Midnight Sun Air Show                       


Gyula Zoltán


When somebody reads a phrase like this, first he will think he must have misunderstood it, because something seems to be wrong with its meaning. The same thing happened to me when I first read the invitation of the Swedish Air Force. I only understood what it meant when on 12th July, in response to the invitation, I arrived to Lulea-Kalax airfield. This airfield is home to 21. Norrbotten regiment, which is using the airfield together with the Lulea-Kalax terminal, open for international traffic. The 21. regiment of the Swedish Air Force is placed on the southern part of the airfield, while the area serving for the civil traffic is situated on the northern part.

The flight took a whole day and after two transfers it finally ended near the polar circle. At 9 p.m. the sun was still high on the sky as I settled in my hotel room, and I started off for a walk to let off steam after the flight. I was completely amazed by the beauty of the countryside; as I checked my watch it was already 11 o’clock, but the golden sun was still shining in the sky. First I thought my watch gave up working, but of course it turned out that it didn’t. When I asked when the sun was due to set, the answer was that it didn’t set, at least not in this season. That’s how I began to realise that the name of the air show wasn’t exaggerated. I already reported about the first part of the very well organised air show in the previous number of our magazine, as on 3rd July we visited Europe’s greatest overland aeronautical experiment and shooting test centre. At the end of that show, after a long day, we got a foretaste at a waterfall which hadn’t been taken into the power production. The rescue team demonstrated how they can work with their newly bought helicopter in extreme conditions. Later a BO-105 helicopter also joined the demonstration. The show reached its apogee when at 11 p.m. local time the formation flight of four Jas-39 Gripen fighters provided an unforgettable experience. The recently founded team doesn’t have a name yet, but the performed manoeuvres proved how highly prepared the group is. The group first performed at an air show organised in Uppsala in 2001. As we know, the Gripen first flew in 1988. After eliminating the initial problems and intensive testing, the Gripen entered service in 1995, at the F-7 “Skaraborg” unit based in Satenas. Later followed the units F-10 “Skanska” at Angelholm-Balkakra base, F-17 “Blekinge” at Ronneby-Kallinge base and finally the F-21 “Norbotten” at Lulea-Kalax. The next unit equipped with Gripens will probably be the F-4 “Jamtlands” at Östersud-Frösön base. (In the enumeration above first comes the numbered identifier of the formation, then the name of the formation in quotation marks and finally the name of the station.)

Half of the 204 airplanes meant for the Swedish air force have already been delivered. Currently the biggest work is done with the testing of the Gripen C, the hanger systems corresponding with NATO regulations and integration tasks of the weapons.

The air show on the 14th July was opened for the public. The organizers could comfortably accommodate the many visitors by opening almost the whole of the military airfield, except for the few buildings which didn’t host any exhibitions or shows.

Of course the readers are more interested in the airplanes on show in the air and on the ground. Well, there wasn’t a shortage in neither of them. The planes of the foreign air forces were placed in a well detached area. The own planes of the base could be observed on the roads between the buildings and in front of the hangars, with the most diverse suspensions.

The most interesting ‘visitor’ for me was the Finn F-18 Hornet in its complete war-paint, meaning that all its weapon stands were equipped. The Norwegian F-16 drew attention with its anniversary painting.   

The Jaguar and Tornado fighters were the representatives of the British Royal Air Force (RAF). The British Jaguars showed the most intensive usage. A proof of this was that due to the reorganization of the RAF, the two Jaguars were fitted with different squadron’s emblems, although they served at the same company. They fly a lot, and at the right time, the new emblems of companies and regiments will be also painted.

The U.S. Air Force was represented by two F-15E fighters, and a KC-135 tanker.

The focus of the domestic offer was the Gripen’s C version . This was the first time it was introduced to the public. Only the invited guests were allowed to watch the show at the NEAT test centre the day before.

It was a bit strange that the flying programme only began in the afternoon. Exploiting the early morning hours seminars were held for the guests. First I found this sort of organization was strange, but later it turned out that the lectures held in the conference centre were very useful.

Jonas Hjelm, the Minister of Defence held a lecture about the duty and the current strategy of the Swedish Air Force.

Lieutenant-general Jan Jonsson, commander of the Joint Armed Forces, and brigadier-general Lennart Petterson, commander of Air Force Command reported about the tasks of the future, reviewed the current organizational structure and tasks of the Swedish Air Force. It is clear that there’s an opening tendency in the taking on of international military duties by the Swedes, which is due to the changed situations in world-politics. At the end of the Cold War, the constitution of the tasks to be fulfilled changed. One has to match new challenges with a combat technology developed for a totally different warfare.  Pliability has become more important than ever before. Accordingly one of the most important factors for the airplanes is to be able to fulfil a wide range of tasks.

The reduction of military power is a case at issue by the Swedish armed forces, to which four different versions are being elaborated, corresponding to the new defensive strategic conception. The issue of the new defensive strategy will be dealt with by the Swedish Parliament in the following years. Several guests asked the lecturers where the limit was concerning necessary armament. Considering the connection between quality and quantity, and the changing requirements, the strategists planning the defence have a tough job to do.

It’s definitely worth mentioning the report of Andy White, the RAF’s Air Marshal, about his experiences in the second Gulf War. (He took part personally in the first Gulf War as a Jaguar pilot.) In the second Gulf War he worked in the command of the coalition forces. There was a huge change in the proportion of application of laser guided and conventional weaponry. In the second Gulf War the proportion of the two types of weaponry was 4:1 while in the first one this proportion was almost the contrary. He also mentioned the apparition of a new element, that if a nation of the coalition powers doesn’t want to attack a given target, they could show the “RED CARD”. This meant that they didn’t want to take part in that given attack.

Let’s get back now to the participants of the air show.

The dynamic program began at 1 o’clock in the afternoon with the usual parachute jumps. The quiet of the quilted chutes was broken by a reconnaissance version of an SF-70 Viggen, which belongs to my “big iron” category. The formation flight of jets is always being expected by the public, so the SK-50 Saab Safire bond followed with its twenty minute show.

The performed stunt flight elements showed the shakedown and the elaborateness of the spectacular forms. SAAB’s first own design, the B17 bomber (not to be mistaken with the B-17 U.S. bomber) demonstrated its flying capabilities. After its landing I had the opportunity to examine the reborn iron bird from close. Although the plane wouldn’t have a chance at a beauty contest, it clearly shows the marks of subservience. What does this mean? The encasements of the main gears in open position acted as huge brake during bombing. These ensured a constant diving speed for the plane flying nose down over the target. The nose of the plane must be immediately pulled up after the bombs had been released from the bomb-bay, because the bombs would otherwise fall into the slipstream. The locker bomb-bay was situated on the lower part of the fuselage between the engine and the cockpit. The current pilot of the plane rhapsodized about its characteristics and the huge efforts that were made in order to make this “bird” fly again. Among the veteran planes the silvery DC-3 “Daisy” invoked the spirits of the old times. The DH Vampire (J28), which is considered to be a veteran although it was born at the beginning of the jet era, demonstrated the capabilities of first generation jet planes. From the category of veteran instructive planes two AT-6 Texan (SK-16) - a silver and a yellow one - were flown.

Interrupting the show of the veterans the rescue team demonstrated the simulation of the rescue of a ejected pilot. During the program the remote controlled models played their roles too. In a Tiger Moth “flight” consisting of four planes, veteran pilots performed with their own planes simple bond manoeuvres without any previous practice.

After Eurocopter’s BO-105 helicopter a squad bond consisting of four AJS 37 Viggens opened the line of the jet planes. There wasn’t a lack in speed, afterburner and tramping. The solo demonstration of SAAB’s Lansen (J 32B) and Draken planes was fallowed by the fighter version of a SAAB JA 37 Viggen.

The demonstration of Gripen’s four-in-hand recompensed by the applause of the crowd was followed by the Swedish Lockheed’s S-130 Hercules which demonstrated what this four-engined plane can do, performing high banked turnings flying close to the ground.

The Gripen’s performance reached the level of the demonstration of the Belgian F-16 and the Finn F-18. It’s beginning to be regular that high-speed jet planes fly along with planes manufactured in the Second World War. These kinds of flights mainly demonstrate the high speed flying capabilities of the new technology. In this case SAAB’s first and last construction flew together - the B17 and the Gripen.

The programs continued with hot air balloon flights, passenger flights and musical performances, but on suggestion of my escort we took a relaxation before the midnight air show began.

The entertaining evening began with a dinner at the theatre complex of Lulea Kalax (fitted with several auditoriums), where the pilots of the Swedish Air Force proved that they could have fun together after a good days work. It’s not surprising that the leader of the  21. Wing was invited on the stage by the folk ensemble playing, and he accepted the invitation. I couldn’t imagine how they could raise the mood more, but the organizers did. A few minutes before midnight they suggested going out to the terrace of the theatre, which was actually situated on the bank of the river, and we were promised a wonderful spectacle. The midnight there reminded me of a sunset back home as two Gripens and two Viggens arrived above us flying in close formation. The forcing of manoeuvres close to the ground was avoided in order not to disturb the local inhabitants, but the simpler manoeuvres executed in the twilight imbued us with a wonderful admiration.

I wish the visitors of my web site to have the same experience sometime.


The article above  appeared in the 7. number of Aranysas magazine in 2003.


Translated by Schönberger Edmond