Home of the Harvard Club and the South African Air Force Museum - Swartkop Air Force Base hosted the " 2012 SAAF Helicopter Force Preparation Camp " this past week.
Armed with my camera, lenses, extra batteries and sunscreen I showed up at Swartkop AFB bright and early Thursday morning, not quite sure what to expect. I did not have to wait very long to see what it was all about.
The ground crew attached a line with a weight to the bottom of the helicopter. This weight had to be dragged between lines on a painted obstacle course on the main apron. The main idea was to stay between these lines, to finish this exercise they then had to place this weight in the center of a small square. No easy feat as there was a mild north-westerly blowing for most of the day. To make things even more interesting, regular crews were not allowed to fly together and were mixed-up with members from other squadrons.
The weight was removed and a long pole was attached to the "rope", the idea of this exercise was to place the pole down next to another without one end leaving the ground. Most of the crews were successful with only one not succeeding in this exercise.
Using the winch on the helicopter, the crew had to place an object on a disk on the back of a moving trailer. Let me rather not say more about this challenge!!
The pilots then had to maneuver around a painted square and perform a 360 degree turn at each corner without moving away from this spot. After completion of this exercise the helicopter then moved back to the main parking area.
Although the "Rooivalk" did not participate in the first three exercises it did number four. Needless to say I was way beyond impressed with this "beast".
Friday all the participating crews and helicopters participated in a navigation exercise away from the base and this was another big success although it could not be witnessed by us on the ground.
Saturday morning's flying included a recap of Thursday's exercises with only the best of the best showing off their skills. At the same time the "Rooivalk" "played" a little for our entertainment. It was truly interesting to see what this helicopter was capable of. From what I understand the public will once again get to see this helicopter in action at the upcoming "Africa Aerospace and Defense Expo" at AFB Waterkloof on the 22nd and 23rd September this year.
The day ended with a mass formation fly-past of all the participating helicopters which included 2 "Rooivalk" helicopters, 5 Augusta 109's, 4 Oryx's, 1 Puma, 1 BK 117, an Alouette 2 and an Alouette 3.
I also had the privilege to talk to Lt. Suzanne Dempsey, one of only a few female helicopter pilots in the air force. After receiving her wings in 2010 she first flew the Augusta 109's, and currently as co-pilot on the Oryx with about 460 hours in her logbook. When I asked her which one of the two was her favorite, she quickly replied that the Oryx was definitely her helicopter of choice.