A tribute to two aviation legends

By Brian Emmenis Photos supplied


As an air show commenter working on a regular basis with top display pilots at air shows, one very quickly builds up a relationship similar with that of an extended family. This past week the world of aviation was shocked at the tragic deaths of Major General Des Barker and Colon Rama Iyer. Their Patchen Explorer crashed and burnt out just before the security wall at the Swartkop Air Force Base.

For me, a double blow. Firstly, General Des Barker and I go back a very long way. He was already a member of the elite Silver Falcon aerobatic team in 1986 when I became the Falcon's official commentator.

Our first reunion was the 21st anniversary of the Silver Falcons at Langebaan Weg. It was there that I got chatting to General Barker.

When he was posted as air attaché to Great Britain for the South African Air Force, we were often in each other's company. He was then a full colonel and I a lieutenant colonel. We went to numerous functions together and I was amazed at who he knew in the world of aviation. He was appointed as one of the senior judges for the Royal international air tattoo which meant that he was judging alongside the best senior officials of the world.

General Barkers accolades are many, the highest being awarded honoree fellowship to the Royal Aeronautical Society. During the 100-year existence of this establishment, only 130 names adorn the honour shields. General Barker's name appears with names like Winston Churchill, Chuck Yeager and Frank Whittle to mention but a few, not forgetting Orville Wright.

It was at the Farnborough International Air Show that the two of us discussed the possibility of having a fighter meet at the Makhado Air Force base.

General Barker came back to South Africa and as base commander as Makhado, he made it happen and organized one of the biggest gatherings of fast jets ever seen at an air show in South Africa.

During his tenure as OC at Test Flight and Development Centre, General Barker got to fire off a live missal during an air show. This was the first time that something like this had ever happened anywhere in the world.

In his forty-year career as a combat and test pilot in the SAAF General Barker accumulated more than 7000 hours in 58 different types of aircraft. After retirement he served as head of the Aeronautics Research Unit of the Council for Scientific and Industrial research, was the Vice President of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots of SA and served on the boards of the Aeronautical Society of SA and of Aishow SA.

My deepest sympathy to his lovely wife Bennie, his sons Dean and Kevin and their respective families.

As a test pilot he reached his ultimate goal to be one of the best in the world. As an author, his books are found on the shelves of the international council of air shows in America, the European Air show commission in Brussels and throughout many major libraries in the world.

Des Barker, you my dear friend will be sorely missed.

God bless and Rest in Peace

My working relation with Colonel Rama Iyer was a lot different. I met him at an air show and found him to be such a friendly, humble, yet wonderful person.

His flying displays were a pleasure to watch and even more so to commentate on.

Major Iyer would often be seen at air shows talking to youngsters about his days flying and what it was like in the Indian Air Force where he flew Migs and then being in the South African air force.

He went out of his way to help me in whichever way he could. His lovely wife was often at his side when we attended gala dinners together.

Quiet, soft spoken, my heart goes out to her and the family at this very sad time. Major Iyer was also fluent in several languages including Tswana.

Once retired he joined the CAA and was busy doing exceptional work. Sadly, he too now went to the great big hanger in the sky where he will continue to soar with eagles.

Rest in Peace Rama, you will never be forgotten.

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