The different look – a short behind-the-scenes airshow tour.

The 2016 airshow season in Europe is already behind us and this winter break could be the opportunity to take the closer look behind the scenes and explore the areas that usually are easily overlooked by most of the airshow visitors.

The spectators that are coming to the aviation event (certainly except the community of the feverous aviation fans) are usually watching the static and flying displays, chatting with the crews being presents at the aircrafts but mostly they are focusing on the pilots flying the aerobatics displays. And while this is every boy dream to become the pilot, almost no one is dreaming to work as the ground crew.

However, even if it could seem that flying the display is an easy thing and there is nothing special behind it, the truth is that no matter how big, or small, the airshow is, it requires hundred (or even thousands) people to work at the event to make it happen. There are always many people there taking care about the organization itself, aviation technicians and mechanics, air traffic control personnel and many, many others who make the show performance smooth and safe, both for the crews and the visitors.

Meiringen air base – ATC tower.

Unfortunately, there is no possibility to describe all those jobs in just one short story, so this would be just a short tour behind the scenes, bringing you the closer view of the airshow background.

There is no better starting point for our tour than the hangars, where the mechanics are taking care of the aircrafts, making them ready for the safe performance during the event. This is easy to notice there that nowadays the modern electronics became present in all aspects of our world, including the aircrafts, and that the traditional maintenance schedule was already extended – now the PC is one of the basic tools used during the aircraft maintenance.

Red Bull Air Race, Lausitzring 2016 – the morning in the hangars: Matthias Dolderer team.

Red Bull Air Race, Lausitzring 2016 – the morning in the hangars: Nigel Lamb team.

Those teams that have the possibility to work in the hangar are the lucky ones – sometimes there is no other way than repair the aircraft under the open sky, doesn´t matter the weather. One of such situations is pictured below: during the 2015 Sanicole Airshow the Breitling Super Constellation was grounded due to the engine problem and the team was working hard the whole Saturday at Kleine-Brogel air base, to fix the engine and make this beautiful airliner fly during the Sunday show.

Sanicole Airshow 2015, Kleine-Brogel air base – Lockheed Constellation engine maintenance.

Usually many different aircrafts are coming to the airshow and all of them must be placed to their positions, both for the static and flying displays. The smoother it looks during the arrival day; the more preparation was made before. Setting up the static display is the long process, starting a few days before the event and could be finished as late as in the morning on the airshow day.

Danish Air Show 2014, Karup air base – setting up the static display.

Danish Air Show 2014, Karup air base – setting up the static display.

Sanicole International Airshow 2016 – setting up the static display.

Aviatická pouť 2016, Pardubice – marshalling the arriving aircraft.

Oh yes, the marshalling… This must be fun, mustn´t it? Especially this idea appears while one is watching those excellent and amazing marshalling videos on YouTube… We should not forget, however, that marshalling is also duty that must be done in every condition, even during the extreme shower.

Aviatická pouť 2013, Pardubice – marshalling the Mi-35, Czech Air Force.

An airshow day is a celebration day – for the pilots, crews and visitors. Every participant wants to show his best, including the perfect-looking and well-kept aircrafts, especially the historical ones. And there is never enough of cleaning as – not mentioning the safety here – no one would like to present his aircraft dirty during the airshow.

Aviatická pouť 2015, Pardubice – B-25 Mitchell, the Flying Bulls.

Aviatická pouť 2016, PardubiceBreitling Douglas DC-3.

The flying displays mean that even more preparation must be done. The aircrafts must be in the perfect condition, checked and fuelled, the rehearsal flights done before the show and the flying crews must be briefed before the flights. The aircraft pre-flight check starts quite a long time before the take-off, at the parking position or in the hangar…

Danish Air Show 2014, Karup air base – pre-flight check of US Navy F-18 SuperHornet.

Kleine-Brogel air base – pre-flight check of NH-90 helicopter, Belgian Air Force.

… and ends when the aircraft is ready to taxi to the runway.

SIAF 2015, Sliač air base – the final check of MiG-29, Slovak Air Force.

The pilots who are performing the flying display are not alone during the flight – there is a supporting team member on the ground, especially with the aerobatic teams, watching the display and giving the additional information to help the pilots with the timing and the performance.

Sanicole Sunset Airshow 2016 – Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Stämpfli, the Commander of PC-7 Team, is leading and controlling the display from the ground.

SIAF 2015, Sliač air base – PC-7 aerobatic team, ground support crew.

The aerobatic teams usually have their own commentators that are explaining the spectators what they can see in the sky and sharing information about the team and the pilots. Sometimes the experienced commentator is the great showman himself – Andrea Soro from Frecce Tricolori team must be mentioned here as the example.

SIAF 2015, Sliač air base – Andrea Soro performing his show during the Frecce Tricolori display.

The taxiways and the runway must be always kept in the perfect condition and clear of any foreign objects.  There are dedicated runway cleaning machines used for such purposed and sometimes could be seen in action during the airshow.

Meiringen air base – Jet Broom cleaning machine.

Čáslav air base – OZ-88 cleaning and defrosting machine.

It could happen that the weather conditions are so bad, that the classic ways of removing the water from the runway are not enough – and then there is always the room for creativeness. This is how the water was removing from the runway during the Red Bull Air Race at Lausitzring – there was no bigger and more effective fan than Bo 105 helicopter flying just a few inches over the runway.

Red Bull Air Race, Lausitzring – an effective way how to remove the water from the runway.

The aircraft flying the displays during the airshow sometimes are not the only ones that could be seen in the sky. As an example, the glider displays require the towing aircraft to take them into the sky. The television broadcasting companies are using the helicopters with the cameras mounted on them and, finally, most of the teams are arriving with the supporting aircraft for their ground personnel.

Sanicole Sunset Airshow 2016 – Piper PA-25 Pawnee, the glider tug.

Aviatická pouť 2013, Pardubice – C-27J Spartan, Bulgarian Air Force (supporting aircraft)

And if the flying display was flown and the aircraft already landed and returned to the parking position there is a time for the post-flight check to be performed.

75th Anniversary of Meiringen air base – post-flight check on F-16, Belgian Air Force.

At the end of the day, when the show is over, the area must be cleaned, the aircrafts from the static displays must be returned to their hangars or prepared for the flight back to their home airfield.

Danish Air Show 2014, Karup air base – when the show is over.

SIAF 2012, Sliač air base – we´re closing…


And certainly, we cannot forget about the photographers working all the airshow, to capture the best moments of every airshow and then bringing you the photos and the airshow reports 🙂

 Sanicole Sunset Airshow 2015 – the spotters.