The Meteorology Department at the Civil Aviation Affairs expected a rather cold weather today with some clouds at times. The forecast was for maximum temperature of 20°C and minimums around 15°C – at the end of January…
Where? Sakhir Airbase, Bahrain
While being quite cold for the sunny Middle East, from the European point-of-view this was actually not too bad for an average week-end in the middle of January – and thus an easy decision to pack the stuff and head out for the first airshow of the year, the Bahrain International Airshow 2012.
In the end it was quite different and the weather had to offer a little bit of everything: from the hot dessert sun to drizzling rain and even a sandstorm. I did not get boring during this relatively small three day event!
The same goes to say for the participating aircraft. Whereas the majority of aircraft – and the money – were to be found within the civil aircraft market, and here especially business aviation, the military jets were of course also worth having a look. Quality, not quantity, was the word of the day in this sector.
The big surprise for sure was the participation of the Russian Knights. Announced to be ‘withdrawn from service’ after last year’s MAKS airshow, the team seems to the re-born and in strength. It arrived at Bahrain with for of their Suchoi Su-27 jets in the team’s colours and an Il-76 as support aircraft. Though the start of their 25 minutes long display was a bit slow, the formation flying of the 4 big jets was perfectly executed. Once the split was done and the two solos continued the performance, it got a lot faster.
Much more action was in the air and many crossings as well as effective use of the afterburner are memorable. After one crossing for example both jets pulled up vertically, did the famous Cobra manoeuvre synchronously, descended and the next crossing followed directly afterwards!
The only drawback however was the fact, that the team did do their spectacular massive release of flares only during the rehearsal on the day before the actual show started. The reasons for lack of doing so also during the event remain unknown…
Going to Bahrain the hopes were of course high to see the local Royal Bahraini Air Force (RBAF) in action. On the ground a nice selection of their aircraft was present, from the smallest trainer up to the F-16 Fighting Falcon as well as helicopters and aircraft of their VIP-flight.
Furthermore they participated daily in the flying program: arriving directly from their home airfield, Sheik Isa Air Base, they performed a formation fly-by with a Gulf Air Airbus A330 over Sakir with 4x F-16 and 4x F-5. After this fly-by the formation did split up and returned for individual fly-bys by the A330 and the RBAF once again.
Unfortunately no solo display of any of their aircraft was presented, which is understandable as the efforts to set-up such a thing for a small Air Force such as the RBAF is, are quite high and restrict their much needed operational flying.
But fast jet display fortunately were backed up by one of the strongest Air Forces of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Counciln consisting of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates / UAE). The UAE have set-up a solo display on the Mirage 2000 and the F-16E as well a national aerobatic team, called Al Fursan (“The Knights”), recently. Furthermore the Saudi Hawks were also listed for the show, but had to cancel their participation due to two recent accidents that have led to the loss of at least one aircraft and injured pilots.
The fast jets in the desert sky were a fabulous view, especially as there is no M2000 display anymore in Europe and the F-16 did perform with the conformal fuel tanks (CFTs) attached – a welcomed change to the very well-known F-16-shape in the sky!
Al Fursan’s display was flown with 7 Aermacchi MB339 and resembled the one of the Frecce Tricolori. No wonder, as the UAE pilot were trained and advised by the Frecce Tricolori, and are even still supported by Italian pilots.
The colour of their jets shows underneath the national flag, and the upper side represents the golden sand, which dominates the countries surface, and the black gold, that lies underneath of it.
The US also showed a strong presence at the Bahrain International Airshow. This is not that difficult due to the strong American presence in the region, and especially as Bahrain is used as a major hub for the aircraft carriers operating in the Gulf. Their support showed clearly on the static display with several aircraft and helicopters, and the US Navy did even participate in the flying with the F-18E Super Hornet. That show was flown with the colourful bird of VFA-81 “Sunliners”, currently based on the USS Carl Vinson.
Civil aircraft were up in the air as well. Additional to the already mentioned Gulf Air A330, the local Air Bahrain did show their A320 with a short presentation and Suchoi underlined its ambitions to sell their SuperJet 100 (SSJ) in this part of the world with a daily flight display as well. Furthermore on Sunday a DHL B747 freighter did one fly-past.
To complete the approximately 3 hours lasting flight display there were parachutists (the British Red Devils and the Bahraini Special Force) in the air and the Royal Jordanian Falcons presented their formation flying skills in 4 Extra 300. The Twisters Team was for sure the highlight during the Night Show shortly after sunset with their light effects and pyrotechnics sparkling in the deep blue sky.
The show was split-up into a part reserved for professionals and VIPs and a public airshow, all being set-up at two separated locations. Attractions for the public visitors included many different stands, a ‘heritage village’ showing the local culture and 4 helicopters in the static display. The other area had much more to offer, as can be seen here.
And though Bahrain can be regarded as being quite small with a population of around 1.2 million inhabitants (nearly the half of them being foreigners) on an area of 750km², the interest in the public event was so huge, that the traffic – especially on Saturday – totally collapsed all around the airfield and arriving visitors had to be send back home.
As the airshow has proved to be so popular in its now second edition and at the same time so successful regarding the business being made, the date for the next event has already been settled. Sticking to a date in January if will be held on the three days from 16th to 18th January 2012.