The bi-annual F-AIR COLOMBIA (Feria Aeronautica Internacional) airshow at Rionegro airport, which serves as the international hub for Medellin, is a great chance to catch up with Colombia’s current military aviation hardware. Though the city of Medellin might not be the first thing coming to ones mind when thinking about aviation photography, the Show itself provided a great chance to catch a lot of the hardware of the Fuerza Aérea Colombiana (FAC).
Where? Medellin / Rionegro Airport, Colombia
54.000 visitors came to José María Córdova International Airport for F-AIR COLOMBIA 2015 from 9th – 12th July 2015. The fair is South Americas second big aeronautical exhibition after Chile’s FIDAE, but with its rather small exhibition tents it can by far not compete with any of the other international event. But F-AIR does not try to do so, it moreover lays a strong focus on regional and national business and foster the aviation sector in Colombia. In the air and on the ground Colombia’s Air Force (Fuerza Aérea Colombiana – FAC) is the biggest exhibitor.
There are some general aviation aircraft in the static display, but clearly FAC aircraft and helicopters as well as those of Colombia’s naval and army aviation as well as the aviation branch of the Police make up for the biggest part of the exhibition.
Especially in the air military aviation was pre-dominant, with the only exception being the Airbus A350 performing a fly-by on its tour around South America, which coincided with F-AIR.
International participation was a USAF B-52 Stratofortress doing two fly-bys on the inauguration day of the show, and the “Halcones” display Team of the Fuerza Aérea de Chile / Chile Air Force flew daily displays with their five Extra 300L aerobatic aircraft. Due to engine issues they had to fly their routine using only four aircraft on some of the days, but on the final day in gorgeous weather all five Extras were operational again. They could thus show their full routine, including the heart for the crowd and most importantly the five-pointed star that is a prominent feature on their national flag.
Saturday and Sunday were also the highlights for the airshow of the FAC. Parachutists and once again the Halcones entertained the public in the morning hours, whereas the FAC took it to the sky in the afternoon in strong numbers.
Compared to previous year and with the alluring pictures of four OV-10 Broncos or 4 Kfirs and the KC-767 tanker aircraft in formation in mind, the flying display left a slight feeling of disappointment. The Broncos have been put out of FAC service at the beginning of the year, and due to ongoing engine issues resulting in severe crashes, all public appearances of the Kfir fighters have been cancelled.
The FAC thus changed their program and the opening act was a 5-ship formation of Cessna T-37 Tweet, which are still used for pilot training in Colombia. They lead the pilots to the Cessna A-37B Dragonfly that is employed for close air-support missions, making good use of the many hardpoints under its wings. The A-37B Dragonfly for the solo display featured a nice special scheme, with the Colombian flag on its tail, and a big black dragon painted all around the fuselage. And after a downswing in its display routine it was flare galore! Fortunately I was prepared for it on the second day…
The successor for the Dragonfly is and will be the Embraer A-29B Super Tucano. Highly agile and able to go fast and low it is the weapon of choice in a Counter Insurgency (COIN) environment together with the AH-60L Arpía III helicopter.
The four ship formation of the A-29B was well choreographed and made effective use of flares, what can also be said of the Arpía display team, the “Equipo Acrobático Arpía 51”.
On the ground the FAC was also the most important exhibitor, making a large part of its aircraft a literally ‘hands-on’ experience for the visitors. Apart from the Tweets, the (Super) Tucanos and the big transport aircraft, the new Sikorsky AH-60L Harpy IV was a centrepiece of the static display at Rionegro / Medellin. It proudly carried the Toplite III sensor and the Spike missiles, able to fight targets NLOS at ranges up to 25km.
Of interest were also the Boeing Stearman PT-17 Kaydet, T-34 Mentor and a Bell 47, which are part of the FAC “historical flight”, which complemented the static display of modern FAC hardware.