When, sitting around a campfire after a few beers, somebody says 'I have an ideaÖ' all that is usually left by the following morning is a headache and an unpleasant taste in the mouth. However, for the founders of the Matsieng Flying Club in Botswana that crumb of an idea morphed into one of the best airshows on the Southern African circuit.
This year saw the eighth edition of the WesBank Botswana International Airshow that was held at the De Wet Drilling site, approximately 40 kilometres north of the capital Gaborone. While each year has seen massive developments, the show has managed to keep the relaxed feel of the initial fly-in back in 2012. The crowd are close to the action and there is always a friendly, festival-like atmosphere.
Although last year's show was very enjoyable, the return of local favourites Team Xtreme and Mustang Sally helped ensure that the bumper crowd was treated to non-stop, world-class display flying. Entertainment and commentary were supplied by Capital Sounds, who provided their biggest crew and sound system for any of the 'medium' sized shows this year.
The show started with a display of Quick Silver trikes, followed by a parachute jump and a prayer to officially open the event.
Aerobatic displays were flown in a number of different solo aircraft including Conrad Botha in an RV 7, Riaan Prinsloo in a Yak-18, and Andrew Blackwood Murray in his Extra 300.
Slightly more sedate, but no less entertaining, displays were given by Gary Whitecross in his Pilatus glider, a pair of Navions, Ivan van der Schaar and his immaculate Stearman, and Danie Terblanche in the Husky - which demonstrated its STOL capacities to the full.
Perhaps not fully aerobatic, but far from sedate, were the displays of Menno Parsons' Mustang Sally and PC-12.
Formations always play a large part in offering the crowd something different and this year's highlight was seeing two Antonov An-2's accompanied by the Yak-18 and Boeing Stearman.
Little Annie also carried out one of her trade mark marshmallow drops.
More vigorous formation acts were then offered by the GoodYear Eagles' Pitts Specials, the Puma Flying Lions in their Harvards, the RV Raptors and a four-ship from Team Xtreme.
A massive wall of fire, this year set off by the Flying Lions, wowed the crowd before being doused by the Air Tractor, flown by Riaan Human.
Rotary winged flight was well represented, with well flown displays of a 407, a Huey, and an airshow debut for the 505. The accuracy of the flying gave an insight into the talents of the likes of Menno and Alister Brown. Gyrocopters were not forgotten with Andre van Zyl showing off what the Magni is capable of.
Juba Joubert flew the Gazelle to its limits and this, combined with the setting sun, allowed for some great photography.
Jet action was supplied by Glen Warden flying the attractive L-29.
Local talent was on show in the form of many of the skydivers and through Thero Matenge. The latter gave a display of two of his home built aircraft. These look like standard RC models, but they are in fact flown via a camera and a base station and are the first step on the road to building a large drone of the Predator type for the regional market. Interestingly, his group have already flown a jet powered version.
Unusually, the event has always been used as a fund raiser for local charities, and this year was no different, with more than R200,000 being raised. The main recipients have been the Sir Ketumile Masire Foundation, the Lady Khama Charitable Trust, and the Motswedi Rehabilitation Centre for Handicapped Persons who each received cheques for P50,000 (R67,000). In addition, various other charities benefitted through running car parking facilities and shuttle services.
The impact on the local community has also been immense, with new guest houses and camp sites springing up, local entrepreneurs being involved in selling various goods on the day and a massive after-party with local musicians and DJ's. This reflects the huge commitment by the de Wet family and their drilling company to effecting real corporate social responsibly.
Puma Energy and WesBank have been the two main sponsors of the event almost since inception and have been driving forces behind its financial success. This year they have been joined by Yardley of London, part of the AVI/NBL grouping. While possibly not an obvious choice as a sponsor they feel there is a strong brand link with the kind of people the airshow attracts and that the event offers a great way of helping local businesses and charities - part of the group's CSR remit.
Given the recent sad incident at Matsieng, it was obvious that safety was going to be an issue on many people's minds. However, a rigorous risk assessment that met, or exceeded, all of the CAAB requirements for flying displays. These rules and regulations are based on international standards, to ensure the complete safety of pilots and spectators alike. The man in charge of the flying side of things, Chris Briers, is a category A Air Boss in South Africa and has himself displayed at more than 400 airshows. Over the weekend of the airshow he was be ably assisted by a pair of Air Traffic Controllers from the CAAB, ensuring the smooth and safe movement of aircraft. Given the amount of displays on the day, combined with the high number of fly-ins, the fact the event passed off seamlessly is a huge credit to Chris and his team.
Matsieng Flying Club is fully committed to keep the airshow growing said Hentie de Wet. 'Anything not growing is dead,' is how he put it. There has been interest from surprising quarters in joining future events, due to its outstanding reputation amongst the aviation community in South Africa. The limit in growth is the amount of land available and the fact that the venue can only accommodate 15,000 spectators. Mr de Wet said he does not want to grow to the point of where they have to turn people away, but promised that the quality will not be diminished. The organising committee acknowledge that the government are not willing to spend tax-payers' money on what is effectively a private event but they are working hard behind the scenes to get the Botswana Defence Force involved again in the future.
Organising committee member, Riaan van Vuuren said they were very proud that the airshow has managed to keep a very Botswana feel and different to any other airshow in the region. The only way it could feel more Botswanan would be to hire a couple of giraffes from Mokolodi, he joked! On a more serious note he talked about how easily the organising committee works together. He said that although there were eleven talented people on the committee with lots of ideas he had never known a crossed word. Hentie echoed this by adding that now everyone knows what they are doing that the process runs smoothly, even if it is sometimes time-consuming. However, he feels that this is such an important part of De Wet's corporate social responsibility that every minute is worth it. The fact that the airshow attracts so many fly-in spectators is a testament to how the region's aviators feel about the event.
The fly-in aspect of the show is still integral to the success of the event, contributing to the relaxed holiday feel. The parking area was full of a diverse range of aircraft, with everything from trikes to King Airs having made the journey from neighbouring countries. There were also a number of their rotary winged cousins. It was amazing to see so many (more than 130) planes nesting in the Botswana bush!
While some had the luxury of hotel accommodation, many chose to use the excellent campsite at the airfield and to make full use of the hospitality tents that kept food and drink flowing. Very unusual for this time of year, Friday evening saw the arrival of a massive electrical storm. Fortunately for the campers the heaviest of the rain missed the airfield. But, in Botswana, rain is seen as a blessing and a good omen for things to come. The Tswana word for rain is not only given to the country's currency, but is also used as a salutation after great events. Matsieng Flying Club thoroughly deserve their PULA!