Jerry Gunner reports from the Berlin ExpoCenter Airport, venue of this year’s ILA air show
AIR International visited the Internationale Luft- und Raumfahrtausstellung (ILA or International Aerospace Exhibition), perhaps better known as the Berlin Air Show, organised by the Bundesverband der Deutschen Luft- und Raumfahrtindustrie (German Aerospace Industries Association) and Messe Berlin GmbH between April 25 and 29.
Berlin’s ILA is one of Europe’s big three aerospace exhibitions, alongside Farnborough and Paris. A dedicated exhibition area, Berlin ExpoCenter Airport, erected for the show in 2012 is situated in a corner of the newly built Berlin Brandenburg Airport that adjoins Berlin Schönefeld Airport, formerly East Germany’s only Berlin airport. Home to the airline Eurowings and a major hub for low cost carrier Ryanair, the field saw 12.9 million passengers pass through its gates in 2017. However, the show site is far enough away from the international airport that flying displays using the show’s active runway as the datum point are little affected by aircraft movements from Schönefeld. Like its rivals in the UK and France, the show is divided into trade and public days and this year the first three were dedicated as the non-public days, with the weekend having a much-enlarged flying display, including an eclectic mix of military, civil, modern and vintage aircraft from around the world.
There were two massive aircraft dominating the extensive static display area. As well as the Airbus A380, the 100th of the type to be delivered to Emirates Airlines, there was the even bigger Antonov An-225 Mriya (Dream). The sole example of this rarely seen sixengine, twin-tail behemoth (its maximum take-off weight of 640 tonnes [710 short tons] makes it the heaviest aircraft ever built) was exhibited by the Antonov State Company (ASC) subsidiary Antonov Airlines.
Antonov displayed its aircraft because Russia’s Volga-Dnepr airline, operator of An-124 heavy lifters, will cease to support NATO’s Strategic Airlift International Solution programme in January 2019. When the carrier announced its decision to withdraw its support for the programme in April 2018, it gave restructuring within its organisation as the reason, but it is widely believed that the move was a response by the Kremlin to worldwide sanctions on Russia. The Ukrainian Antonov Airlines, which specialises in the transport of outsized cargo worldwide, seems to be a perfect fit to replace the Russian carrier with its fleet of five 120-tonne payload An-124- 100Ms, two 150-tonne payload An-124-100s, a 60-tonne payload An-22 and the unique 250-tonne payload An-225.
Unusually for an air show, an example of the Airbus Beluga used by the company to carry components around Europe was on display. The type would not seem to fit in the business model of either of the two other European trade shows, not being available for purchase, but fits right in at Berlin, demonstrating European manufacturers’ imaginative use of technology to solve logistics problems.
BLADE and Clean Sky
Airbus also showcased its BLADE (Breakthrough Laminar Aircraft Demonstrator in Europe) Flight Lab for the first time at a major air show. The BLADE project is part of the first phase of Clean Sky, a €1.6 billion European research initiative that has been running since 2008. The project is tasked with assessing the feasibility of introducing laminar-flow wing technology on a large airliner, improving aviation’s ecological footprint by reducing aerodynamic drag by 10% and CO2 emissions by 5%. The BLADE Airbus’ A340 laminar-flow Flight Lab test demonstrator aircraft A340- 300 F-WWAI (msn 001), made its successful maiden flight on September 26, 2017 and since then has been engaged in successful testing to explore the wing’s characteristics in flight. The test aircraft is the first in the world to combine a transonic laminar wing profile with a true internal primary structure. The aircraft is fitted on the outside with two representative transonic laminar outer wings, while inside the cabin there is a highly complex specialist flight-test instrumentation station.
Future Combat Air System
Airbus and Dassault Aviation announced their cooperation on the development and production of Europe’s Future Combat Air System (FCAS), intended to complement and eventually replace their own products, Eurofighter and Rafale, between 2035 and 2040. FCAS began because of bilateral agreements made in November 2010 under the Lancaster House Treaty between British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Britain’s decision to leave the EU may have been a contributing factor to the UK apparently now being excluded from the programme. Speaking at ILA, Dirk Hoke, head of Airbus’s defence business, said hard choices had to be made, “whether to include or exclude the UK in certain projects depending on how Brexit will progress. If it’s a hard Brexit, it will be a very difficult decision.” The FCAS announcement made at Berlin described the agreement as “strengthening political and military ties between Europe’s core nations”. There was some hope for BAE Systems, the world’s thirdlargest defence conglomerate, when Holke suggested there was still room for the British company, mentioning the “importance of efficient industrial governance in military programmes”, and adding: “[This] includes the involvement of other key European defence industrial players and nations based on government funding and on the principle of best contribution.”
As mentioned, Germany is in the market for a new fighter to replace Tornado, 80 of which are scheduled to remain in service until 2035. According to Luftwaffe personnel who spoke to AIR International at ILA with a guarantee of anonymity, the aspiration will be hard to achieve when the source of spares from Britain goes away when the UK retires the type next year. On April 24 on the eve of the show, Airbus and Eurofighter submitted six binders of information proposing Eurofighter to the German Ministry of Defence as a cost-effective replacement for Tornado and a stop-gap until FCAS comes on line. The ministry has said it will prioritise the European Typhoon for the contract for up to 90 aircraft, but has asked for information about the F-35A Lightning II, F-15 Advanced Eagle and F/A-18 Super Hornet. Volker Paltzo, Eurofighter Jagdflugzeug GmbH CEO, said Eurofighter can “deliver all roles that Tornado currently covers”. He went on to say that he includes the nuclear role, which requires US certification, adding: “We do not see any US restriction.”
Probably with an eye on the contract for 90 jets to replace the Luftwaffe’s Tornados, US military aircraft makers were at ILA in force. Two Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning IIs from the 56th Fighter Wing’s 61st Fighter Squadron ‘Top Dogs’ based at Luke Air Force Base Arizona attracted most attention in the static display, but unfortunately they did not take part in the flying display. Presented by Boeing were an EA-18G Growler from Electronic Attack Squadron 137 (VAQ-137) ‘Rooks’ and an F/A-18E from Strike Fighter Squadron 136 (VFA-136) ‘Knighthawks’, both assigned to Carrier Air Wing 3 which is currently deployed on the USS Harry S Truman (CVN 75). Speaking to IHS Jane’s at ILA, Boeing director for global sales for strike, surveillance and mobility Bryan Crutchfield said the EA-18G is the only platform now available that can replace the electronic combat reconnaissance (ECR) variant Tornado, as well as the service’s interdictor strike fleet: “Any country with an electronic warfare mission in an A2AD [antiaccess area denial] environment needs the Growler … We are now actively pitching this solution to the Germans.” It is Boeing’s contention that only Growler has the capability to fulfil the dedicated electronic warfare and suppression of enemy air defences roles currently undertaken by the Tornado ECR, but admits other contenders could have pods and other sensors added to do the job.
Heavy transport helicopter
Back in the 1970s, Germany purchased 112 Sikorsky CH-53G helicopters for the Deutsches Heer (German Army), where they are known as Mittleres Transporthubschrauber (medium transport helicopters). The first one was delivered on July 26, 1972, and the survivors are long past their best; the Report on the Operational Readiness of the Bundeswehr’s Primary Weapons Systems 2017, released in March 2018, revealed that of the 72 aircraft notionally available for service on average only 16 were ready for action. In December 2017, the German government announced its approval for the acquisition of between 45 and 60 aircraft under the Schwere Transporthubschrauber (heavy transport helicopter) programme. Given the value of any potential deal to provide the aircraft (at least €4 billion), it comes as no surprise that America’s two biggest helicopter manufacturers have put forward their two biggest helicopters, Boeing with its iconic H-47 Chinook and Sikorsky with the CH-53K King Stallion. A Europe-based US Army CH-47F was on display in the static display throughout the show and the flying display featured a Royal Air Force Chinook HC6 from No.27 Squadron giving a spirited flying demonstration.
Sikorsky owner Lockheed Martin pulled out all the stops to debut the King Stallion before an international audience at ILA 2018. A US Air Force C-17A Globemaster III carried the first of six System Development and Test Aircraft, BuNo 169019, from the United States to the Luftwaffe’s Holzdorf Air Base, which is home to some of the CH-53s assigned to Hubschraubergeschwader 64’s (Helicopter Wing 64). The helicopter flew during the trade days, but left on the Friday before the public days. It showed surprising agility for such a large aircraft. Sikorsky claims the new machine, while almost the same size as its ancestor, can carry three times as much, thanks to, among other things, more powerful engines and new high-tech fourthgeneration rotor blades. As part of its bid to woo the Bundeswehr, Lockheed Martin has teamed up with German companies, including Rheinmetall, the lead German contractor, MTU, ZFL, Autoflug, Hydro, Rockwell Collins Germany, Jenoptik, Hensoldt, Liebherr and Rohde & Schwarz. Other businesses may be invited to join should the project progress.
It would be a brave person who predicted the winner of this competition. The US Marine Corps has a requirement for 200 King Stallions and Germany is familiar with its predecessor, but the new helicopter is very expensive and may be too rich for the Germans’ blood. Bundeswehr personnel AIR International spoke to expressed a clear preference for Chinook, which has been extensively used in Europe and beyond for decades. Among other considerations that seemed to sway the soldiers and air crew were that the same pot of money would buy more CH-47s than CH-53Ks and the former can be carried in Germany’s A400M tactical airlifters. Many do not believe the added cost of the Sikorsky product over the Boeing one for what they expect to be rarely needed capabilities could be justified.
Germany’s Ministry of Defence expects to issue a request for information in the second half of 2018 after completing a fleet capability study, with a contract award in mid-2020. Of course, Lockheed Martin would be happy to sell the system to other countries and demonstrated it to interested parties at the show. Israel, which needs to replace its Yasur version of the H-53, is expected to need 20 of the type.
Although Kawasaki’s P-1 maritime patrol aircraft made its debut in Europe at the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford in England in 2015, this year’s ILA saw the first demonstration in mainland Europe. Two aircraft from the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force’s 3rd Kokutai (Squadron) based at Atsugi Naval Air Station south of Tokyo made the trip to Germany. The fact that the two Japanese aircraft made their first landfall in Germany at the nation’s sole Naval Air Station at Nordholz was significant. Germany’s fleet of eight P-3C Orions were nearly a quarter of a century old when they were obtained from the Netherlands, their former owner, in 2006 and they are presently the subject of an extensive upgrade programme. The type is expected to serve until 2035, but the number of off-the-shelf replacements is limited, comprising Boeing’s P-8 Poseidon and the P-1 at the top end and adapted transport aircraft at the lower.
Although on the face of it the two machines perform the same role of maritime patrol and reconnaissance, they are radically different in their concept, design and realisation of those two factors. Boeing’s product is an adaptation of the 737-800ERX airliner, Kawasaki’s was designed from scratch for its intended role. The American offering is optimised to operate from medium to high level, making it harder for submarines to detect from under water. Famously, it is not fitted with a magnetic anomaly detector (MAD) extending from the back of the aircraft. This is because from the 2020s it will attack submarines using the new High Altitude Anti-Submarine Warfare Weapon Capability, a torpedo upgrade that adds an air-launched accessory kit that includes a GPS guidance system and folding wings to NATO’s standard torpedo, the Mk54. The weapon can be deployed from altitudes of 30,000ft (9,144m) and above, obviating the need to fly low and slow looking for submarines, although it can do that if needed. The P-1, on the other hand, does have a MAD boom and will operate at low level in the anti-submarine role. Essentially it is a P-3 on steroids with more of everything fitted to the legacy platform, as well as other systems, like its Toshiba HPS-106 AESA radar with a 360% field of view. As ever, cost is an important factor when purchasing a weapons system and it is thought that P-1 may come in cheaper than P-8, but there is no definitive answer to the question of how much it costs. It is reported that India paid the equivalent of $250 million for each of its P-8Is. Speaking to AIR International at ILA, Kawasaki executives suggested a unit price of $150 million per aircraft. However, fellow NATO member and near neighbours Britain and Norway have already ordered P-8s and the Japanese aircraft has yet to achieve an overseas sale.
The air show
The static display was split into two main areas, the Bundeswehr section and another for international participants. The German public could get up close to an example of nearly every type of aircraft used by its armed forces. One noticeable absence was the NH90NTH Sea Lion, which first flew in 2016. The German Navy will receive 18 aircraft from the end of next year to replace the veteran Sea Kings of the first flight of Marinefliegergeschwader 5 (Naval Air Squadron 5).
The two Luftwaffe Tornados on display, an IDS and an ECR version, had benefited from the (Avionics System Software Tornado Ada (ASTTA) upgrade in its 3.0 and 3.1 format respectively. Each Luftwaffe Tornado destined to remain in service until Germany retires the type is being upgraded under the ASTTA programme. Ada is an object-oriented high-level computer programming language.
As well as conventional fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, several drones were displayed. Some were represented by full size models, such as the EMT Aladin (Abbildende Luftgestützte Aufklärungsdrohne im Nächstbereich/airborne reconnaissance drone for close area imaging) a small, man-portable light reconnaissance miniature UAV,
Non-Bundeswehr aircraft constituted the rest of the static park and, and some of the aircraft presented also took part in the flying display. France provided two Armée de l’Air Rafale B swing-role aircraft, Hungary two Saab JAS 39C Gripens, Poland a twin-seat MiG-29UB Fulcrum and a Leonardo T-346A advanced trainer and a Eurofighter F-2000A from Italy.
The flying display varied from day to day featuring many historic aircraft at the weekend, perhaps the best was one of only two survivors of the most produced aircraft in history. Including its successor, the Il-10, 42,330 were built. The aircraft at ILA, Il-2 Sturmovik RA-2783G (c/n 1872462) crash landed on the frozen lake Krivoe near Murmansk in November 1943 after suffering damage attacking an enemy airfield. It was being flown by Valentin Skopintsev, who was assigned to the 46th Assault Aviation Regiment of the Soviet Navy’s Northern Fleet Air Force. It was recovered from the lake bed 40 years later and was restored in Novosibirsk, making its first flight after restoration on June 16, 2017.
All in all, the Berlin Air Show is going from strength to strength and is a must-do event for anyone with an interest in aviation.