BAYWEST PORT ELIZABETH AIRSHOW
By Cobus Brink
Saturday, 24 October 2014, saw the sky around the Port Elizabeth airport abuzz with activity when the air show circuit once again made its appearance in Nelson Mandela Bay. This time, unlike in the past, the event was held on the SAAF side of the airport providing a better viewing experience for the crowd.
The main monetary beneficiary of the air show is the MTR Smit Children's Haven, a multi-racial establishment which provides accommodation for 100 statutory children between the ages of 3-18 years. The Haven also aims to provide accommodation for the mentally disabled child who has been removed from parental care in terms of the Child Care Act. As Director of the Haven, Dr Crystal Watson provided, as in the past, the main driving force which makes this an event of note. Dr Watson, due to her great people and organizational skills, has managed to surround herself with very able, multi-disciplinary individuals, linking the various stakeholders together in a cohesive team.
The event venue was the Port Elizabeth Airport, a full working ACSA airport. Since it is host to many scheduled flights, even on Saturdays, very effective communication and understanding between the various parties was paramount. People will appreciate what kind of cohesion and teamwork is needed to make a diverse group of people from RAASA, ASSA, ACSA, SAAF, SAPS, NSRI, Disaster Management, display pilots, etc. work effectively towards one goal. This Dr Watson was able to do to perfection, as she has done many times before, to present the public with an excellent opportunity to enjoy an often hidden side of aviation. (For more info on the MTR Smit Children' s Haven and how to be of help please see their website at )
Sound and commentary for the event was provided by well-known Capital Sound with Brian Emmenis and his team of sound engineers. Brian and Leon du Plessis kept the crowd entertained with interesting facts and comments on the displays. They also hosted the microphone for other side events like sponsorship prize hand-outs for various competitions, like a flight with one of the Davidson pilots and a R50 000 worth Amakhala Game Reserve weekend. A big screen was erected to show some of the video footage as it was taken. At times in-cockpit voice were also mixed into the commentary making the displays more interesting.
Although a wide selection of displays were planned. Unfortunately a bit of foul weather prevented some display pilots from reaching Port Elizabeth, most notably the Eqstra Flying Lions team, and some members of the Good Year Golden Eagles. Friday 23 October saw the weather cloudy with the threat of light drizzle. The rain however stayed away to allow for the necessary validation in the afternoon. Friday evening turned out in a splendid, unlike Port Elizabeth, windless evening. Saturday morning the weather was a better than anticipated, with little wind, but a low cloud base forcing the display pilots to use their bad weather display sequences.
The show venue is home to the Port Elizabeth branch of the South African Air Force Museum under command of Captain Mark Kelbrick, who makes do with a few SAAF personnel and some civilian volunteers. The Museum with their inside and outside exhibitions were thus a great draw card for the airshow visitor and the exhibitions were well attended. The inside display area houses a Mirage F1CZ, an Impala, a De Havilland Vampire, a Westland Scout helicopter , an Aérospatiale Alouette sporting four machine guns for the flight engineer to play with, and finally various aviation odds and ends, including some interesting uniforms and a model aircraft collection. Outside the Museum displayed an Aérospatiale Puma, a Harvard and a Bosbok. In their working hanger they houses an Airspeed Oxford in advanced state of restoration, and a hand build replica of a Supermarine Spitfire project. The museum is open to the public every day, except Fridays and Mondays, and is well worth a visit. Since they receive virtually no monetary help from official channels a donation is also always highly appreciated.
The event kicked off with the customary cavalcade of emergency vehicles. This is always a big attraction for the smaller children as a fireman somehow feature very high on the hero list of a young child. Yes, for some even higher than aviator. It is also a pleasure to see the enthusiasm with which the emergency crews view their work, as without their presence airshows will be next to impossible in our day and age of over protectiveness.
As is fitting the displays featured a number of local acts which are seldom seen up north and the first on the program were Russel Philips in the new Whisper X. Russel, a Port Elizabeth resident is also the designer of the highly successful Whisper Motor Glider. Both the whisper and Whisper X are built in Port Elizabeth.
Two tandem parachutists were supposed to jump from a SAPS BK-117, but due to circumstances beyond the control of the organisers, the SAPS withdraw on the Friday afternoon. This caused a scramble amongst the parachutists to find alternative aerial transport and eventually three of them arrived via a Robbie 44. A much awaited display was Scully Levin in the Mango Boeing 737-800 flying together with the Silver Falcons. This flying display did much to make the crowd forget that the Eqstra Flying Lions was not on the program due to the weather keeping them from reaching Port Elizabeth.
Local business man Stu Davidson displayed his Hawker Sea Fury to perfection.
The Silver Falcons display were something special for leader Maj Beau Skarda. As a newly selected member of the team in 2010 he joined them at the 2010 PE air show to see how things are done. It was thus fitting for him to fly his last air show four years later also in Port Elizabeth. Likewise Maj Werner Vermaak, newly selected team leader, a product of local Framesby High School, could show his home crowd that The Bay is well rooted in aviation. Must be all the wind making them comes to grip with aerodynamics early in life.
It was Phillip Steinbach designer of the Sbach second visit to Port Elizabeth and he had the crowd on their feet, and some chopper pilots jealous with his helicopter like stunts in a fixed wing aircraft.
Although only two, instead of their usual four strong Glen Warden and Paul Coetser showed that half the Good Year Eagles can still be a full act.
Although officially cancelled, the SAPS Eurocopter AS 350 did do a flyby.
Stu Davidson did his second display of the day, this time in the Aero Vodochody L-39. Except for all the commercial traffic the L39 was the only jet on the program.
Patrick Davidson, Stu's son and SA Advanced Aerobatic champion and 3rd place holder at the World Advance Aerobatics in Slovakia this year expertly displayed the North American P-52 Mustang. This was probably the single most talked about aircraft at the air show, partly due to the engine sound that is just awesome.
Besides the Falcons displays by SAAF aircraft are rare and Port Elizabeth was fortunate to see a BK-117 being put through it paces.
Patrick Davidson again took to the air, this time in the Sukhoi SU-31, in which he won the SA Advance title in Mossel Bay recently.
The show was concluded with a race between Patrick Davidson in the Sukhoi, a highly tuned Kawasaki motorcycle and an AC 378 GT Zagato. After a spirited drive by the Kawasaki rider a win looked certain but a slight wet track hampered the turnaround and Patrick managed to just beat him to the finish line. Just as this display ended the heavens opened up and it started to rain, having the crowd scramble for their cars.
Many thanks also to ATNS for giving outbound commercial traffic the choice to leave via runway 17 if they can safely do so from this shorter runway, giving the crowd an opportunity to see some heavy metal too.
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