Poland’s Prime Aviation Event – Beast of an Air Show
Last weekend we attended the Radom Air Show in Poland. This biannual event organized at the Warsaw-Radom airport is considered the most reputable Polish international air show, with the Polish Air Force responsible for making it happen. The show is an important event on the European air show map, and in times like these – with the full-scale war in Ukraine raging on – it could have become an arena for NATO to flex its muscles on its Eastern Flank. Did it?
The show also provided an opportunity for the Polish MoD to showcase its latest procurement efforts in the area of the air domain, and also – land domain. The latter came in the form of the K239 Chunmoo, K2 MBT, Abrams MBT, or the M142 HIMARS systems presented in the static display. However, some of the latest Polish Armed Forces’ acquisitions were also showcased in the air.
The Polish Air Force highlights included a parade, showcasing all of the service’s inventory (64 aircraft in total!), ranging from the Air Force Academy basic training assets (such as the R44 helicopters, or Diamond DA42s, M-346), through the fighter backbone (F-16, MiG-29, Su-22), VIP transport assets (B737, Gulfstream G550), helicopters (Mi-17, Black Hawk), to finish with the latest acquisition that the Polish Air Force made – the KAI FA-50. Despite the FA-50’s presence in Radom, the jets were still flown by South Korean pilots, with the Polish pilots in the back seat. It seems that the training process for the FA-50 to be fully adopted is still going to take some time.
Notably, this was the first airshow appearance of a Polish FA-50. The MiG-29s of the Polish Air Force are still in operation, not all of the airframes have been handed over to Ukraine.
The dynamic display portion of the show was quite rich, with virtually all of the European solos appearing in the skies over Radom. The host nation showcased its F-16 Tiger Demo Team, and also, which is interesting, a novelty: the M-346 solo display. The M-346 routine was surprisingly interesting, and it probably aims to replace the former Team Iskry’s routine as a promotion of the Air Force Academy and training aviation. The training aviation was also represented by Team Orlik which returned to the skies over Radom with its usual display program.
This happened probably due to the need to fill in the gap left behind by the lack of the MiG-29 solo display, or the Su-22 role demo team on the show’s schedule. CAS demo was the dynamic display act involving these post-soviet assets – alongside the FA-50. The routine ended in a symbolic formation break by the MiG-29, passing on its role to the FA-50 as a fighter. The Su-22 was to appear in the sky over Radom again, but we will return to that later.
The Polish Air Force has also showcased some new display routine: apart from the night routine performed by the C-130 (or at least some elements of that routine, which was displayed in full in Leszno this year), the Cracow-based C295M with a special ‘Wawel Dragon’ paint scheme was also displayed in Radom.
The international jet solo acts performing their displays in Radom included the Finnish Hornet demo, Danish F-16, HAF ZEUS Demo Team on the F-16, and the Belgian Air Component F-16 solo display, along with the British Eurofighter, or the Czech Gripen. That array of displays places the Radom show among the leading European air show events – with all of the major European solo demos present here. Interestingly, apart from the Polish Team Orlik, the only aerobatic team representing an air force came from Switzerland – Patrouille Suisse performed on both days, flying their F-5s.
Radom has certainly become a place for the Polish MoD to showcase its latest acquisitions. This year was no different. The Polish Navy decided to display its AW101 helicopter in the ASW configuration. The beastly aircraft performed a very interesting dynamic display, demonstrating its agility and performance. Secondly, the Sadków airport also provided a venue for the Polish Air Force to demonstrate the FA-50. The Korean jet flew in the air parade, and also in the CAS demo, alongside the Su-22 and MiG-29, with pyro elements on the ground.
A special mention should go to the RWD-8 replica, flying as an opening act. The RWD-8 is one of the most produced Polish aircraft, but none of the originals survived. The newly built replica has been an interesting highlight and a good show opener in Radom. Another historical aircraft displayed in Radom was the T-6 Harvard. The civil elements of the show also included the Red Bull’s Alpha Jets, Bo-105 flown by Felix Baumgartner, Luke Czepiela flying his Zivko Edge, Artur Kielak on Gembird GB-1, or Marek Choim flying his Extra, or the 3AT3 team with an An-2. Among those, the Alpha Jets really stood out, especially on Saturday, when their display was scheduled to happen in the soft, evening light – the routine could have been compared to poetry written with jet engines. Finally, the duo Lim display also performed in Radom, with the single-seat and trainer variants of the Polish license-manufactured MiG-15s.
This year’s edition of the Radom Air Show also included a night display portion. It somewhat copied what we had witnessed in Leszno, earlier this year, but with some minor changes. The grand finale was performed by the AeroSparx, preceded by the Flying Dragons paramotor team, and the Bushcat Demo Team, just like in Leszno, but the military elements were both surprising and underwhelming. The C-130 performed a stripped-down variant of its spectacular routine flown in Leszno, back in June.
Out of the full display, only two elements of it were performed in Radom, namely the flypast with the Polish flag displayed in the cargo door, and the spectacular drop of flares. This is what was calling for more. Another military display that was performed during the evening portion of the Radom event was a flypast of a pair of Su-22s with a KKR-1 recce pod. The illumination charges, used as a crude flash for night recce sorties, were dropped from the pod during two low passes, which has been a spectacular highlight of the night program.
The static display was very much limited. The lineup just featured an RDAF F-16, US KC-135 and AH-64E (also to be acquired by Poland), Hungarian H-145M, Croatian UH-60M, and OH-58 Kiowa, German P-3 Orion and A400M, plus two L-410 Turbolets – from Lithuania and Slovakia.
A word or two also need to be written about the organization side of the event. Unfortunately, there were some issues. One of those the audience raised was the water container capacity limit: one could bring only 500 ml water bottles onto the showgrounds, with water being available in a few (too few) locations around the airbase. This resulted in chaos, and queues, or even a reason for people to collapse.
Also, the scheduling of the displays was less than perfect, with long pauses between the individual acts. Moreover, the program on Saturday (lasting 11 hours, from 9 AM until 9 PM) was really expansive, making Radom a beast of a show, but overall, and considering the interruptions between the flying displays, the show schedule could have been managed a bit better.
Summing it up, the performers in the sky delivered, while the organization of the show left a a few things to be perfected.