Airforce Base Swartkops, the oldest operational Airforce Base in the world, was shaken awake on Saturday 5 May with the annual South African Airforce Museum Airshow. This year’s theme was “Our Indomitable Spirt”.
The show was officially opened by the current chief of the Airforce Lieutenant General Fabian "Zakes" Msimang. As soon as Gen Msimang welcomed the growing crowd to the show a BAE Hawk from 85 Combat Flying School got airborne with the current Officer Commanding at the controls. Col. Craig “Shark” Leeson delivered a flawless display in the SAAF’s lead-in fighter trainer.
Craig “Shark” Leeson
The South African Airforce Museum were the next to take to the air, the SAAF Museum Historic Flight also known as 200 Squadron, keep a selection of aircraft from the SAAF’s illustrious past flying in pristine conditions. The first wave of aircraft was the Helicopters, two Alouette II’s, an Alouette III’s and the mighty Puma.
The rotor-wings were followed closely by two Cessna 185’s both of these C185 were recently restored to flying status by the dedicated Museum technical team. Next up was a formation of two Bosboks led by a Kudu.
Bosbok and Kudu
Four Harvard’s made up the fourth wing of the flypast, the first Jet used by the SAAF, the de Havilland Vampire, went directly into a display after the fly pasts and always Col Glaen Warden wowed the crowd with the sights and sounds of this wonderful aircraft.
de Havilland Vampire
The civilian contingent of the airshow was kicked off by a Andrew Blackwood-Murry, Andrew currently competes in the intermediate category in the South African Aerobatics competitions in his Nashua sponsored Extra 300.
Col. Jeff Earl to the spectators down memory lane with a wonderful display in his perfectly restored de Havilland Tigermoth, The Tigermoth was used to train pilots before and during WWII and was first flown in 1931.
de Havilland Tigermoth
The SAAF Museum pilots performed a stunning display of synchronised flying in the two Alouette II’s and two Alouette III’s, both of these two helicopters play a very big role in the Angolan Bush War and have now been retired and replaced by more modern machines.
Alouette II and Alouette III
Throughout the show the large crowd were kept informed and entertained by the brilliant commentary by Brian Emmenis and his team from Capital Sounds. Brian goes out of his way to make every airshow a memorable occasion for the visitors with live crossings to the display pilots and interviews with experts in the aviation world.
The newly branded Tailifts “flying Cows” Pitts Special team took to the cloudless skies, Scully Levin, Arnie Meneghelli, Sean Thackwray and Ellis Levin make up this team which probably the longest lasting aerobatics teams on the airshow circuit today.
Tailifts “flying Cows” Pitts Special team
In a very special treat Patrick Davidson SA’s only current Red Bull Air Racing competitor was joined by Unlimited Aerobatics Pilots Barrie Eeles in a brilliant display of unlimited aerobatics. Patrick was flying a Sbach 342 with Barrie in his Extra 330Sc.
From Hi-performance props to the “Sound of Freedom” Centurion area was shaken when the Maj. Cooper took to the air for a flawless display of pure power in the JAS39 Gripen. The Gripen is the SAAF lead fighter and is operated by 2 Squadron AFB Makhado. 2 Squadron are the only Squadron the SAAF to have been operational in every armed conflict that the country has been involved in since its inception in the early 1940’s.
Dump n Burn
Col Glen Warden and Col Martin Louw were the reason for many cases of “Goosebumps “amongst ex SAAF members as they took to the air in two Harvards, The Harvard achieved legendary status in The SAAF in the 50’s through to the late 80’s as the unforgiving schoolmaster of the air. Glen and Martin are both ex SAAF fighter pilots are now senior captains at Comair.
Col Glen Warden and Col Martin Louw
The fairly gentle aerobatics of the Harvard were followed by the Hi-Impact extreme aeros of Team X-treme, Nigel Hopkins, Mark Hensman, Mark “Sammy” Sampson and Jason Beamish delivered yet another well-polished tight display in four of top aerobatic aircraft available. Nigel flew lead in an Extra 300, Mark in his beautiful MX2, Sammy in his Sbach and Jason performed in Nigels Extra 330Sc. Team X-treme have become regular performers on the Chinese Airshow Circuit where they perform as Team Red Bull China.
Captain Scully Levin, was rushed off to OR Tambo only to return in a Boeing 737-800 from Mango Airlines, the cockpit must have been very busy with terrain, proximity, bank angle and every other conceivable warning going off during this stunning low-level display.
As the Heavy departed the airspace the base become a War-zone, the war was started with the high level insertion of SANDF pathfinders, when the area had been re-coned by the Spes force, “Jumbo”a 28 Squadron C130,was called in with its payload of Parabats followed closely by a cargo-drop by a 44 Squadron Casa 212.
A SAAF Museum Bosbok and the command aircraft, an Agusta 109, surveyed the area from the air co-ordinating all the ground forces.
Rooivalk and an Alouette II joined the theatre to lay down top cover protection for the ground forces, under their protection more soldiers could be deployed by the might Oryx call sign “Giant”.
All the while two Hawks were circling bombing strategic areas in support of the guys on the ground.
After a short break in the program to clear the battle field Glen Warden got airborne in the Aero L-29 Delfín the L-29 is an Eastern Block fighter trainer from the cold war era. This specific L-29 was part of the Nato Tigers aerobatics team that was disbanded a few years ago.
Aero L-29 Delfín
As Glen landed it came to light that a civilian vehicle had been parked illegally and was preventing the Fuel bowsers from getting fuel to the participating aircraft. Gen John Church was called upon to remove the offending vehicle. The General effortlessly lifted the vehicle with the Museums Puma and promptly dropped it from a good 300 foot, this Volvo crash capabilities were really put to the test.
Patrick Davidson once again took to the air this time in a solo display, the Red Bull Sbach was thrown around the sky like a model aircraft showing the skill that earned Patrick an invite to take part in the Red Bull Air Racing challenger Series.
“From Russia with love” Little Annie an Antanov AN2 from Just Love Mission was next on the programme. Mark and Jon-Marc Hill, father and son, took her through a series of breath taking slow wingovers. The AN2 is the largest single engine Bi-Plane ever built and this particular one was flown all the way from the Baltic see to South Africa in an epic journey that took almost 3 months.
After a bit of musical chairs Glen Warden once agiain took to the air this time in the Goodyear Eagles Pitts Special, he was joined by Nigel Hopkins, Jason Beamish and Johan von Solms. Watching the precision of this team is always a pleasure and their sequence is changed often so you never know what to expect from them.
Sticking with Bi-planes Ivan van der Schaar put on a display of aerial ballet in his wonderfully restored Randolph eyewear sponsored Boeing Stearman. Ivan, a captain at Comair, and his wife Sonica rebuilt this aircraft over a period of two years doing all the work themselves including re-cover the wings and fuselage.
Ivan van der Schaar
The new generation Kudu, renamed Atlas Angel, was displayed. Johan Lock from Warbird Aircraft Services gave the Kudu’s a new lease on life by fitting them with a Walter Turbine engine they are now extensively used as skydiving platforms as they can reach altitudes of well over 10000ft without much effort.
One very big disappointment was the Silver Falcons or should I say the absence of the Silver Falcons. Only one of the aircraft performed, Maj Bheki Shabangu performed a good solo display under the circumstances.
Maj Bheki Shabangu
Nigel Hopkins the current National Unlimited Aerobatics Champion took to the air and delivered his own personal brand of excellence. Nigel displayed the abilities of the magnificent Extra330Sc and of course his own abilities in a High “G” High energy sequence. Nigel recently achieved a fourth place in the world Unlimited freestyle championships.
A hush fell on the crowd as twelve Harvards took-off , the sound of these Pratt n Whitney radials wil always have an effect on aviation loves of all ages. First off was the Puma Energy Flying Lions followed by four Harvards from the SAAF Museum and four aircraft from the Harvard Club of South Africa. The Flying Lions went straight into their display while the others held over the Speskop Area.
When the lions called sequence complete the holding Harvards joined for a flypast and landing with an excellently timed run-up and mass shutdown. The absolute silence when the radials stop is always an emotional moment, the crowd then erupted in cheers as the pilots stood up in the cockpits.
Craig Leeson once again thrilled the crowd with a magnificent display in the BAE Hawk , followed by yet another flawless display by Team X-Treme.
Glen Warden got airborne in another aircraft, this time the Aero L-39 Albatros which was originally built as a replacement for the L-29 that he displayed earlier. The L-39 is arguably the most successful jet trainer ever built.
Aero L-39 Albatros
17 Squadron based at AFB Swartkops gave an impromptu display in a A109 followed by a Rooivalk display that left spectators breathless, seeing a helicopter inverted tends to do that to people. The Rooivalk Attack Helicopter is based at 16 Squadron in Bloemfontein and after its recent victories in the DRC has become the Pride of the Airforce and the country as a whole.
The Show was closed with a magnificent sunset display by Maj Cooper in the Gripen.
Well done to The SAAF Museum for a well organised and very successful aviation spectacle from the smooth gate operation to the ongoing cleaning of the public areas, every detail seemed to be taken care of very well.
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