This year the Airfest held at Wings Park outside East London in the Eastern Cape entered its 3rd year in current format, part fly-in, but with a well spiced program to attract a wide selection of visitors. The airside was run under the safe eyes of Rikus Erasmus and his team from Airshow South Africa (ASSA) as a RAASA approved Special Air Event. ACSA and the local emergency services were well represented in case of an emergency.
The non airside of things was efficiently run by Russell Best, flight instructor at the Border Aviation Club, and his team. Marshals were sourced from Wings Park residents and other Border Aviation Club members. ATC services were provided by ATNS for the weekend. Excellent commentary was given by local BAC member, Steve Onions, and Gordon Graham of Algoa FM's Border Drive Show fame.
The two day event saw aircraft arriving on Friday to settle in for a weekend of fun and time to catch up with mates. A number of Wings Park hangar owners extended their hospitality and provided sleeping space for the out-of-towners. For the day visitor there were, apart from the airshow displays, food and craft stalls, aircraft on display, an exhibition of military aviation related items provided and manned by the South African Air Force.
The biggest attraction apart from the fly-in was undoubtedly the bike shows of Jason Hannan, David Canning and Wesley Lockem on their motocross bikes. This trio showed that even without wings they need the same things an aviator always should have plenty off, speed and height. Sunday morning early also saw a mountain bike race, which went passed the clubhouse along the taxiway and made its way through the adjacent game park, also part of the property of Wings Park.
On the airshow side the visit of the Gripen was definitely the biggest draw card for the crowd. Grounded by a technical snag at start-up it however did not appear for its Friday validation. Although a replacement part was flown down from AFB Makhado on Saturday and fitted by the ground personnel, the snag could not be fixed on Saturday. The crowd was thus hopeful for a Sunday appearance, but all was in vain, even though the ground support crew pulled out all the stops to resolve the problem, all we saw of the Gripen was “stealth mode”. As aircraft become more and more computerised more snags will appear which cannot be fixed with a piece of locking wire and pliers, the price of technology.
And yes, the Gripen was in East London for the weekend. It arrived unseen by this writer as I was passing the airport on Friday, pulling up full afterburner right over my car, surprising me, and most of the pigeons, starlings and sparrows in East London. I have never seen so many birds each flying his own course.
In the absence of the Gripen, Dave Mandell showed that the L-39 Czechoslovakian jet trainer can keep the crowd as spellbound as the mighty Gripen, even in relatively strong winds, which hampered the event the whole weekend.
The Silver Falcons gave a few 4 ship displays. Due to them being based at East London airport the Falcon pilots could only set feet on Wings Park soil on Sunday afternoon, so their time with their fans were limited. They however had a stall manned by a friendly and capable team selling branded merchandise. Adding to the SAAF presence was the Westland Lynx Naval helicopter that is an occasional visitor at airshows.
Patrick Davidson added a nice twist to his Sunday display in the Sukhoi. He was patched into the PA system and walked the crowd through a few manoeuvres, telling them how he handles the controls to make the aircraft execute these manoeuvres. During this commentary it was the quietest I have heard a crowd at an airshow. Everybody was concentrating and flying in their mind with Patrick through the sky.
Various flat display formations were flown by local pilots in trikes and vintage aircraft. The crowd also witnessed Wally Goodrich perform his first airshow display to perfection. Wally made great effort to ensure he keep his display in front of the crowd even though the wind was blowing the displays off to one side.
The flight program for the weekend was deliberately designed with ample gaps to allow pilots to use the runway flying out for some sightseeing and returning again, in keeping with a fly-in. These “impromptu” flights were well co-ordinated between ramp controller Erika Lambrecht (Wings and Wheels) from Uitenhage, and the ATCs.
Even though the airshow finished just before five on Sunday the crowd still lingered as there was a rumour that an Oryx will come to fetch one of the engineers who flew in with the 22 Squadron Lynx from AFB Ysterplaat. Unlike the elusive Gripen, the Oryx did make its appearance with a very quick landing and loading of the passenger. As quick a take-off followed and after a wide sweep we were treated by a low level fly pass at speed.
As the glorious sound of the chopper that hold dear to the hearts of many a man my age faded away, the grounds also quieted down; the sound of people being replaced by the metallic sounds of the inevitable clearing up of an event well attended and enjoyed by all.