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2012 European Airshows : REVIEW

Flygfesten 2012, Dala-Järna

Flygfesten held at Dala-Järna is one of the best kept secrets on the European Airshow Calendar. The show is not held for profit, but to promote the activities of the Västerdalarnas Aeroclub and the wider aviation community in Sweden. It has become one of the largest civilian run airshows in Nothern Europe.

The event not only features some of the best flying displays from across Europe and beyond covering all facets of aviation, but transforms at night to become a very entertaining music festival. Flygfesten is only held once every three years but has an immense following attracting over 45,000 spectators over the two days. While the airshow is the main focus of the event, entertainment continues long into the night on Friday and Saturday with live music and funfair.

Paul Johnson/Flightline reports. All photography copyright of the Author.

I first encountered Flygfesten three years ago in 2009 when I was asked to help the Swift Aerobatic Display Team drive the mammoth 1200 mile journey across Europe to get their glider to the event. It was certainly worth nearly 24 hours of driving with one of the most enjoyable airshows I’ve ever attended. Three years later, the opportunity to return was too good to miss!

Dala-Järna is situated in the heart of Sweden in the Vansbro district. The small airfield is situated just outside the town and is home to a very active flying club, Västerdalarnas aeroclub, which offers both gliding and fixed wing flying.

Flygfesten is held to promote the activities of the club and aviation in general, though is only usually organised once every three to four years. A quick tour around the main club building gives some impression of the history of the event with pictures of RAF Harriers blasting over the grass strip, formations of Swedish Air Force jets and many of the international participants that have appeared over the years. The first event was held in July 1936 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Västerdalarnas aeroclub. The event used to be an annual event until 1973 after which no shows were held until 1986 when Västerdalarnas aeroclub celebrated in 50th Anniversary.

From 1986 onwards, the show adopted a new format being organised every three to four years. The modern era of the event has also seen it grow, not only in terms of attendance but also in terms of the variety and the quality of the display line-ups. Some very famous display acts have appeared at the show including the Red Arrows, Team 60, The Old Flying Machine Company, Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16, The Aircraft Restoration Company and the Aerostars.

Flygfesten is not just about flying displays. The Evening sees the event transform to music festival with various local Swedish bands playing well into the night. The all-round entertainment certainly gives the event a very special character.

The flying displays at Flygfesten could not be more varied including everything from large radio controlled mode aircraft to paramotors through to powerful warbirds and big jet teams. While Dala-Järna has no problem hosting some of the warbirds, the jet aircraft have to be based elsewhere with Borlänge Airport and Uppsala airfield hosting the fast jet participants for the event. The crowdline at Dala-Järna is always an impressive sight with aircraft stretching the full length of the line and some of the fly-in aircraft even have to be parked in an adjoining field!

The flying display was opened by two very familiar shape to UK visitors in the form of two BAE Systems Hawk T1As from 208[R] Squadron based at RAF Valley. Due to Dala-Järna’s short runway, the aircraft could not land for static display but performed a flypast on their way to Borlänge Airport.

In total contrast the Hawks were followed by some examples of sports flying. Paramotors are starting to appear more regularly in flying displays and perhaps represent one of the most accessible forms of aviation for the general public. A pair of Paramotors put in a graceful display of low flying and tight turns. Autogyros are very popular in Sweden and Tim Morell put on a unique display of the abilities of his MT03 Autogyro including a dead-stick landing using just the free-rotating rotors to control his descent. Later in the display there were also parachuting displays from the local Skydiving club.

Activities at Dala-Järna were also well represented during the flying display. Kjell Dalsheim taxied a Mignet Pou-du-Ciel (Flying Flea) along the crowdline. These rather odd homebuilt aircraft first appeared in 1933 and have some rather tricky flying characteristics which means many of them remain firmly on the ground! x

One of the biggest cheers of the afternoon following Johan Gustafsson’s display in a Pilatus B4 Glider. Johan regularly flies from Dala-Järna and is the current World Advanced Glider Aerobatic Champion. Johan’s displays were absolutely stunning with some very elegant and lyrical aerobatics set to music.

Further grace came from the Finnish based Tuulia Team flying a pair of Fournier RF5s though a very smooth and beautiful routine set to music.

There was a whole host of aerobatic displays. The Nordic Acroflyers presented a lovely formation of Zlin 526’s complete with wingtip smoke. The Zlin 526 is a classic aerobatic type, but is become increasingly rare these days so to see a formation of the type is a rare treat.

Further Zlins came in the form of the Zlin 50s of the Zelazny Team in company with a modern Extra 330LC. The Polish team are very popular in Eastern Europe and certainly put in some eye-catching performances. Pilots Wojciech Krupa, Piotr Haberland and Yadeusz Kolaszewski flew some tremendous formation and synchronised aerobatics in their bright red machines. An additional item for Sunday’s display was a very dramatic solo display by Wojciech in the Extra 330LC.

Other solo aerobatic acts included a classic Yakovlev Yak-55 flown by Anders Olsson and a dramatic low level display by Daniel Ryfa in a modified Steen Skybolt.

One of the star acts from 2009 was Jurgis Kairys in his Sukhoi Su-26. He return again in 2012 with another incredible, jaw dropping display of freestyle aerobatics including his trademark 21-flick roll dive which has to be seen to be believed!

One of Sweden’s most popular display teams are the Scandinavian Airshow team led by Jacob Hollander. At Dala-Järna the team presented their Grumman G-164A Ag-Cat ‘Catwalk in two very different displays. The traditional display for the ‘Catwalk’ is one of the amazing wingwalking acts you will see. Wingwalkers Lisa Henriksson and Annika Bergstrom quite literally walk around on the wings of the ‘Catwalk’moving between a special rig on the top wing of the aircraft to the bracing between the wings while pilot Sus Jan Heden flies circuits of the airfield before a final aerobactic flourish!

The ‘Catwalk’ appeared later in the display as a tow aircraft for Guy Westgate in the MDM-1 Fox Glider of the GliderFX team. Sus and Guy worked up a similar routine to that seen in the UK with the GliderFX Pawnee but also added a complete barrel-roll on tow thanks to the aerobatic capabilities of the Grumman before Guy’s stunning glider solo. Guy also gave a special pyro-display during the Saturday night festivities in the clear Scandinavian skies, this time with Johan Gustafsson providing the aerotow in Dala-Järna’s own Decathlon.

In complete contrast to everything else was the only participation from the US, The Jet Pack Man. Jet Pac Man is Nick Macombe who has developed his own Jet Pack. Many Jet Pack displays just involve a slow hover but Nick managed a very speedy trip down Dala-Järna’s runway but it really was a case of blink and you’ve missed it!

Amongst UK enthusiasts, Scandinavian airshows are proving more and more popular with Sweden and Norway in particular boasting burgeoning warbird and classic jet populations. Flygfesten did not disappoint with a host of historic aircraft from all eras. A very rare participant was the Miles Mercury flown by Hans Kloby Hansen. The aircraft looked sublime in silver and it is thought to be the only remaining airworthy example of the classic Miles design.

More familiar types in the flying were the Boeing Stearman and two De Havilland Tiger Moth bi-plane trainers flown by Kenneth Ohm, Stefan Sonestedt and Jorgan Davidsson. The formation was a colourful addition with the colours of the United States Army Air Force, Royal Air Force and Swedish Air Force all represented. More historic trainer came in the form of no less than three Klemm 35s. These pretty 1930's training aircraft put on some beautiful formation passes before a solo aerobatic routine!

Biltema Air Show presented its wonderful pairing of North American TF-51D Mustang and Supermarine Spitfire XVI. The aircraft first appeared as a pair before the Spitfire XVI flown by Per Cederqvist gave a solo display. Per also displayed the TF-51D later in the afternoon in another solo routine.

Though it was not officially part of the flying display, it was superb to see Lufthansa’s Junkers Ju-52/3M operate from the confines of Dala-Järna. The aircraft was there to offer pleasure flights after the flying display completing three sorties each day.

2012 is a big year for Swedish Aviation with the 100th Anniversary of SAAB Aviation. The company has had a rich history with many great types. However it is the range of SAAB fighter jets that are amongst the company’s most iconic aircraft and Flygfesten presented three of the most exciting types. The SAAB J32B Lansen is often overlooked by its more exotic counterparts but has performed a number of roles including ground attack, electronic warfare and air sampling thoughout its career. It is certainly an imposing airshow performer too with its reheated engine and large size.

One thing SAAB did do was design some very extraordinary shapes. The SAAB J35J Draken may have been a product of 1950s design, but is still almost futuristic with the iconic double delta wing. The Swedish Air Force still maintains the example on show at Dala-Järna which was flown by Peter Hedberg. Framed against some dark clouds with its long reheat flame spouting from the back it certainly caught the attention of the crowds.

But for me, the stand out classic jet was the SAAB AJ37 VIggen flown by Stellan Andersson. The Viggen was restored to flight early this year in time for the SAAB anniversary celebrations and wears the bare metal finish Viggens wore when they first entered service. The Viggen must be one of the most complex classic jets currently airworthy and unlike the Lansen and Draken is a civilian operated aircraft with the Swedish Air Force Historic Flight. Like the Draken’s slim double delta lines, its Canard-Delta layout masks the age of this fighter as does its power and agility during it display!

Bringing the SAAB story right up to date was the Swedish Air Force’s current front line type, the SAAB JAS39C Gripen. The Gripen somehow lacks the charisma of the Lansen, Draken and Viggen, perhaps because it looks a little more ordinary in terms of modern fighter design but Martin Hansson from F17 Wing put in a superb performance of speed and agility in SAAB most successful export.

Further modern day fast jet action came from the Belgian Air Component’s F-16 Fighting Falcon flown by Captain Renauld ‘Grat’ Thys. ‘Grat’ was able to be perform his full display in the clear Swedish skies but was in a standard squadron jet instead of the rather colourful display jet.

Closing the show was the Baltic Bees Jet Display Team from Latvia. The privately-owned team fly the Aero Vodochody L-39C Albatross which wear a very attractive blue and yellow colour scheme. The team’s aircraft are in fact the most potent aircraft based in Latvia as the country’s air force does not have any fast jets in its own inventory! The team are relatively new to the display circuit and many of the formations and figures are familiar. The solo display pilot deserves particular credit for some impressive tailslides and lomcevaks!

Flygfesten is a very special event and clearly has a tremendous following amongst those who visit each event. Not only does it boast one of the finest flying displays in Europe, but the whole event has perhaps the best atmosphere of any airshow I’ve ever visited!!

Thanks to Kjell Dalsheim, GliderFX and Scandinavian Airshow

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