ATHENS FLYING WEEK 2017
A fairly new European airshow on the calendar each year is the Athens Flying Week in Greece. On 16-17 September 2017, the 6th Athens Flying Week (AFW) airshow took place at Tanagra Air Force Base. This base is located 70 km north of Athens and it’s the home of the Greek Mirage 2000s. Despite the fact that the airshow is quite new to all Greeks, and that the financial problems of Greece affect almost everything, nearly 40.000 visitors attended and took the opportunity to witness this unique spectacle up close.
During the weekend, many participants, domestic but also foreign, were presented in this aviation fest. There were interesting attractions from all kinds covering almost every aspect of aviation. From front-line fighter jets, formation display teams and military helicopters to aerobatic planes, gliders, and even remote controlled aircraft. Overall the show was able to fulfill each and everyone’s desires in terms of preferences and interests.
The Hellenic Armed Forces and especially the HAF supported the show by participating with a large number of aircraft. Both HAF solo display teams, “Zeus” with the F-16C and “Daedalus” with the T-6A, were present performing exceptional displays on both days of the show, but unfortunately none of them was utilizing its special painted aircraft. Two F-4E Phantoms from 117 Combat Wing flew to Tanagra on both show days departing from Andravida to perform a simulated bombing raid over the airfield. But the most interesting one was the simulated dogfight between a Mirage 2000 and an F-16D at a low altitude over the field.
The Polish Air Force, a regular participant to the previous editions, was the greatest foreign contributor to this year’s event. The Poles sent the Bialo Czerwone Iskry (White and Red Sparks) aerobatic team. Named after its aircraft, the PZL TS-11 Iskra (Spark), the team flies seven of these training jets, which are now the oldest jets in Polish service and appeared in AFW for the first time last year.
The Polish participation didn’t stop there. The Poles sent also their legendary MiG-29 Fulcrum demo aircraft, which was once again one of the biggest highlights of the flying display plus their relatively new solo demo F-16C Block 52+, “Tiger”. This relatively “new kid on the block” was born in 2015. It’s the second demo F-16 with CFTs”, in the airshow theater and its crew were trained by the crew of the Greek Demo Team. Tiger was about to make its debut at the AFW last year, but it was cancelled at the very last minute, so its coming was long awaited by the Greeks.
The Belgian Air Force provided the third F-16 solo display act. The Belgian Air Force is another great supporter of the AFW and its F-16 demo once again thrilled the crowds with its precise and perfectly executed flying display.
There were many helicopter displays in this year’s event. Four military and one civil helicopter took part in this year’s flying display. The “Pegasus” demo team of the Hellenic Army Aviation, with its agile Apache, was another highlight of the show. It performed its spectacular display utilising a different type on each day! On Saturday the display was performed by an AH-64A+ and on Sunday by an AH-64D. The Hellenic Army Aviation performed another unique demo with a CH-47 Chinook and a UH-1H Huey, deploying troops of special forces with fast ropes in a simulated battle field. The Hellenic Navy’s S-70 Aegean Hawk was also present, simulating a navy seal raid. The only civil helicopter, an EC-120B of a Greek transport company, performed some aerial man-oeuvres.
The Red Arrows, the famous English aerobatic team was this year’s AFW headlining demo team. The team is a regular visitor at Tanagra base. During the past three years the Reds have been using the airfield for their pre-season training and their announcement was very welcomed by the Greek audience.
Most probably one of the biggest highlights of the show was the rare appearance of the Egyptian aerobatic team, the Silver Stars. The team performed its first appearance in Europe and the officials of AFW were very excited about that. The team is comprised of ten trainer aircraft, K-8E Karakorum. This aircraft is an export variant of the Hongdu JL-8 (Nanchang JL-8), a two-seat intermediate jet trainer and light attack aircraft designed by China Nanchang Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation. This variant is called K-8 and is co-produced by the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex. The Egyptian Air Force has 120 aircraft of this type. The announcement of their participation was made only one week before the show and it was for all of us a very nice surprise. The Silver Stars performed an exceptional display and a totally synchronized demonstration, “shining” in the sky over Tanagra base.
There were two other acrobatic propeller aircraft which performed unlimited aerobatics. The Italian “Silver Chicken”, with a CAP 21DS and the “Dutch Rush” from Netherlands with a Su-26MX. Both aircraft performed unique demonstrations impressing everybody with their agility. There were also two glider displays this year. The famous, world champion in glider aerobatics, Luca Bertossio and the Swedish Johan Gustaffson, both of them regular visitors of the AFW. Both gliders gave a second display during sunset with the use of LED lights and pyrotechnics attached to the gliders. This combination produced an awesome sight.
Despite its young age and its size today, the Athens Flying Week can be compared with other bigger and better known shows in Southern Europe like Rome or Malta. Although Greece is facing big problems with its economy, the hospitality and the enthusiasm of the people who organize the show reveal a great will to overcome any kind of problems and transform this small event into a great established airshow.
Article by George Karavantos