The South African Air force (SAAF) descended on Eldorado Park South of Johannesburg on Friday 2nd September for a youth aviation awareness expo. Major Geoffrey Cooper, who grew up in Eldorado Park addressed the crowd of over a thousand young people saying “I joined the SAAF because it is the most professional place to be” he also encouraged the youth to follow the right path, “because if you choose right, the path is laid out for you.” Major Cooper is a Gripen fighter pilot and has recently displayed the Gripen at three Airshows.
Lieutenant General Fabian Zakes Msimang, Chief of the SAAF, encouraged the youth to join the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and the South African Police Service (SAPS) in his address. He also called for more women to join the military as part of the ongoing transformation efforts. Gen Msimang pleaded with leaners to take more of an interest in Maths, Science and Geography and to be committed to their future in a disciplined way.
South African Air Force Spokesperson, Colonel Eugene Motati said the event was an opportunity to show the youth that the South African National Defence Force has to offer. It was also a good community engagement exercise that shows the SANDF working to protect the citizens of South Africa. He also said the youth outreach programme aimed to promote aviation awareness and encourage the youth to excel academically in order to enter the aviation industry.
The SAAF “Cockpit ambassadors” the Silver Falcons” were present with a four ship formation. Maj Mark Gentels and his team continue to inspire young people to strive to be just like them.
A four ship Gripen display entertained the young ones followed by a three ship Hawk display which included the Hawk painted in the SA Flag known as “Valggie”.
Oryx Helicopters gave the youngsters a taste of flight by taking them on a short flight around the area, the smiles on their faces as they landed told the full story, hopefully some of them will be inspired to enter the wonderful world of aviation.
The SANDF and SAPS had some of their hardware on static dislay these included the Namacurra patrol boat, Ratel infantry combat vehicles and SAPS Squirrel helicopter. The SAAF Young Falcons Team were on hand to guide the youth and explain the ins and outs about joining the SAAF. Various other branches of the military also showcased the career opportunities within the SANDF.
A simulated mini war display had all the youngsters in awe as the helicopters dropped in and picked up soldiers while under fire. The SAAF used two Oryx’s a Agusta A109 and a BK 117. A dog handling demonstration by 500 squadron showed off a branch of the SAAF that is very seldom in the spotlight.
The SAAF Museum displayed their Alouette II and Alouette III helicopters, followed by a Hawk doing a series of aerobatic manoeuvres, The grand finale was a display by Maj Cooper in the JAS 39 Gripen, hopefully the sight of one of the Eldorado Park locals reaching these heights might inspire more of the young ones to overcome the odds and shine.