Thrills galore in a day of excitement at Kishugu Lowveld Airshow

By Willie Bodenstein

Originally planned for 12 and 13 May, the weather forecast for that weekend looked dicey and the organisers wisely decided to postpone the show to Friday 16 June, Youth Day, a public holiday.

Making history as probably the first show ever to be held on a Friday the crowds flocked to the airfield in their thousands to watch the antics of those wonderful men in their magnificent flying machines take to the skies in what was the most exciting airshow ever held in Mbombela (Nelspruit) and what must surely be a contender for the Airshow of the Year title.

Unfortunately the weather over the escarpment did play its role with some participants having to turn back. However, that and the early morning mist and low clouds, did nothing to dampen the spirits of participants and public alike. The clouds cleared by mid-afternoon and the rest of the show took place in glorious Lowveld weather.

Nelspruit is the main base of Kishugu Aviation Holdings and the show was dedicated to members of the company and the Working on Fire wildfire fighting teams that took part in the massive campaign to quell the devastating wildfire in Knysna on the Garden Route. For over a decade, Kishugu has been internationally acknowledged as the implementer of the award-winning South African Government's Working on Fire Programme (WoF). The WoF Programme is the most successful job creation and skills development programme in the history of South Africa.

Skydivers, hot air balloons and a parade of Harley Davidson Motorcycles opened the show.

Two local acts then started the day's program of action packed aviation actions.

Just Love Missions reached a milestone at the Kishugu Lowveld Airshow when they flew their 1 000th youngsters and issuing a special certificate for this purpose. Youngsters are inspired through the adventures of "Little Annie" the Antonov AN-2, to use their individual talents to achieve the seemingly impossible and then pay it forward in Love, to others.

Major Mark Gentles, with 176 air displays under his belt obtained the highest number of displays ever flown as a Silver Falcon.

Capital Sounds that has been entraining millions at airshows and other events received a brand spanking digital Outside Broadcast Unit proudly sponsored by Kishugu. Joining them a year ago Elvis Manene, who had a dream to become involved with sound and broadcasting, did his first live interview at a public event.

Ivan van der Schaar, now a Boeing 737 captain with Comair, who was born in Nelspruit and washed aircraft at the field for one hour of flight training vividly remembers sitting by the fence as a young boy and watching a Pitts Special landing and dreaming that one day he would do the same. On Friday he did just that, not only landing at the field but also doing a display in the Pitts Special but also in the Randolph Aviator Sunglasses sponsored Boeing Stearman.

The rest of the show was action packed with displays by the cream of crop of SA's top airshow performers the included Nigel Hopkins in the Cirrus/ Porche sponsored Extra 330CS, Neville Ferreira in the PSG sponsored Slick 540, Johan "Juba" Joubert in the Gazelle, Pierre Gouws in the L39, the Raptors RV team with Mark Hensmann in the MX2 and Jason Beamish in the Absolute Aviation sponsored Extra who later flew with Nigel as part of team Extreme.

Neville later on raced a Volvo whilst Juba a Jaguar. Both aircraft, performing an impromptu display during the races still managed to finish in a close second place.

Photo by Deon Prins

It is especially heartening to see that the SAAF is again participating at airshows with the Silver Falcons flying their second display in formation with a Gripen which later did two solo displays and dispensing flares.

Only one of the Puma Energy sponsored Flying Lions Harvard made it the Mbombela, the rest of the team had to return to base because of the inclement weather over the escarpment. Aviation legend, Scully Levin flew a graceful spirited solo display. Two of the Team Torre Pitts Specials managed to get through. Scully and Arnie Meneghelli made up for the absence of the rest of the team by flying a two ship close formation aerobatic display.

Gary Whitecross, towed aloft by Derek Hopkins in the Lambada tug plane displayed power management in the Mutual Safes sponsored Pilatus glider to perfection. Gary is now a regular feature at shows and his graceful display and daring low passes has become a crowd favourite.

The show went on well into the evening with a dusk display by the Silver Falcons followed by a display of the L-39. Very few spectators left, most opting to stay for the spectacular fireworks display that marked the end of another Kishugu Lowveld Airshow.

Regular attendees to the show has by now gotten used to the superb organisation and this year Kishugu, official sponsors of the show, again had pulled out all the stops to ensure a full day of incident free excitement for the whole family.

Events 2017

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