(Reading time: 2 - 4 minutes)

Bulgarian Air Force in action
Where? Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria
When? spring / summer 2015

The sights at Graf Ignatievo Air Base in Bulgaria are fascinating. A still typical Warsaw pact flight line filled with MiG-21s and MiG-29s, and even more Fulcrums are visible in the heat haze at the Eastern end of the airfield, ready to scramble with their live weapons for an air policing mission. But it is 2015, and these MiGs are guarding one of NATO’s Eastern frontiers.

And though Bulgaria already became a NATO member in 2004 and saw many reforms in the past 20 years, no new combat equipment was introduced within that time. But this is going to change in the near future.

Still operating original ‘adversary’ aircraft from a time when borders and the actual enemy were still clearly defined, Graf Ignatievo became a popular destination for Squadron exchanges with its Western Allies in recent years. The “3rd Fighter Air Base” is Bulgaria’s sole remaining fighter base and for some years already used to being the host for foreign jet Squadrons. This is not only due to favorable airspace conditions around the airfield to conduct their operations, but also due to the limits of their MiG-21 and MiG-29 aircraft. Compared to other countries such as Slovakia or Romania the Bulgarian fighters did not undergo an avionics modernization program, thus still lack NATO-wide standardized communication, navigation or IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) and therefore cannot deploy abroad.

The MiGs thus only operate locally, and three „Thracian“ exercises kept the Bulgarian Air Force once again busy in 2015. Whereas “Thracian Eagle 1 & 2” focused on flying with US ANG units flying the F-15 Eagle, “Thracian Star” in July saw the visit of the US 117th Fighter Wing of the New Jersey Air National Guard to Graf Ignatievo from 13-24, July. The exercise was set-up as a bilateral, total force training event to enhance interoperability with the Bulgarian Air Force (BuAF) and to bolster readiness to conduct combined air operations.

As an additional highlight Bulgarian Su-25s fighter-bombers were also stationed at Graf Ignatievo during these exercises as their actual home airbase was closed due to repairs.

Whereas these “Thracian” exercises are held annually, the 2015 edition coincided even more with an uncertain and tensioned future of Bulgaria’s fast jet inventory. After the future of Bulgaria’s 12 active MiG-29s hung in the balance for quite a while, issues about spare parts also kept the MiG-21 Fishbeds on the ground for about one year with a negative impact for the whole BuAF. It meant a lack of platforms for jet fighter training, e.g. intercepts against the MiG-29 Fulcrums, and difficulties in keeping pilots and technicians proficient. This resulted also in a higher risk for flight safety on daily operations after the Fishbeds were gradually brought back in the air piece after piece from May 2015 on.

However, by the end of July the Bulgarian MoD announced to keep the MiG-21 in service only until the end of December 2015, with no real replacement following afterwards.

The visit of these exercises thus coincided with a last chance to witness this legendary Cold War warrior in Bulgarian AF service.

This text is an excerpt of my article “TIME FOR CHANGE” published in Combat Aircraft Monthly, issue October 2015 - Vol 16 No 10 -

Thanks to BuAF PAO and 3rd Fighter Air Base personell for their outstanding support before and during my visit.

recently published

Meiringen WK 2017

(Reading time: 2 - 4 minutes)

Meiringen Swiss Air Force WK 2017
Where? Meiringen, Switzerland
When? March 2017

Alpine Base Meiringen offers a gorgeous setting The airfield is nestled in a small valley in central Switzerland in the canton of Bern. Surrounded by mountains that partly rise up vertically for several hundred meters it is challenging flying terrain, but provides plenty of photo opportunities. Meiringen is the home of the Swiss Air Force's Fliegerstaffel 11 "Tigers", one of Switzerland three F/A-18 Hornet Squadrons, and is also home to the militia Squadron 8 "Destructors" ("Vandalos"), flying the F-5E Tiger II.

Read more ...

more Airshows

Hahnweide OTT 2013

(Reading time: 2 - 4 minutes)

Hahnweide Oldtimermeeting OTT 2013

Where? Hahnweide, Southern Germany
When? 06-08/09/2013

The Hahnweide Oldtimer meeting is Germany's biggest warbird airshow. Held bi-annually on the first week-end of September it is by enthusiasts very often rated being on the same level as the other major European warbird shows Duxford in the UK and La Ferté-Alais in France. 2013 year was the 17th edition of the show that has its origins as a simple oldtimer fly-in 34 years ago.

Read more ...

more Air-Air

Yak-11

(Reading time: 2 - 3 minutes)

Czech Yak-11 Air-Air

Yak-11 OK-JZE

The Yak-11 was the trainer aircraft for all pilots of the Warsaw Pact states from the 1950s up to the 1970s. To free up production capacity for other aircraft Russia decided to outsource the manufacturing to Czechoslovakia. During the 1950s 707 Yak-11 left the Let aircraft factory in Kunovice. Czech aircraft were designated C-11 (civicny: exercise).

Read more ...

Twitter feed

My Warbird Book

photos on www.airfighters.com

More photos