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 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.
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.
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 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”.
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