The inaugural Bahrain Airshow was much anticipated, with a lot of interest in what aircraft would participate, along with the lay out of the show and photograhic opportunities. Being organised by the Farnborough Airshow people, it was expected to be a well organised event, though more on that later! After the show was first announced, there was much speculation as to exactly where it was being held. After some initial confusion, with some thinking it was to be held at the main Sheikh Isa Airbase (on the Southeast tip of Bahrain), it then became apparent it was infact at the recently constructed airfield adjoining the BIC motor racing circuit (Bahrain International Circuit). Sakhir Airbase, is infact the 'Kings Airport' for the Bahrain Royal Flight fleet of VIP aircraft (ranging from choppers up to his B747's), some of which also spend their time at the main Bahrain Airport (BAH). With the main runway, ramps and hangars at Sakhir now only just completed, it's expected the Royal Flight will now re-locate here, though BAH will probably still continue to be used for some royal flights.
Keeping an eye on the official website leading up to the show, it was apparent (to some) that the event was being sold as a seperate public and trade show, with seperate areas of the airfield allocated for public/families and aviation industry visitors. As such there was no trade days and public days, as at other shows, with everyone welcome for all three days, though in the seperated areas. However, it was not exactly made clear what was to happen with these areas on the day, which led to some major dissapointment for some visitors (including quite a few enthusiasts)! Those that purchased public tickets were only able to access the public/family area, which consisted of a grandstand, two helicopters on show and other family-related things to do, with the trade/static aircraft area about half a mile away, and not visible! Attempts to get to the static aircraft area then being denied, without the necessary trade pass. I'm told this affected quite a few enthusiasts, including a group of Dutch spotters! Even with a trade pass, there was still some difficulties, with the organization being very confused. A few of the Farnborough organizers were trying their best, up against some of the local officials (not always easy, for those that know this part of the world). Upon arriving at the show, the few that turned up first thing, were denied access as we didn't have our trade pass in-hand. Infact, the confirmation e-mail was all that was needed upon arriving (at the racing circuit car park), with the pass later being printed at check-in style machines at the trade area entrance building, following the shuttle bus ride around to the airfield side. Eventualy we were allowed to board the shuttle bus and proceded around to the show site, but were then dropped off at the public area! At least we could photograph the two helicopters there! After more hassle we then boarded another shuttle bus that was to take us to the trade area, but were then stopped from driving along the airside road, as we still didn't have the trade passes! Eventualy we drove out onto the public road and got to the trade entrance building, and were soon out to the static area. Finally!
Aircraft present at the show then, included plenty that have never been seen at any shows before, including the Bahrain military stuff, which is otherwise difficult to see (and certainly photograph). Of the static display, its always good to see large airliners present, and although the billed IL-76 and Bahrain Royal Flight B747-400 didn't make it, there was still plenty of others that did. The IL-76 was thought to be support for the Su-27, and may of positioned out before the show, while the King's B747 was said to be 'busy'. Of the other airliners that did show, the predicted Gulf Air A320 in the special Airshow colours was present, along with a local rival Bahrain Air A320, which also gave a good flying display. The annonymous all-white Airbus operated A321 was a curious visitor, with not much known about its use and intended future customer. The DHL A300F is an interesting airshow visitor, while the Iraqi CRJ would have been even more interesting if it was painted other than all white! However, most attention was on the brand-new Gulf Air ERJ-170. Now this is one aircraft that is causing a stir! Only a rumoured addition to the Gulf Air fleet prior to the show, it was good to see that it had actualy arrived, though is certainly a major talking point among the airline's staff. Aside from the fact that the colour scheme on the aircraft just doesn't look good, with the new style font, and logo on the fin which seems to be the same size as that used on the A320, so that the falcons head is actualy on the fuselage (leading to 'headless chicken' comments!), the airlines choice of an aircraft of this size is mystifying to some.
Of the Bahrain Royal Flight aircraft present, the unexpected S-92A A9C-KOB (King Of Bahrain), has been little known about and seen since delivery over a year ago (as it's based at Sakhir). Apparently the similarity with the Jordanian Government colour scheme is just coincidence. Also with the Royal Flight, another 'interesting' scheme is on the new Gulfstream 550, also here in the static. Of the military present, the French had decided to make a big effort for the show and sent quite a few aircraft, although the PdF (led by a female pilot for the first time) only gave a basic shortened display (with fuel tanks fitted), being 'out of season'. Infact, out of all the flying displays, many thought the Saudi Hawks were the best. This, despite the fact the team doesn't exactly get much show experience, normally only displaying at Al Ain once a year. They certainly displayed for the longest, though i would say the shorter, but awesome US Navy F/A-18F routine was best. The Hornet was one of three present, along with the two very welcome (and unexpected) 'Lobo' F-16's, all taken from US detachments in the region. The US military, and in particular the US Navy, has a big presence in Bahrain, with the Fifth Fleet being based here (currently with USS Nimitz on station). The US alliance with Bahrain is also reflected in the choice of RBAF aircraft, with the F-16 and 'modernized' F-5 at the head, while the historical and current British influence shows in the choice of BAe Hawk & Slingsby T-67 trainers (aswell as the BDF RJ's). An impressive formation of RBAF F-5's, F-16's and Hawk's also took part in the flying display, as did an Ellsworth B-1B from the Qatar (Al Udeid) detatchment making one high speed pass, while Gulf Air A340-300 A9C-LE (soon to be retired) performed two flypasts.
Overall then, mixed opinions and experiences on the first Bahrain Airshow. I would certainly say the static was good, though from a photograhers point of view, the flying display was 'difficult'. With the North-South runway, the sun was on the wrong side of the runway for the afternoon flying display. Speaking with one of the organizers, he said they would try and set up a West-side viewing area for photographers for the next show in two years time... we'll see! It'll also be interesting to see how they learn and improve on other aspects of the show for next time. For this time though, one day was enough (despite having a two-day pass), after deciding to quit while i was ahead, getting good shots of everything in the one day.