of visitors was also high. “We are very pleased that our event has maintained a high attendance of visitors who, despite the uncomfortable weather, leave the comfort of their homes and come to visit the Leoš Janáček Ostrava Airport. We thank them for that,” said Zbyněk Pavlačík, deputy of the main organizer of the event, and chairman of the JAGELLO 2000 association.

Finnish Air Force F/A-18 during its solo display

Numerous highlights of the air display program somewhat reflected what has been happening in NATO – the primary one, depicting the brotherhood in arms, was the Welcome to NATO flypast, finalizing the dynamic displays program each day.  It involved fighter aircraft belonging to the long-standing members of NATO – Czech Republic, Belgium – as well as those of the new nations deciding to formalize their ties with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, namely the Finnish F/A-18 Hornet, and the Swedish Gripen E.

Unfortunately, however, the overall circumstances surrounding this year’s event also led to some cancelations. And thus, some aircraft were crossed off the list, due to operational requirements.  Allied commitments come first – so we did not get a chance to witness a B-52 flypast or E-3A AWACS in the static display. American RQ-7 Shadow unmanned aircraft and Black Hawk helicopter, the Sea King helicopter, and the Do-228 utility aircraft of the German Navy, as well as the Slovenian PC-9M aircraft, also did not show up, for the very same reasons, despite being announced as a part of the show.

Swedish Air Force Gripen E taking off

Nevertheless, there were plenty of highlights in Ostrava this year.

Among the most interesting things there was a Dutch F-35 flypast on Saturday even though this element was “a lost opportunity”, since the Lightning II of RNLAF came in quite fast, but also quite high, leaving the spectators, and, especially, the photographers, a bit disappointed.

RNLAF F-35 flypast

Gripen E was quite spectacular too, and the changed powerplant (with the engine derived from the Super Hornet) makes this jet far more dynamic, as opposed to the C/D variants. Hungarian Gripen solo display shall also be highlighted, for its dump and burn maneuver, performed as a part of the routine (although not technically the same thing, as the Hungarian demo pilot uses the tank for inverted flight to achieve that).

Another solo display in Ostrava that also benefitted from the rainy weather came in a form of the Finnish F/A-18C solo act. The Hornet is always a great sight to behold,  especially in capable hands that allow the jet to showcase its slow-speed performance. The Finnish pilot has incorporated a Raptoresque climb maneuver in his routine. The high AoA performance of this jet is nothing short of amazing – always.

Belgian Air Component F-16 Solo Display, shot against the Sun.

Along came the new Belgian Dream Viper F-16 solo display – with a brand new livery, and a new pilot, Steven De Vries, who concluded his debut display season in Ostrava. The BAF F-16 Solo Display Team’s new routine stands out for its negative G maneuvers that are impressive, knowing how unpleasant these are for the guy in the cockpit. The jets lineup was closed by the Austrian Eurofighter Typhoon solo display. Interestingly, this aircraft used to perform its display in Ostrava flying from its home base in the past but this year the Austrian Air Force brought its primary fighter wearing a special tiger livery to the Czech Republic.

BAF F-16 taking off.

Among the “locals”, the Czech aerospace industry presented its L-39NG trainer from Aero Vodochody, and the Let L410NG – both performing quite impressive solo dynamic displays.

The Brazilian C-390 flew in for the static display. Along with the Turkish Phantoms, the South American airlifter contributed to the exotic portion of the show. The static display also featured highlights in the form of Turkish Phantoms, or Canadian CF-188, or even a Lithuanian An-2, wearing a pixel-themed camo. The Americans also brought their MQ-9 to Mosnov this year, alongside a C-5, C-17, or the B-52. The heavies were represented by the German A400M in the air.

C-390 arriving in Ostrava

When it comes to rotary-wing aircraft, the display program included the usual Czech Mi-24/Mi-171 and Mi-24 solo routines, as well as a German EC-135  demo. Hungarian Mi-24 also performed a stunning solo act. However, all of the above were overshadowed by the Bundeswehr (HEER) NH90 solo display that included a spectacular release of flares that highlighted the finale of its quite dynamic routine. Notably, as the Czech Republic phases out its Mi-24s, the display in Ostrava may have been one of its last public appearances. The Czech Hinds, some of which have been transferred to Ukraine, would be replaced by a UH-1Y/AH-1Z combo – these two were showcased in the static display.

German NH90 and flares.

The display teams, were represented by the Swiss Air Force Patrouille Suisse national team, flying the F-5s.

The Czech soldiers performed a parachuting display, jumping out of the C-295 aircraft. Another display by the Polish AGAT unit involved a HALO jump (High Altitude, Low Opening).

Patrouille Suisse team in a formation

The show revolved around the unity of NATO, and this key theme was highlighted by a NATO formation flypast, featuring the Finnish Hornet, and Swedish Gripen (new NATO member states), alongside the Czech Gripens and Belgian F-16.

NATO Flypast

As Zbyněk Pavlačík, Chairman of Jagello 2000, the organizer of the event said, “Our security cannot be taken for granted and there is no prosperity without security, this is the motto of NATO Days which has accompanied this event for a long time and this year, due to the war in Ukraine, its truth was directly confirmed”. 

Some of the air shows in Europe have been canceled this season, with the Ukrainian crisis being used as a justification for that. The NATO Days event in Ostrava had a solid line-up, despite the surrounding circumstances. The author takes this as NATO’s expression of unity, following the spirit of the Stronger Together slogan – making the NATO Days event a true public testimony of what the alliance really is – especially for the CEE region – the NATO’s Eastern Flank. Operational activities undertaken by the alliance are one thing, but communicating NATO’s strength to the public is another facet of that matter. And NATO Days, as an event, is one of the best places to do that.

More photos here.

About Jacek Siminski
Standing contributor for TheAviationist. Aviation photojournalist. Co-Founder of Expert in linguistics, Cold War discourse, Cold War history and policy and media communications.