The Internationale Luft- und Raumfahrtausstellung (ILA) was established in 1909 and is one of the longest running airshows in Europe. Like Farnborough, Paris and Dubai it is a major aerospace trade event with the week days being dedicated to trade before the weekend is opened to the public. There is always a huge variety of aircraft on show over the five days with historic aircraft alongside the latest technology.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
With a move to the final weekend of April, ILA Berlin 2018 was the first major airshow of the European display season. Its current home is the Berlin ExpoCenter situated at Schönefeld Airport to the south of Berlin City. It has however been held a number of different locations in the past including Frankfurt, Hannover and Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport.
The airfield at Schönefeld covers a massive area with two widely spaced parallel runways. The site was first used for aviation in the 1930’s with the construction of the Henschel aircraft plant. The site was captured by Soviet forces in 1945 and the aircraft plant demolished and by 1947 was replaced with agricultural machinery factory. When Germany was divided in 1949, Schönefeld became part of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (East Germany) and the airfield was developed into a civilian airport serving Soviet administered East Berlin.
Following reunification of Berlin and Germany in 1990 the city was being served by three different airports; Tegel, Tempelhof and Schönefeld. The costs of operating three different airports and environmental concerns led to the local government choosing to construct a single hub airport at the Schönefeld site. The iconic Tempelhof closed in 2008 and Berlin-Brandenburg Airport is currently under construction between the two runways at the eastern end of Schönefeld airfield. It is due to open sometime in or after 2020 replacing Tegel but it looks as though the existing Schönefeld Airport terminals will continue on serving several low cost airlines and sharing the runways with the Brandenburg site.
ILA moved to Schönefeld in 2012 on a purpose built 250,000m² exhibition site known as Berlin ExpoAirport. Getting to and from the show is very easy with a free shuttle-bus service to and from the airport railway station, the airshow car parks as other sites around Berlin. This is very well organised with plenty of busses in the system and organisers do very well keeping other airshow traffic away from the Shuttle route. In fact, over my visit I didn’t have to wait for a bus at all. While a day visit flying in and out is perfectly doable, that would be missing the opportunity to visit the City of Berlin which is the perfect place for a city break with its many landmarks, museums and culture. Getting from Central Berlin is also a breeze with Regional Express and Urban trains plus Bus services all connecting to Schönefeld Airport. The only slight niggles were some very busy trains at the weekend and the security lines on Saturday morning which were woefully slow and disorganised. This was apparently caused the late opening of the showground to accommodate some fairly major aircraft movements on the showground.
As with the other trade shows, there are a number of exhibition halls at the top of the site with many of the major players in the aerospace and space exploration industries showing off their wares. During the trade days, the exhibition halls also play host for various conferences, press briefings and meetings. At the weekend, they remain open to the public and are home to lots of interactive exhibits to inspire the next generation of engineers.
Outside on the airfield, a large apron and taxiway area plays host to a large static display of aircraft of all shapes and sizes ranging from microlights to the behemoths of the cargo world. By far the largest contribution to the static display came from the Bundeswehr, the unified armed forces of Germany, which took centre stage in the display. Examples of the Panavia Tornado IDS, Tornado ECR and Eurofighter EF2000 were joined by Airbus Helicopters H145M LUHs, Airbus Helicopters EC665 Tigers, NH Industries NH90TTHs, Sikorsky CH-53G Stallion, Bell UH-1D Iroquois, Westland Sea King Mk41, Westland Sea Lynx Mk88, Lockheed P-3C Orion, Transall C-160D, Airbus DS A400M and Airbus DS A310MRTT.
Almost equalling the home team in terms of military support for ILA was the United States Department of Defence. Headlining their contribution was a pair of United States Air Force Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning IIs brought to the show by the F-35 Heritage Flight Team based at Luke Air Force Base, Pheonix, Arizona. Unlike for last year’s Paris Air Show, the F-35s didn’t stop in the UK but flew the 11 hours straight from the US to Berlin. They were at Berlin to promote the F-35A as a possible replacement for the German Air Force Tornados which will be retired within the next decade. Another potential contender for a future Tornado replacement is a combination of the Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet and Boeing E/A-18G Growler which both were at the Berlin with the E/A-18G making its European airshow debut. The E/A-18G is currently the only dedicated electronic combat aircraft I production today and Boeing is eyeing up the opportunity to offer the aircraft as a replacement for the German’s Tornado ECR.
Alongside the exotic American fast jets was some more familiar US Air Force types such as the Lockheed Martin F-16CM Fighting Falcon, Boeing CV-22B Osprey, Boeing F-15E Strike Eagle, Boeing C-17A Globemaster III and Lockheed Martin C-130J-30 Hercules II. The US Navy also had further types in the display including the Boeing P-8A Poseidon and a Sikorsky MH-60R Seahawk. The United States Army completed the US presence with a Boeing CH-47F Chinook and AH-64 Longbow Apache.
Every ILA takes on a partner nation. This year that nation was France reflecting not only the close relationship between the two nations, but also the signing of agreements over the development of future combat aircraft, maritime patrol aircraft and other land based vehicles. The French Air Force was represented on the ground by a pair of Dassault Rafale C and B omni-role jets and a Lockheed Martin C-130J-30 Hercules II which is France’s newest transport type.
Other military types on show included a Polish Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29UB Fulcrum, Portuguese Air Force Airbus DS CN-295MP, a Royal Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 from 1(F) Squadron plus another Eurofighter F-2000A Typhoon and Leonardo T-346 Master from the Italian Air Force.
The German Aerospace Centre (DLR) had a large exhibition space in the static display. The DLR is the national aeronautics and space research centre of Germany and conducts a wide variety of research projects. In the static display they had some of the research aircraft on show including the Advanced Technology Research Aircraft Airbus A320, a Cessna 208 Caravan and a Dassault Falcon 20E. Other homegrown highlights include Grob showing off the G120TP and G520 Egrett.
Airbus is always a high profile participant at any trade show. On the ground, they were celebrating the delivery of the 100th Airbus A380 to Emirates which was on show wearing a special scheme celebrating “The Year of Zayed.” During the trade days, Airbus showed off its Airbus A340-BLADE flying lab. BLADE stands for “Breakthrough Laminar Aircraft Demonstrator in Europe” and is assessing the use of laminar flow wing design for large transport. For the public days, the A340 BLADE was replaced in the static line-up by an Airbus A300-600ST Beluga which opened its cavernous hold to the public. Bombardier also exhibited at the show during the trade week with a Bombardier CS300 from Air Baltic.
German national airline Lufthansa joined ILA over the public weekend. Both days saw the airline’s beautiful Junkers Ju52M/3 on static display. Saturday also saw one of Lufthansa’s newest aircraft on show, the Boeing 787-8i. At the end of Saturday’s flying display, the 747-8i took over and performed a graceful low approach before returning to Frankfurt.
However, even the A380 and Boeing 747-8i looked small against the star of the static displays: The world’s only Antonov An-225 towered over the static display for the whole week. Up close it an extraordinary sight (and was a welcome shelter against rain and sun) as its wings hung over spectators and other aircraft. For those lucky to be attending the final day the Antonov departed to Leipzig during the flying display performing a farewell flypast.
It was not just modern machinery on show in the ILA static park. A host of warbirds and other historic aircraft were on show throughout the week with examples of the Fiesler Fi156 Storch, Focke-Wulf Fw44 Steiglitz, Focke-Wulf Fw149, Stampe SV4, Boeing Stearman PT-17 Kaydet and Dornier Do28 Skyservant lined up along the taxiway.
The daily flying displays also contained many historic gems. The Flying Bulls Collection from Austria made the biggest contribution with a four aircraft combination performing over the public days. Leading the fleet away was the beautiful highly polished Douglas DC-6B. It was following by the equally shiny Lockheed P-38L Lightning, the North American T-28C Trojan and one of the Flying Bulls Dassault-Breguet/Dornier Alpha Jet As. The DC-6, P-38L and Alpha Jet performed a series of formation fly-bys trailing smoke while the T-28C performed in the “Joker” role keeping action in front of the crowd as the formation repositioned. Bar the DC-6, all the aircraft were fitting with smoke generators. The T-28C had wingtip smoke generators leaving elegant streams of white smoke in the sky which were contorted by the aircraft’s vortices into smoke rings! Following formation passes, each aircraft performed its own short solo before landing back.
Another unusual combination brought together the Yak Association’s Yakovlev Yak-3U with Remko Sibjen’s Commonwealth Aircraft Corperation CAC-13 Boomerang. The pair performed short solo routines as well a tail-chase sequence highlighting the agility and power of these often forgotten types of the Second World War. Further radial power came from Toni Eichhorn flying an aerobatic sequence in another North American T-28B Trojan.
The star of the warbird line-up was the Illyushin Il-2 Sturmovik from the Wings of Victory Foundation. This aircraft is the second Il-2 to be restored by the foundation with the first having been sold to the United States. In 1943, Valentin Skopintsev was forced to land his Il-2 on the frozen Lake Krivoe having sustained battle damage. He and his rear-gunner Vladimir Gumyonny escaped returning to base on foot but their aircraft sank through the ice to the bottom of the lake. The original airframe was recovered from Lake Krivoe in 2011 following a search by Skopintsev’s family and this restoration contains a significant proportion of original parts. The aircraft has been sympathetically restored to its original colours and condition though is now powered by an Allison engine. The Il-2 flew on every day of ILA and Skopintsev’s daughter Evgenia was there to watch the display.
The post war years were not forgotten either with a series of passes from the I Fennicotteri Piaggio P166C and Fouga CM170 Magister from the Quax Flieger Collection. Historic rotary-winged aircraft were also on show with a beautiful example of a Bell Model 47 taking part in the display.
Germany is famous for the design and production of some of the world’s leading aerobatic machinery and there were three different displays during the course of ILA. The Extra line of aircraft was represented in two of the displays. Uwe Wendt gave a punchy display of unlimited aerobatics in the two-seat Extra 300L while Mike Rottland flew an equally energetic routine in his single seat Extra 300S. One of the latest types to emerge from Germany is the XtremeAir family of aerobatic aircraft. Tim Tibo showed off the two seat XtremeAir XA42’s aerobatic prowess with all manner of gyroscopic aerobatic and tumbles throughout his routine.
An unusual aerobatic type was the Akaflieg München Mü30 Schlacro. This aircraft was designed and built by students at Akaflieg München to as an aerobatic training aircraft that could also be used as a glider tug. Both roles require tough aircraft which are light but have plenty of power.
If the fixed wing aerobatics were not enough, the Flying Bulls also sent one of their extraordinary MBB Bo-105Cs to ILA for a display of gravity defying and mind-bending aerobatics.
In contrast to the aerobatic displays, there were also some equally dramatic displays from larger commercial aircraft. Swiss based RUAG Group displayed their development of German aircraft, the Dornier Do228NG. While the practical and robust shape of the original design has been retain. Modern construction, avionics and engines have significant boosted the aircrafts performance. For a relatively large machine it has great agility and has found roles for both military and civilian customers. At the other end of the spectrum was the Airbus A350-900XWB. The A350 is designed to be quieter and more efficient that previous twin-engine aircraft and together with the A350-1000 will be the main rival to Boeing’s 787. Airbus flying displays are always enthralling showing just what agility and performance the modern generation of airlines have.
Airbus Helicopters also joined the flying programme during week with an impressive near aerobatic display by a H145M LUH. Already in service with the Bundeswehr and the United States Army as the Lakota, the H145M is a versatile machine which can be tailored for a number of military tasks. The aircraft displayed at ILA carried an armed air support fit with rocket pods and various sensors.
The German Air Force is currently looking for a replacement for its venerable Sikorsky CH-53GS Stallions which provide a heavy lift capability. The flying display featured both of the main contenders with offerings from Lockheed Martin/Sikorsky and Boeing. The trade days saw the world display debut of the Lockheed Martin/Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion. Developed for the US Marine Corps to replace its own fleet of legacy CH-53s, the CH-53K is effectively a brand new aircraft featuring a new construction, the latest avionics and improved performance. The improved performance is particularly valuable to the USMC which is often deployed to hot and high environments. Lockheed and Sikorsky bill the CH-53K is the world’s most advance heavy-lift helicopter. It is certainly a very impressive beast in the air and demonstrated its remarkable care-free handling and stability in a very tight display.
Boeing’s offer for the heavy-lift requirement is an advanced version of the CH-47 Chinook. Boeing called on the services of the Royal Air Force and a Chinook HC6 from RAF Odiham to demonstrate the Chinook’s heavy lift abilities. This was actually the first show for the RAF Chinook Display Team crew who put on a role demo alongside the RAF Benson based Joint Helicopter Support Squadron demonstrating the Chinook’s underslung load ability. The crew, who are drawn from 27 Squadron, took the chance to conduct a tour of former Royal Air Force bases in Germany as part of events marking RAF centenary celebrations. They visited Geilenkirchen, Wildenrath, Brüggen, Laarbruch and finally Gütersloh. It was also poignant that it was a 27 Squadron crew visiting Berlin as the squadron flew Dakotas into the city during the Berlin Airlift 70 years ago.
The helicopters were not the only international participants. The Hungarian Air Force participated over the public weekend with a rare solo display by one of its SAAB JAS-39C-EBS-HU Gripen jets from the 59th Air Base Wing’s Tactical Fighter Squadron. Based at Kecskemét, the unit is a member of the NATO Tiger Squadron Association as the unit carries a Puma on its squadron crest. The display aircraft wore a low-vis special scheme on its tail.
Furthest travelled participants were a pair of Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force Kawasaki P-1 Maritime Patrol Aircraft which were visiting Europe for only the third time. The type made its debut appearance at the Royal International Air Tattoo in 2015 and appeared at the 2017 Paris Airshow. With a number of nations looking to renew or add Maritime patrol assets, the Japanese government and Kawasaki see an opportunity to export the type. Designed to replace Japan’s ageing fleet of Lockheed P-3 Orions, the P-1 is a very advanced design featuring fly-by-light controls and the latest generation of avionics and sensors.
The Spanish Air Force’s Patrulla Aguila appeared for the first time at ILA with their seven CASA C.101 Aviojets. They performed on most days (Thursday’s display was cancelled by poor weather and Friday was a rest day) under with exciting routine of formation and synchronised aerobatics with colourful smoke trails.
However, it was the Bundeswehr that were the main focus during the flying displays. Each day saw two parachute displays from the 26th Airborne Brigade paratroopers dropping from a PZL M28 Skytruck. Their first drop saw them carry their full combat kit while the second saluted ILA’s partner nation, France.
Each day’s flying also saw four different role demonstration scenarios from the Bundeswehr. The first depicted a special-forces anti-terror operation. This saw special-forces troops deployed to recover a person with intelligence on terror operatives before capturing a hostile building. The special forces were deployed from Bundeswehr Airbus Helicopters H145 LUHs, NH Industries NH90TTHs and a Sikorsky CH-53GS Stallion with air cover supplied by a pair of Airbus Helicopters EC665 Tiger attack helicopters. Once the intelligence has been gathered and terrorists captured, they were extracted by the helicopters before being rapidly transferred to a Transall C-160D. Once the helicopters were clear the Transall made a prompt exit under the escort of the Tigers.
The CH-53GS Stallion and pair of NH90TTHs returned later in the programme, this time demonstrating how the Bundeswehr integrates with the civilian protection services during emergencies. For this they demonstrated their firefighting abilities with the CH-53G dropping 5,000 litres of water from an underslung bambi-bucket while the NH90 dropped and recovered firefighting equipment and personnel.
The third role demo was a Quick reaction alert simulation. A Pilatus PC-9 played the role of a unidentified and uncontactable intruding aircraft. Two Eurofighter EF2000s were scrambled to intercept the rogue aircraft demonstrating their ability to close in and stay with the slow moving target before communicating through international signals and eventually bringing the PC-9 into land for further enquiries.
The final set piece was an airfield attack This saw a pair of Eurofighter EF2000s provide fighter sweeps while pairs of Panavia Tornado ECRs and Panavia Tornado IDSs identified targets, transmitted data and conducted bombing runs.
As well as the role demonstrations, there was a rare chance to see solo displays from German machinery. The first to display was the Airbus Helicopters EC665 Tiger. The German Army operates the EC665 Tiger UHT which lacks the gun turret of other variants but does feature a mast-mounted sight. The Tiger has superb performance as highlighted by a very punchy aerobatic routine which was kept in very tight to the crowdline.
Perhaps the highlight of the daily flying programme though was the solo display by a German Air Force Eurofighter EF2000. The aircraft came from TLG-74 based at Neuberg while the pilot was German Air Force test pilot. The unit is another member of the NATO Tiger Association and they debuted their special tiger schemed aircraft at ILA known as the Ghost Tiger. The scheme was extremely eye-catching with vivid green tiger stripes over black upper wing surfaces and the tailfin. The canards were also black is lurid orange eye. The Typhoon was put through a very noisy and powerful routine much like displays from RAF, Italian and Spanish solo display.
The highlight of the Bundeswehr displays was the Air Parade. This saw 19 aircraft stream over ILA in various formations headed by helicopters. The four H145M LUHs lead 2 NH90TTHs, 2 EC665 Tiger UHTs, a Sikorsky CH-53GS and a Westland Sea Lynx Mk88 in the first wave. Next was a Transall C-160D ahead of aerial refuelling formation of Airbus A400M and two Panavia Tornado ECRs. The final formation saw another aerial refuelling formation, this time a Airbus A310MRTT leading two Eurofighter EF2000s and two Panavia Tornado IDSs.
ILA is certainly a very varied show with nicely balanced flying programmes which featured debuts as well as old favourites. It is also much more relaxed and in many ways much less formal than say Farnborough. For instance, many of the display were accompanied by music which is something that just does not happen at many trade shows. The security bans on camping chairs and other large items also meant the crowd tends to move around more. It was very noticeable that during breaks the crowd drifted away from the crowdline and only returned when something was happening in the sky. This meant it was possible to explore the showgrounds but nearly always find a good spot to watch the next display! Photographers may find the early lighting conditions and also the tight packing of the static display a challenge but the quality of the show shines through. Combined with a city break to Berlin this was certainly a hugely enjoyable and memorable airshow.