2018 Festa El Cel Lerida (ES)

For my part, the Festa el Cel will be the last meeting of the 2018 season. It will also be my first meeting in Spain. The meeting is held Lérida (LLeida in Catalan) in the heart of the catalogue, about 150 kilometres away west of Barcelona.

What strikes most when you arrive at the airport in Lérida is first of all that it is located in the middle of nowhere. Distant from 15 kilometres from the city of which it bears its name, it is placed in the middle of the fields, served by a simple road. Yet it is a modern airport, built 2007 to 2009 and opened on January 17, 2010. However, since then, the number of connections is limited. On the airport’s website, there are week, two flights on Friday and one on Sunday…

If, at the end of September, I find myself in the middle of the pebbles and dust, it is not to photograph the liner. Let’s put it bluntly, the proposed plateau is not of a great variety but it offers machines rarely seen on this side of the Pyrenees. The organization of the meeting is a bit special. It is free and is held over two days.

On Saturday the doors open at 10:00 a.m. and access to static is possible until 14:00. In-flight presentations will not start until 4:40 p.m., probably to keep up with the Spanish rhythm and the sacrosanct nap. They will end at 8:30 p.m. to enjoy a beautiful sunset. On Sundays the in-flight presentations start at 10:00 a.m. and end at 2:00 p.m., always respecting the local rhythm…

As soon as I arrived, I discovered on the tarmac the main object of my visit: two McDonnell Douglas EAV-8B Harrier II of the Spanish Navy. Spain is the Harrier’s last operator in Europe and so it is a unique opportunity to see these planes in flight.

EAV-8B Harrier II

The rest of the static is quite thin with two aircraft (Extra 330 and Sukhoi 31), two helicopters (Tiger and Chinook) and one CASA C-295.A few planes will participate in the meeting are parked a a little further but are not accessible.

Casa 295

The turn of the static is quickly closed and I take the decision to look for a good angle of view for in-flight shooting. In public area, the backlight is blatant and the abundant Spanish sun does not leaves no chance. So I decided to test the small country road that bypasses the airport. A stark contrast to France and its principle of precaution the road is open and families settled down the road to admire the spectacle. There are people everywhere even under the field of aircraft evolution. It’s falling. well this is the right location to avoid the backlight.

While waiting for the start of the in-flight presentations, the question arises: will the planes of the Fundacia Parc Aeronàutic de Catalunya be there. While two of their CASA/Bucker 131 Jungman and one Dornier 27 are present, two other stars of this meeting are missing, the Polikarpov I-153 Chaika and the Hispano Aviacion HA-220 Super Saeta.

Bucker 131 Jungman

The latter also appeared shortly before the start of the meeting, makes us two passages before landing. Slightly frustrating when we know that this is the only flying model of this aircraft, and one of the last achievements by Willy Messerschmitt. The Polikarpov I-153 will not present itself Never…

The meeting begins. Ec665 Tiger takes off followed by Bronco for a first air-to-air photo session. Then it will be the two McDonnells Douglas EAV-8B Harrier II who will replace him for a photo shoot. The meeting continues with a very dynamic presentation of a Cl-215T Canadair.

Canadair CL-215T

Then the in-flight presentations follow one another under the sun Catalan. On the program, Dornier 27, CASA/Bucker 131 Jungman, Chinook, F-18, CASA C-295, paratroopers and aerobatics.

Discreet, a Beechcraft T-34A Mentor is presented in flight. If it’s a common aircraft in the private register in the U.S., it’s for me the first time I had the opportunity to photograph one.

T-34 mentor

Back on Sunday morning for this second day, we will be entitled to a presentation in the same spirit with always the same slight frustration on the Hispano Aviacion HA-220 Super Saeta which after a take-off will make us two more small passages before reaching the suburbs Barcelona.

Ha220 Super Saeta

Beyond the evocation of Spain’s past and present aviation heritage, this meeting is a unique opportunity to see aircraft rarely or never seen on the European circuit. Less than two hours flight from Paris and with the promise of ideal weather conditions (it would even be a little hot) I give you an appointment in September 2019 in the Catalan countryside.