The SAAF Museum Airshow - Taking Off To New Frontiers
By Jaco Pitout
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After a hiatus of nearly four years this popular Airshow made a welcome return to the calendar this past weekend. My "journey" with the airshow started a week prior, on Friday 28 April, when I was to visit the Swartkop West, now the Mobile Deployment Wing (MDW) Swartkop facility also known as the Airforce Gymnasium for accreditation purposes.
Capt Mpama was the liaison that I dealt with for this purpose. I must compliment him and the associated staff with the seamless accreditation process. I walked in with photo identification and walked out with a neatly printed name card and lanyard 15 minutes later.
Fast forward a week to Saturday the 6th of May a cool and slightly windy morning greeted us as I parked my car at the base just after 0530. I presented my accreditation to the guards on duty and was warmly welcomed to the base.
This year, I elected to make a departure from my usual spot and take up a position on the bleachers located at show centre, right underneath the broadcast tower and air traffic control position. All settled in, I had met up with fellow photographers and we all discussed our excitement for the day that lie in wait.
As the sun appeared over the eastern horizon, the chill in the air was soon a thing of the past as the sun did a fantastic job at providing some warmth.
The very full programme started at 08:15 with a group of powered paragliders providing some colour to the grey and now slightly cloudy morning.
Next up on the program was the traditional cavalcade of emergency and rescue vehicles and aircraft. Always a remarkable to see what goes into keeping the public and the performers safe at an airshow of this magnitude.
When I see Harvard 7111, I remember that I once had a coffee mug with an illustration of 7111, or Nelson as it is affectionately known. It was beautifully flown by Col. Matin Louw, callsign Marlow.
No sooner had the Harvard touched down that Andrew Blackwood-Murray had taken off and proceeded directly into his routine without a minute wasted, living up to the slogan of his sponsor, Nashua, saving you time, saving you money, and putting you first. Andrew is a very experienced aviator and started his career in the South African Airforce where flew several types including the Impala.
Andre van Zyl is a firm favourite with crowds all over the country when he displays his Magni Gyrocopter. It is such a delight to see Andre' enjoying the fresh May air during his display.
A beautifully painted L29, themed the Austrian Eagle, was next on the program with Grant Timms at the helm. Grant had an exceptionally busy day ahead; he would go on to fly in the Chipmunk and Tiger Moth later during the show. The airshow circuit used to be spoilt for choice when it came to the L29 and the variety of act that used them. It is a rare privilege to see one displayed so gracefully. Grant's routine was accompanied by music from the SAAF Marching Band. I am not sure that it was intentional or planned, but it worked perfectly!
A collection of five of the museum helicopters took to the skies next for a perfectly choreographed aerial ballet. These machines are kept in absolute pristine condition, and it can be seen in the way their canopies glinted in the autumn sun.
Once the helicopters touched down at show centre and shut down the Chief of the South African Airforce, Lt. General Wiseman Mbambo, officially opened the airshow.
Major Corrie Oberholzer from 15 Squadron was next to perform in the BK117. He put on a beautiful display of this multi-purpose light helicopter.
In an age gone by, the Auster was used as an aerial observation platform and general liaison aircraft. 5408 is a beautiful example of time frozen and kept in tip top shape by the Classic Flying Collection in Springs. Flown here by Steve Brown.
There is no noise that attracts attention quite like that of a fast jet. This example of the South African Airforce jet trainer, the Hawk 120, was expertly flown by Rehan Venter. Incidentally he is one of the highest time Hawk Pilots in the SAAF. One of a handful with more than 1000 hours on Hawk. It certainly shows in his high energy display!
The cockpit ambassadors of the South African Airforce, the Silver Falcons, sent a solo aircraft to display in-front of the 25 000 expectant spectators. I did hear some spectators ask where the rest of the team is and why they are not displaying. The absence of the balance of the team was felt. The solo performance was of excellent standard none the less and was enjoyed by all.
The name Hired Gun is not just synonymous with brilliant coffee (I know, I have tried and it's amazing!) but it is also the sponsor of the very popular Pitts Special Aerobatic team under the command of Scully Levin. Arnie Meneghelli, Sean Thackwray and Ellis Levin flew alongside the team leader with the precision that all crowds have come to appreciate.
Johan "Juba" Joubert is well known in airshow circles, and he is a very experienced helicopter pilot. He has many thousands of hours to his name and his level of expertise and skill can be seen in the way that he demonstrates the beautiful Aerospatiale Gazelle helicopter.
If there is one aircraft flight that might end up costing you a trip to the bank and many many of your weekends, it is a flight in an RV. This successful kit-built aircraft first made popular van Dick van Grunsven has a following second to none in the world of home-built aircraft. They are sleek, economical and a lot of fun! The Raptors aerobatic team uses a mixture of various RV aircraft to delight crowds around South Africa and internationally. The formation was led by Nigel Hopkins, he was joined by Dion Raath, Ryan Beeton, Trevor Warner and Johan van Solms.
Draken, Viggen. Is it then not natural that the next in line fighter aircraft from SAAB also have a name linked to a mythical create? Gripen - derived from the word Griffin a mythical creature that has the face, beak, claws and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion. It always impresses! Especially with Musa Midnite Mbhokota at the controls.
The Classic Flying Collection in Springs boasts a collection of classic aircraft and other items at their hangars located at Springs airfield. It is very generous of the custodians of these classic machines to put them on display for the general public. Their two formation displays included a 3 ship Chipmunk formation featuring Rodney Chinn, Steve Brown and Grant Timms as well as a Grant and Steve in a two ship Tiger Moth formation.
The SAAF Museum again put on a display, I cannot recall ever being done, a Cessna 185 in formation with two Allouette III's and a Puma in formation with two Harvards. These dissimilar formations speak of the capabilities of the pilots involved. It was a magical remarkable sight.
Father and Son Team Ivan and Jandre' van der Schaar brought their Boeing Stearman and RC Extra together in a memorable display.
High energy aerobatics is a crowd favourite all over the world. South Africa is no different, putting two Extra aircraft in the air with the hands of Jason Beamish and Nigel Hopkins at the controls mean only one thing - non-stop, breath-taking flying!
Menno Parsons need no introduction; he is the owner and operator of several beautiful flying machines. He brought along his Tiger themed Huey and his P51 Mustang - Mustang Sally to the event. He also had the opportunity to drop some parachutists from different branches of the SANDF from the Huey.
The Goodyear Eagles also joined in the civilian side of the airshow by bringing an exhilarating show to the crowd under ever darkening skies.
The founder and owner of the Goodyear Eagles, Dennis Spence, also made an appearance however in something slightly heavier and faster than the Pitts that he usually flies at airshows. He brought in a Boeing 737-400 for a flypast or two.
In conversation with another photographer on the stand, we both agreed, that if we were enemy soldiers and we saw the next aircraft, we would very quickly evacuate our present position with extreme haste. Rooivalk is an intimidating adversary.
Always a crowd puller and a firm favourite because of her distinct sound and beautiful lines is Mustang Sally. What a sight to behold, a rare treat to behold this vintage and stunning machine displayed gracefully by Menno Parsons.
The Flying Lions visited earlier in the day and delivered a fantastic display. Their dusk display always evokes a whole lot of emotion. The display with the lights in the tails and the smoke make it an unforgettable experience, every single time.
To close off the day, the Gripen was launched at dusk, again under the command of Midnite. The afterburner made the most beautiful rosettes in the late afternoon darkness.
A return of one of the most popular airshows in the country after a long time off the calendar. Full credit must go to the organisers for putting an event of this magnitude together! Did we miss some usual participants? Yes, for sure, but this airshow is a fantastic example of how the aviation community and military came together to give airshow enthusiasts something to remember.