An amazing achievement-the Newcastle Air Show - 1 Jun 2019

By Brian Spurr

The Champ Group presented their 9th annual Newcastle Air Show on the 1st of June 2019, an amazing achievement as it is currently the only air show in KZN. Not long ago, when the Winter Air Tour was on, it was one of seven shows in the province! Johan Pieters, Christo van der Vyver and their Champ Team did themselves proud with yet another great event. There was a full and varied programme that did not disappoint and the fact that there was active participation from the SAAF was a major bonus.

The event was again tagged as the 'I Can Dream' Newcastle Air Show. Johan Pieters said that the idea was to encourage interest in the local Amajuba community, 95 percent of whom had never flown in an aircraft. 80 percent had never seen a large aircraft close up before. This year's show was free to the public as the organisers took into account the current economic situation. This was achieved with the help of their sponsors the Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs of KwaZulu-Natal and KwaZulu-Natal Tourism.

The Newcastle Air Show has become one of the largest one-day events in the district injecting R5 million into the local economy. One of the events sponsored by AON was a one-day educational guidance day for Grade 11 maths and science learners from the Amajuba District, with around 1000 learners attending. The learners were addressed by the South African Civil Aviation Authority, The South African Air Force and the Silver Falcons. Two well known pilots were part of the effort to encourage youth participation in aviation as a career. They were the first African female Hawk pilot in South Africa Major Mandisa Mafeka (“Comet”) and Major Nandi Zama (“Karma”) a highly experienced Hercules pilot. These ladies, both from KZN, are a credit to the SAAF and they are certain to have been an inspiration to many young people on the day.

There was plenty of other attractions too. Food and market stalls, a beer garden, a full array of fun fair rides, an art gallery, motorcycle stunts, go karts and inexpensive helicopter flips to name a few. These all served to entertain a huge crowd estimated to be around 12 500 people. They all seemed to have a wonderful time and stayed on right to the end. The weather played its part and the day was sunny, warm and cloudless with very little wind. Just right for an air show!

Some pilots at the pre-show briefing.

A small section of the crowd.

One disappointment on the day was the cancellation of the Airbus A320 display but this was made up for by the beautiful, Airlink Embraer E190. This aircraft flew a wonderful display, including one very low simulated landing pass. The aircraft was flown by Airlink's chief pilot Jaco Henning in the left-hand seat with Dean Nicholas on his right. They were joined by Duncan Finch who acted as safety pilot for the day. This was one of many highlights on the day.

The only other aircraft that was meant to display but unfortunately was unable to, was Mark Hill's Antonov AN2 dubbed “Little Annie.” She arrived in Newcastle but had to be grounded due to a technical issue and could not take part.

The show began dead on time at 10:30, with a simulated emergency call out of the emergency teams. This was followed by the Newcastle High School choir singing the national anthem. The first display was the Ricci Big Flag parachute jump from a Cessna 182.

The SAAF then came to the party with the Silver Falcons (Team 82) flying a four-ship display in their Pilatus PC 7 Astras. In the fine tradition of the team, the formations were tight and precise, just the spectacle to begin the flying on a high note. The team flying was #1 Omphile Mutloane, #2 Tiaan Stander, #3 Sivuyile Tangana and #4 Bheki Shabangu.

Next up were the Flying Lions in their Puma Energy Harvards. As usual their display was energetic with plenty of smoke and lots of action. The team is Scully Levin, Arnie Meneghelli, Sean Thackwray and Ellis Levin. After their display they flew off to Pietermaritzburg to do their annual display at the Royal Show.

After this the air was silent but none the less exciting as Gary Whitecross displayed his beautiful Pilatus B4 glider. Gary was towed up by Derek 'Pops' Hopkins in the Lambada. The graceful aerobatics were enhanced by smoke from the wingtips that traced patterns in the sky. The low pass prior to coming in to land was impressive. The fact that Gary has fought his way back from serious illness, was able to regain his licence and fly like he did, is a major achievement for him.

The next event was a unique one with Nigel Hopkins in the Extra 330SC pitting himself against a rail dragster driven by Vanessa Fourie, fastest lady in South Africa (on the ground at least!) The aircraft managed to take the honours but one suspects that the dragster was driven well within its limits as a safety precaution. The crowd loved it. Nigel then did a hectic solo aerobatic display in the Extra.

The Golden Eagles parachute team followed jumping from a SAAF CASA aircraft. They trailed smoke and one canopy was in the national colours. They landed on the spot at Airshow central to excited applause from the big crowd.

Then with an ear-splitting roar the mighty SAAF SAAB Gripen fighter made its entrance. The mighty machine, pride of the air force, carved up the sky pulling high G force manoeuvres and blasting upward with the jet pipe glowing orange. There were gasps from the crowd, many of them seeing a powerful warplane of this kind for the first time. Something for them to remember for a very long time. The aircraft was flown by Major Lee-Roy Goosen (“Shinobi”) and his navigator was Lt. Col. Marc Wilson (“Bluebird”).

The Gripen was followed by the Goodyear Eagles team flying their instantly recognisable Pitts Specials. The team comprised Glen Warden, Johan von Solms, Dennis Spence and Jason Beamish. The Eagles gave their usual flawless routine of tight formation aerobatics. It is always a pleasure watching these dynamic little biplanes performing.

After them it was the turn of Andre van Zyl flying his Magni Gyrocopter. It is quite amazing what Andre is able to make this small machine do in the tight area in front of the air show centre point. He did some very steep turns displaying the full capabilities of his gyro.

The next display was by Andrew Blackwood Murray in the Nashua sponsored Extra 300/L. A neat performance in this beautiful aircraft.

Then as mentioned in the introductory section, was the Airlink Embraer E190. A magnificent showing of this lovely passenger jet.

After Andrew was another highlight by a world-class formation aerobatic team, Team Xtreme. The four pilots are Nigel Hopkins, Mark Hensman, Jason Beamish and Mark Sampson. The first two mentioned are both South African aerobatics champions. The team flies Extra 330, XA41 and MX2 aircraft in incredibly tight aerobatic formations, as well as doing impressive two ship formation knife edge passes. Truly amazing flying that never ceases to impress.

During the lunch break there was a display of drag racing cars and some classic cars. This kept the crowd involved and ensured that there was no break in the action.

Also, apart from all the fairground attractions, helicopter flips kept going all day. Although the flips were short it meant that the public could experience flight in a Bell 206B Jet Ranger at a relatively low cost. For many it was first time flying in a helicopter and the longs queues demonstrated the popularity of the opportunity.

After lunch the flying began with the Aero Vodochody L29 Delfin jet trainer, painted in tiger stripes. It was flown by vastly experienced Glen Warden (call sign Gringo). Glen is a former SAAF fighter pilot and has flown the mighty Cheetah and Mirage CZ III among many other impressive aircraft. He is now a British Airways/Comair training captain on the Boeing 737.

Then another impressive team followed in the form of the Raptors, flying Van's RV aircraft. This team is amazing and teamed up at times with Team Xtreme in a mass formation. Flying on the day were Ryan Beeton, Trevor Warner, Dion Raath and Johan von Solms. In addition, Nigel Hopkins flew the first display with the team. Fantastic formation aerobatics flown by a vastly experienced team of pilots.

Next to display was Ivan van der Schaar in his smart Boeing Stearman biplane. With a long scarf billowing from the cockpit Ivan, a British Airways captain, gave a wonderful performance that reminded spectators of the old barn storming days of flying. A wonderful retro display!

Barrie Eeles took centre stage after this in his immaculate blue and white Extra 330SC. Barrie is an experienced aerobatics competitor and he gave a wonderful solo display showing off his talent and that of his aircraft.

The afternoon programme comprised second displays by most of those who had flown in the morning. This allowed those that either arrived late or left early to take in the whole show. One additional gem added in the afternoon was the welcome arrival of Menno Parsons and his stunning P-51 Mustang (“Mustang Sally”). This hugely popular aircraft has been missing from the air show circuit for a while, as it needed mechanical attention. Menno as usual flew a great show and the sound of this machine with the wind whistling over the gun portals has to be experienced in person. A very fast and iconic aircraft.

There was a large contingent of media present and this photo shows a section of them with Derek Hopkins and Gary Whitecross joining in. Media manager on the day Mark Mansfield, used his negotiating skills to arrange an excellent position for the photographers to shoot from. This was really appreciated and hopefully the show will get the coverage that it deserved.

Some aliens flew in to watch the show from Virginia airport and were captured as they left the vicinity!

When the air show drew to a close with the second Silver Falcon display there was still a massive crowd that had stayed to the end. It was a very good event that succeeded on a big scale. All those involved, from the organisers, pilots, engineers, marshals, safety services, ATC and many others deserve praise for putting on this magnificent spectacle.

Those who were there will remember it for a long time and they are sure to be back in their thousands in 2020 for the 10th year anniversary show. Again, congratulations to the organisers and participants for their dedication. The amount of hard work and planning for this one must have been intense. It was a very enjoyable experience.

Events 2019

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