The 4th Marrakech Airshow took place April 23-26th at the Royal Moroccan Air Force base of Menara. Held over a period of four days, the first three days of this biennial show were designated as trade & press days, with the final day being opened up to the general public. Airshows in this part of the world are few and far between and provide an opportunity to get up close and personal with the Moroccan armed forces, which have traditionally supported the event in good numbers. From quite humble beginnings in terms of aircraft numbers, the event has expanded year on year and with it having been on our bucket list for some time, Jetwash Aviation Photos decided to venture over to North Africa to see what the 2014 event would bring.
In recent years the Moroccan Government has spent considerable sums of money on modernising the Royal Moroccan Air Force/Forces Aériennes Royales (FAR), with aircraft such as the Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Block 52+ Fighting Falcon and the Beechcraft T-6C Texan II being prime examples. Similarly, the Gendarmerie Royale and the Royal Moroccan Navy/Marine Royale have also been re-equipping with more modern aircraft. So with opportunities to photograph the aircraft of the Moroccan air arms outside of their own country few and far between, and with them
Based at Meknes with Escadre de Chasse 2, the Northrop F-5E fleet has been in service since 1981
CN-AHX is a Titan Tornado 2 of the Gendarmerie Royale. Not something you are likely to see in European skies
The Gendarmerie operate both the EC.145; and the EC.135 (above), both in the air ambulance role
This Agusta-Bell AB.205A has crop-spraying equipment attached to counter plagues of locust
Approximately fifty have been delivered to the FAR since 1968, the exact number remaining in service is unclear
Marrakech Airshow 2014
The Eurocopter SA.330F Puma operates with the Escadre Hélicoptère in the medium transport role
Another rarely seen type and owned by the Ministry of Agriculture at Rabat, this is an Ayres S2R-T660 Turbo-Thrush
The Bombardier CL.415MP water-bomber performed demonstrations during three of the show days
Dassault Mirage F.1s from Escadre De Chasse 5 at Sidi-Slimane Air Base taking part in the flypast
These are all upgraded Mirage F.1CM-VI versions
The King Air A100 seen above is operated as a multi-engine trainer with the Ecole de L'Aviation Transport Bimoteur
Although similar in appearance to the previous aircraft, this is an earlier model Ayres S2R-T34 Turbo-Thrush
The FAR flypast on the Wednesday and Saturday included this Lockheed KC-130H Hercules tanker with two Northrop F-5F aircraft 'hooked up' to the refuelling drogues
In addition to the under-wing hard-points, which can carry external fuel tanks or a variety of weapons for pilot training, the FAR Beechcraft T-6Cs provide an upgraded avionics suite, which includes a cockpit Head-Up Display (HUD), three multi-function 13cm x 18cm (5 x 7 inch) colour cockpit displays and Hands-On Throttle and Stick (HOTAS) controls. The Esterline CMC Cockpit-4000 avionics suite is the first in its class to incorporate a fully integrated and FAA certified dual Fleet Monitoring System/Global Positioning System (FMS/GPS) navigation suite that meets the required performance standards for worldwide airspace equipment.
The French Valence-based company Aerotec put forward a proposal to upgrade the FAR's Gazelle fleet during the Marrakech Airshow. Specialising in the upgrade of Gazelle helicopters and having already fitted a number of Moroccan Gazelles with a night vision goggle (NVG) capability, Aerotec had an upgraded SA.341 Gazelle on display at Marrakech.
Options available would include fitment with Raytheon Griffin laser-guided missiles and a FM Herstal .50 calibre machine gun, or a Raytheon Talon laser-guided rocket system as an aternative option to the Griffin. Both options interfacing with a Star Saphir 260HLD FLIR (Forward Looking InfraRed).
The FAR operates five CL.415 aircraft and are used in the fire-fighting role
Another FAR transport asset is the CASA CN.235-100M
A total of 22 Alphajets are planned fpr upgrade by SABCA and Thales, which involves installation of a new HUD, HOTAS controls, a new instrument flight panel and also an upgrade to the rear cockpit. The instructor in the rear cockpit will now have the ability to monitor weapons and navigation systems via the installation of a new Multi-Function Display (MFD). A large amount of the upgrade work is being done 'in-house' by the FAR and to date five aircraft have been completed.
Permanently based at Marrakech/Menara are the Beechcraft T-6C Texan IIs of the Ecole de Pilotage (Pilot School)
Delivered from January 2011 to replace the aged Beech T-34 and Cessna T-37 trainer aircraft, 24 are now in service with the FAR
Amongst a variety of helicopter assets is the Agusta-Bell AB.206B Jet Ranger
'ALGHAIT' Dassault Alphajet in the static display
It is easily identifable from other Alphajets by it's nose radar configuration
The Aerospatiale SA.342L Gazelle operates from Rabat/Sale Air Base and around 20 remain in service. Delivered from 1982 onwards they operate in the training, light transport and anti-tank roles.
'ALGHAIT' Programme; Morocco suffered a number of droughts during the early 1980s and so in 1985 the government began a weather modification programme in collaboration with U.S researchers and support from 'USAID'. The cloud seeding programme involved two aircraft equipped with special instrumentation provided by Weather Modification Inc. One of them, a Beechcraft King Air which holds both cloud physics and seeding equipment and the other, the Moroccan Air Force Alphajet above, which only holds the seeding equipment. The Alphajet is equipped with a Sperry/Honeywell PRIMUS 300SL alpha-numeric digital weather radar and during operations the aircraft flies into clouds and sprays chemicals from the rear of the aircraft via a modified AN/ALE-40 flare dispenser system. The iodized chemicals increase the volume of the clouds and thus increase the chance of producing rainfall.
Plans for the F-5 fleet to undergo an upgrade programme involving IAI (Israeli Aircraft industries) are rumoured to have been completed on 20 aircraft. Exact details of the upgrade are somewhat sketchy, although it is rumoured that they have been installed with the EL/2032M advanced pulse doppler, multi-mode plannar array, fire-control radar, which provides for both air-to-air and air-to-surface modes. It is also thought that Israel have sold the Litening laser-designator pod to Morocco for use with the F-5 fleet.
The Ecole De Pilotage with the Beechcraft T-6C Texan II is the first port of call for FAR pilots undergoing training
One of the older types on the Gendarmerie inventory is this Alouette 2, a handfull of which are still operated
Royal Moroccan Air Force Aerospatiale SA.342L Gazelle
The Forces Aériennes Royales operate a variety of helicopter assets, with the Agusta-Bell AB.205 Huey, AB.206 Jet Ranger, Aerospatiale SA.342 Gazelle, Eurocopter SA.330 Puma and Boeing CH-47 Chinook being utilised by the L’Ecole de Spécialisation Hélicoptères and the Escadre Hélicoptère at Rabat-Salé Air Base.
The Royal Moroccan Air Force operate a number of types for VIP/transport roles and all wear a civilian type scheme
Above is a Beechcraft King Air 200 by the VIP Flight
This Lockheed C-130H transport version of the Hercules was on view in the static arena
Up until delivery of the F-16, the most potent fighter aircraft in the FAR inventory was the Dassault Mirage F.1
This one is an upgraded Mirage F.1EM-VI version
State of the art Moroccan air power in the form of the Lockheed-Martin F-16C Fighting Falcon
Dassault had hoped to sell the Rafale to Morocco, but the government opted for the 'Block 52' version of the F-16
The three F-16 squadrons all operate from the newly refurbished Ben Guerir Air Base (6 BA)
The Marine Royale have a fleet of three Eurocopter AS.565MB Panthers operating under the auspices of 11 Flotille at Casablanca
They can also be flown from the rear flight decks of the navy's two Floréal-class frigates
Alphajets from the Centre d'Instruction Pilotes Combat do a fly-by on the last day of the show
Two F-16C aircraft were in the static display, with up to another six aircraft taking part in the various flypasts each day
Some had Conformal Fuel Tanks (CFTs) to provide extended range capabilities
Eurocopter AS.355F1 Ecueuril in the standard gloss grey colour scheme of the Gendarmerie Royale
The Moroccan Air Force Dassault Mirage F.1 fleet has recently undergone an upgrade programme, dubbed the Mirage F1-2000MF. Work on the first aircraft commenced in 2009. The upgrade was designed and integrated by the SAGEM-Thales consortium and some 27 Mirage F.1s (a mix of Mirage F.1CH, F.1EH and probe-equipped F.1EH-200) were upgraded to a common standard, at an estimated cost of €290M. The first two aircraft were modified at Charleroi, with further aircraft upgraded in Morocco. Modifications included replacement of the old Cyrano IV radar with a Thales RC400 (RDY-3) system (similar to the Mirage 2000-5), a slight increase in engine thrust via a new engine compressor, a new cockpit with two multi-function LCD screens, head up display (HUD) and hands on throttle & stick (HOTAS) controls. A SAGEM Sigma-95 GPS system, night vision goggle (NVG) capability, Thales radar warning system, data-link and Damocles laser designator pod all combine to provide the capabilty to carry more advanced weaponry such as the Matra R550 Magic air to air missile, the AM39 Exocet air to sea missile and Paveway laser guided bombs (LGB).
The Puma and Chinook are used in the medium/heavy transport role, with the Jet Ranger, Gazelle and Huey being utilised in both the light transport and training roles. Of the twenty-four SA.342 Gazelles delivered, twelve are able to be fitted with the MBDA manufactured 'HOT-1' and 'HOT-2' long-range anti-tank missiles.
As with most of the FAR combat assets, the helicopter fleet is adorned with the rather dramatic two-tone sand/brown camouflage as seen on the two Jet Rangers in the photographs above and left.
Although the aircraft above may look familiar, itis actually quite rare outside of its native land
The Marche Vert (Green March) display team operate a number of CAP.232 aircraft and these are regular attendees on the international display circuit
However the aircraft above is in fact one of two CAP.10Bs they operate and are used for training purposes only
The Dassault Alphajet H is used for advanced training by the FAR. This particular aircraft is one of 22 planned upgrades
The Gendarmerie Royale was also present in reasonable numbers at Marrakech, with an example of most of the various helicopters operated by the force. Coming under the control of the Ministry of Defence, its remit is to maintain public order and security. The helicopter fleet is based at Rabat-Sale and Rabat-Souissi, with detachments at Tanger, Marrakech and Agadir.
The Gendarmerie helicopters all carry civilian type registrations as per CN-AIJ, a Eurocopter SA.330C Puma
historically providing the bulk of the aircraft on display at the show it was a great opportunity to photograph them in their domain.
The show opened to the media and exhibitors at 9.00am on Wednesday 23rd April, followed by the official opening flypast in the presence of King Mohammed VI scheduled for 10.15am, allowing plenty of time to walk around the compact static display. The flying displays on the Thursday and Friday were very short and limited to a small number of aircraft each day, which is to say the least frustrating. The Saturday display, which was open to the public involved a larger number of aircraft and so we spent some time 'off base' to take advantage of the sun's position. However despite the more advantageous position outside the airfield, the extreme temperature, heat haze and harsh light made for less than ideal photographic conditions when shooting from distance.
Billed as a trade show along the lines of Farnborough, there was noticeably very little in the way of foreign participation. There were a number of civilian biz-jet types, but the only foreign military types in the static show were a US Air Force C-130J, a US Air National Guard KC-135, Italian Air Force Agusta-Westland HH-139A and an Alenia/Aermacch MC-27J. The flying display included the Spanish Patrulla Aguila with their CASA 101 trainers, but other than that, the displays both on the ground and in the air were dominated by aircraft from the Moroccan armed forces. Now in its fourth cycle, it seems the expectation of Africa being an expanding market place for aircraft sales has not materialised. The worldwide recession has undoubtedly had an impact and corruption on the African continent is without doubt an ever present influence. Whether the Marrakech Airshow moves on from its present level is debateable, as at the moment it feels more of an opportunity to show off the Moroccan armed forces aircraft rather than a trade show. Unless major manufacturers such as Dassault, Boeing et al support it in the future, it is likely it will remain as it is, or even dwindle in size. Either way, at present it provides the only way to see large numbers of Moroccan armed forces aircraft anywhere in the world.
Arriving on 23rd April prior to the opening ceremony was this Alenia/Aermacchi C-27J transport based at Kénitra
Four C-27J Spartans are currently in service with the Royal Moroccan Air Force to supplement the ageing C-130 and CN.235 fleets