Leszno Antidotum Air Show – How Big Can You Grow?

Leszno Air Show
Spectacular flare release by a Polish Air Force C-130. (All images: Author)

Here’s our in depth report about one of the most interesting events in Europe this year: Leszno Antidotum Air Show.

On the Jun. 16 – 17, 2023 weekend, Leszno Airfield in Poland (EPLS) became a venue for a major air show that, year by year, is proving to become one of the most important highlights of the Polish and probably the whole European air show calendar. Leszno was the first air show in Poland that featured the night section of the displays program that still is the distinctive feature of the even. Nonetheless, the organizers keep looking for ways to expand and grow the event, so that it stands out among other air shows that may seem far more standard. It is very high time now for the Leszno show to gain some traction and become recognizable not just in Poland, but also abroad.

If one was to use a single word to explain where the magic of Leszno comes from, then variety or passion would be the first ones that come to one’s mind. Although, year by year, the line-up seems to be the same, the displays continue to improve, making the show far more spectacular.

Swiss Super Puma releasing flares during the sunset display

The Leszno Antidotum Air Show was born amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As mass events were canceled over a long period, the organizers of the Leszno show (previously known as the Leszno Air Picnic and SoundAIR Festival) decided to create an antidote for the lack of aviation in the avgeeks’ hearts. The first Antidotum Air Show was organized back in 2020. And the event grew since then: this year the show attracted more than 40,000 visitors on Saturday.

The organizers also made sure to invite some aviation celebrities to the show. Lukasz Czepiela, Red Bull Air Race pilot, and now, Red Bull Display Pilot, famous for landing on a helipad on Burj Al Arab Hotel in Dubai performed two solo displays, one in his Edge 540, and one in his hot-rod Piper Cub (with a Nitrous Oxide power boost system fitted onto it). On that occasion, the show announcer also interviewed Mike Patey (engineer behind the famous Draco Wilga, with a PT-6 engine in it) who helped Czepiela prep his carbon cub for the UAE stunt. That is one of the factors that gave Leszno Oshkosh vibe this year. Felix Baumgartner also participated in the Leszno event this year, flying the Red Bull’s Bolkow Bo-105 in a spectacular display of helicopter aerobatics.

Lukasz Czepiela flying his hot-rod Cub

As the Leszno show transitioned from being a local, small picnic, to a full show with a varied program, it needs to be pointed out that the event can be viewed as an international air show. The evolution is visible. For instance, back in 2016, the only fast jet act in Leszno was performed by the Polish Air Force’s F-16 Tiger Demo Team. This year, three jets had their displays scheduled – the L-29 Delfin from Slovakia, the F-16 of the Polish Air Force, and the Luftwaffe’s Eurofighter Typhoon. Furthermore, the Swiss Air Force Super Puma Display Team was also one of the major highlights of the evening portion of the show, with its spectacular use of flares. The Swiss also sent their PC-7 team to Leszno. The Slovenians, meanwhile, performed with their PC-9M Hudournik. Most of the military aircraft, especially the fixed-wing ones were operating out of the 31st Tactical Airbase in Krzesiny.

Polish Viper

Speaking of flares, what can’t go unnoticed among the highlights of the event is the display of the Polish Air Force C-130, coming from the 33rd Airlift Base in Powidz. When 2 years ago the organizers decided to invite the heaviest aircraft of the Polish Air Force to perform a spectacular flares drop at Leszno, never had they expected that the C-130’s routine would evolve and become a full display program. Currently, the display routine of the Polish C-130 can be viewed as a complete display, worthy of being performed abroad at events such as RIAT or other international air shows. The display features a detailed commentary now, and it is well structured and divided into elements that truly showcase Hercules’s capabilities (including high and low-speed passes, or a tactical approach demonstration, with 10-degree glideslope).

Polish C-130

The Polish Air Force also brought its W-3 CSAR/ASAR role demo to Leszno.

CA-13 Boomerang

The international participants also included the Czech AH-1 Cobra, the OV-10 Bronco, and the MD-500, staging a Vietnam War CSAR reenactment, with the involvement of the French Air Force parachuters (PHENIX Ambassadeurs Parachutistes), or the Royal Jordanian Falcons. As during all years in Leszno, the displays also included a broad use of fireworks and pyro, which is yet another trademark of the air show. The historic aircraft line-up also included the CA-13 Boomerang, Yak-3, and the Red Bull F-4U Corsair, and also the DFS Habicht sailplane.

DFS Habicht vintage saIlplane, during its routine.

Another important trait of the Leszno show is the fact that it presents the audience with virtually all facets of aviation and the human desire to fly. As Leszno is one of the key locations on the gliding map of Poland, gliders always constitute an important part of the display catalog – this year we could see the Red Bull’s Blanix Team, or Johan Gustafsson’s routines in that department, both performing during the sunset hours. Johannes Blacky Schwarz, meanwhile, performed a display on a hang-glider towed into the air by a trike-glider. The variety and richness of the display acts also included paragliders or the Flying Dragons PPG team that performed a spectacular lights and pyro display in sync with pyro at night. The night show also included the Polish Bo-105 display team routine, with spectacular pyro attached to the helicopter pylons.

Johannes Blacky Schwarz, in a spectacular display of hangglider aerobatics.

Somewhat in the background, another important highlight of the Leszno Antidotum Air Show this year came in a form of a Wilga Fly-In. Michał Wróblewski, owner of one of the Leszno-based Wilgas went to great lengths to gather all airworthy PZL-104 Wilga airframes based in Poland in Leszno during the weekend. 12 Wilgas appeared, also making a massive flypast, giving the local, Polish show atmosphere reminiscent of Oshkosh.

Wilgas during their flypast

Finally, the night finale of the show in Leszno is a separate act of its own. The actors: the Aerosparx Display Team, Marek Choim, OV-10 Bronco, and the Polish Air Force C-130 Hercules, with its spectacular flares drop coming as a significant reprise after the day routine, all make Leszno feel much more special. Leszno, for a long time, has been the only air show in Poland to feature night displays with pyro. Then, for a couple of years, Aeropact company (currently dissolved), the organizer of the Aerobaltic series of events in Gdynia, made a few quite successful attempts to do the night show over water; unfortunately, there’s no sign that the night show would return to the sea. Notably, the biggest airshow in Poland – the Radom International Air Show, organized biannually, would feature a sunset show this year – we need to wait and see how that will play out.

AeroSparx show finale – long exposure shot depicting the fireworks.

Overall, the Leszno event is growing and it is, year by year, becoming a feast for any fan of aviation in any form. The show is growing, presenting the multi-faceted love of aviation and passion for flying to a broader audience – and also creating an entirely new format of aviation entertainment, both for geeks, and the masses. Let’s hope the consistent efforts made by the team at Leszno Airfield is noticed broadly, so that the event becomes a trademark of its own.

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