Wings & Wheels - Uitenhage Airfield 2016

By Andrew de la Harpe

Doug Davidson Memorial Air Show

Anyone who has ever been involved in outdoor event planning will know that weather is everything. And this is especially true of air shows. Uppermost in the organizers mind will be wind speed and cloud base, as this has a direct impact on arriving aircraft and areal displays. Rain of course will keep spectators away. We were fortunate that Saturday 5th March 2016 was cloudless, and for the most part, still. I drove through thick mist on the way to Uitenhage airfield which only burnt off completely at about 9am. This was a sure sign that it was going to get hot, and it did. A light 10 knot South Easterly developed after midday, which was a welcome relief. The temperature had risen to 38.5 Degrees.

2016 marks the 4th Wings and Wheels festival to be held in Uitenhage. The organizers goal is to realize the full potential of the airfield as an asset to the Eastern Cape community, and to develop the festival into a major area attraction. 2016 was better than previous years, and well worth attending.

The airfield has four grass covered runways in a cross configuration with a left and right runway for each length of the cross. The runway designations are 26L/08R and 16L/34R for gliding and 26R/08L and 16R/34L for power planes. Runway length is between 800m and 1000m. The elevation of the airfield is 278 feet ASL and the windsock is located between runways 16L and 16R in line with the hangars.

The event begins on the Friday with all day entertainment from local performers, but the main attractions are on Saturday, including the air show. Wings and Wheels is a celebration of aircraft, cars, bikes, 4x4 off road vehicles, and boerboels who have their own show.

As the visiting aircraft joined unmanned for landing, a bag pipe band led the procession of vintage cars to their display area. And a grand autocade it was; brightly colored and polished veterans of automotive days gone by. They honked their horns and revved their V8's. Mazdas, Chevvies, Fords, Jaguars, Zephyrs, Minis, VW's, Harleys, Porsches to name a few, proudly represented the various Vintage Car Associations from around South Africa.

4x4 enthusiasts also turned up in numbers with their burly off road machines. You have to be joking, I thought, when I looked at the course that had been laid out to test their skills. Nothing can get through that. Technical rock crawling is all about getting your vehicle over seemingly impossible obstacles, and only suitable rock crawlers and their drivers have this capability. And skillful they are. With a fine balance between, patience, caution and sheer power, they managed somehow to haul the vehicles through the course, reaching angles of pitch and bank that would make the aerobatic pilots proud.

Executive Major Danny Jordaan made a low key appearance, and welcomed the Miss PE contestants. But everyone seemed to be indulging themselves in the audio visual feast this festival offers. Other events on the go included a mountain bike ride, trail run, beer garden and live music. There was a decent variety of food stalls, and this year the viewing area had been moved forward, creating more viewing space. There was also more shade cover thanks to SAB. Pretty soon though people were drawn out of the sun, into hangars, under trees, gazebos and wings. It was getting “Vrek warm!”

A gratifying variety of aircraft also arrived for the festival. Highlights for me included the Vulcanair P68R (ZS VRA), which John English flew in from Progress Flight Academy in Greenbushes. The “yellow canary”, as she is affectionately known, was acquired in 2015 along with an exact replication FNPT II simulator, built into the front of an actual PA68 fuselage. A second aircraft and simulator are scheduled for delivery in April 2016. This beautiful aircraft is an ideal platform for multi engine instruction, and its high wing configuration would likely save a pair of 200hp Lycomings in the event of a student doing a wheels up. This 6 seater twin can carry 180kg luggage and its best economical cruise speed at 60% FL90 is 155 ktas. This school's Premium Integrated Course is aimed at producing an employable ATPL, with many hours of multi engine aeroplane instrument instruction.

Another “yellow canary” which was very impressive, is the one third scale Piper Cub RC model which looks almost capable of carrying a small child.

Picture courtesy of

John Huddlestone, our local Robinson helicopter maestro, put on a superb performance, showing the maneuverability of the R22 as well as a simulated auto rotation. Most people never knew that a helicopter can still fly if the engine fails. John also gave the public flips in the R22 throughout the morning at a very reasonable price. With over 22,000 hours of flying, his skill as a helicopter pilot is unquestioned. John is currently the Chief flight instructor at Helicopter Charters and Training in PE. This school offers top class PPL(H), CPL(H) and CFI(H) ratings as well as additional Ratings in external load, instrument, night, and game skills. John is the type of pilot that straps a helicopter to himself, not the other way around. And he is a legend in local aviation circles. No wonder he says, “to fly is heavenly, to hover divine”.

Picture courtesy of

Another fling wing visitor was the breathtaking Westland Gazelle HT. 2, ZU HBH. A total of 30 of these training helicopters were produced for the British Fleet Air Arm. Features included the Turbomeca Astazou IIIN2 engine, a stability augmentation system and a hoist. It was the first helicopter to have a fenestron tail rotor. The 644 hp single turbine engine makes this helicopter quick with a cruising speed of around 140 ktas. The display was really good, and demonstrated why this scout still does military service in some parts of the world. Registered to a company up north of us, It would be interesting to know more of her history in SA.

Stu Lithgow did a little more flying in his RV7 on the day than expected. Not that I think he would have minded. This 2 seater kit aircraft showed the crowds quite clearly, how it complies with the +6/-3G standards of the FAA's Aerobatic Category. This tail dragger version of the RV7 has a 200 hp Lycoming engine and can cruise at speeds of 170 ktas or more depending on the power plant installed. It can be fitted with a fixed or constant speed propeller and is lifted quite easily by 121 sq ft of wing area. I have seen the RV7 before and the glass cockpit photo is taken in a friends RV7 in St Francis Bay. Whilst doing a bit of research it became apparent how much of a following these aircraft have. In fact there is a legion of them ( Many sites are dedicated to the build, and others focus specifically on up to date safety and advice. This versatile and proven aircraft also has a loyal following in SA and seems to make addicts of both pilot and spectator alike.

Algoa Flight Centre, also made their prescience felt in a positive way. A single file formation of her C172RG, C172, C152 & Sling 2, joined in and parked in full view of the public. I also spotted a Baron 58 although I can't say for sure if it was theirs. What I did see was instructors engaging with people and manning their own information centre where members of the public could learn more about flying, how to start and what it entails. Well done to AFC for that extra effort. This school offers PPL, CPL and instructor ratings as well as the ability to take a student all the way to ATPL. In 2015 I had the chance to fly their FNPT II simulator. It took only 1hr to give me a major confidence boost with regard to my current levels of skill and my own ability to complete my PPL. I am grateful to my instructor for that experience. A friend of mine has recently enrolled his 15 year old daughter Natasha, as an SPL Candidate at Algoa. His feedback is that the staff is very professional, informative, and flexible with regard to new students. I think that shows relevance in an increasingly challenging aviation environment.

My overall impression of the festival was that a lot of planning and organizing was being well executed on the day. I saw no glaring faults at all. The public was allowed within acceptable limits of the machines on display without standing into danger, yet close enough to appreciate what was going on. The Flight Director, Events Organizer, Ramp Controller and Safety Officer were visible and busy. The tower was manned efficiently and their friendly interaction aided the pilots and involved the public. What also impressed was the inclusion of all aviators. Trikes and Gyros were given as much prominence as the heavies. Safety was taken seriously, and Airmanship too.

The heat was starting to take its toll though, and the organizers pleaded vocally with the public to increase water intake, especially if alcohol was being consumed. Older people and children and were starting to succumb. I'm glad to report, that this was all that kept the ambulance staff busy on the day.

What would an Eastern Cape Air Show be without the incredible presence and support of the Davidson Family.

The Doug Davidson Memorial Air Show is held in commemoration of the patriarch of this phenomenal aviation family. Doug died at Uitenhage airfield in 1992, on takeoff in his Pitts, after suffering a heart attack. His son Stewart, took up aerobatics because of his father's involvement in the sport, and his passion for aviation has resulted in the accumulation of one of the world's finest collection of serviceable War Birds ever known. A Boeing Stearman, a Navy Harvard, a Hawker Sea Fury, a Russian Sukhoi attack aircraft, a Yak 52, and my personal Chatelaine, the P51 Mustang, “Queen of Hearts” ….. sigh. I am willing to bet that such a collection of working Radial engines would be hard to find anywhere in the world, except in their hangars at FASV (Seaview, PE). Their L39-C (ZU DEW), a turbofan jet trainer is icing on an aviation cake.

Stu & his son Patrick have become synonymous with aviation in the Eastern Cape, for as long as I can remember. Patrick Davidson started displaying at the age of 17, and has won 4 National Aerobatic Championships since. He is described as a natural born Aviator who has followed in his father's footsteps, and extended the stride. Father and son have become a well known duo, and their tireless collaboration has made these wonderful aircraft available to the public, so much so, that we may take it for granted.

I would like to send a special message of appreciation to the Davidson family, for your contribution to aviation in the Eastern Cape. Never forget that you are celebrated as Heroes. I hear there is another young one, who has already been bitten by the bug. Long may this last.

The L39 did arrive in style. As did the Yak that performed beautifully in the first of the three flying slots. Unfortunately the Stearman, Sukhoi and P51 didn’t make it to Uitenhage. It was just too hot to risk damaging the engines in these beautiful machines.
Engine temperatures were indeed a serious concern. Holding aircraft had to turn into the wind to try and stay cool. Patrick had no option but to cut the Yak’s second display short, due to overheating, and spectators too were taking strain. En route back to Sea View, Patrick had to execute a forced landing at Progress Airfield, giving us all an appreciation of the seriousness of the situation.

It matters not, that the only Mustang present this year was made by Ford, and not North American. What matters is that Wings and Wheels was a resounding success.

Weather is something that no one can predict or control, and the organizers and participants did a fine job under difficult circumstances. To Chairman and Flight Director, Colin Dettmann, and Event Organizer Lourens Kruger, well done. I look forward to Wings & Wheels 2017.

I look forward to Wings & Wheels 2017.

Such is my love for the Queen of Hearts that I couldn’t complete this article without including a picture of her that was taken at FAPE a few years ago. I look forward to seeing her fly again in the not too distant future.

Events 2016

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