I’ve done some pretty silly things to enjoy an airshow in the past. Long drives, hours spent in the rain/cold and various late nights immediately spring to mind. But as the alarm went off at 3:30am on the Saturday of this particular show, I did wonder if I might have finally overdone it!
That same feeling may have crossed my mind for just a moment as I joined the motorway in Stuttgart for my first foray into the world of left-hand drive cars, much to the entertainment (I think) of my passengers (this combined with the distant sight of displaying warbirds always makes for an interesting combination).
Certain airshows achieve an almost cult-like status for me around the world and sit for a longtime in the “one day” pile. More often than not, “one day” doesn’t come around. In recent years however I’ve taken some action to rectify that, having ticked La Ferté-Alais off the list in 2016 (and again in 2018 and this year) and hopefully getting to Old Rhinebeck in the not too distant future. This particularly crazy tail relates to an utterly unique event, Oldtimer at Hahnweide in Germany.
I can’t quite remember when videos of warbirds bouncing along the runway in front of tree covered hills in Germany become such a regular part of my life, but I’d hazard a guess at at least six or seven years ago. I had always been aware of the show but never quite adventurous enough to venture so far (how things change). Traditionally a bi-annual event, the show was “officially” cancelled in 2013. Fortunately the show was revived again in 2016 and was announced to return again this year, suggesting a tri-annual approach has now been applied.
The list of attending aircraft totalled some 400+ as not only is this event an impressive airshow, it is also a sprawling historic and vintage fly-in with unique aeroplanes coming from all around the continent to take part. With a potential three year wait to attend again, the chance had to be taken and with only a 20 minute drive from Stuttgart to negotiate, I figured and early morning flight would do the job.
It did! Not without drama but it did and we arrived on the show ground just as the Sywell based P-47 and Buchon joined the circuit (rather fitting as they had passed not far from my home in Kent the previous evening). A weekend pass was incredibly good value at 35 Euros and passing through a narrow gap between hangars you could barely believe what you saw. As far as you could see there were vintage aeroplanes across the airfield and bars, food outlets and shops in amongst the crowd. The German beer certainly plays as much of a part in this event as the aeroplanes!
There were countless highlights to the flying and static displays with so much going on it was almost hard to take it all in. This wasn’t helped by the sweltering heat on both days (and perhaps the lack of sleep on the first!).
The airfield itself is incredible. A glider strip for most of its use it has a long grass runway which undulates greatly from end to end and slopes down towards a valley on the far side. This makes for some dramatic sights and dramatic landings! One thing that struck me on arrival (during a Bronco display) was that the much mentioned German display rules didn’t seem all that bad. This is probably more of a comment on the changes to the UK regulations in recent years but the 300ft base height did not seem to notice, with plenty of elevated ground to enjoy the displays for.
Having gotten over the fact of actually arriving at this seemingly mythical venue, we settled down mid-display line to fully enjoy our first display of the day. This was none-other than the Messerschmitt 262 replica. I have wanted to see one of these machines fly for well over a decade now and could scarcely believe it as it claimed away from a missed approach into its display. I am well aware of the modern nature of this replica but just to see that iconic outline in the sky more than made the trip.
A little while later, the immaculate Beechcraft AT11 took to the sky with Hurricane G-CBOE, based for a short while in the UK having been restored to fly at Thruxton. Aside from a fleeting appearance in the major flypast from Goodwood in 2015, I have yet to see this Hurricane display. It has to be said that the routine was quite remarkable. Vertical rolls, slow rolls and hesitation figures really showed a side to the Hurricane rarely seen in more familiar displays. Stephen Stead’s Spitfire XVI later displayed in another highlight of the weekend, completing the classic British pairing.
UK Warbirds have always been a big part of these shows and this year marked the debut for the Air Leasing operation, brining P-47 Thunderbolt “Nellie B” and Hispano Buchon “White 9”. Ultimate Fighters pilots Jon Gowdy and Richard Grace flew the fighters and put on a sublime 25 minute sequence.
This started much like the Ultimate Fighters routine with a couple of formation loops before breaking away into typically punchy solo displays. The Thunderbolt display in particular was a great account in energy management with plenty of looping energy right to the end. On the Sunday the pair rejoined for some further formation aerobatics before departing back to the UK.
Lars Ness brought Shaun Patrick’s Sea Fury T20 over for the show, which really made an impact operating off the grass and was displayed in the impressive style you might expect. Sunday morning’s routine being particularly special with wing tip vortices on almost every pass. Will Greenwood completed the UK line up flying a stylish extended solo in the evening light on Saturday night in his immaculate Yak 3.
France’s Flying Warbirds flew a wonderful three ship of Yak 3, P-40 and P-51D Mustang which were flown with typical flair. The P-40 and Mustang displays in particular standing out and making great use of the dramatic scenery and display line.
Of course it wasn’t just heavy metal, there were some wonderful lighter displays such as Antique flyers who put up a trio of Morane 17, Ryan STA and a Curtiss Robin. The Junkers F13 flew in the display on Saturday before departing early on Sunday and there were great tributes to the Bucker and Klemm lines.
Gliding is a key part of Hahnweide, unsurprisingly given the venue’s “day job” and early on each show day a number of gliders were put up. I counted 11 at one time as we walked from the car on Sunday morning, a great way to be welcomed to a show like this.
But perhaps the most memorable piece of flying across the whole weekend came from Mikael Carlson. Many readers will remember his impressive antics in his Bleriot replica on tours of the UK in the early 2000s but not since Flying Legends 2011 has he been seen in the UK. Sadly I missed the chance to see his Bleriot fly this weekend, but did catch the Fokker DR1 on two occasions.
It was the first of these two flights that will stick with me for years to come. Bathed in golden sunlight as the sun started to set, the Triplane was put through its paces in a way that defies belief. Tight turns, loops, reverse half-cubans and superb low passes in the valley beyond the runway were the order of the day in a display that just never seemed to lose energy. The combination of man, machine, weather and scenery was absolute perfection and how airshow magic is made.
Sunday morning saw another outing for the Triplane flown with similar style and following on from a sporty account of a Fokker EIII Eindecker replica, another highlight.
Sunday saw a shorter display element, part by design and partly due to unforeseen circumstances. The Sunday show is shorter to allow for extended departure sequences to be slotted in. This meant that Sunday breakfast was accompanied by an endless stream of Buckers, FW44s, Zlins etc and a further slot was scheduled over lunch. This slot was progressing well and to the enjoyment of all in attendance when there was an unfortunate accident. There were no serious injuries thankfully and departures did continue a couple of hours later, though no further display flying followed.
Despite this slight disappointment, nothing could take away from what was simply one of the most magical weekends I have experienced in aviation. This post has not even really scratched the surface of what this event has to offer and I cannot believe I have to wait another three years at least, before I can enjoy it again.
My final thoughts have to go out to the people at the show, there really was a special and welcoming atmosphere across both days and I haven’t even mentioned the food and drink yet! It was well worth the slightly crazy schedule to get there and back within two days! Now on to the next challenge…