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2010 European Airshows : REVIEW

Festa al Cel 2010, Barcelona

Programme CoverFesta al Cel first hit the international headlines in 2009 when it combined with the Red Bull Air Race reaching a dramatic climax with Britain's Paul Bonhomme taking the championship. However few may have realised that the city has also hosted a major international air display off its seafront too!

2010 saw that international air display extended to two days and it attracted some of Europe's best air display acts to one of the most stunning airshow locations in the world. Spain is home to a wonderful collection of historic aircraft that are not seen anywhere else and there were also some other very unique displays from the Spanish military and emergency organisations which made for a very special airshow.

Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports from Barcelona Seafront and Sabadell Airport. All photography copyright of the Author. Video highlights from Festa al Cel on Vimeo.

I have to admit, the thought of Barcelona as a location for a major airshow had never really figured in my mind. Spanish aviation only occasionally featured in the popular UK aviation magazines with articles featuring some unique warbird collections at aviation museums that featured the Polikarpovs that fought in the Spanish Civil War and the Super Saeta jets that have recently been made airworthy again. However, I naturally jumped at the chance to attend the airshow when it came; the strong possibility of some great weather, a visit to enjoy a great city and the chance to capture some rare Spanish aircraft made it a no brainer.

However, it was when I first looked at the events website that I finally appreciated the full scale of the event. The list of participant even at a fairly early stage looked very impressive with a number of international military displays and many types of display we just do not see back in the UK! 2010 saw the 19th edition of Festa al Cel and the show celebrated the 100th Anniversary of the first flight in Catalunya.

As with all seaside airshows, the organisers used nearby airfields to base the participants. Barcelona Airport provided a base for the larger, faster aircraft while Sabadell Airport was home to some of the lighter, slower participants. Sabadell is home to a number of flying clubs and aircraft belonging to the local government and emergency services. In many respects it is an unusual airfield for general aviation being surrounded by a very dense built up areas.

During the show days, the airfield was open to visitors in the morning allowing close up views of some of the warbirds taking part as well as some of the based aircraft. One of the aircraft on show was a former Spanish Air Force F-4C Phantom II that is now one of a few "gate guardians" under the airfields care which included a Harvard, T-33 Silver Star and a Saeta.

Another aircraft only on show at Sabadell was a Polikarpov I-153 Chaika (Seagull.) Though this variant of the famous Polikarpov fighter lineage did not serve in the Spanish Civil War, it is a very rare aircraft. The aircraft was developed with the original I-15 fighter which did see service in the Civil War, but that version has a fixed undercarriage while the I-152 has retractable gear. One completely original aircraft is stored at the Paris Museum of Air and Space while the New Zealand based Alpine Fighter Collection restored this example and two others in the early 1990's. The I-153 was a difficult aircraft to fly. Its top gull wing restricted visibility and stability and the build quality in the factory was poor! Despite failing the Soviet government acceptance tests, 3,437 I-153s were built.

The seafront was a busy place on show days with the beach rapidly filling up. The Olympic Port provided a small trading area while the beaches welcomed small beach bars provided by one of the major sponsors. The Red Bull Air Race clearly has left its mark on the event with the style of VIP areas and the information boards. The show also went out live on local television which had constructed an impressive studio complex at crowd centre.

The show was opened on the Saturday by the first of the visiting military acts, the Belgian Air Component F-16AM Fighting Falcon. Sunday saw the turn of its Dutch Air Force counterpart. As ever both teams provided great demonstrations of their aircraft with plenty of flares too!

The F-16s were not the only visiting military displays. The French Air Force made an impressive contribution to the show with three separate displays. The French L'equipe de Voltige participated with Captaine François Le Vot displaying one of the team's Extra 330SC aircraft on the Sunday. Everyone was shocked to hear of the loss on the same day of fellow team pilot and World Aerobatic Champion Renaud Ecalle in a light aircraft accident in France which also claimed the lives of his family. Futher L'armee de l'air involvement came in the form of the solo Alpha Jet E and the Patrouille de France with eight further Alpha Jets.

Naturally, the Spanish Air Force took centre stage during the display. Their only fast jet taking part was the EF-18A Hornet from Ala 12. Based at Torrejon and known locally as the C.15, the Hornets are primarily used as all-weather interceptors though also have a multi-role mission which includes maritime and ground attack operations. Hornets are always impressive airshow performers showing off their great agility and power.

Sunday saw displays from two other unique Spanish Air Force aircraft. Search and Rescue was demonstrated by a Puma from 801 Squadron based by Palma de Mallorca while one of two very different fire-fighting displays came from a Canadair CL215T from Grupo 43 also based at Torrejon.

Another item from the Spanish Air Force we are yet to see in the UK are Patrulla Aspa. The team is the Spanish Air Force's own helicopter display team flying five Eurocopter EC120B Colibri training helicopters in a very patriotic scheme. The team are very much like the old Royal Navy Sharks team performing a variety of formation passes, breaks and solo figures. The team are drawn from Ala 78 based at Armilla which trains military as well as civil guard pilots. The solo pilot is particularly flamboyant performing some very low hovers for crowd as well as some dramatic bunts and turns.

The Spanish Air Force Patrulla Aguila closed the show on the Sunday though strangely did not display on the Saturday. The team are celebrating their own 25th Anniversary in 2010 and have been regular visitors to shows around Europe flying the Spanish CASA C.101 Aviojet.

As well as the military, there were also some local civilian acts. Sabadell contributed three different cavalcades of civilian operated aircraft. The first was from the TOPFLY company with its fleet of Tecnam Sierra trainers. TOPFLY were very busy throughout the event as they currently have a contract to train Chinese nationals to become airline pilots as there is such a shortage in China.

Second of the cavalcades came from Aero-Club Barcelona-Sabadell with Cessna C172R and C182T aircraft. It is the largest Aeroclub in Spain and the third largest in Europe. The final cavalcade came from the Fundació Parc Aeronautic de Catalunya (FPAC) based at Sabadell. This organisation maintains a fantastic and diverse fleet of aircraft from the history of aviation within Catalunya. Their cavalcade presented a wonderful mix of aircraft that included a SIAT S223 (MBB) Flamingo, Bucker (CASA) Jungmanns, Zlin Z326 MF, Zlin Z526, North American T-6B Texan and an Antonov An-2R.

FPAC also operated one of two Hispano Aviación HA-200 Super Saeta jets that starred in the flying display, the other belonging to Victor Lleó, from the Club Acrobático Mediterráneo. These somewhat strange looking classic jets were designed by Willy Messerschmitt and the original Saeta was the first jet to be produced in Spain and first flew in 1955. While their display was rather sedate, it was a real treat to see such rare and strange aircraft in a flying display.

As well as the light aviation, there was also a display of base jumping from Proyecto Alas. The team comprised of Álvaro Bultó, Santi Corella, and Toni López jumped from a Squirrel Helicopter with wing-suits before making a perfect landing on the beach.

As well as the military participants, it was good to see some of the "emergency services" taking part in the flying displays. A Spanish Coast Guard AgustaWestland AW139 provided a search and rescue display alongside the Coast Guard ships that was moored just off Barcelona. But perhaps the most dramatic contribution came from an organisation called 'Bombers de la Generalitat.' The 'Bombers' provide aerial fire fighting cover for the region using helicopters and float-equipped Airtractors. On the ground they are perhaps the most imposing aircraft you'll ever see, but are remarkably spritely in the air once they made a dramatic water-drop!

Seeing airliners in a flying display is always special, so to have two different types represent was very rare away from a trade show. Airbus A320s put on displays both days, though Saturday saw a display from a rather flashy Vueling example while Sunday saw a Spanair aircraft show off for the crowds. However, star for many was a Lufthansa Airbus A380 which appeared just on Saturday. The super jumbo was in Spain for crew training and also made the types first landing and take-off at Barcelona Airport. Its appearance on the Saturday was slightly delayed as it tried to get out of Barcelona but it was worth the wait.

The Italian Pioneer Team made a welcome appearance at Barcelona after a difficult season when one of their aircraft received significant damage following a forced landing on a beach. The aircraft was rebuilt very quickly allowing the team to make appearances towards the end of the 2010 season. The team always put on a very polished display complete with some great smoke effects and fireworks for their 'finale grande!'

Further civilian displays came from the UK in the form of the Swift Aerobatic Display Team and the Twister Duo. 'Team Swift' were once again using the MDM-1 Fox Glider from the Dutch Glider Aerobatic Team and also borrowed a French registered SOCATA Rallye from a nearby glider club at Cerdanya making for a very different and international looking team! Both display teams went down very well with the local crowd who particularly enjoyed the new heart figure the Twisters end their display with!

There were also plenty of warbirds in the display too. The Duxford based PBY-5A Catalina made the trip south and looked magnificent in the blue skies over the Mediterranean Sea. It was joined by three warbirds from the "Amicale Jean-Baptiste Salis." Perhaps most familiar to UK enthusiasts is the group's P-51D Mustang 'Nooky Booky IV' which has often appeared at Duxford's Flying Legends airshows. The P-51D was joined by two very different "converted" airframes. The first was a conversion of a Yakovlev Yak-11 fighter trainer into a single-seater more representative of the famous Yak fighters that served with the Soviet forces in the Second World War. The last of the AJBS aircraft was a North American AT-6B Texan that had been converted into a 'Hollywood Zero.' These aircraft were made for films like 'Tora! Tora! Tora!' and looked absolutely authentic. The AJBS example sports a restyled canopy, changes to external structure and a three-bladed propeller as well as a handy smoke system - it's pilots must get shot down quite a bit

Festa al Cel at Barcelona has to go down as my biggest surprise of the year with an air show that betters some of the more established names. The flying display was first class and featured many types of display we do not often see elsewhere in Europe as well as some very unique aircraft too. With relatively cheap air travel it need not be an expensive trip either!


Thanks to the Swift Aerobatic Display Team and Twister Duo

What did you think of the show? Which displays did you enjoy? What didn't you enjoy? Let us know on our Facebook page!


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