The plan began to form last year when I found out about CIAF, held at Brno Airport which happens to be one of Ryanair's cheapo destinations. With accommodation and food reasonably cheap and entrance to the show costing about a tenner - easily half the admission price of an equivalent UK event - the trip seemed less of a crazy idea than it did initially.
I persuaded several of the thunderbolt_b posse to join me: Ultrafox, ANTIcarrot, silvante and insofox. On Friday I met Ultra at Victoria and we caught the Stansted coach together. At the airport we swiftly found ANTI queuing at the checkin desk (where a young woman offered to pay us to carry her excess luggage in our bags - er, no) and Russet and Inso waiting impatiently for us in the departure lounge.
It had been raining all morning, and water streamed from the wings of the plane as we took off. Soon we were above the clouds, which cleared over Europe to reveal acres of dark forest. On the descent to Brno we saw bikes whizzing round the race track and Soviet-era tower blocks in pastel colours. The sun was on our right and the plane's shadow flickered along a cloud to the left, ringed by a rainbow.
As we landed we caught a tantalising glimpse of fighters, transporters and display teams lined up along the runway for our viewing pleasure the next day. We stepped off the plane into warmth and sunshine and reached the city centre by a short bus ride. The first thing we saw on exiting the bus was a woman selling mushrooms as big as her head from a basket.
We were staying at the Hotel Avion, chosen for the name and the functionalist architecture. Unfortunately it was also on the noisy side with surly staff. My room, however, had access to my own private bit of roof, plus a TESLA radio the size of a video recorder with Bratislava and the DDR marked on the dial.
After unpacking and cleaning ourselves up we reconvened and set off to find somewhere for dinner. We eventually found a restuarant that was Czech enough to serve us lots of stodge but touristy enough to provide translations on the menu. These were a little eccentric; I suspect few English-speaking visitors try the dumplings 'stuffed with potty'.
On Saturday morning we headed back to the airport for the show, following an interesting breakfast (the Swiss roll was the best bit). It was, to my mind, perfect airshow weather: baking hot, with a faint shimmer in the air and a few clouds to make the photos more interesting. We bought our tickets and joined the throng trekking down to the public area past fields of sunflowers.
The flying display commenced at 11 and lasted for seven hours, with occasional pauses for commercial 737s to take off. The big guns were a Gripen and an F-16, but I was more excited by aircraft I hadn't seen or even heard of before - like the ALCA fighter and this lovely Avia BH-1.
There were Croatian and Polish display teams - the latter choosing the Doors' Riders on the Storm as their theme tune, to my joy. They may not have been up to Red Arrows standards, but hey - I've seen the Reds lots of times and I'd never seen Krila Oluje or Iskry before.
A surprise hit for our party was a beautiful display by four gliders (launched two apiece by two tug planes), climbing impossibly high and diving impossibly fast in eerie silence.
As a big fan of First World War aviation I was delighted by Kindernay's Flying Circus (as seen in the recent film The Red Baron), who flew their Fokker Dr.I, Fokker E.III, Albatros C5, Sopwith Camel and Curtiss Jenny. I doubt there was actually orange smoke during Great War dogfights, but a stirring display nonetheless. (The Triplane got on the tail of the poor old Jenny, but the Camel swooped in to save the day and the Jerries were routed, hurrah!)
I have an enormous soft spot for biplanes in general, and I'm very fond of the Antonov AN-2 (the-world's-biggest-single-engine-bipla
It was very like an airshow in the UK, yet also very foreign. Stalls sold fried potatoes and spicy sausages instead of burgers and chips; strange spiral cakes instead of doughnuts. The commentary was all in Czech, so we had to consult the programme to work out what everything was and no doubt missed out on some interesting information.
The day flashed by and soon we were on the bus back to Brno, tired, sunburnt, dehydrated and happy, ready for an evening of pizza and booze.
Sunday gave us time for a stroll round the castle and a trip to Tesco (I love foreign supermarkets) for biscuits, chocolate and Fernet Stock Citrus. We also sampled burčák, which was sold from stalls all over the city and my Czech colleague later informed me was 'young wine'.
The bus journey to the airport was enlivened by views of Gripen action, and the plane was delayed on the tarmac for some time so that airshow traffic could land - not the kind of delay I mind at all.
It was still raining at Stansted and there were no Bromley trains from Victoria due to engineering works, necessitating two buses home. But I had a fantastic weekend and I'm pretty sure the others did too. After the washout that was RIAT 2008, I now feel I've filled my airshow quota for the year. I know we were all hoping for more Russian involvement (perhaps they were busy in Georgia?) and I was disappointed when the promised Swedish contingent didn't show up. silverwindblade and wardy were also sadly missed. But this is all the more reason to go again...