2024, Eurofighter, RSAF, Riad, Saudi Arabia, Typhoon, WDS, World Defense Show, spectator
Airshows

World Defense Show 2024 – Riyadh, KSA

The second edition of the World Defense Show (WDS) in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was held on 4 -8 February 2024. For this trade fair a whole airport including fully climatized exhibition halls was constructed in the middle of the desert, approximately 70km North of the capital Riyadh, literally in the middle of the desert.

20240206 so   4873 zeitler 1024x683 - World Defense Show 2024  - Riyadh, KSA

Jets over the desert – Flying Display at World Defense Show 2024

The flying display consisted of an approximately 3 hour long slot each afternoon. Of course the local Saudi Hawks display team performed, and they were joined by the Turkish Stars and the Bay Yi, the „1st August“ display team of the Chinese Air Force (PLAAF). Both Turkey and China were also strongly present in the exhibition halls, and sending out their display teams just underlined the clear dedication to make business in Saudi Arabia.

20240206 turkish stars   9016 zeitler 1024x683 - World Defense Show 2024  - Riyadh, KSA
20240206 so   4955 zeitler 1024x683 - World Defense Show 2024  - Riyadh, KSA
20240205 august 1st plaaf   7626 zeitler 1024x683 - World Defense Show 2024  - Riyadh, KSA

The Saudi Hawks put up a solid performance, and seeing the green and white jets in their home conuntry and flying above the desert landscape was for sure a special treat. Also the F-5 Tigers of the Turkish Stars stood out against a clear blue sky, but I have to admit that the Chinese Ba Yi flying the Chengdu J-10 stole the show, especially when they showed up using green smoke in addition to the usual red, white and yellow. The commentary mentioned that the green smoke represents peace, and if you look at Saudi Arabia’s national flag, showing up with this color in Riad is an obvious choice.

For the aviation enthusiast, the World Defence Show 2024 stood out to be a fantastic opportunity to get a glimpse of rare Saudi jets and helicopters

These three display teams and two fast jets were all that was set to fly and parked on the flightline. There was also a single RSAF F-15SA Eagle present, but this one unfortunately did not move at all during any of the showdays. This was a shame, as it might have been the highlight of the flying demonstrations, competing with the display of the Saudi Typhoon.

20240205 eurofighter rsaf   7498 zeitler 1024x683 - World Defense Show 2024  - Riyadh, KSA

Considering fast jets, a Saudi Eurofighter Typhoon was up daily, as well as a JF-17 from Pakistan. The „Flying Thunder“ is a regular visitor at shows in the Middle East, which also clearly underlines the sales efforts maybe not directly to the host nation, but to many of the smaller countries, whose delegations numerously visited the World Defence Show.

The flying display was enriched by several fly-bys during the showdays, with Day 2 being the one with the most flying activity. The US Navy brought a P-8A Poseidon in for a single, and rather high, fly-by. Other American presentations were the A-10 Thunderbolt II Display Team, flying in from another airfield, and also two F-16 Fighting Falcons performed several fly-bys and a small show of force. As it become apparent a few weeks later, the display by the USAF A-10 Demonstration Team has been the first one of their last display season, as they are going to cease their activities at the end of 2024.

20240205 a 10 usaf   1537 zeitler 1024x683 - World Defense Show 2024  - Riyadh, KSA
20240205 jf 17   1179 zeitler 1024x683 - World Defense Show 2024  - Riyadh, KSA
20240205 rafale   1350 zeitler 1024x683 - World Defense Show 2024  - Riyadh, KSA

Similar to the Americans, also the French Air Force (Armée de l’air) presented the Dassault Rafale. She did a similar thing just like the F-16s, coming in, doing three passes, and bidding farewell with a nice bank and afterburner pass. There was also another Rafale in the static display, but only for the first two days of the event.

Showday Number 2 was also interesting as three of the airliners of the Static Display left before the actual flying display. Flyadeal Airlines presented an Airbus A320, and Saudi Arabian Airlines brought in a Boeing 787 and an Airbus A321 for the opening day, when Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman inaugurated WDS 2024 and made his tour of the show.

Highlights of the Static Display at WDS 2024, Saudi Arabia

On the ground, additionally to a strong presence of the American forces, plenty of helicopters and aircraft of the Saudi Defence Forces were put on display. This encompassed the Saudi National Guard, Navy, and of course the Air Force.

20240206 so   8143 zeitler 1024x683 - World Defense Show 2024  - Riyadh, KSA

The highlight were four all-green special colored jets (F-15C, F-15SA, Tornado and Typhoon) in celebration of the Saudi National Day. Additionally, an F-15SA Eagle in regular markings really stood out as did the rather rare RSAF E-3D AWACS. Helicopters were also numerous and too many to list all of them, but they included Apaches, Chinook, Blackhawks, a Seahawk, an OH-6 or H725.

For the aviation enthusiast, the World Defence Show 2024 stood out to be a fantastic opportunity to get a glimpse of rare Saudi jets and helicopters

Also the USAF brought up an impressive number of assets to support the static display and show their close ties to Saudi Arabia. It can be assumed that most, if not all of these aircraft and helicopters, are currently based around the Middle East. The display included a KC-130, C-130J, E-11A, F-16C, F-15E, A-10C as well as a few helicopters. Further TAI showed off their Akinci UAV, and Russia flew an Ilyushin Il-78 in.

20240206 static   4911 zeitler 1024x683 - World Defense Show 2024  - Riyadh, KSA
20240206 so   4937 zeitler 1024x683 - World Defense Show 2024  - Riyadh, KSA
20240204 static   4245 zeitler 1024x683 - World Defense Show 2024  - Riyadh, KSA

On my personal wishlist for a next edition of WDS some of the transport and support aircraft of the foreign participants could remain in the static display. None of them (e.g. Chinese Y-20, Saudi Hercules, Turkish A400M) were to be seen, and there is still plenty of place in the middle of the desert.

World Defence Show 2024 Recap

For the aviation enthusiast, the World Defence Show 2024 stood out to be a fantastic opportunity to get a glimpse of rare Saudi jets and helicopters, all of which could be photographed very well in the static display. Seeing more of them in the air would have been a nice touch, for example during an opening ceremony featuring a fly-by. Other events around the region such as the shows at Bahrain or Dubai are doing just this, and the RSAF has an even more impressive and bigger air arm to support such an aerial demonstration. Admittedly, this would have been the cherry on the cake, but already the seeing performance of the Saudi Hawks and the Eurofighter Typhoon in the middle of the Saudi Arabian desert made the visit worthwhile.

20240204 static   4237 zeitler 1024x683 - World Defense Show 2024  - Riyadh, KSA
20240204 so   4192 zeitler 1024x683 - World Defense Show 2024  - Riyadh, KSA
20240204 helicopter   4126 zeitler 1024x683 - World Defense Show 2024  - Riyadh, KSA

What the show will be most remembered for from my personal perspective, is the Saudis presenting themselves as very generous host and providing stunning photography conditions. Despite being in the middle of the desert, and the last event falling victim to several sandstorms, this year saw a very clear and deep blue sky on several days. Additionally to that, the reflections of the sun from the sandy ground even lighting up the aircraft from below, and no heat haze was experienced due to rather low temperatures which consistently stayed below 20°C during the week.

And if I might ask for one thing, it would be a hotel being closer to the site in order to avoid the congested and horrible Riad traffic for the daily return trip…

World Defence Show 2024, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia – Photo Gallery

Touring a small part of Saudi Arabia

Additonally to the World Defence Show, I also took the opportunity to discover a small part of Saudi Arabia, as this country just opens to the world and opened for tourism only in 2019. Not counting the pandemic years, this has just been two or three years ago. And not being a tourist country for a long time clearly shows, as many attractions are still pristine and unspoiled. For my part I decided to have a look at the spectacular „Edge of the World“ as well as to Buraydah in Al-Qassim for the world’s largest camel market that spans across two square miles.