Life's a Beech 18 - Return Trip to Virginia Airshow 2023
By Russell Dixon-Paver
08 - 10 09 2023
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I had resigned myself to missing the revived Virginia AirShow 2023 edition, because I could not afford the expense of the trip, accommodation, etc. My first exposure to aviation was at Virginia Airport as I had an uncle who lived in Glenashley, visiting the airfield at times and in the 1960's had watched the Virginia Air Pageant from the dunes on the sea-side of the runway.
At that Air Pageant a Mirage broke the sound-barrier and caused mayhem in Durban-North, where many windows were shattered by the sonic shock-wave. Later, my brother and I, as schoolboys, used to catch 2 busses to attend the Air Pageants. Later still my brother and I had our first flying experience, joining our cousin and his instructor, doing circuits and bumps, as he did his conversion to twin aircraft. My cousin, brother and a number of friends served as ATC's at Virginia. Many young men went the ATC route, while they started PPL's and CPL's and built their hours to eventually become airline pilots.
When I was called and offered a flight with Captian Flippie Vermeulen of Springbok Classic Air, in his Beech 18, I did not spend much time in deciding to take up the offer! I was able to take over a self-catering booking from someone who could not use it, and that worked well as it was within walking distance from the Virginia Airport.
Departure was scheduled for Friday 08 September at 12:00 from Rand Airport, where Springbok Classic Air is based. Flippie gave us a briefing and a short history of Hangar 5 and the Beech 18 ZS-OIJ. The back part of the hangar was the original SAA hangar, built to accommodate the first Fokker aircraft to be ordered. There were delays in sourcing the engines specified, and this ran into the beginning of WWII, resulting in the aircraft not being delivered. The hangar has since been extended and accommodates Springbok Classic Air's extensive fleet of aircraft.
ZS-OIJ is a 1959 model and was used in Canada for short-haul small-freight operations. She is a E18S variant, introduced in 1955, which had the increased height cabin area and is powered by two Pratt & Whitney R-985 450HP radial piston engines. She arrived in South Africa in 1994 and served with Mercy Air in missionary operations until 2010. In 2000 the long nose extension was fitted, enabling increased loads by balancing C of G. She featured in the "Amelia" film with the short nose in 2008.
After her Mercy Air service, she was sold into Namibia and was stranded at Sossusvlei in 2012. Flippie Vermeulen bought her in 2013 and rescued her, to become part of the Springbok Classic Air fleet. The Beech 18 had about 32 variants and almost 8,000 were built between 1937 and 1970, used in many air forces and civilian operations around the world. Long range, good useable load and good cruise speed capabilities are hallmarks of the type.
Beech 18 ZS-OIJ is towed out of Hangar 5, Rand Airport.
Pre-flight was completed and we board and strap in.
On board ZS-OIJ, as Flippie Vermeulen and his son Ben start the engines and run through final pre-flight checks.
The flight was at 10 000 ft and we routed via Warden and Ladysmith to Durban. Weather was good for flying for the entire route.
Passing the two SAA Jumbo 747's at SAA Museum as we head for the runway threshold.
Flying at relatively low level gives good views of ground features. Here we see the veld fires as we approach the Drakensberg. The fires had caused a thick layer of smoke-haze around our flight-level.
Ben holds the "map" for Flippie, so he can adjust course for the final leg into Durban.
Still more veld fires in the deep Drakensberg valleys.
Despite the haze, Moses Mabida Stadium comes into view soon after crossing the escarpment.
Losing altitude and making a gentle right turn at the coast, we line up for Virginia's runway from the Beechwood Golf Course end, heading North, and land. We then back-tracked down the runway, to park at the Southern end between the hangars. Flight duration was 2 hours. Most of the flight was smooth, with some turbulence over the escarpment.
Chocks in, pitot covers on and air intakes covered, Flippie Vermeulen, his wife Maryna and son Ben pose for a record photograph in front of ZS-OIJ.
We then went our separate ways to get ready for the AirShow on Saturday. It was really good to be back for a Virginia AirShow! Various arrivals, validation and practice flights could be heard and seen until the sun set. Brian Spurr produced an excellent report of the Saturday Virginia AirShow, already published in Pilot's Post. Also on the flight were Marco Marť, who works for Springbok Classic Air, and his Dad, Michael, who was involved in major refurbishment work on the AirLink Embraer that displayed at the AirShow.
Captain Flippie Vermeulen and his son Ben get airborne for their display of the Beech 18.
The return flight to Rand Airport was on Sunday morning, which allowed some of the final departures of other visiting aircraft to be seen. We then loaded our luggage and Ben did the external pre-flight checks.
Captain Flippie Vermeulen checks over his flight plan. Meticulous in every detail!
We took off just before 10:00 and turned out right over the sea, then doing a 180 around shipping waiting to enter the harbour, as we gained altitude before crossing the coast again North of Virginia.
Course set for the first leg of the route back to Rand Airport.
The smoke-haze was still evident as we crossed the escarpment near Van Reenen. The cold front returned winter on the flowing Tuesday, with snow on the Cape mountains.
Vaal Dam in view to the West signaled that we were close to the end of our flight.
Ben puts the Beech to bed, expertly handling the Massey Fergusson tractor, with Marco keeping a watchful eye.
The Vermeulen family certainly lives out their passion for preservation of vintage aviation!
Thanks to the family-team at Springbok Classic Air for a memorable return flight on a classic vintage aircraft, the Beech 18, which was the equivalent of a biz-jet in it's heyday, and for this opportunity to return to my aviation passion roots for the latest iconic Virginia AirShow 2023. It sure beats driving 6 hours each way to Durban! Maybe they should bring the "Air Pageant" naming back to this airshow at this special venue?
Beech 18 and DC3 to SAAF Museum AFB Swartkop Airshow