Mińsk Mazowiecki Open Day Report

Sunday 4th May 2014

Specifically organised to celebrate Poland's 15 Years of NATO Membership, with the promise of participation from nearly all Polish Military aircraft types. The prospect of Fitters and Fulcrums, combined with a north-facing crowd-line and cheap flights from the UK, made the event too good to turn down!

Peter Reoch travelled to Poland to report for UK Airshow Review. All photography from the author.

The celebrations were hosted at Mińsk Mazowiecki AFB, a short distance from Warsaw, which is home to the Polish Air Force's MiG-29 fleet. The lack of official website meant information in the lead-up to the event was limited but initial participation lists promised a large selection of both static aircraft, military vehicles, tactical ground based demonstrations and a short flying display from operational Polish military aircraft. There were also mentions of a USAFE F-15E Strike Eagle flying display, and appearance from NATO E-3A AWACS although these failed to materialise.

The aircraft static display at the show was a simple affair, with a grand total of 16 aircraft on show with nearly all types in the Polish inventory on show. In a climate where events are often compared by total numbers, the line-up at Minsk Mazowiecki showed that quality over quantity shines through every time. Positioned in a linear fashion along the ramp, with well positioned barriers providing good photographic opportunities and a number of the crews selling squadron memorabilia it was the static park many dream of, especially considering it contained items such as a Polish Navy SH-2G Seasprite and Polish Air Force SU-22UM Fitter. The only negative with the static display was that even with plenty of space available, only one MiG-29 was on show with the rest of the based airframes hidden away. As the event was a tri-service affair, static displays also included as vast number of military displays and vehicles. The range of equipment on display shows the transition that the Polish Military has gone through over recent years, with iconic Soviet hardware such as BTR Armoured Personal Carriers complimented with modern western equipment such as HMMWVs & Leopard Tanks.

The flying display was much shorter than a typical European airshow, however it featured quality over quantity and comprised solely of current Polish Military aircraft. Helicopter fans were treated to a vast number of displays including SW-4, Mi-17, Mi-14 and a number of W-3 variants. However the highlight of the helicopter displays came from the Polish Army, in the shape of two Mi-24W Hinds. Despite the routine being relatively simple, with the two helicopters flying formation circuits of the airfield followed by a short pirouette sequence - similar to that of the RN Black Cats - and a number of high-speed passes, it was extremely effective and a star item for both the native audience and foreign visitors. The geography of the airfield complimented many of the helicopter displays, with a clutter free background of trees appreciated by photographers rather than the distracting backgrounds seen at many UK airshows.

With Minsk Mazowiecki being the home base of the MiG-29 solo-display, the visiting crowd were treated to two Fulcrum displays each day, with differing sequences and extensive use of flares. Seeing an iconic cold-war type such as the Fulcrum being thrown around the sky is always impressive, with the black smoke pouring from the Klimov RD-33 engines an iconic part of the aircraft’s charm. Both the Su-22 Fitter and F-16 Fighting Falcon also featured in the flying display, although in a more bizarre fashion. Advertised as a “Su-22 vs F-16 pairs demonstration”, many were expecting a repeat of the Fitter pairs display seen at a number of European events, with the Fighting Falcons providing an unknown extra. The finished product left a lot to be desired, with the F-16 pair completing one (high altitude) flypast before returning to their base. The Fitters also completed one formation pass, with flares, before breaking formation and completing a couple of missed approaches and landing. Although the chance to see Fitters circuit bashing was appreciated by the foreign photographers, it just seemed odd that their participation was limited to that instead of a full display as seen elsewhere. Likewise the effort of launching the F-16 pair from their home base for a single flypast as part of the demonstration seemed odd.

Team Iskra had the honour of opening and closing the flying display on each day, with Team Orlik also performing. Sadly neither of the displays teams really captivated the audience or provided any stand-out photographic opportunities. Why the Polish Air Force operates two national display teams rather than focusing their resources on creating a single team with a more dynamic display is a puzzling question, especially as the native crowd were visibly unimpressed by Team Orlik’s performance. Other aerial attractions included a flypast of C-130E flanked by two C-295M and a formation flypast of six F-16 Fighting Falcons.

The main event was free entry to all, with (off base) car parking & bus service provided at a cost. The daily charge for car parking and a return bus ticket was a grand total of 25PLN (less than £5), making the event extremely affordable. Combine this with the high quality catering which again was incredibly cheap – 10PLN (less than £2) for a hot dog and drink – the airshow was very different to what we’re used to in the UK! A relaxed atmosphere with friendly hosts made the weekend extremely enjoyable, and with an overall cost (flights, hotel, hire car, spending money etc) coming to less than £200 it demonstrates that attending a foreign show can sometimes be cheaper than a weekend at a large event in the UK!