Nothing lasts forever – a cloudy future of European military display teams (part 2)

In our article issued at the end of February 2024, we made you familiar with current status of several European military display teams. In numerous cases, the generational change that is now taking place in European air forces, as well as budgetary amendments, already led – or will soon lead – to serious restrictions in all projects not directly related to main defence objectives.

Regrettably for aviation enthusiasts, we are currently witnessing a significant reduction of military display teams. A few of them were disbanded recently and a lot more are going to cease their activities in the nearest future, without any successors.

Nevertheless, at the time our article was published, there were some still unanswered questions related to future of a few display teams. New information came to light in March, therefore we have decided to issue a short update to the aforementioned article.

In the middle of March 2024, the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport (DDPS) issued a statement regarding the future of the Swiss F-5 Tiger II aircraft and Patrouille Suisse aerobatic team.

The document stated that the country´s fleet of the F-5 fighter jets is going to be retired until the end of 2027. According to the Swiss authorities, the aircraft no longer can be used for any military tasks, including air policing duties. There is also no point in any modernization of the country´s F-5 fleet.

According to the DDPS, the Swiss Air Force now has only twenty-five F-5 jets in its inventory, out of the 110 aircraft of that type received at the end of the 1970s. Moreover, seven of the remaining aircraft are not operational due to need for extensive maintenance.

The DDPS also disclosed that twenty-two of the Swiss retired aircraft were already purchased by the US Navy and US Marine Corps that are going to use them to play an aggressor role in training process. Delivery of the first ex-Swiss F-5 Tiger II to the United States has already took place recently.

Northrop F-5E Tiger II, Swiss Air Force

Additionally, the decision was made regarding the future of the Swiss national jet aerobatic team. It is intended to keep Patrouille Suisse operational until the stated date of the F-5 retirement. At the latest at the end of 2027, the display team will be finally disbanded.

Although the DDPS agrees the best solution for Switzerland is to have a national display team after 2027, there is no need to keep the F-5 operational only for this reason. Therefore, ´instead of flying with the jet aircraft, (the display team) will fly with a cheaper and lower-emission turbine-propeller aircraft (PC-7)´ the aforementioned document stated.

In conclusion, the duties of the Swiss national aerobatic team will be taken over by already existing PC-7 display group. That decision will be now discussed with Swiss security policy commissions, but no changes should be expected.

Regrettably, the list of European military display teams that will cease its operations until the end of the 2020s is now including also the Czech Air Force W-3A Sokół.

In February of 2024, the Czech Ministry of Defence informed about cancellation of expected modernization of the W-3A fleet. The decision was caused by both price and the processing time offered by PZL Świdnik, the former manufacturer of the W-3A helicopter and now part of the Leonardo group.

The aforementioned decision, in consequence, led also to acceleration of the W-3A retirement from active service with the Czech Air Force. Initially, it was expected that Sokół would stay operational until the mid-2030s – now, however, the date was set for the end of 2028.

The date was not chosen at random. In 2028, the Czech Air Force is planning to cease its SAR duties performed within the Czech national air ambulance service (Letecká záchranná služba – LZS). Now, it will mean also the end of the W-3A service in the Czech Republic.

PZL W-3A Sokół, Czech Air Force

Moreover – and regrettably for aviation enthusiasts – it also means the end of the W-3A display team. For many years, the Czech Sokół helicopters were an indisputable highlight of several domestic and international aviation events. The incredibly dynamic and powerful SAR display performed by the W-3A crew was always appraised by spectators of any air show. It is therefore a pity, there are only up to four seasons left to enjoy that display. At the moment, the Czech MoD is not planning to acquire any successor to the W-3A fleet.

And, last but not least, there is another sad information about disbandment of the military display team – although this time regarding the United States.

At the end of March 2024, the USAF A-10C Thunderbolt II Demonstration Team announced that 2024 marks its final season. The decision about the team disbandment was made by the authorities of the 355th Wing, being stationed at Davis–Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona and was related to retirement of the A-10 fleet from active service with the USAF.

According to official information disclosed at the beginning of 2023, the USAF is going to withdraw the A-10 from active service by 2029. The process began already last year and the first batch of ´Warthogs´ assigned to the 355th Wing was moved to boneyard in February of 2024.

The last display season of the A-10C Demonstration Team will close more than forty years of flying displays performed with the ´Warthog´. This year, the team is going to visit eighteen air shows across the United States, with the final performance planned for 5th October 2024.

Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II, USAF