When Matsieng Flying Club held a 'Fun Flying Day' in 2012 few would have guessed how the event would grow into one of the best events on the Southern African aviation calendar.
What makes the Wesbank Botswana International Airshow special? It has to be that the intimate feel of that initial fly-in, aided by the number of people who arrive by air and stay on the airfield's campsite, and the relaxed Botswana atmosphere, which is helped tremendously by the setting of the dirt runways in the bush. This airshow manages to capture everything that is enjoyable in general and sport aviation. The fly-in campers certainly had an evening to remember on Friday night - a feat some of them seemed to be struggling with on Saturday morning!
In addition to the significant number of people making the trip by air from neighbouring countries, particularly from South Africa, the event draws large local crowds, with the airfield being only 40km north of the capital, Gaborone. This year more than 6,000 made their way through the gates and, as usual, they were not disappointed by the action in front of them.
While the airshow has effectively become a welcome addition to the South African airshow circuit, lots of local talent was also on show. Cyril Nfila and the Skydive Botswana team made a spectacular entrance to open the show and made the most of showing their off sport before the Makgadikgadi Epic event in July. This latter event must be one of the few in the world where civilians get a chance to jump from a military transport.
The show had been due to open with a hot air balloon demonstration by Pierre Jacobs. This would have been a fitting tribute to Botswana's aviation history, which dates back to the first British military use of aircraft and the Bechuanaland Balloon Expedition of 1884/5, which helped secure the country's Protectorate status. Unfortunately, for reasons beyond the control of the organisers this did not happen - but hopes are high for next year.
It says much for the organisers that they have been able to attract the top pilots from the South African circuit to the Botswana bush. Crowd favourites, such as the Flying Lions and a two-ship Goodyear Eagles gave polished formation displays.
The Raptors RV Team showed what could be done with kit built aircraft - and a lot of hard work and practice!
World class solo displays were given by Neville Ferreira, Andrew Blackwood-Murray, and Conrad Botha.
Team Extreme's four ship display was sadly missing - a better offer in China meant that one of the best known pilots in Botswana, Nigel Hopkins, was missed by the large and increasingly knowledgeable crowd.
However, this year also saw a welcome return for Menno Parsons, who has been a long standing supporter of the event. Sadly this airshow was about 7 weeks too early for the much missed Mustang Sally, but the participation of his PC-12 and 407 made up for this. The Pilatus was put through its paces and made several stunning low passes.
Jet action was catered for by the L29 and Glen Warden showed the attractive lines and colour scheme of the Warsaw Pact trainer to great effect.
More sedate displays were flown by the well-loved Little Annie An-2 and Ivan van der Schaar in his immaculate Boeing Stearman.
Faster than Little Annie's slow pass (but perhaps nothing else!), the Bat Hawk LSA was shown off to good effect. It is a surprisingly manoeuvrable little craft and its cockpit offers unrivalled views - matched only by helicopters. The Botswana government has taken delivery of many of these machines for Police, border, and anti-poaching units.
There was also plenty of rotary wing action, with pleasure flips available at a reasonable cost, giving many Batswana their first flight. Display wise, the crowd were treated to very impressive displays by a Bell 430 and a pair of Alouettes as well as Menno Parson's 407.
Matthew Zalewski bridged the gap between the vertical and rolling take off communities, showing off two Magni gyrocopters to excellent effect.
My personal highlights of the day were seeing a new visitor to a Botswana airshow in the shape of the Yak-55 flown by Cliff Lotter and the Matsieng Founders' Formation. This consisted of a Cirrus, a pair of 210's and a King Air, leading to an unusual but very welcome display which culminated with Chris Briers doing a high speed pass in the King Air only feet above the runway with both props feathered!
True North Aviation supplied more excitement in the form of an Air Tractor spraying demonstration and a unique Decathlon and Citabria Formation.
Interest in aviation in Botswana has grown exponentially since the first airshow 2012 and this has ranged from government sponsorship for CPL's to several very active social media outlets. One example of what is possible without spending too much money was given by Thero Matenge and his homebuilt remote controlled aircraft. Impressively, these were flown from a simulator cockpit with a live video link. Not quite Predator standard, but an outstanding achievement nonetheless.
From the very start the Maitiseng Flying Club has used the event as a charity fundraiser, raising much needed cash for local causes. This year was no different and cheques were handed over by the organising committee to the Lady Khama Trust, the Motswedi Rehabilitation Centre, the Masire Foundation, and the Mochudi Centre for the Blind. A total of P180, 000 (more than R225, 000) was given to the chosen charities. Ex-president Ian Khama was on hand to help present the cheques as well as to represent the foundation set up in his mother's name. He was joined later in the day by his successor, President Masisi.
The afternoon saw reprises from the many acts and as the sun descended the light became perfect for the many photographers. An unofficial competition started to see how many 'moon shots' were possible!
After a full nine hours of non-stop flying the Flying Lions touched down after their sunset display and the crowds drifted into the still warm evening, very satisfied with another excellently organised show. Many in Botswana were worried that flying-mad President Khama's departure might have an impact on aviation in the country. While his traditional flypast was missed, the Matsieng Flying Club has proved that the future of aviation is still very bright in Botswana.