Athens Flying Week in Greece has ended the season of international military air shows in Europe. Meanwhile, the Polish pilots have already received invitations for the next year from the organizers of shows from all over the world.
Until the beginning of October Lieutenant colonel Pilot Andrzej Paczkowski from the Air Force Inspectorate has already managed to archive several invitations to foreign events on his computer, which will take place in late spring and summer of 2019. The first one reached him even at the beginning of 2018. By the beginning of the season, the address of the General Command of the Armed Forces will affect several dozen more, including at least 20 from abroad.
At the end of March, the colonel would invite representatives of all air bases to a reconciliation meeting in Warsaw to share the demonstration tasks. The effect of the conference will be the annual order of the general commander of the types of armed forces, determining who will fly and where (since 2016 the order also includes vehicles with crews of land and special forces, representing the Polish Army in national events). On the basis of this order, the air force inspector sends the answers to the organizers, which confirm the possibility of Poles participating in their shows or indicating the lack of such an opportunity.
The performances are not a priority
"During the deconflicting meeting, we list the list of invitations with a list of training and operational undertakings for us, as well as holidays, courses, and other tasks of our teams and soloists. Together, we determine in which events we can and want to participate", explains Lieutenant colonel Paczkowski. During the selection, the airmen are guided by the rank of the organizer of the shows. Understandably, they welcome invitations from air force commanders, while the offers submitted by the presidents of local flying clubs have a poor chance of being positive. Our airmen follow the principle of reciprocity - if Italians or Swiss send a band for shows in Poland, we reciprocate by sending a team for large events of this type in these countries.
While assessing the received invitations, the airmen also use the experience and knowledge of colleagues appearing at foreign shows in previous seasons. "We are more willing to travel to a well-equipped airport and where the organizers take care of the comfort of the team rather than the airport with poor infrastructure, where everything needs to be cared for and even to be paid. It's a matter of security and the economy of effort", the colonel points out.
Among the organizers of the most important European shows there is fashion for inviting teams from Poland. The hosts would most preferably host jets, which are spectacular due to the dynamics and noise, as well as the possibility of using flares. Preferred are the performances of soloists, because they last for a short time, usually 10-12 minutes. A pilot team of several machines needs at least 25 minutes to demonstrate all program figures. At that time, three soloists could appear in the audience.
The most attractive, however, are mixed shows, during which the performances of soloists alternate with group acrobatics and those where turboprop planes or helicopters give rest after the performance of jets on the ears of many arriving at such events of parents and children. "The advantage of our air force is that we can adapt to the expectations of the directors of each show", admits Lieutenant colonel Paczkowski. "For one event, we can send helicopters and turboprop planes, for others - jets. We can delegate soloists or teams. The F-16 is very well known in Europe, but the other machines of our armed forces are rare. Like white ravens, they attract aviation fans. That's why we get many invitations from abroad".
Another training task
For pilots, departure for foreign shows is an interesting change after routine flying in the zone and around the mother base, especially in the case of crews from school squadrons from Dęblin and Radom, in which instructors teach the cadets how to fly. "A foreign trip is a good training task," says Lieutenant colonel Pilot Dariusz Stachurski, commander of the "Orlik" Aerobatic Team. He enumerates that during the international expedition, Orlik and Bialo-Czerwone Iskry have the opportunity to perform several hours of flights in foreign airspace, to unknown controlled airports, over mountains and the sea, at distances up to 2000 km, in formation, in various weather conditions. They test their navigational, weather forecasting, and linguistic skills. Moreover, there is the sense of pride resulting from representing the biało-czerwona szachownica [Polish Air Force checkerboard] in the exile, as well as the opportunity to meet colleagues who practice the same profession in other countries. In the case of technicians, the service of the demonstration task is basically no different from the daily service of school flights. Captain Aldona Rachowicz, commander of the radioelectronic equipment operation key in the Technical Service Group of the 42nd School Aviation Base, points to one, but significant, distinguishing mark of a foreign departure. "It's a necessity to take a C-295M or C-130E transport aircraft accompanying the pilot team, everything that will be needed away from the house."
Besides the personal belongings of the team, technicians also load service tools, selected spare parts, smoke generators and barrels with paraffin oil supplying tracers. Redeployment from Poland to Greece, Spain, or Turkey can last from eight to ten hours, and even longer, so they take away a box of dry food and drinks. When 5 tonnes of cargo arrives on the C-295, there is only room for four passenger seats. The remaining dozen or so technicians must survive the flight on the amphibious benches fixed to the wall.
After each stopover and finished training and demonstration flights, when the pilots sit down to discuss the task, the technicians move to reconstruct the readiness for the next flight. They refuel as soon as possible to reduce the possibility of water precipitating in the tanks. They get oxygen cylinders if they were consumed in flight at high altitude. They collect the flight data loggers and read the data they have stored, looking for possible warning signals about exceeding the engine and installation regimes. They watch the engine, fuselage, wings, tail and chassis; they clean the fairing. When there are no further flights on a given day, they put on safety devices blocking the movement of helmets and propellers, cover the fairing with a cover limiting the inside of the cabin, under the wheels they put blocks to prevent the displacement of the aircraft. Such after-flight service takes up to two hours. Once they get caught up with it, they can close the temporary tool store and go to the shows. "During work, when demonstrations are underway, and our team is located on a distant plane of aircraft parking, we basically do not have time to watch the aerial evolution of other teams", says Sergeant Major Jarosław Perłowski from the Orlik technical team. It's time for the technicians to relax when they finish their tasks and the bus will take them to the viewers' sector. "Because we arrive to the shows up to two hours before the start and we finish work about two hours after our team landings, we manage to watch the performances of the competition for maybe three hours. We know and see the activities of technicians of competing teams, because we often are adjacent to each other on the plane of aircraft preparation. Then we have the opportunity to exchange experiences, acquire new skills, learn about various technical and organizational innovations accompanying such tasks".
Flying to foreign shows, especially to places far from home bases, is an aviation and logistics challenge. After assigning tasks (receiving the order of the general commander), the managers of the demonstration teams make contact with representatives of the organizers to determine the details. Usually, the latter is interested in how many aircraft will appear, when they fly and fly away, how much fuel they need, how many people will come with them. They also expect a description of the program, sometimes with pilots' health certificates and their privileges for demonstration flights. The required data is sent to both the organizers and the Polish military diplomat who resides in the capital of a given country. As a rule, he already knows that he will have an air force team representing the Polish Armed Forces in his region, but it is advisable to know how many soldiers will fly, where they will be located, how to contact them, in case you need help with contacting the hosts.
Every show that aspires to being renowned takes place on two weekend days. Added to this is the Friday's day of rehearsals. Foreign teams arrive at the venue on Wednesdays and Thursdays, rarely on Fridays. They leave on Mondays, so as not to abuse the hospitality of the hosts.
It is a good habit that the organizers cover the costs of stay of the teams participating in the shows - they provide accommodation, transport and, in part, also nutrition. They often, though not always, pay for fuel that is burned during demonstrations and even allow tanks to be refueled on the return route. With each flight, one of the soldiers is comprehensively responsible for logistics and has a payment card, which regulates payments for fuel, landing, and parking of the aircraft. The commander of the whole team must anticipate what he will do in the event of an unexpected plane crash or weather break, forcing an unplanned stop at an airport in a foreign country. The logistics of departure for shows is invisible on the background of the whole expedition, but in fact it is the cake, at which the shows in the air are just an effective icing.
autor zdjęć: Artur Goławski