The Thai Children’s Day is celebrated on the second Saturday of January every year. As such, this year it was celebrated on January 14, 2017. During the day, many businesses give gifts to children, and many public facilities waive their entrance fees. To an aviation enthusiast, however, the most interesting part of the Thai Children’s Day is the fact that many (if not all) of the country’s air bases hold an open day.
With many of Thailand’s airbases also being civil airports, the open day events are great not only for catching the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) aircraft, but also civil movements.
This year, I decided to plan a short stopover in Bangkok on my way from Europe to Japan, so that I could join the open day at Don Muang airbase in Bangkok.
Getting There Through the RTAF Museum
While there are several ways to get to the airshow, probably the easiest one for a foreigner is taking a taxi to the Royal Thai Air Force museum. The museum is connected to the airshow venue by a free shuttle bus.
After arriving at Suvarnabhumi airport onboard Emirates shortly after 5AM, I met up with a friend in the terminal. From there, we took a taxi to the Royal Thai Air Force museum near Don Muang airport. The roughly one hour ride cost us about 700 THB (about 20 USD).
During the airshow, the area around the museum is full of food stalls and pop-up stores selling everything from toys to cellphone covers.
We arrived at the museum shortly after 7AM and cleared the security check.
Then, we had a short look around the museum where many types of aircraft can be seen on display including a Royal Thair Air Force 737-200. We did not stay for too long, however, as it was not possible to get clean photos of the aircraft due to the large number of visitors.
As such, we got on the shuttle bus and headed to the airbase. At the airbase, we cleared security once again, and we were let on the apron full of aircraft, people, and food stalls.
For the military fans out there, perhaps the biggest attraction of the airshow is the flying display done by the Royal Thai Air Force.
Throughout the day, the airport closed for civil traffic for a number of blocks, and displays of a variety of aircraft including F-5, F-16, AU-23, and Gripen were performed.
The breaks between the flying displays, during which the airport reopened for civil traffic, was the biggest attraction for airliner fans. The airshow venue offers great views of one of the two runways (the one generally used for take-offs), and the light is suitable for photos in the first half of the day.
While 90% of the traffic at the airport consists of two airlines – Thai AirAsia and Nok Air, spotting at the airport is far from boring.
Even though Thai AirAsia only operates A320s (separate from Thai AirAsia X), there are plenty of special liveries to make the day interesting.
Nok Air makes the traffic interesting by operating a variety of types – 737-800, ATR 72, and Dash 8 Q400. Furthermore, they have so many varieties of their livery that it’s hard to tell which one is regular and which one is special.
Besides the two airlines, Thai Lion Air is also based at the airport with its 737s.
Finally, the ocassional widebody (Thai AirAsiaX, Scoot, and NokScoot), as well as business jet can be seen at the airport
Even though not part of the official static display, the biggest attraction for me and for many other spotters was the Royal Thai Air Force Airbus A340-500 that was parked on the government apron right next to the airshow venue. There were also other types parked including the 737, A319, and SSJ, however, those were not photographable as they were hidden behind the A340.
As for the official static display, there was a fair amount of aircraft displayed including a C-130, some fighter and trainer aircraft, and historic DC-3 and HS-748 aircraft that are being kept in pristine condition by the Air Force.
Unfortunately, with the 30+ degree heat and sun, the static display aircraft were used by the visitors as sunshades, and as such, it was impossible to get a clear photo of any of the aircraft on the static display.
Afternoon at the Observation Deck
In the afternoon, we headed to the Don Muang terminal which offers two indoor observation decks.
From those, photos of aircraft taxiing for departure and after landing can be had, as well as photos of aircraft leaving and entering a small number of gates.
Photos of aircraft on the runway are possible as well, although the movements area a bit too far.
We stayed at the observation deck for about an hour catching some more AirAsia and Nok Air traffic, as well as a NokScoot 777 before having a quick dinner at one of the airport restaurants.
After the dinner, I took another cab with my friend back to Suvarnabhumi where he was departing on JAL’s flight to Haneda, and I was taking JAL’s flight to Narita.
Thoughts About the Event
While there is some controversy about whether military demonstrations are a good fit with children’s day, to an aviation enthusiast, the open bases and airshows at airbases across Thailand are a great opportunity for catching both military and civil traffic.
The military enthusiast will enjoy seeing a variety of the Air Force aircraft in the air, while the civil enthusiast will enjoy the civil movements between the flying displays. The only downside of the airshow is the inability to photograph the static display aircraft nicely, however, that issue is common to many airshows.
Overall, the airshow is a great event for both taking photos and meeting fellow enthusiasts, and if you are planning to go to Thailand, it is well-worth going there during the Children’s Day.
In 2018, the Children’s Day will be on January 13.
Perhaps, this time I will visit Chiang Mai.
How about you?
Are you considering visiting this airshow?