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Bethlehem Airshow 2017

The people of the small Free State town of Bethlehem were treated to an airshow on Saturday 27th August. The early morning weather must have had the organisers worried, the low cloud looked as if it would set in for the day. The spectators streamed in from very early in the morning despite the freezing temperatures and bone chilling wind, the temperature had only reached 3° by 8 am.

The organisers went all out to involve the local youth in an attempt to grow the aviation passion amongst the busloads of school children that were brought in for the day.

With a slight reshuffle of the display programme the Show started on time with Andre Coetzee displaying one of Henley Air’s Bell 222, Henley Air is a Charter and Flight Training Company based at Rand Airport and has been operating since 1995

Little Annie the Antanov AN2 was the next to take to the gloomy grey skies, Mark and John-Marc Hill, a father and son team throw this wonderful Russian machine around the air in a wonderful display of the aircrafts abilities. This particular AN2 is now 30 years old and still going strong.

The clouds were still pretty low and so were the temperatures but that didn’t stop Matthew Zalewski from displaying the Magni Gyrocopter. Matthew a commercial and test pilot really enjoys showing people what a Gyro is really capable of.

Ivan van der Schaar took to the air in his beautifully restored Boeing Stearman, Ivan and his wife Sonica rebuilt this machine completely over a five year period. Ivan had barely defrosted after the flight from home base at Petit Airfield near Kempton Park when he did his dispaly.

As the clouds were lifting the performers that need a bit more altitude got a chance to strut their stuff, Team Xtreme took to the Bethlehem, the crowd stood in awe as they flew a flawless display of up close and personal formation Aerobatics. The team of two Sbach’s , flown by Jason Beamish and Mark Sampson, a MX2 flown Mark Hensman and the leader Nigel Hopkins in his Extra 330sc.

The Silver Falcons were cleared to do their display and as always they thrilled the crowed with their very impressive display. The Silver Falcons are celebrating their 50th birthday in November this year.

Finally the clouds had lifted enough for the skydivers to get airborne, little Annie was their “jump ship” they jumpers had to pop their canopies as soon as they exited as they couldn’t get very much altitude.

One of the skydivers jumped with what is thought to be the biggest flag in Africa, the flag weighs in at 82kg and has to be jumped by a qualified tandem skydiver with a very big canopy.

Neville Ferreira in his Slick 540 managed to get the crowed mesmerized with a series of collective “Ohhhs” and “Ahhhs” as he delivered his Hi-speed Hi-impact Hi-energy display. Neville will be competing in the Unlimited World Aerobatic Championships next month in Malelane

Highly experienced SAA captain Pierre Gouws took to the air in an L-39 Albatros. The Aero L-39 Albatros is a high-performance jet trainer aircraft developed in Czechoslovakia by Aero Vodochody. It was designed during the 1960s as a replacement for the Aero L-29 Delfín as a principal training aircraft.

Next up was the first of the Pitts Special Teams, The Goodyear Eagles consisting of four Pitts Special S-2B’s were expertly flown by four of the best display pilots in South Africa, Johan von Solms, Paul Coetzer, Nigel Hopkins and Jason Beamish kept the crowed thrilled with their close formation and Hi-speed manoeuvres.

Scully Levin, Arnie Meneghelli, Sean Thackwray and Ellis Levin filled the sky with the deep throat roar of Prat and Whitney redials. The Puma Energy Flying Lions are one of the longest running airshow displays, as long as I can remember they have been flying displays.

As the day grew warmer so did the action Pierre Gouws and Larry Beamish seemed to be having lots of fun displaying two RV7’s joined by Mark Hensman in his MX2.

Gary Whitecross wowed everyone with a display of pure skill in his Pilatus B4 glider, Gary is the CFI at Air Play flying school based a Springs. Gary relies on a tow plane, flown by Derek Hopkins, to get to the correct altitude, Derek was in a Lambada Touring Motor Glider.

Slick aircraft were well represented with Conrad Botha delivering a well-executed sequence in his Slick 360. The “prototype" Slick 360 was built based on the Laser and Extra 230. It had the basic layout of the Laser (the same wing profile, elevator and rudder) and the control system of the Extra. the composite wing was stressed to +/- ten g’s .

All the Jet fans were treated to yet another display by the L-39 by Pierre Gouws this time with the added bonus of Mike Wiengaartz as a wigman in Dawid Laas’ Impala. Mike is a Denel test pilot with more hours in an Impala than anyone else in the world.

George Orsmond ,an experienced commercial pilot with years experience in agricultural aviation gave all present a taste of what crop spraying and fire-bombing is all about in the brand new Ayres Turbine Thrush equiped with a General Electric .

Neville Ferreira got airborne for his second display this time he did the low-level display that he is fast becoming famous for.

Scully, Arnie, Sean and Ellis flew a wonderful display in the Torre Pitts Specials, The contrast with on black and three white Pitts’ makes for a wonderful display.

The silent but very impressive silent display by Gary Whitecross is fast becoming a favourite display especially the hi speed low level pass before the teardrop landing.

Little Annie did a second display after dropping yet another batch of skydivers, this time one of the skydivers was riding the Capital Sounds canopy, Capital Sounds make sure the crowds at all the major airshows in South Africa and our neighbouring countries are kept entertained and informed. Well done Brian Emmenis and the rest of the guys from Capital Sounds.

Finally it was time for the much anticipated visit from the Bidvest Boeing 737-400 expertly piloted by Denis Spence and his Co-pilot Michelle Dreyer, Denis and Michelle were joined by the Goodyear Eagles delivering a spectacle not often seem in South Africa

A brilliant show was then closed off by the Silver Falcons.

Well done to all the organisers for a wonderful safe show and we will see you all next year.

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