Beyond the Airshow: Zeltweg Was The ‘Field Of Battle’ For Industries And International Powers

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Beyond the Airshow: Zeltweg Was The ‘Field Of Battle’ For Industries And International Powers
The Chinese Y-20 was among the highlights of the Airpower 2022 at Zeltweg (Image credit: Hilgo Schigt). In the boxes, other interesting aircraft that took part in the flying displays (Image credit: Luca Ocretti and Hilgo Schigt).

The first weekend of September was a very special one in Austria as Zeltweg hosted for the tenth time Airpower, one of the biggest air shows in Europe. But this year’s edition was much more than “just” a great airshow.

Zeltweg Airpower does not need presentations: if you are into military aviation you have probably already heard about (or even attended) it. The program was rich: more than 200 military and civilian aircraft reached the Hinterstoisser military airfield and took part in the static and flying display. The attendance of the public was also huge ith a total of approximately 300,000 spectators who enjoyed the air show on Friday, Sept. 2 and Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022.

Before trying to present you all highlights from the two day show, let’s focus on two special guests, one from China and the other from the U.S., both representing the desire of the two nations to steal the scene at one of the Europe’s largest airshows.

China vs U.S.A.

There is no doubt, the most exotic visitor to this year’s Airpower was the Chinese Y-20 cargo plane. The arrival of the aircraft was announced on Aug. 25. This was the first visit of this type of plane at an air show in Europe, and the second visit to the Old Continent ever (check our story on the mission to Serbia earlier this year here).

The four engine aircraft can carry up to 66 tons of cargo and has a ferry range of more than 10.000 km. The MTOW is 220t, the giant of the skies was the biggest aircraft on display and attracted a lot of visitors. The crew was communicative, although not everyone understood English. They said that they were not assigned to the Belgrade mission and that were happy to represent the plane and China at Airpower. They also enjoyed the flight display.

Since Austria is a neutral country, the airshow was a perfect occasion for China to show off its capabilities also in Europe. And maybe because of that, the air show had also another somewhat “surprising” visitor: a U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress strategic bomber, that made a flyby (or a “show of force” as someone called it) on Friday afternoon that we could also call as a “show of power” at Airpower. The aircraft was one of the BUFFs with the 23rd Bomb Squadron deployed to RAF Fairford for a BTF (Bomber Task Force).

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The B-52H during the flyby. (Image credit: Luca Ocretti)

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The B-52H during the flyby. (Image credit: Luca Ocretti)

Business is Business

Although Airpower is not a trade show it is still a great occasion for the defense companies to showcase their products.

Leonardo displayed not only the AW169M (one of the two at the air show also in flight) but in the static display area also the M-346 advanced trainer. The company thinks that the aircraft is the perfect replacement of the SA-105s which were phased out from the Austrian Air Force in December 2020.

Aero Vodochody introduced the L-39NG (already ordered by the armed forces of Czech Republic, Ghana, Hungary and Vietnam) and signed a MoU with the Austrian company Airborne Technologies regarding a joint development and integration of reconnaissance systems for the L-39NG. The representatives of Aero Vodochody are also discussing with several other Austrian companies to get them involved in the manufacturing of the trainer, as well as in the maintenance and support.

The Austrian company CEA Design showcased their turboprop training aircraft P01, which made its first flight less than oner year ago in December 2021. The aircraft is powered by an Ivchenko Progress 750hp turbine and is equipped with 0/0 ejection seats. Time will tell if the indigenous P01 could be a potential substitute of the aging PC-7 fleet.

Let’s not forget even the Austrian drama with Eurofighter. The country wanted to replace the Typhoons with a cheaper alternative. Indonesia offered to purchase the entire fleet of 15 aircraft in 2020, but then, this year, ordered 42 Rafale from France and 36 F-15 Eagle from the US. The Austrian Typhoons are still flying and it is not clear if they will be early retired or not.

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The Austrian Eurofighter (Image credit: Hilgo Schigt)

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The Austrian Eurofighter (Image credit: Hilgo Schigt)

The flight displays of a Hungarian and a Swedish Gripen were also a nice advertisement for SAAB, that exhibited also a Gripen with the text “100% Biofuel” on its tail.

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The Saab Gripen (Image credit: Luca Ocretti)

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The Swedish Saab JAS-39 Gripen (Image credit: Luca Ocretti)

Embraer promoted its C-390 Millennium. The airlifter was parked in the static display area. The Brazilian producer already won in Portugal, Hungary and the Netherlands. The Millennium seems a perfect replacement for the older versions of the C-130 Hercules and three of them are operated also by the Austrian Air Force. Airbus presence in that segment was significant too, with a Spanish C-295, the tail of which figured a special painting celebrating the achievement of 500,000 flight hours of the type, and an A400M of the German Luftwaffe, which was also open for visits of the numerous public.

The Austrian Armed Forces with their partner Red Bull.

The grand opening on Friday morning saw the arrival of nine Alouette III helicopters, each one carrying the flag of one of the nine Austrian autonomous states (Länder). The helicopters hovered in front of the public for several minutes, while the speakers played the symphony “Vibes in the Sky” of the Austrian composer Tristan Schulze. This was a world’s first premiere and the nine helicopters were not the only participants in the choreography, since also a Eurofighter Typhoon and three Pilatus PC-6s performed their part in it, joined by a special guest at the end.

Since Austria was also home of many prominent composers (let’s mention just Mozart and Strauss, because the list is too long), the performance was representative of Austria’s rich culture and history.

The Typhoon that flew over the airbase wore the stunning special livery “Austrian Tigers”, an artwork made by the talented Austrian aviation artist Chris Erhart, author of various special liveries for many aircraft (among them also the one covering the central Alouette III of the nine ship formation).

Three PC-6s then stole the scene and dropped water and fire retardant to recreate the Austrian flag in the sky. The remaining Alouettes (some of them had already left) finished hovering in front of the public to leave space to a single AW169M of the Italian Army. That was a particularly touching moment, considering that the old Alouettes will be soon replaced by 18 AW169M, the first of which should be delivered at the end of this year.

During the two days the Typhoons made several more appearances during the flight displays, flying also in couple while intercepting an Austrian C-130K Hercules. The country bought three of them in 2002 from the RAF and since then they were upgraded in 2013-2015. A formation of four PC-7 Turbo Trainers and three Diamon DA40 showed the skills of Zeltweg’s flying school. In the static display area it was another Alouette III with a special livery dedicated to the 50 years of this helicopter type in Austrian service. Not far from the Alouette there were the other helicopter types in service with the Armed Forces: an AB-212, an OH-58 Kiowa, a Sikorsky S-70 Black Hawk and, as well, an EC135 of the Police and another one of OAMTC.

The Flying Bulls attended in forces, with almost the entirety of their fleet present in Zeltweg. The spectators admired the various spectacular maneuvers of their aerobatic planes, the world premiere of the “Red Bull Aerobatic Triple”, featuring planes, helicopters and wingsuit pilots in one incredible stunt, not to forget the crazy exhibitions of the BO105C, the impressive flight of the AH-1F Cobra, the warbirds formations with a B-25J “Mitchell”, a P-38 “Lightning”, an F-4U “Corsair” and two Alpha Jets, and many other amazing presentations that included also two L13 Blanik saiplanes and a flyby of their DC-6B, that has a particularly interesting history, since it was used as personal plane of Marshall Josip Broz Tito, long time president of Yugoslavia and later even of Zambia’s president Kenneth Kaunda. Most of their aircraft were also on static display, parked close to the public zone.

Flying program and static display

Let’s now take a quick and not complete look to the aircraft that performed a flight display that went on uninterrupted from 9 AM till 5 PM. Apart from the performances that we have already mentioned, there were even more spectacular exhibitions.

The military aerobatic teams were represented by the Swiss Patrouille Suisse and their F-5s with their high speed maneuvers and the use of flares, the Croatian Krila Oluje with their five PC-9M and the ten-ship formation of the Frecce Tricolori with their MB339A/PAN that, as always, enchanted the crowd of enthusiasts. Special mention also to the five ship civil team Skytexter team that wrote the “Welcome to Airpower 2022” sign in the sky.

The Belgian Air Force sent its F-16AM in the “Dream Viper” livery, created by a collaboration of the Commander Steven De Vries (who is also the demo pilot of the Belgian Solo Display team) and Nico De Boeck. The livery was first presented in June and the exhibition of De Vries was one of the most spectacular at Airpower.

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Belgian Air Force F-16 demo. (Image credit: Luca Ocretti)

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Belgian Air Force F-16 demo. (Image credit: Luca Ocretti)

Belgium sent also the A109 demo team with the helicopter in a special color scheme. “Razzle Blades” is a creation of the Dutch artist Jeroen van Veenendaal. The exhibition was particularly acclaimed by the numerous spotters that managed to take some cool shots of the A109 while it was launching flares.

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A109 demo team (Image credit: Hilgo Schigt)

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A109 demo team (Image credit: Hilgo Schigt)

Another particularly loud and fast show was made by the Greek F-16 Demo team “Zeus”: the F-16C Block 52+ reached a top speed of 0,94 Mach and performed aerobatic maneuvers that exposed the pilot to acceleration forces of up to 9.5G.

A mixed formation flight lead by the Austrian Eurofighter Typhoon “Austrian Tigers”, a German Typhoon and a Tornado, a Hungarian JAS-39 Gripen and an Alpha Jet of the Flying bulls took to the sky while a Czech Mi-35 Hind was hovering in front of the public, celebrating a mini Tiger Meet, as the aircraft had all paintings dedicated to this majestic animal. Two other aircraft in the static display wear stunning tiger liveries too: an Italian Typhoon and a Turkish F-16, while a Polish F-16D was partly covered with some tiger plushes.

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“Tiger” formation (Image credit: Hilgo Schigt)

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“Tiger” formation (Image credit: Hilgo Schigt)

Coming back to the flight displays, it was possible to see also the replica of a Messerschmitt ME-262. Some more jet warbirds took the sky in front of the public: a MiG-15, a Swedish two-seater JAS-35 Draken, a Soko Galeb, owned by the Galeb flying club from Belgrade, that flew also in formation with the before mentioned Draken.

The Croatian MiG-21UM Mongol B is also almost a warbird. The country will replace their 12 MiGs with the same amount of Rafales in the next years, so this was one of the last occasions to see a Croatian Fishbed at an air show. The neighboring Slovenia sent two PC-9M Hudournik trainers, one of them performed also a flying display.

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Croatian MiG-21UM Mongol B (Image credit: Luca Ocretti)

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Croatian MiG-21UM Mongol B (Image credit: Luca Ocretti)

The rotorcrafts were also an important part of the flying display.

Apart from the aircraft already mentioned, it was possible to admire the solo display of a German Eurocopter Tiger. Quite impressive, but we prefer the “dancing” pair of Tigers at Le Bourget, almost ten years ago. The Czech did something similar, presenting their Mi-35 and a Mi-171Sh, while the Hungarians presented another Hind.

After presenting most of the flying program it is now time to take another quick look to the aircraft in static display not already mentioned. Among them, a Polish SU-22, a Dutch F-16AM, a private L-29 Delfin, a Slovak L-39 Albatros, a Czech L-159, a Turkish F-4 Phantom II with the special livery “Tribute to old Phantom Phighters” (written with PH).

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The Polish Su-22 (Image credit: Hilgo Schigt)

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The Polish Su-22 (Image credit: Hilgo Schigt)

Among the “old” beauties on display let’s mention the magnificent DH.89 Dragon Rapide, a Beech 18, an ex Luftwaffe P-149D, a DC-3 of the businessman and TV celebrity Michael Manousakis and much more. Heli Austria displayed a Super Puma with a bambi bucket while the German Armed Forces sent a Sea Lynx and an NH90 helicopter.

Overall, the visitors could admire more than 200 aircraft: the Airpower is one of the most important air shows and everything there is just massive. As already noted when reporting about RIAT 22 at RAF Fairford, Zeltweg proved to be not only an event for planespotters, avgeeks and families, but also a venue for the industry to present their products.

About Aljoša Jarc
Passionate about aviation from a lifetime, contributor of the Slovenian aviation website sierra5.net. Occasionally writer for blogbeforeflight.net, exyuaviation.com and other media.
About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.

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