RIAT proved to be a lot of fun with such a variety of types to see. The shooting conditions were less than ideal but that shouldn’t take away from what was there and the effort that went in to organizing it all – I’m looking at you Tom if you are reading this. Your team did a great job. One of the stars of the show was actually a rather aged type. Romania brought a pair of MiG-21 LanceR jets. The last time I shot an active MiG-21 was at Rockford many years ago and that was privately owned. These were very definitely active.
Their arrival on the Thursday certainly got everyone excited and the display itself was great. The jet is from an era when the current levels of maneuverability had not been achieved but the jet can still put on quite a show. The speed is something to behold, particularly on final approach when it fairly screams in to land. I got to shoot it from a couple of locations including being at the departure end on the Sunday of the show and getting slightly closer to the jet as it taxied out. I understand that they will disappear before too long to be replaced with something more generic – F-16s I think – so it was time to enjoy something old school for perhaps the last time.
Paine Field is the home of Paul Allen’s collection which includes a MiG29UB. I had seen it being dragged around the airport once but had never seen it fly. I was there to catch the Catfish, as described in this post, when a loud engine noise came from the right. I hadn’t been paying attention but, when the MiG taxied towards us, I certainly did. It came right by where I was and then held at the end of the runway before lining up and departing – sadly in dry power only. It was a bit far away and the heat haze was bad but who wouldn’t take a shot anyway?
Continuing through my theme of looking at individual types, I came across some old pictures of the MiG-29. I figured I could get a post out of them so here we are. I saw quite a few of the Fulcrums in the late 80s and early 90s when they started traveling further afield. My first encounter was when the Russian Air Force brought a pair to Farnborough. They showed up again in a later year and then examples from other eastern bloc air forces started coming to the UK once the wall came down.
The quality of my film shots from those days is not great but you can see a bit of what was on offer. The Ukrainian aircraft showed up in some really cool colors. The best shots I have are of the MiG-29OMT which was a demonstrator that came to the UK in 2006 and displayed at RIAT. It had thrust vectoring nozzles to enhance maneuverability and put in a pretty impressive display.
Lots of the operators today are starting to look at replacements. The age of some airframes along with the support issues are pushing them to renew while interoperability with NATO forces is another driver for change. I’m not sure how many more I will see flying although there are a good number in museums. There are a couple in private hands here in the states (one of which I saw being towed from across Paine Field) so they might be my best bet.
The Farnborough Air Show used to be a regular feature for me. I started going when I was studying at university and would go to the trade days each two years as the show came around. When I worked at BAe, they would sometimes make it easy for us to get there. One year I got to ride down on the 146 to RAF Odiham and they took us the rest of the way by bus. Not a bad way to travel for sure.
The Russians started showing up at the shows from, if memory serves, 1988 onwards. They started off with a pair of MiG-29s the first time around and progressively brought more with them each time. 1992 was a particularly good year. Not only were the MiGs there again but Sukhoi SU-29 Flankers were there and, the highlight for me was the Yak-38 Forger and the Yak-141 Freestyle. Sadly, it did not fly the day I was there but those I know who saw it hovering can attest to the noise and spectacle it created. Meanwhile, there were other excellent types there such as the SU-24 Fencer although it was rather brightly painted for an operational type. Support aircraft and airliners were also part of the display as Russia tried to expand its business following the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the sudden downsizing of their forces.
Times have changed and I doubt we will get Russian attendance like this at a western trade show for a while. However, nothing stays the same forever so there may well come a time again in the future when some variety will be added to a trade show. With the number of types in service in the west reducing, it would be nice to see things like this again and some of their more recent types would be good to see too.
Warbirds are not an uncommon sight around here but there are some planes that still stand out as a little unusual. I got to see one of these recently up in Rockford when the good folks at Code 1 held a weekend of training for formation flying. A bunch of aircraft showed up including a lot of T-6/SNJs, a Yak, a bunch of L-39s and, most interestingly, a MiG-21. This wasn’t there for the formation training but was being used for an FAA check ride for a guy who has a MiG-21 that he keeps elsewhere in the state.
A MiG-21 is a great looking jet. This example is an ex-Polish Air Force two seat example. This generation of aircraft has some interesting performance characteristics. Fuel consumption is pretty dramatic so the sorties are not too long. Also, the approach speeds are quite high so watching it on the approach, it does appear to be coming down pretty dramatically.
We were lucky to have some great weather and the plane flew a couple of times so it was possible to shoot it taking off and arriving from both sides of the field as well as getting some shots on the ground. The plane is solidly built and the structure is finished in polished metal. This makes for some great looks with the metal and rivets looking great in some lighting. Having the chance to look at such a different jet was great fun and many thanks to everyone who made it possible.