AIR POWER 2022 - Hinterstoisser AB / Zeltweg / AUSTRIA

Update: 2022/09/27  by Robert Kysela / CHK6

It was exactly 25 years ago when Hinterstoisser air base, located in Zeltweg, Styria, hosted its very first aviation event, this show was later to become known as AIR POWER. Since then, its organizers, the Austrian Federal Army (Bundesheer), the Province of Styria and energy drink manufacturer RED BULL have conducted some of the best aviation events ever to have been held on European soil. This winning combination of organizers has managed to keep this popular event alive despite opposition efforts from green and leftist groups.  Nevertheless, from 2-3 September 2022 the 10th AIR POWER show was held. Austrians have always been excellent at exploiting their central location in Europe, while Austria’s neutral status has also enhanced its relationship with their neighboring countries.

The "Fat Girl," the unofficial name for the four-engine military transport, has been in service with the PLAAF (People's Liberation Army Air Force) since mid-2016

Xi'an Y-20 KUNPENG - © by Robert Kysela
Xi'an Y-20 KUNPENG - © by Robert Kysela
This year was no exception with both the static and flying displays featuring a range of top class aircraft, for example, a Chinese Xi’an Y-20 KUNPENG making its very first appearance at a European airshow. “Fat Girl,”, as this four-engine military transport has been unofficially named, has been in PLAAF (People’s Liberation Army Air Force) service since mid 2016. Very little has been revealed about the Y-20, however what is known is that the type is powered by four Shenyang Wōshàn-18 turbofan engines.  These engines are a Chinese copy of the Russian Aviadvigatel PS-30/Soloviev D-30KP-2 powerplant, which were used on the Y-20 prototype, all production aircraft are fitted with the newer WS-18 engine. These turbines while very reliable, are vastly inferior to Western engines in terms of fuel consumption and performance. Although to be fair, the development of these engines dates back to the 1960’s. Future variants of the Y-20 are to be powered by the more powerful Shenyang Wōshàn-20 engine. The Y-20’s maximum payload is just about 55 tons, which is roughly on a par with the latest variant of the Ilyushin Il-76MD-90A (60 tons payload).
Lockheed C-130K HERCULES - © by Robert Kysela
Renegade exercise - © by Robert Kysela
Of course, the visit of this rare aircraft had nothing to do with the fact that the Austrian Armed Forces are currently looking for a replacement for their aging fleet of Lockheed C-130K HERCULES. Potential candidates such as the Embraer C-390 MILLENIUM, the Airbus A-400M ATLAS or the Airbus C-295 PERSUADER were also on static display. Austria operates three Hercules, which were procured second-hand from the Royal Air Force (RAF) and will reach their end of their service life by 2030 at the latest. One C-130K was on static display at AIR POWER, while a second aircraft participated in the flying display along with two Eurofighter EF-2000’s of the Austrian Armed Forces demonstrating an air interception exercise. In this exercise, the Hercules acted as the intruder, being intercepted by the ready alert section, with the Hercules being forced to land under strict direction. Once all was “safe”, the EF-2000’s demonstrated their outstanding versatility with various air combat maneuvers. This realistic scenario impressively demonstrated the capabilities of this very potent air defence platform.

To everyone's chagrin, this one did not fly its display from Zeltweg, but took off and landed in Zagreb

Mikoyan & Gurevich MiG-21UMD (NATO Code: MONGOL B) - © by Robert Kysela
Mikoyan & Gurevich MiG-21UMD (NATO Code: MONGOL B) - © by Robert Kysela

The star at this year’s AIR POWER, at least from the point of view of most aviation enthusiasts and spotters, was the Croatian Mikoyan & Gurevich MiG-21UMD. To everyone’s disappointment, this aircraft did not fly its display from Zeltweg, but took off and landed from Zagreb, Croatia. This condensed its display to just three short (and relatively high) passes, since the fuel capacity of the two-seat Variant UM is extremely limited. Croatia received a total of 12 of these of aircraft from various sources after its declaration of independence from Yugoslavia in June 1991. Another, quite special MiG-21 was recently handed back to Croatia from Austria, this being the aircraft which mysteriously landed at Klagenfurt in October 1991. The pilot, Brig Gen. Rudolf Perešin, defected from Croatia to Austria in his MiG-21R, because of his unwillingness to fight his own countrymen during the 1991-1995 Croatian War of Independence. His MiG has since been on display at the Military Aviation Museum in Zeltweg and was returned to Croatia in a formal ceremony in 2019. All active Croatian MiG’s will be retired next year and replaced with 12 used Dassault RAFALE F3R.

Aerospatiale SA.316B ALOUETTE III - © by Robert Kysela
Leonardo AW-169M - © by Robert Kysela

The workhorse of the Austrian Armed Forces, the Aerospatiale SA.316B ALOUETTE III, was also presented to the public for the very last time. A total of nine of these aircraft were displayed at AIR POWER, where they paraded past the spectators in formation while carrying the flags of all the Austrian provinces. This reliable helicopter has been in service with the Austrian Armed Forces for a total of 55 years where one of the greatest advantages of this lightweight liaison and transport helicopter is its ability to operate at high altitudes. Therefore, it was primarily employed in the high alpine regions of Austria and Switzerland. With its 570 hp Turbomeca Artouste III B1 turbine, the ALOUETTE III can reach a service ceiling of almost 6,500m.
The ALOUETTE III will be replaced by Leonardo AW-169M. Two of these medium, multi-role helicopters were presented at AIR POWER to the public for the very first time. Training of the first pilots has already begun (in Italy) with the first aircraft (AW-169B – trainer variant) due to be delivered later this year. A total of 18 aircraft are planned to be acquired (12 AW-169 M.A. and 6 AW-169B). These aircraft will not only replace the ALOUETTE III and Bell OH-58 KIOWA (Austria’s only armed helicopter) in Austrian air force service but will also replace the Agusta Bell AB-212 currently operated by the German Bundeswehr.

Mil Mi-24V - NATO Code: HIND D - © by Robert Kysela
Mil Mi-24P - NATO Code: HIND F - © by Robert Kysela

In addition to the ALOUETTE III, all other helicopter types belonging to the Austrian Armed Forces were also displayed at AIR POWER. A Mi-24V (NATO Codename: HIND D) of the Czech Air Force and a Mi-24P of the Hungarian Air Force also took part in the flying display. Hungary decommissioned its Mi-24 fleet in 2013, however four years later this decision was reversed resulting in the reactivation of all 12 aircraft following completion of their complete overhaul in Russia. The aircraft displayed at Zeltweg, sporting the designation “331”, was originally in service with Combat Helicopter Regiment 5 Adolf v. Lützow (National People’s Army of the GDR) in Basepohl and was later handed over to Hungary following reunification. The Mi-24P version (NATO Codename: HIND F) is armed with a twin-barrelled 30-mm Gryazev-Shipunov GSch-30-2K gun mounted on the starboard side of the aircraft. A unique feature of this gun is that each barrel loads the other when fired resulting in a high rate of fire.
A relatively rare guest at air shows is the Eurocopter TIGER helicopter and it was great to see a Tiger belonging to Combat Helicopter Regiment 36 “Kurhessen” taking part in the flying display. This unit was certified earlier this year as part of the NATO Response Force (NRF), NATO’s rapid reaction unit. In the meantime, TIGER has been modified to increase its combat effectiveness, although no further development is planned. As such, its time in Bundeswehr service is now somewhat limited.

The most spectacular display was flown by Capt. Steven De Vries of the Belgian Air Force

Lockheed Martin F-16AM VIPER - © by Robert Kysela
Lockheed Martin F-16AM VIPER - © by Robert Kysela

The solo displays in Zeltweg featured two Lockheed-Martin F-16’s and two Saab JAS-39 GRIPEN. The most spectacular display was flown by Capt. Steven De Vries of the Belgian Air Force (BAF). For years, the Belgians had been in a kind of friendly competition with the Dutch regarding their F-16 solo displays. The latter were always ahead of the game, at least as far as aircraft paint schemes are concerned. While the Dutch always applied very bright and colorful paint schemes, the Belgians usually flew with their machines in a standard low-vis gray. The Koninklijke Luchtmacht F-16 display team has not existed since 2015 (officially since 2018). Up until now, the Belgians have caught up tremendously – particularly in terms of the quality of their flying display, which has always been first class. It’s the magnificent paint scheme of the display Vipers that is always the icing on the cake of their flying performances. Another a great paint scheme is on the Greek F-16 solo display aircraft, although these displays are very rarely seen, a Greek F-16 solo display “ZEUS” was flown at AIR POWER, albeit with an aircraft in a simple yet basic “squadron finish”. 

North American B-25J MITCHELL - © by Robert Kysela
Douglas DC-6B - © by Marc Muick
Of course, AIR POWER wouldn’t exist without a display from the Flying Bulls, after all, the energy drink manufacturer is the main sponsor of this event. Unfortunately, someone had decided that all the aircraft in this respectably sized fleet had to be in the air at the one time in some form or another. The tightly packed flight program created a problem in that there was simply more quantity that quality. Only the Douglas Dc-6B was seen in a brief solo display, the rest flew in varied, suitable formations. Putting a North American B-25J MITCHELL and Lockheed P-38L LIGHTNING in a formation with two Dornier ALPHA JET’s may be ok for the pilots, but for airplane enthusiasts and purists it really was a no go. The beautifully restored Lockheed P-38L LIGHTNING would be an absolute eye-catcher if flown in the right display!
Patrouille Suisse - © by Robert Kysela
Eurofighter EF-2000 - © by Robert Kysela

VERDICT:  AIR POWER has proven once again that this show is one of the best in Europe. This is an event that has become a Mecca particularly for aircraft enthusiasts and spotters. Nowhere else is there a Spotter Package available where spotters and photographers are invited to view the show from up to 17 different locations around the airfield – and with transport and full catering included! When will the next AIR POWER take place? Nowadays it is very difficult to predict when exactly this will happen, hopefully within the next few years. We can only hope that the three partners, the province of Styria, the Austrian Federal Armed Forces and the Red Bull company, manage to hold another major event such as AIR POWER in the not too distant future.

Robert Kysela / CHK6

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