Langkawi International Maritime & Aerospace Exhibition Report

Tuesday 26th March - Saturday 30th March 2013

The Langkawi International Maritime & Aerospace (LIMA) exhibition is a biennial trade show held at Langkawi International Airport, the only airfield on the Malaysian island of Langkawi. Usually occuring in December it was shifted to March for the first time and fell in perfect coincidence within my holiday to south-east Asia. This allowed for two days at the airshow during the public days on Friday 29th and Saturday 30th.

Chris Milne braved the high temperatures and humidity of Malaysia to report for UKAR.

The whole airshow experience was something much different than that of any UK airshow I have ever been to - there are no lengthy queues, no burger stands, umbrellas which shield you from sun, pilots that indulge in overflying the crowdline and iPads waving everywhere. Ticket prices were also incredible and entry to the public days was 10RM which roughly equates to £2 and is paid for at the gate instead of months in advance. Of course there were some downsides, the main one is that you have to wait until 10AM to enter the showground which is poorly timed because the first flying display commences then.

The exhibition is divided into two sections: the aerospace events are held at Langkawi International Airport, the only airfield on the island, whilst the maritime events are held at a nearby cruise jetty. Although the land-based maritime air display items also operate from the airport, such as the Canadair CL-415 waterbombers of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, unfortunately I wasn't able to attend the maritime section of the event so I wasn't able to see the CL-415s displaying in their entirety, although their departures were certainly impressive.

It was clear from the participation list just how focussed this show's attention was on Malaysian Air Force's ongoing tender for 18 more MRCA aircraft to replace their ageing Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29N/NUB Fulcrums and Northrop F-5E/F Tigers. The replacement contenders are the Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault Rafale, Boeing Super Hornet, SAAB Gripen and Sukhoi Su-30 Flanker - all of which were present in the flying display for the show. Interestingly enough the SAAB Gripen a Thai example with a Thai pilot at the helm. The Su-30 Flanker was displayed by the Malaysians who already have 18 of the type in service and could well be adding 18 more to their fleet in the near future. The Typhoon, Rafale and Super Hornets were from the RAF, French Air Force and US Navy respectively. Much like at the previous edition of LIMA, the RAF Typhoons were deployed for an exercise although this time the deployment was from 1(F)sqn.

The Malaysian's Flankers were part of the varied selection of Russian hardware present at the show. The nation's 'Smokey Bandits' display team seem to draw much adoration from the commentator as much as the crowd and seemed almost as patriotic as the American commentators. The team's name becomes obvious when you learn that they operate five Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29N/NUB Fulcrums with their Klimov RD-33 engines that aren't exactly environmentally friendly. The team are drawn from 17 squadron at Kuantan Air Base and I don't think any spotter can complain at seeing five MiG-29s in the air at one time.

It didn't stop there, the Russian Knights and their five Su-27P/UB Flankers supported by an IL-78 Midas also visited the show for the first time in almost twenty years! Hailed as 'the world's heaviest display team' the formation aspect of the team is fairly standard of display teams except a lot tighter! The most jaw-dropping aspect of the display is when the four-ship formation breaks and the second pair roll round 270 degrees and then crossover. Then comes the solo performing a number of very tight turns and tailslides which show the Su-27's manoeuvrability off despite the chunky airframe. Unfortunately the Russian Knights displayed without flares at LIMA, making their finale break not quite as spectacular as usual.

Other display items came in the form of the Boeing C-17A Globemaster III operated by the USAF's 154th Air Wing based at Hickam AFB in Hawaii, it was clear to see the safety advice taken onboard since the tragic Elmendorf crash as the display was flown very high. The other flying display assets were both propeller-based teams: Team Jupiter display team of Indonesia and the Kris Satki - the Malaysian equivalent of the Blades. Team Jupiter operate six Korean-designed KAI KT-1B Wong Bee training aircraft and the team are named after the callsign of Indonesian instructors. The Kris Satki - meaning Magic Dagger - team perform with four Extra EA-300Ls and are a team built up of RMAF pilots.

The only foreign fighter aircraft in the static was the Singaporean F-16D with conformal tanks fitted and a weapons layout spread out in front of the jet, it was joined by an AH-64D Longbow Apache attack helicopter also from Singapore. Supporting Team Jupiter was one of Indonesia's new CASA CN-295Ms in a gleaming camouflage scheme and coming from the 2nd Airlift Squadron at Jakarta Int'l. Despite the sequestration the US Navy brought a Lockheed P-3C Orion of VP-45 'Pelicans' from NAS Jacksonville and contracted the Omega Air Refuelling DC-10 tanker to bring over the F/A-18F Super Hornets. Lastly, a Russian Air Force Ilyushin IL-78MD Midas from 224th Air Transport Unit supported the Russian Knights on their deployment to South-east Asia.

As for the Malaysian side of the static, it was incredible to see just how many different types they have in service! An Su-30MKM adorned with a special paint scheme to advertise the Royal Malaysian Air Force's new campaign 'Air Force: Next Generation' which aims to consolidate the RMAF as a force that is capable of the full variety of roles needed to serve their country and also humanitarian missions. Also present was one of the RMAF's eight F/A-18D Hornets, a MiG-29 Fulcrum and a single seat BAe Systems Hawk Mk.208 with the only types missing from the nation's offensive inventory being one of their (R)/F-5E Tigers and the Hawk's more common two seat Mk. 108!

The static was also a haven for helicopter enthusiasts with no less than nine Malaysian rotorcrafts from five different branches. The Air Force brought the Sikorsky S61-A4 and its eventual replacement the EC725 Cougar; the Navy brought a Super Lynx Mk.100 and two AS555 Fennecs; the Army brought a single Agusta A109E; the Fire Department brought a Mil Mi-17 and Mil Mi-171 and the Maritime Enforcement Agency brought an Agusta Westland AW-139 with an AS365 Dauphin which were flying displays at the jetty. For a fairly small nation, this is an incredible variety of kit!

There was something for everyone at this show and the atmosphere was incredibly relaxed and friendly, the exhibition centre provided a vital break from the heat and some excellent food at very reasonable prices! Even the break in the flying came more as a relief than anything else and was broken by the odd movement both civil and military. I would even recommend the island of Langkawi itself as much as the show so if you have the chance make sure to go for it!