In November 2011 4Aviation travelled to Greece for the fourth time in order to visit the Air Force open days, held annually over a four day period in celebration of its Patron Saint. And we were in for a treat!
On Friday 4 November, the first hurdle was the departure from Schiphol for most of the in total 16 strong group, because of the early hours. But everyone made it to the designated meeting point at five in the morning and the group happily (if not for some still sleepy) set off for Greece. Once arrived at the Athens airport it was with relief to see that everyone’s luggage had arrived as well. After collecting the two blue VW vans (our transportation for the coming days) and the missing three group members who had made their own travel arrangements to Athens, we set off for the long road trip to Volos where the first night was going to be spent. But not before stopping somewhere in a northern Athens suburb for a nice F-104, and getting our first tastes of Greek road traffic as we went along. The final event for the day was having dinner as a group, we found a not too shady restaurant with a clever businessman at the helm who piled the long table full with delicious dishes and got a bucket load of our money for it in return (but still a good deal by our standards!).
The next morning, a Saturday (5 November), was an early rise again because we still had an hour drive ahead of us and we wanted to be at the gate of the first airbase we were about to visit, Larissa, when it opened at nine. However the weather didn’t seem to cooperate very much at first, dry but gloomy without any hint of a sun, and it was decided to first “do” some wrecks & relics aircraft in the vicinity of Larissa. Once at the gate it was a ten minute wait before the local base security was satisfied enough with our intensions and we got an escort to the platform where a small static show had been set up. As expected there were only a handful of aircraft there, but that is how these open days are set up: just very small and low profile. On the plus side: there is almost nobody, except for yourself and an approximately equal amount of military personnel, and maybe just a couple of local civilians interested in military hardware. It’s quality, not quantity. Unfortunately the weather still wasn’t very good with no immediate prospect for improvement. To compensate for this we asked for permission to photograph the disused aircraft in the memorial park as well, which was granted. Traditionally, the couple of aircraft at the gate could not be photographed.
Once back in the cars and heading south again the grey clouds started to disappear and the prospect of a sunny Nea Anghialos made everyone an happy person. A quick drive past the army base Stefanovikion did not produce any photos despite politely asking at the gate. This was totally to be expected. Better luck at the F-16 base Nea Anghialos were the mood was very relaxed. After we had finished at the small static show we were free to photograph the two groups of preserved aircraft lining the road back to the gate. After Nea (yet another) preserved F-5, this time in the town of Lamia, was supposed to be the last feat of the day, but with daylight still present and two cars full of eager spotters it was decided to go and find a F-104 “somewhere in the hills not too far from here”. The hill turned out to be a proper mountain with a small road twisting and turning all the way up. And indeed: there was a good looking F-104 there, with everybody wondering how the Greeks managed to get it up there in the first place! The mountain road had been a real test for everyone’s bladder, and that’s why the mountain top was quickly rechristened “Urinal Hill”… We managed to get off the mountain before darkness truly had set in, and without more hesitation drove to our next hotel. Once there we good an amusing taste of the origin of the word “chaos” (you’ve guessed it: it’s Greek) when the landlady, who didn’t speak a word of English I should add, decided she had her own system of handing out the room keys.
Everybody had high hopes of Tanagra (on Sunday 6 November), being advertised as a more “proper” airshow. We were not to be disappointed here, on the contrary. Once our passports had been checked at the gate we were given a real motor escort up front…and promptly escorted in the wrong direction. Well…when I say “wrong” I really mean “In the opposite direction of where everybody else was sent off to”. In our case it meant we were lead past all the stored aircraft, through a shelter area or two, past the flight line, and dropped off at the VIP area next to a shelter where we were enthusiastically met by a high ranking officer. We had arrived, in style! The static show was diverse but for the most part hard to photograph, due to the fact that there were no fences or tapes between the aircraft and spectators, who by the way turned up en masse. By eleven o’clock most of the group was back in the VIP area for the flying display. This lasted two hours, was pretty diverse and dynamic as well, and centered on the VIP area, so we were in the right spot for some excellent photography. The Greek army contributed two AH-64’s which did a sort of “mini Grasshoppers” routine, while the navy showed off one of their S-70 Aegean Hawks. Two CL-415 water bombers, by itself already a great sight, unwillingly provided some entertainment when their water drops failed to put out a small fire, a base fire truck had to be rushed to the scene to extinguish the shame..ehhh flame. Highlight of the flying display were the formation flyby’s, at a decent low altitude and breaking formation and the right point and time (in front of the VIP area, of course!). After the flying had definitely finished, and some more time on the static, it was time to move on. We had to drive all the way to Kalamata that evening anyway, and it was decided to start driving early so we could have a look at the army airfield of Megara, and be at the disused airfield of Tripolis when there was still daylight. We made Tripolis at last light, just enough to see the bunch of preserved aircraft from outside the base. Then the journey continued for another two hours or so. With 50 kilometers to go still the motorway ended and the speed we could drive our cars over the dark and twisty secondary roads dropped dramatically. Dinner in the hotel restaurant was decent, sleep afterwards was good.
Another highlight for many was to be Kalamata on Monday (7 November), where T-2 Buckeyes still roam the skies. Arriving at the base we were greeted by T-2’s and T-6’s in the air, all looking promising indeed! Whilst going through the, by now customary, passport checks at the main gate, we noted that we were not going to be alone on the airfield. Literally busloads of school children were being driven on to the base, and fears of hundreds of little kids in front of the aircraft loomed in the back of our heads. Fortunately, after explaining our “problem” at the guard house, we were quickly let on the base whilst the kids were being held back until we had finished. Now that’s what I call service! Soon after we were back in the cars, driving northward. Two more airbases where on our list for this day, Andravida and Araxos. At the former we had a long wait after entering the gate, for we were going to be driven to the exhibition area by bus. Araxos later that afternoon did it differently: “just park here, walk and have fun”. Satisfied with the results of the day we drove to our next hotel. This lay a bit off our route, initially we were to go to the storage airfield Agrinion but this was unfortunately (and to the dismay of most) cancelled by the authorities at the last moment, but the hotel halfway there had already been booked. Anyway, there were supposedly some old aircraft preserved next to the hotel anyway. Well…they were not, obviously gone. In the hotel we got a surprise when the bartender, after just simply asking, could tell perfectly where the missing aircraft had gone too. An attempt to locate them in the dark, before dinner, proved to be fruitless (the bartender had told us so…), maybe tomorrow morning then?
Daylight makes all the difference, and the next morning, Tuesday 8 November, we had no trouble to find where the elusive set of aircraft had gone to. But not much time to waste because we had a few hours driving ahead of us (via an F-104) for a eleven o’clock arrival at the Elefsis gate. Our letter from Greek HQ stated an 11:00 start time on Tuesday, but at Elefsis they disagreed and stuck by their one o’clock opening. They were impressed by our letter, and really tried to amend, but base security could not be moved and gave an “official ceremony without civilians” as an excuse. So we had to wait for two hours, better then use that time sensibly with stocking up on petrol and food, and do a careful fence check around the base. Back at the gate at one o’clock there was no holdback this time and soon we were on the platform where the small static show was. After Elefsis it was only a short drive to Tatoi for the last of the open days. The official air force museum is a good start here, the adjoin platform full of Grumman Ag-Cat biplanes was not a problem either. A single PZL Dromader, T-41 and Coast Guard Cessna made up the rest of the exhibition. For our last night in Greece we stayed in a pleasant hotel in Athens, but not before we stopped for some more w&r aircraft in fading daylight.
Having the choice between a “touristic” Wednesday morning (9 November) in Athens, or more w&r aircraft, the group unanimously voted for the latter, and so we set off early again to collect as much as possible airframes as we could in the sparse time left. The also-civilian-spotters were eager to go to the old disused airfield, which was a site to behold. Greeks don’t do demolition or re-use, and it’s a weird sight to see a large airfield simply not being used. Back in Athens at the War Museum we finally got our group photo taken, and then it was off for the final drive back to our flights home. Only one “thing” still to do though: on the first day when driving from the airfield, occupants of the second car had spotted a Yugoslav MiG-21 next to the road, and suspecting this to be the “Palis Foundation” we were going to investigate of course. We managed to find the fenced off compound, and after much shouting we were met at the gate by someone who was not very helpful really. The sight of another person walking in the compound carrying a shotgun made it clear we better not be too firm here, nor try anything “funny”. Therefore we retreated to a nearby motorway overpass were we could get a bit better look into the compound, including inside a building also apparently full of aircraft. The MiG-21, by the way, turned out to be an Orao, but that mistake is to be excused. Back at the airfield we turned in our two blue VW vans, and said goodbye to the group members who were either flying on their own or decided to stay in Greece for a couple of days longer. The journey home was, once again, uneventful, finally shaking hands and each going our separate way at Schiphol just after seven in the evening. All went home satisfied.