10th Athens Flying Week, Tanagra

10th Athens Flying Week, Tanagra

2022 saw the 10th Athens Flying Week, an event which has grown to become one of Europe’s most highly anticipated airshows of the season. For the many enthusiasts that travel across the globe to attend the event the Hellenic Armed Forces are the show stars, but Athens always boasts an impressive international participation list from both military and civilian operators. This year was no different with a varied selection of aircraft from across Europe and the Middle East. 

Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.

I first visited Athens Flying Week in 2018 and was immediately impressed by the unique spirit of the event. Hosted by the Hellenic Air Force at Tanagra Air Base, just over an hour’s drive north east of Athens, the ‘Flying Week’ is a superb exponent for all forms of aviation and air sports. Military aviation dominates, but the show encompasses several different facets of civilian aviation including model flying, parachuting, general aviation and commercial aviation. Much of the organisation is run through the Podimatas media production company and they give the show an infectious youthful feel, particularly in comparison with some of Europe’s more established events.

Athens Flying Week has grown in reputation too and always attracts a very international audience wooed by seeing many Hellenic military displays that simply are not seen anywhere else plus the fair certainty of good weather. In 2022 the weather was perhaps too good with some very high temperatures that persisted through much of the build-up to the event as well as over the main show days. While the Hellenic displays are the main attraction, in recent years Athens has also attracted some very unique international military participants and happily that continued for the 10th edition. However, both the flying and static displays were noticeably smaller since our visit in 2018 – no doubt due to both operational and financial pressures faced by the various air arms.

 

The Hellenic Air Force participation in the static displays was noticeably smaller. From Tanagra, examples of the Dassault Mirage 2000-5BG and the new Rafale B headed HAF participation. Joining them were a visiting Beechcraft T-6A Texan II and much to the delight of enthusiasts, a North American T-2E Buckeye. The Hellenic Buckeye has been high on the wish lists of many airshow organisers and enthusiasts across Europe for years, but really the only way to see them has been to travel to Greece. Even then, their participation at events like Athens Flying Week is very rare and 2022 was just the type’s second time at the event. They are soon to be retired and this may be the final visit to Athens Flying Week by a T-2.

Participation from the Hellenic Army was somewhat stronger with examples of the Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warrior, UH-1H Iroquois and AH-64A/D Apaches lined-up for close inspection. The Hellenic Navy also showed off one of their Sikorsky S-70B Aegean Hawks.

 

Displayed alongside the Aegean Hawk were a pair of US Navy helicopters; a Sikorsky MH-60S Knighthawk from HSC-5 ‘Nightdippers’ and a MH-60R Seahawk from HSM-46 ‘Grandmasters.’ Both units are currently deployed on the USS George HW Bush which is currently sailing in the Mediterranean. These were last-minute additions to the static displays and proved very popular with the crowd. Enthusiasts attending the arrivals day were also treated to a C-2A Greyhound which was a support aircraft for the Seahawks. Sadly, it departed before the public days.

More traditional European participation in the static displays came from the German and Italian Air Forces. The Luftwaffe sent single examples of a Eurofighter Typhoon and a Panavia Tornado IDS while the Italians sent example of the Aermacchi MB339CD and Leonardo T-346A Master from 61° Stormo. The Austrian Air Force also participated with a pair of Pilatus PC-7s. Topping off the static displays were a number of civilian aircraft from various flying clubs and training organisations.

 

The flying displays were slightly shorter than in 2018 as well with fewer civilian displays and contributions from the Hellenic Air Force. Notably there was no flypasts from the Hellenic Air Force’ primary training fleet nor a fire-bombing demonstration. The lack of the latter may well have been down to the extremely dry summer Greece has endured with numerous wildfires breaking out. However, while it was shorter, it still absolutely oozed quality with several displays unique to Athens Flying Week.

Opening the displays were the Hellenic Skydivers team who jumped into Tanagra flying large Hellenic and Athens Flying Week flags in the clear blue skies. There were followed by two displays from Italy highlighting competition aerobatics. Luca Bertossio is a champion glider aerobatics pilot and is a regular at Athens Flying Week. He flies the Margański-Mysłowski S-1 Swift glider, the ultimate aerobatic glider, and performed a stunning routine leaving delicate coloured smoke trails in the blue skies. Powered aerobatics was represented by Luca Salvadori flying the Mudry CAP-21DS ‘The Silver Chicken. A regular at airshows across the Mediterranean region, The Silver Chicken is a famous aerobatic aircraft and was developed from the original CAP-21 design Sergio Dallan.

 

Completing the civilian line-up at AFW was the Flying Bulls MBB Bo-105C flown by Siegfried Schwarz. Siegfried gave an astonishing aerobatic performance on both days flying loops, rolls and backflips. For Saturday’s show he flew at Sunset with the helicopter illuminated by very bright red LED lights attached the skids. While perhaps not quite as eye-catching as some of the pyrotechnics displays seen at earlier editions of AFW, it was a nice way to end a long hot day of flying.

 

As well as the civilian displays, Athens drew a fine selection of military displays from across Europe and the Middle East. The Swiss Air Force were represented by the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C Hornet solo display flown by Captain Yannick “Fönsi” Zanata. The clear skies allowed ‘Fonsi’ to show off his full routine highlighting the extreme angles of attack the Hornet can achieve while manoeuvring. Further solo jet action came from the French Air Force Dassault Rafale C solo display piloted by Captaine Bertrand ‘Bubu’ Butin. The Rafale is an important aircraft to Greece and the Hellenic Air Force as it has just entered service and ‘Bubu’s’ display highlight the superb agility and care-free handling pilots enjoy when flying the aircraft on missions.

 

The Polish Air Force made a very welcome return to Tanagra with the Zespół Akrobacyjny “Orlik” (Orlik Aerobatic Team.) The Polish Air Force have been somewhat rare visitors to international displays in 2022 due to the on-going conflict in Ukraine. However, they have long been keen supporter of Athens Flying Week. The Orlik Aerobatic Team are now the sole national display team in the Polish Air Force and presented a pleasing six ship routine in their PZL 130TP-II Orlik (Eagle) turboprop trainers.

 

However, it was participation from the Middle East that really caught the eye. The Royal Jordanian Falcons capped off a very busy and successful return to European skies with two beautiful displays over Tanagra. It has been wonderful to see the team back in Europe after two years forced absence and the team have lost none of their enthusiasm taking in a wide variety of different events across the continent from small flying club displays through to major international military displays. After their displays, they stayed in Tanagra to dismantle their Extra 330LXs before they were flown back to Jordan by two C-130s.

 

Bur the surprise star of the flying was a full solo display by a Royal Saudi Air Force McDonnell Douglas F-15C Eagle. Flying displays are growing in popularity in Saudi Arabia and notably have become important features of the Kingdom’s National Day celebrations with some military types receiving some very eye-catching special liveries for the occasion. The liveries also mark ‘Vision 2030’, a scheme to develop, diversify and promote the economy and culture of the Kingdom which includes attracting tourism. With the Saudi Hawks deploying specifically for the International Sanicole Airshow the week before and this solo presentation in Greece we may see more of the RSAF at European shows in the future as part of Vision 2030. For their appearance at Athens Flying Week, the RSAF sent one of the specially marked aircraft for the 2021 National Day alongside a standard grey example. The F-15C has been in service with the Royal Saudi Air Force for 40 years and has been very successful in operations including those in both Gulf Wars. The RSAF operates the second largest fleet of F-15s outside of the US with F-15C and D-models flying alongside the new F-15SA strike fighters. It has been a number of years since a F-15C Eagle last displayed in Europe so it was great to see the distinctive air superiority fighter perform in the skies once again.

 

All three arms of the Hellenic military also participated in the display. The Hellenic Navy presented one of its Sikorsky S-70B Aegean Hawks in the display. The naval support helicopter first dropped off a small force of special forces via some fast-roping before giving a handling demonstration.

The Hellenic Army’s main display was a tactical demonstration involving a Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warrior, one of their new NH Industries NNH90TTHs and a Boeing CH-47D Chinook. Joining them on Saturday was a Boeing AH-64D Longbow Apache while Sunday’s demonstration saw one of the older AH-64A Apaches support the role demonstration. The demonstration saw the helicopters support a small force of Hellenic Army troops in a counter-terrorism operation with the NH90TTH bringing in the forces and extracting wounded personnel while the Kiowa Warrior and Apache provided overwatch and fire-support. Once the enemy has been subdued the Chinook then extracted the remaining friendly forces using a small platform slung underneath the helicopter. Later in the flying displays, the respective AH-64 models also performed their own solo displays.

 

The Hellenic Air Force continued the special operations theme with one of their Eurocopter AS332C Super Puma helicopters presenting a Combat Search and Rescue scenario. The Super Puma came from 358 Squadron based at Elefsis Air Force Base. As in previous year’s the Hellenic Air Force fast jets were also involved in displays highlighting operational flying. A pair of McDonnell Douglas F-4E(HUP) Phantoms from 338 and 339 Squadrons based at Andrabida Air base performed their traditional airfield attack during the flying displays. On Saturday they did this on their own in a very short display slot but on Sunday they appeared slightly earlier seemingly in support of the Super Puma demonstration adding some addition dynamic flypasts to their appearance. Another tradition of Athens Flying Week is the Lockheed Martin F-16C Fighting Falcon and Dassault Mirage 2000-5EG ‘dogfight.’ While perhaps not the most photographer friendly of flying displays, it is unusual to see dissimilar fast jet types performing air combat manoeuvres as part of an airshow routine.  Just prior to the dogfight sequence, the Mirage 2000-5EG and F-16C performed the first of the display’s special flypasts in company with a Hellenic Air Force Embraer R-99A (EMB-145H) Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft from 380 Squadron.

 

More traditional display flying came from the Hellenic Air Force’s two demonstration teams. The Daedalus Demo Team present the Beechcraft T-6A Texan II basic training aircraft. When the team was formed, they trained with the then USAF T-6 Demo Team and have kept many of the names manoeuvres of the American display with which always seems a little odd! Nevertheless it is always an eye-catching display, particularly when the crew perform some of their very low passes down the runway.

The performance by the F-16C Fighting Falcon of the Zeus Demo Team was a major highlight of the display for many. Like Daedalus team, the Zeus Demo Team developed their displays with their USAF counterparts. However, they have subsequently developed it more and more and it now is one of the best F-16 display in Europe mixing some of the flowing aerobatic sequences from the European F-16 routines with the best bits of the USAF demonstrations.

Towards the end of each day’s displays, the Hellenic Air Force marked its heritage in typically flamboyant style. A recent arrival in Greece has been a beautifully restored Supermarine Spitfire IXc. MJ775 was a subject of an incredible restoration project by the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar. She is a genuine Hellenic Air Force aircraft having been transferred from the Royal Air Force in 1947. Prior to that she had seen extensive service in the RAF in the Mediterranean and Italian theatres. From 1947 to 1949 she served with 335 Squadron before being relegated to training duties. In 1950, the aircraft was refurbished and fitted with cameras for aerial reconnaissance duties before retirement in 1953. Restoration at Biggin Hill started in 2018 and was completed in 2020. Following testing at Biggin Hill, pilot Pete Kynsey flew her to Greece in May 2021 where she takes pride of place at the Hellenic Air Force Museum at Tatoi. She was flown by Hellenic Air Force pilots at the show through a very sympathetic routine highlighting the graceful lines of the Spitfire. Following its solo display, the Spitfire then joined up with an Aegean Airlines Airbus A320NEO and one of 332 Squadron’s new Dassault Rafale Cs for the signature formation of the event showcasing over 70 years of Hellenic aviation history. During Sunday’s display, the A320NEO also landed at Tanagra and taxied past the crowd highlighting the renewal of Aegean’s busy fleet of airliners. The Rafale too performed some flypasts on its own marking the future of the Hellenic Air Force and Tanagra Air Base where 332 Squadron is based.

 

Athens Flying Week 2022 is an incredibly enjoyable event to attend even if it were a little bit smaller than in 2018. Few other shows in Europe can present such a wide variety of aircraft and displays that simply are not seen anywhere else. The local area is home to some charming small resorts on the coast so it does make for a wonderful weekend away.  If you even thinking of going in the future, just do it – you will not be disappointed!