Everything you need to know about Ostrava NATO Days 2023.
On Sep. 15 -17, 2023, we attended the annual NATO Days in Ostrava. The organizers pronounced the event to be a tremendous success, with a total of 185,000 visitors. The Ostrava NATO Days is a defense and security show that allows the general public to gain insight in the Czech and regional trends in this area. The event has two dimensions, one in the form of the NATO Days proper, while the other is referred to as Czech Air Force Days, basically being a big, international air show.
It has been the 23rd edition of NATO Days, and 14th edition of Czech Air Force Days this year. The show can be considered the most significant of defense and security events held in the CEE (Central and Eastern Europe) region.
This year’s show’s primary theme was the modernization efforts undertaken by the Czech Republic (and surrounding nations) in the wake of the Russian aggression in Ukraine. Legacy platforms such as the Mi-24 helicopters, were presented alongside their replacements (UH-1Y and AH-1Z in Czech camo in the case of the rotary-wing aircraft).
The Ostrava show this year might have been one of the last opportunities to witness the Hinds and Hips flying together, for a NATO nation. During the opening flypast, two Czech Gripens accompanied the US F-35, to mark the Czech intent to procure Lockheed’s prime fighter platform.
Notably, the Czech Air Force Days have also become a venue where the U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning II had its European air show premiere, as a dynamic display. And this also came in two dimensions, as both the USAF F-35A demonstration team, as well as the Royal Navy’s/RAF F-35B performed their display routines in Ostrava. However, the British display was somewhat underwhelming – the jet only performed a hover near the crowd line and landed.
This, alone, is an impressive feat, however, when placed against the background of the spectacular display performed by Kristin “BEO” Wolfe of the US F-35 Demo Team (really a true showstopper, with square loop and impressive high AoA maneuvers), the audience may have been craving for more.
Solo jet displays also included two Gripen demos – of Hungarian and Czech Air Force. Notably, the Czech demo pilot now performs the same dump and burn maneuver as his Hungarian counterpart (even though technically this is not caused by dumping fuel, as the afterburner ignites the fuel coming from a vent pipe located near the nozzle on the JAS 39A-D models; Gripen has system pressurized tanks and the pipe is connected to the Controlled Vent Unit and pressure regulator in the vent tank). This may become the Gripen’s party piece.
The Czechs also use Ostrava to showcase the achievements of their aviation industry. This year we could have witnessed a solo ALCA ground attack role display, and a solo display of the Aero Vodochody’s L-39NG trainer jet (also performing some formation flypasts with its legacy counterpart). The Czech Let company also displayed its L 410 NG prototype.
Poland acted as a Special Partner Nation this year. The Polish participation in the air displays was limited to the F-16 Tiger Demo Team, W-3 Sokół helo demonstration, paradrop, and, notably, presence of the FA-50 jets in the static display. The FA-50s are still an exotic sight in Europe, but with Poland procuring these we may expect a broader presence of this jet in the European Air Show arena.
Interestingly, the Polish FA-50 arriving for static was still being flown by a Korean pilot. This is probably caused by the fact that the Polish pilots are still receiving training on the said platform. The Polish participation in the show also included the GA Żelazny aerobatic team, and a display by the Orlik Team, flying the PZL-130 Orliks. Staying on the subject of turboprop trainers, the Swiss PC-7 Team was the only other aerobatic team performing over Mosnov this year. Notably, PC-9 from Slovenia and Greek Daedalus T-6A Texan II demos were also performed in Ostrava.
The air displays also included German NH90 and A400M dynamic demos. A400M with a special paint scheme commemorating this year’s Air Defender exercise. The Italian Air Force, meanwhile, brought its Tornado to Ostrava, for the static display.
Other fast jet displays included two Eurofighter acts, one by the Spanish Air Force, and one by RAF Typhoon. Sadly, the Blackjack special paint scheme jet only flew during the rehearsals and not during the weekend.
Overall we highly recommend the Ostrava event as the closure of the European Air Show calendar (when speaking of conventional air shows, because Axalp Fliegerschiessen may truly be viewed as the European closing act of the air show season).