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2012 European Airshows : REVIEW

Volkel in de Wolken 2012

Situated North-east of Eindhoven, Volkel in home to two Squadrons of Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16s. The town situated to the west of the airbase hosts a festival called ‘Volkel in de Wolken’ (Volkel in the Clouds) each year combining music, fun fairs, classic and custom cars and one of the largest civilian airshows in the Netherlands. 2012 saw the 24th running of the event which presents a very diverse range of aircraft and displays from across Europe.

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

Despite Volkel being a truly massive airbase with one of the longest runways in Europe, the airshow element of Volkel in de Wolken takes place 1 mile west of the airbase on the extended runway line. The show has grown into a major flying display which in 2012 attracted acts from the Netherlands, Germany and the UK. There would have been more countries involved but for the weather forecast; Safe weather for transit flights to and from display venues must be considered as well the conditions for the show itself. A warm front was predicted to being rain and low cloud to the Netherlands along with some major thunderstorms which led to the cancellation of the Pitts Samson from Germany and the CAPTENS team from France.

As it turned out the forecast improved considerably with the warm front proving to be much weaker than first feared. Some early morning drizzle and light mist gave way to very warm temperatures, blue skies with scattered clouds. The warm temperatures however did set off some vicious thunder showers which thankfully missed Volkel during the airshow though they did make the early part of the drive home quite tricky!

The show has always received plenty of generous sponsorship from local businesses but 2012 saw a major title sponsor in the form of Hamilton Watches. This partnership was highlighted by the first aircraft participant in the airshow with French aerobatic ace and Red Bull Air Race winner Nicolas Ivanoff flying his Hamilton sponsored Edge 540 though a punishing routine of gyroscopic aerobatics.

The flying display which was put together by former Dutch F-104 Starfighter display pilot Hans van der Verf and his team had huge diversity with everything from paramotors to strange homebuilt aircraft to modern military fast jets. Skydiving and parachutist displays seem to be very popular in the Netherlands with different groups dropping in throughout the day from a Cessna Caravan.

One of the most unusual acts was a crop-spraying demonstration by a German based PZL-106AR Kruk (Raven) flown by Dieter Gehling. The aircraft was superbly presented wearing an eye-catching red and yellow colour scheme of the former East Germany and flew a remarkable tight display. Designed in 1973, the aircraft clearly takes inspiration from the Piper Pawnee being of similar shape but fitted with a powerful 600hp radial engine. Despite not being aerobatic it was a great display with the aircraft making multiple runs spraying water from the wing rails and dropping a huge plume of water from its main tank – all very appropriate considering the crops under the display line!

Solo aerobatics was well represented with some of the most prolific pilots from the UK and Netherlands joining Nicolas Ivanoff. UK Aerobatic Champions Mark Jefferies and Gerald Cooper both gave outstanding freestyle aerobatic routines in the Extra 330SC and Sbach 300 respectively. There was also a local Sukhoi Su-29 display flown by Steve van Dijck representing the best of the Russian aerobatic hardware.

Much later in the afternoon another former Red Bull Air Racer Frank Versteegh. Frank is a larger than life character and his display in his distinctive Extra 300L reflects this well. He starts his display with some stomach-churning tumbles, spins and loops, but towards the end of his display he gets much lower waving to crowds from the cockpit!

As well as some of the more recognisable and well known display acts, Volkel also bring together some unusual displays involving General Aviation types. A solo aerobatics routine by a Robin 2160 is a Volkel regular as is a Dutch based SAAB Safir. A new display for 2012 was a pleasing, if a little lengthy, routine by a Dutch Mudry CAP10. Big formations of GA aircraft seem to be popular in Europe and for 2012 the Dutch based Victor-Romeo Team have transferred to the Robin aircraft for their gentle but precise formation routine. A very unusual shape was a German registered Speed Canard which flew some very fast fly-bys towards the end of the display.

A new team to Volkel were a group of Yakovlev Yak-52s called the ‘Thunder Yaks.’ The team have some very colourful aircraft and fly an aerobatic formation display complete with smoke. Two teams from the UK also participate presenting new routines in public for the first time.

The SWIP Team of Peter Wells and Guy Westgate have completely revised their display which now features much closer formation and keeps the action much closer to the crowd with their distictive SA1100 Twisters. Glider FX have also changed their routine incorporating champion paramotor pilot Michel Carnet in to their display between the low level and solo Fox Glider aerobatics portions of their displays. Michel is capable of operating close to the crowd at non-airfield sites and received cheers and applause has he landed after his routine complete with smoke and a 150m long ribbon!

Germany and the Netherlands are home to some very interesting historic displays. The Seagull Formation fly five Focke-Wulf Fw149 Trainer aircraft though a relaxed formation routine complete with smoke. A similar Dutch based team are the Fokker Four flying what was the Netherlands’ equivalent of the Focke-Wulf, the Fokker S11 Instructor. The Fokkers are slightly more aerobatic and fly some interesting tailchase aerobatics as well as the big formations.

Further historic Dutch military types included a nice formation of Beech 18 and two North American T-6 Texans all proudly wearing Dutch military markings and putting on some nice formation passes

Moving up the performance envelope was P-51D Mustang ‘Damn Yankee flown by Tom Karst van der Meulen gave a spirited performance against the blue skies and tall thunder clouds that were threatening Volkel towards the end of the flying display. The only classic jet in the flying display was the Dutch Historic Jet Association's Fouga CM170 Magister . The aircraft wears civilian markings but is a fine reminder of the pretty French jet trainer that served so prolifically with European Air Forces. The pilot, Fons Hemmelder, gave an equally pretty aerobatic routine showing off the full performance of the under-powered aircraft.

Star of the display however was the public display debut of the Royal Netherlands Air Force’s F-16AM Fighting Falcon demo for 2012. Captain Stefan "Stitch" Hutten gave powerful demonstration of the ‘viper’ at what is his home airshow for 2012 being based at Volkel. 2012 sees a further season for the famous ‘Orange Lion’ display scheme which is surely one of the most recognisable display aircraft on the European display circuit. Due to dramatic defence cuts in the Netherlands however the F-16 will not be seen so widely this year with the team only participating in 11 public shows. The good news for UK enthusiasts is that the team will be appearing at two UK shows at Waddington and RIAT.

The Dutch Defence cuts had further effects on the show which was without its traditional finale formation from the Volkel based F-16 squadrons. However the final flying of the day was a flypast by a Royal Netherlands Air Force CH-47D Chinook which was on static in the showground throughout the day.

Volkel in de Wolken is a very unique show and the 2012 edition was another hugely enjoyable event. With some very unusual acts, it is very much worth a visit if you happen to be in this part of the Netherlands and provides a full day out with added music and ground displays.

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