Saturday 3 August saw the Botswana Police Service celebrate its 135th birthday in style at the National Stadium in Gaborone. They used the day to show off all of their capabilities both on the ground and in the air. Their waterborne units had to make do with a parade of their motor boats and jet skis!
The skills of the service are not limited to fighting crime either, as the BPS band showed with a range of marching tunes. Non-musicians had a chance to shine in a range of events and demonstrations, ranging from tug-of-war to cycle races, and from dog-handling to 400m relays.
However, for the many aviation fans in Botswana the day was really about seeing the Air Support Unit display their wares. They officially opened the day with a flypast of three AS350B (technically now Airbus H125) Squirrels, two carrying the standard of the BPS with the middle aircraft flying the national flag. The Squirrels are a common sight in Gaborone, where they are used for a range of duties day and night.
Less commonly seen in the capital are any of the four Bat Hawks delivered to the BPS a couple of years ago. Having made their public debut at last year's BPS Day the Bat Hawks, like their BDF counterparts, have acquired the local nickname of 'Betty' or 'Betty Wee'! This appellation was dreamed up during initial pilot training on the type, and the name has stuck.
A pair of 'Betties' led the second Air Support flypast of the day, before the accompanying three Squirrels returned to the stadium for their tactical demonstrations. Of note are the slightly differing markings, with only BPS-21 carrying the full Police badge on its tail.
Immediately after the flypast, Squirrel BPS-05 swooped into the stadium to pick up an underslung load that it transported from one end of the stadium to the other, before depositing it in the back of a Police bakkie.
As one Squirrel departed, another, BPS-03, arrived carrying a SWAT team that fast-roped into the display area to whoops from the crowd.
The highlight, though, was AS350's BPS-03 and BPS-04 giving a synchronised display inside the stadium, performing various harmonised manoeuvres in gusty conditions, before nodding in salute to the assorted police dignitaries and President Masisi and departing at speed.
To carry out such a display in a built-up environment takes a huge amount of skill and is a testament to the talent of the pilots and their training. It is notable that over the years the Air Support Unit has built up a very good relationship with the French Gendarmerie's flying units. One of the interesting things as a helicopter fan was the quietness of the Airbus machines despite the enclosed area.
While not obvious from the photos, there was a good crowd, but these were concentrated in the two main stands from where they had a grandstand view - of everything but the flypast!
Other highlights for me were when two 'fruit stall sellers' got really into their roles during an arrest demonstration and pelted their attackers with oranges (with more force than was strictly necessary!) and the Motorcycle Display Team. The latter performed a range of daring stunts at a range of speeds, showing both skill and control.
Once again, the Botswana Police Service had shown that it is a modern capable force and it is no surprise that it is often ranked amongst the best in Africa. But more than that, they are a real part of the community and are almost universally friendly and approachable - long may that continue.