|Type:||Large military airshow|
|Schedule:||Bi-yearly, end of June|
|Location:||Hinterstoiser airbase, Zeltweg, Austria|
|Editions attended:||2005 2009 2011|
Let me put it straight from the start: in my subjective view, Airpower is the best airshow in Europe. While slightly smaller than RIAT, it has lots of advantages that make it better in terms of photo opportunities. Beautiful Austrian landscape, perfectly oriented runway and photo facilities beyond any competition, all makes it a must-do for every military aviation photography enthusiast.
Apart from Axalp it's the only event that I attend every time by definition, regardless of program, participants etc.
Zeltweg is located in the southern part of the Steiermark region. This place is slightly on a side of the main communication paths in Austria, therefore getting there involves a few more steps than usual.
Vast majority of the visitors are coming to Zeltweg from north-east, using the S36 motorway. You can expect some delays on show days, but generally the traffic is well organized. Alternatively, those who find accommodation nearby, arrive either from Judenburg or Obdach directions.
Contrary to many events which provide one huge parking lots for the visitors, in Zeltweg, organizers opt for lots
of smaller parkings, spread all around the town. All of them are within walking distance from one of the showground
entrances. Just follow the directions.
Attention: the motorways in Austria are subject to a toll. 10-day vignette costs 7.90EUR, you have to stick it to your windshield. You can buy it at every border crossing, or rest areas on the highways. However, if you plan to cross the border overnight, make sure you use some of the large facilities - the smaller ones may be simply closed by then (with Schengen treaty in place there is not much point in keeping large border infrastructure any more).
In addition to motorways, the same vignette is requires for several lower-class roads called
Schnellstraßen. Example of such road is the
extension of the S36 west from Zeltweg - you won't find it
marked as a motorway anywhere, you still have to have a sticker to drive there.
However, watch out! Even having a motorway sticker, you will still have to pay extra when passing through certain areas, typically tunnels. Two examples relevant to the Zeltweg airshow:
- Gleinalmtunnel (8km, 7.50EUR) - particularly nasty for those sleeping in Graz.
- Arlbergtunnel (14km, 8.50EUR) - annoying me personally, as I drive from Switzerland
You may want to take these into account to optimize your travel costs. Check out the Wikipedia article for a full list of them.
There is a railway station in Zeltweg, but it is rather small - you will have to get here using a slow, local train. The most convenient stations where you can get using high-speed trains are Muerzzüschlag and Bruck an der Mur - both located north-east from Zeltweg, in direction of Vienna. First one is further (2h), but there are more fast trains stopping there.
The Zeltweg train station is in the middle of town, from there you can easily walk both to your accommodation there and to the showground.
Airports to consider when coming to Airpower by plane are:
- Vienna airport (200km NE) is probably the place to go if you travel long distance. You have many possibilities from there, the easiest being probably just renting a car from one of the many companies present there.
- Nearest airport to Zeltweg is Graz (60km SE). However, it is rather regional, with most of the connection going to Austria and Germany.
- And of course, if you have slightly more time, you can always consider Innsbruck (map), with it's world famous landscapes and aviation photo opportunities This will cost you a 400km trip (one-way) though.
Zeltweg is located in relatively remote place, with nearest big town (Graz) being some 50km away. This makes finding decent accommodation a bit tricky. The few local hotels are usually fully booked months in advance before the event and even smaller B&B's in nearby villages tend to disappear pretty quick too.
One of the things you can try if you want to sleep somewhere close, and yet all the well known places are booked, is to call the Zeltweg tourist office - they may know about some recent additions that are not yet visible online.
Hotels in town
In practice, these are for the very early birds. Don't try reserving a place there anytime later than 6 months in advance Some example places to call are:
- Hotel Bernhard, 1km
- Hubertus Hof, 1.6km
- Gasthof Kirchenwirt, 1.5km
- Gasthaus Laingerhof, 2.5km
- Zur Waldschenke, 2.7km
- Gasthof Schober, 1km
- Dorfschenke, 2km
- Hotel Steirer-Schlössl, 1km
- Hotel Hirschmugl, 1.5km
Typically, you will pay ~40EUR/person in a double room.
Guest houses around the town
Apart of the bigger hotels, there are some bed & breakfast offers in town too. They are not really well advertised in the Internet. Few places to look:
- Zeltweg tourist office (this page mostly repeats the above hotels, but there are also some B&B's)
- Zeltweg section of Austria-Ferienland.at - check also the information for nearby villages in Murtal region: Knittelfeld, Judenburg and Weißkirchen.
- For really desperate: try to follow Google Maps and search for accommodation there. You will find quite a few places that are normally difficult to find by keywords, including gems like this.
One of the popular forms of accommodation in Zeltweg is camping. Until quite recently (2003) there was a Formula 1 track nearby (A1 Ring) and, while there is not much sophisticated camping infrastructure in place, local people are used to organize improvised campings just for the event.
Following links can be useful:
- Camping Fisching (4km S) - don't be misled by the '50plus' mark, it's accessible for everybody
- Camping Murinsel (6km E)
- On this page you will find information about two more camping places (that have no websites).
- In 2005 I have been sleeping at yet another camping, located much closer to the base
Hotels in Graz
When you look at the map, it would seem obvious to try to find a place in Graz, which is the nearest bigger town - and as such, has large selection of comfort and price of the accommodation. However, Graz is a bit inconvenient when you are coming for more than 1-2 days, because:
- If you want to use the car and the motorways, you have to pass the expensive Gleinalmtunnel twice a day.
- You can cut it straight, taking the A2 first and then, go through the mountain roads starting around Köflach. While it's a nice sightseeing trip, doing it twice every day may become annoying.
- Even if you use the train, you have to go all the way around, via Bruck an der Mur
Still, I know people who have been staying there and are not too unhappy about it. At least you get all the benefits of big city - choice of shops, restaurants etc.
If you have your car around, you may decide to just stay away from the big crowd and sleep a bit further - as long as easily accessible via motorways. Aside of Graz (see above), there are numerous family-owned guest houses, just few km from highway exits - like this one for example (30min by car). Just fire up your favorite hotel search engine - I use booking.com and en.hrs.com - and use map search to locate something along the road.
ATTENTION Airpower is not a weekend event, but it is held on Friday and Saturday. Take it into account when planning your holidays!
(Arrivals/rehearsals/departures are accessible either with the spotter pack or from few spots around the base - see below for details).
The main show gate opens at 7 - and by that time, there is normally already quite a crowd there, ready for a run to grab the best places at the fence
On the show days, the display starts around 10AM and lasts until... well depends on the program, but in 2009 it could be as long as till 7PM!
Photo opportunities (public)
Zeltweg runway is perfectly aligned in the west-east axis. There is a plenty of place all along the crowdline and, compared to RIAT, there is not many VIP areas blocking the best spots for general public. Of course it gets crowdy at the centerline, but the usual tactics of "be there before the others" generally works.
Considering the length of the show, it probably makes sense to spend at least one day slightly left from the centerpoint - you get sun from the left relatively soon and at the end of the day it is slightly behind the runway axis.
As usual, another good point is the rightmost end of the public area, as this lets you take pictures of the rolling aircraft at different angles, while they align for takeoff.
Outer (south-west) side of the second spotter hill is accessible to the public. You won't get the straight-down shots easily, as the inner side is occupied by the people who purchased spotter packs and the military keep it clean from the public (which is good!), but you may get slightly different perspective for the low-flying aircraft.
Static parking is located mostly along the southern taxiway (which is not used for aircraft movements). Not much to write home about here - just the airplanes lined one after the other with crowds of people all around
Some smaller planes are also spread in the public zone near the dynamic parking, you will bump into them when entering the showground through the main gate.
Good moment to catch static shots is Friday (spotter pack), when the lineup is being built. While generally you're not allowed to wander freely around the place, a small telephoto lens can get you some useful photos.
The aircraft taking part in the demos are spread across few zones:
Hangar in the N-E part of the airfield - far from public zones, only partially accessible with spotter pack (see below). All the display teams and some of the more prominent solo aircraft are parked there.
Restricted area behind the hangars. Unfortunately, there is no easy possibility to take good pictures of them there, as there is too much airbase infrastructure all around. However, when you are in the rightmost corner of the public zone, you can get reasonably close to the taxiway leading to the dynamic parking.
Helicopters on display are based in the northern side of the airfield, not accessible for the public.
Use of stepladders/windshields
Allowed. While perhaps not comparable to Dutch spotter days, the stepladders and windshields are definitely noticeable on the showground. I don't recall them being too annoying in the spotter pits though, people generally tend to behave.
Now, let's get to what is best about organization of the Airpower the marvelous, hilarious, outstanding Spotter Packs!
To put it simply: everything that is possibly done wrong elsewhere (yes, RIAT people, I'm talking to you ), here is just right on the spot. The list is long:
- Ten dedicated photospots, strategically located all around the airfield (see below for details). Doesn't matter how much you pay, you have full access to all of them on "your" days.
- Free transport between the spots, using dedicated routes outside of the public areas. Depending on the traffic, it may be as easy as "Sir, we are thinking about moving to the hill now, could you call the taxi?" - but at worst, you'd wait 30min or so.
- Speaking of which: being accompanied by extremely competent and friendly military staff. And we're talking about relatively high ranks here all speaking at least English perfectly. In 2005, we were almost annoyed by them asking if "everything is fine" every half an hour Yes, it was! and if it wasn't, they clearly had an authority to make it so (see below)
- Free catering through all the day, no limits whatsoever. Enough said.
- Huge spotter tent serving as a "homebase". There - food, drinks, tens of big tables where you can sit, eat, recharge your batteries (220V sockets provided on every table!), socialize.
- Flight plan freely available in the spotter tent - no matter which kind of package you bought. If necessary, updated during the day, any rapid updates posted on the whiteboard. And communicated to the staff in the photospots, so they forward them to the people.
- Dedicated parking right at the main entrance.
- General focus on maximizing the experience and being open to ideas. In 2009, while in the eastern photospot, I suggested that moving the ribbon (barrier) just few meters away could make much difference in terms of photos. Short discussion between the two officers and, minute later, we were "redefining" the spotter zone
For me it seems that there must be simply photographers/spotters themselves involved there and driving the things right way. This was sort of confirmed in 2009, when I spent half a day discussing photo gear with one of the officers that were accompanying us
Well, OK, one thing that I am missing a bit: dedicated gate on show days would be nice, e.g. through the eastern entry to the airbase. But this is really a minor detail - after all, with so many places to choose from, you're not quite in a hurry.
There are 10 points available to the people opting for the spotter packs - all of them on the same basis, regardless of the type of package.
1. Western hill #1. Flat, elevated surface, located all the way left along the taxiway (outside of the public zone). It's almost at the turning point for the landing aircraft, so you can have various angles when they roll. Best in the afternoon.
2. Western hill #2. This one is a bit at angle - you don't have clear view to your left as in point 1 - but you are still on the far left of the showground (it's actually on the western boundary), so you don't lose much.
3-6. Spots along the taxiway. These are simply dedicated enclosures, evenly distributed along the crowdline. Not much to say here, it's just like being part of the general crowd, but having a reserved place.
7. Taxiway to dynamic parking. I am not entirely sure about this one, but I think that there was also one outside of the public area, on the right. To be confirmed
8. Approach/taxiway (south). One of my favorite spots - allows a head-on view of the aircraft taxiing for dynamic displays and also quite decent shots of the ones landing from the right. Becomes a bit sticky in the afternoon (sun).
9. Approach/dynamic parking (north). I actually haven't tried this one, but I've been told/seen that it's better than I actually thought. Yes, you are facing the sun most of the time (in particular in the afternoon), but a) you're somewhat closer to the display team parking and, with a short telephoto, you can try to get some shots - and b) you are almost in the display axis! which provides some unique opportunities as well. Something to try once.
10. Helicopter area. This is not really a place to stay long, as it's quite far from the action and completely against the sun. Still, you can take a short trip there, to get some close photos of the helicopters taking part in the dynamic display.
Photo opportunities (other)
As the Zeltweg airbase is situated almost perfectly, there is not much need to seek for alternative locations, at least not on the show days. Still, for those looking for different points of view, there are some possibilities.
Fence at the eastern approach. Serves as a regular spotting place outside of Airpower time. Provides views quite similar to "official" point #8 (see above), except that you'll need a stepladder and you may not be able to get the head-on shots easily. Plus, of course, the people in the official photospot will be covering your view to the taxiway Still, worth a visit if you don't opt for the spotter pack.
Norhtern side of the S36. This is relatively relatively far - it's either for owners of long telephoto lenses, or for people willing to catch the general "ambiance" of the event. Compared to the showground, the area is slightly elevated and you have unobstructed view of the action from the distance. Of course, you're against the sun most of the day, but I've seen a couple of good shots taken from there.
Even if you don't have a spotter pack, on one of the days surrounding the airshow, you are strongly recommended to visit the Austrian Air Force museum, located in a big hangar near the main entrance (just follow the footpath along the fence). You will find there most of the prominent aircraft used by Austrian AF, including the prominent red-and-white painted Drakken - as well as lots of other equipment displayed on the side.
I found one particularly charming thing about the museum: once in a while you will pass along beautifully exposed photographs (printed on the glass and highlighted) with some information sheets, which - among others - mention how the photo has been taken, how many G's did the photographer experience and so on. Really neat
I can't provide lots of information specific to the general public here - as I've been always picking the spotter pack, which provides access to dedicated facilities. However, I don't recall having issues with toilets or food facilities on the showground - inline with the general perfect organization of the event.
At the showground you will easily spot massive presence of Red Bull advertisement. This is for a very good reason - thanks to a strong sponsorship from RB, contrary to most of the equally big events, Airpower is free for general public. You may expect to pay just for the parking (if coming by car) and of course food/drinks - which are priced roughly as anywhere else.
Spotter packs are rather expensive, but, considering what's offered, well worth the money (and still way cheaper than Mach packages at RIAT, which offer much less):
These prices are "all inclusive" - you pay once and all the goodies mentioned above are yours.
Enjoy your free Red Bull, but don't drink too much - or you risk your shots being slightly blurry
Last updated: 28-10-2014, 22:02