How do you follow the Botswana International Airshow and the Race for Rhinos? With the Gaborone International Airshow obviously!
Sunday 6th August saw Botswana host its third major aviation event in four months and surprisingly each one has had a distinct feel. While the Botswana International Airshow has an intimate feel with its fly-in facilities and closeness to the dirt runway and the Race for Rhinos has the other-worldly beauty of the pans, the Gaborone Airshow is the opportunity for the Botswana Defence Force to show its capabilities.
After the traditional opening parade and a welcome for President Ian Khama it was straight into the fun, starting with a mass flypast. Two flag carrying Bell 412's were closely followed by a large flag parachute jump from a Bel 412. The first highlight was the first public appearance of the BDF's Super Puma in Gaborone since its smart repaint as it came in escorted by two Eurocopter AS350's. The Super Puma has impressed so much that the local press has reported that the BDF expected to acquire another three of the type. This was then followed by a larger parachute jump from a CASA -235.
Next in were a group of four PC-7II's with smoke making a new addition for their formation team.
The Wildlife and National Parks air fleet showed the crowd how they help protect the wildlife that makes Botswana such a draw for tourists from around the world. Their formation of a Kodiak and four Jabirus was another highlight.
A short but spirited aerobatic display was the put on by the PC-7's. They might not have been the Silver Falcons but their efforts were certainly appreciated by the local crowd - especially the inverted passes.
A mini-battle then ensued with troops being supported by a pair of 412's before a fast strafing past by the F-5's (technically CF-116's) was followed by a bombing run resulting in an impressive wall of fire. The F-5's have been the subject of much debate in Botswana as their replacement becomes more urgent. President Khama was in Sweden last month with a view to putting the final details to a plan to buy a small fleet of refurbished Gripen C/D's.
Once the local forces were out of the way it was the turn of the South African airshow circuit. Last year's show set a high bar that was only just matched by the Adrenaline Wonderboom event this year, so we were all eager to see what would be on offer.
Knife edge passes from take-off, drag racing, rescuing Miss Botswana from kidnappers were all on the cards!
Little Annie kept her record of supporting Botswana events and the Puma Flying Lions again wowed the crowds.
Even the motorcyclists got in the air!
And all this while regular flights went on.
Youth development is a passion of airshow organiser, Tammi McAllister, and aviation has proved a valuable platform. This was on show as she used her team of interns to complement the experience and organisational skills of a team of people including such luminaries as Chris Briers. Tammi has been instrumental in getting support for a youth group known as Life in the Sky Botswana. Initially this was formed by a group of young aviation enthusiasts with the aim of promoting aviation but it now also helps newly qualified CPL holders gain the experience and ratings needed to make them attractive to the local market. This is helping bridge the gap between their government sponsored training (where else does that!) and their first job in the Bush pilot trade.
She also has been involved in using aviation to help the Botswana health services, flying doctors to remote locations. She has recently involved some of the Government's Top Achieving students in this programme before they leave to the UK to study medicine, giving them an insight into the challenges Botswana faces. One her interns, Dimpho Gosenyang said 'Being an intern has been hard work but a fantastic experience. I have learned so much just from today - or the last three days. Just seeing the amount of work that goes into managing an event like this'.
Amith Babu was a founder of Life from the Sky and he had this to say 'Being involved in the aircraft park was a great experience today - I never expected it to be so hands on. Life from the sky is going from strength to strength and we now almost have the funds to get our transition programme of the ground, giving local pilots the skills needed to go from qualifying to being employable. Anyone interested in helping should check our Facebook Page.'
The show closed with Jason Beamish landing on a 4x4 in front of the setting sun followed by the Harvard sunset show supplied by the Puma Flying Lions.
Hopefully, this show will become a fixture on the annual calendar and keep the energetic Ms McAllister busy. As mentioned at the start, it has forged a unique identity and the combination of world class pilots and the chance for the world to see the BDF Air Wing is surely a winning one. Interestingly, the event can trace its history back to a BDF Day in 2009 where due to upgrades at the national stadium it was decided to invite the public to the airport. This provided a miniature airshow and the first I can remember in Botswana. Since then, with the backing of the president, the aviation scene has grown immeasurably with the Race for Rhinos and the Matsieng Flying Club's excellent shows providing world class entertainment.
Hopefully, this will continue once President Khama stands down before the 2019 election. The next event here is back in the pans - the Makgadikgadi Epic which is three days of parachuting and skydiving fun from the 9th to the 12th of August. Where else can the public jump from military transports? Four great event in four months!