Bethlehem Air Show 2018 - 25 Aug 2018

By Brian Spurr

Leaving Durban to drive up to Bethlehem, we were assured that the weather would be fine for the show. As we travelled it seemed that there was no way the cloud cover would burn off by the scheduled opening time of 10 am. At Harrismith things looked a little better but on arrival at the airport in Bethlehem, just after 8 am, things again looked doubtful. As it happened the sun did make an appearance and allowed the show to commence about 40 minutes late. In the afternoon the wind came up quite strongly and this made the flying tricky.

The organisation of the show was great and although it was not the biggest show the programme continued uninterrupted throughout the day. This is tribute to slick management by a great team.

Pete Graham (Flight Director and Safety Officer), John Neilon (Program Director), Khotso Motsoeng (Airshow Organiser) and Stephan Fourie (Assistant Airshow Organiser and Airport Manager)

The pilot's briefing was delayed until 09:45 to allow those delayed by cloud conditions to attend.

Pilots waiting for the briefing to begin.

Francois Hanekom - Flight Display Director addresses the pilots' briefing.

All of the necessary emergency services were in attendance, though luckily barring one relatively small incident, their services were not required. Capital Sounds, as usual. provided commentary throughout the day. The show attracted a large number of spectators who enjoyed the flying, as well as the many stalls and other attractions that had been set up for them. The food and drink sellers were doing great business judging by their popularity.

The public could also pay for helicopter flips in a Bell 206 Jet Ranger. It certainly worked hard all day.

An interesting visitor to the show was the Tucano Replica ZU-ILS.

The flying commenced with an impressive display of the Auto Gyro MT 03.

Then we had a parachute drop from the Antonov AN 2. There was still a lot of cloud around but not enough to prevent the jump. This jump was marred by an incident when one of the jumpers had an awkward landing and reportedly dislocated his hip. He was to attended immediately by medics at the scene and taken to hospital for running repairs. We trust he is doing well.

This display was followed by the Tailifts "Flying Cows" Pitts Specials flown by Ellis Levin, Arnie Meneghelli and Sean Thackwray.

Comair pilot Ivan van der Schaar was next up in his beautiful Stearman bi-plane.

Next was probably the highlight of the air show for many. It commenced with a demonstration of extreme freestyle Motocross tricks. They did many amazing stunts over the giant ramp as a build up to jumping over the Extra 330SC flown by Nigel Hopkins. When Nigel got airborne he did several low-level passes between the jump ramp and the landing platform. When the pilot and rider were happy all was in place they went for it. It was an amazing spectacle as extreme stunt rider Nick de Witt somersaulted his bike over the aircraft flown by extreme aerobatics pilot Nigel Hopkins. The loud reaction from the packed crowd showed how much they appreciated this daring feat.

The Puma Flying Lions were next, this time flying a three ship. The Harvards were flown by Ellis Levin, Arnie Meneghelli and Sean Thackwray. They did a second show in the afternoon that culminated in the team flying over a wall of fire. This also had the large crowd shouting as the pyrotechnics ignited.

Team Xtreme were up next with their high energy show. The line-up in Bethlehem was Nigel Hopkins in an Extra 300 (ZS-BDE), Mark Hensman in an Extra 330SC (ZS-XBE), Barrie Eeles in an Sbach XA-41 (ZU-XAX) and Jason Beamish in another Extra 330SC (ZS-XSC). So, a lot of musical chairs just to confuse us! There was some amazing flying especially in the wind in the afternoon where it was plain to see how hard these talented pilots were having to work to maintain their tight formations.

The team minus Barrie.

Conrad Botha's turn was next flying his Slick 360 flying a tight display in this locally built aircraft.

Next to display was the impressive Bell 222 flown. The helicopter was really put through its paces in a show that demonstrated the capabilities of this machine.

After that it was the well-known Goodyear Eagles in their Pitts Specials. The Eagles comprised Nigel Hopkins, Glen Warden, Johan von Solms and Jason Beamish. As usual this team gave their usual polished display.

Next demonstration was the Turbo Thrush of Orsmond Aviation which demonstrated the crop spraying and water bombing capabilities of this aircraft. It also showed the great handling characteristics at low level that are necessary to do this kind of work.

After the second parachute drop the AN2 displayed its incredible slow flying capability which was in turn helped by the wind making it seem that this large aircraft was almost hovering in the air. The end of the show 'race' against a huge Case Puma 180 Tractor proved the point. The tractor won this easily with the AN 2 barely moving!

Andy Blackwood Murray then flew his Nashua sponsored Extra 300 in a beautiful display. This was after he had had a problem earlier. He returned to base as a precaution but after his aircraft was examined he was then able to perform his full routine.

Most of the main displays were repeated in the afternoon as is customary at many air shows.

During the day the light did play tricks with the photographic contingent at an airport that is necessary to shoot into the sun. It would be good to return to using the main runway as the show line. The writer is not aware of all the problems that may prevent this but due to the layout it seems the crowd line could be placed far enough back to meet all safety requirements?

So, all in all it was a very good day out for thousands of people. Lots of quality flying and seldom seen displays. Well done to all concerned.

Events 2018

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