“WOW” is the first word that came to my mind when I started to write this report. Pilot's Post has published reports on the Wesbank Botswana International Air Show over the past three years but this was the first I attended. In 2013 Willie Bodenstein reported on the exciting show comprising of both civilian and military aircraft. In 2014 Ricky Fouche' not only reported on the show but also emphasized the Botswana hospitality. In 2015 Garth Calitz called it a “Must Attend Air Show” but none of these three reports could have prepared me for what I was about to experience!! This event is now the benchmark and if you want to host the best aviation event during 2016, then this is the show to beat.
Highlights Video Package
It is amazing to see the extremes Guillaume Knipe, Hentie de Wet and the rest of their team went through to make this once again a fantastic event. Apart from food, drinks, ablution, firewood, live entertainment and campsite lighting, they even had a drive-in style TV projected on a large truck so that everyone could see the Lions giving the Bulls a rugby lesson on Saturday. I am not sure if this was an air show, a fly-in or a safari. It certainly felt like all three as likeminded aviation enthusiasts camped with their aircraft between the trees, watched an amazing air show during the day and relaxed in the bushveld around a camp fire at night.
When you hear about the Botswana Air Show you immediately assume that it is far, expensive and time consuming but it certainly isn't. After clearing customs and immigration, I departed from the Pilansberg International Airport and landed at Matsieng Aerodrome 30 minutes later. Temporary customs and immigration services were deployed at Matsieng for this event eliminating the need to fly to Gaborone first, saving lots of time and agony. The organisers even arranged fuel to be at Pilansberg for those who flew long distances to get there. Unbelievable!!!
The last great event I attended was the Race for Rhinos at Kubu Island and there are two common denominators related to both these events. First is that they were both hosted in Botswana and secondly, it was led by Chris Briers as the air boss. Now I don't know if it is the exotic location that made both these events great, but I know for sure that Chris is high up in this mix. The safety briefing lasted less than 10 minutes. Chris reemphasized the air show rules, safety considerations, cracked a quick joke and that was it. No sideshows, debates or discussions. It was clear that he was the boss and respected by everyone.
The air show program was the length of my arm with participants from both South Africa and Botswana. Some I have seen before but also many new world-class acts we are hoping to see again in the future. But I guess the highlight of the day was the wall of fire which exploded as Mustang Sally flew past the crowd line with Menno Parsons at the controls.
There were air displays throughout the day, way more than I can feature in this article. Little Annie, the Antonov AN-2 owned and flown by Mark Hill thrilled the crowd three times during the day. First in a para drop, then in a solo display and later in formation with a DC3 flown by Derek Hopkins and Ivan van der Schaar.
Jason Beamish is our next air show star. He performed flawlessly in his Extra 300, then in a Boeing Steeman and also featured in a formation act with his father Larry when they flew the Absolute Aviation King Air and Beachcraft Bonanza.
A 16 ship helicopter formation was another unique part of the event. Let me tell you, a photograph can't do this justice and you had to be there to experience it.
A few solo helicopter displays entertained the crowd but Juba Joubert has never failed to blow our hair back, nor did he fail this time. Between him and Danie Terblanche, I think, they perfected helicopter flying. The Botswana Police force also displayed a part of their helicopter arsenal and skills.
Even the Botswana president, Ian Khama joined in the fun. First he arrived in a Casa 235 and later returned in a Bell 412.
But what would an air show be without the Flying Lions, the Good Year Eagles or the Torre Pits Special teams? Of course they were there!!!
The Flying Lions however, closed the show symbolically as the sun went down proving that at this event the magic doesn't stop just because the sun sets!!