After many months of planning by the Lowveld Airshow Council the day finally arrived for this great spectacle on the Lowveld events calendar. The show started with a “dawn” balloon flight, although it was still pitch dark when they prepared the balloons for the flight.
As 10:00 approached the crowd started pouring in from all over the Lowveld, I spoke to some people that had left Phalaborwa at 4:00 to make it to the show, they say they are starved for this type of entertainment in the Lowveld.
Kishugu mascots eentertaining the early comers
The official opening of the show was announced by the roar of Harley Davidsons from the local “Hog” Club they were thrilled to have the opportunity to ride their machines on the runway. While they were forming up the early birds in the crowd were treated to a short Kitfox display followed by a formation flight of two RC aerobatics machines.
The show was officially opened by a skydiving display by civilian and military skydivers, the civilian jumpers were dropped from Little Annie and the military from a SAAF Casa 212. All the sky divers formed up in a line to salute the Casa with a line of Harleys in the background.
Bobby Rowe then got airborne in the Micro Aviation Bat Hawk, Bat Hawks are locally built by father and son team Andrew and Terry Pappas they have recently exported aircraft to many countries in Africa for anti-poaching operations. Bobby showed why this light aircraft has become the got-to aircraft for this type of operation.
Micro Aviation Bat Hawk
In true Nelspruit tradition three Piper Cubs took off and delivered a performance of low speed formation flying. Years ago Nelspruit was known as the Cub Capital of South Africa.
Ivan van der Schaar was the next to thrill the growing crowd, Ivan, a captain at ComAir learnt to fly in Nelspruit as a young boy and was honoured to return in his Boeing Stearman that he and his wife Sonica painstakingly restored over a three year period.
Ivan van der Schaar
Neville Ferreira got the adrenaline pumping with a brilliant display of unlimited aerobatics in his freshly painted Slick 540, the Slick 540 is a South African designed and built aerobatics machine.
No sooner had the smoke cleared from Neville’s display when the Goodyear Eagles took to the sky, Nigel Hopkins led the formation through an all new sequence with Johan von Solms and Jason Beamish on his wingtips.
The airspace above Nelspruit was cleared and the beautiful Embraer E190 from SA Airlink was called in, the E190 is the latest addition to the Airlink stable and is now being used on the St Helena route as it can handle the dangerous wind shear experienced on the island with relative ease. Seeing an airliner of this size negotiating mountainous terrain so close to the ground is always a treat.
SA Airlink E190
From the whistle of General Electric Turbofans to the roar of Pratt n Whitney Radials, The Puma Energy Flying Lions had the spectators holding their breath with a very tight formation aerobatics display. Scully Levin, Arnie Meneghelli, Ellis Levin and Sean Thackwray have been thrilling airshow regulars since 1999 with these wonderful old ladies of the air.
Puma Energy Flying Lions
The South African Police Airwing dropped in for a quick visit in their Pilatus PC-6 Porter, the short field and slow flying capabilities of this aircraft are legendary and it is the ideal aircraft for the police to do surveillance operations.
Pilatus PC-6 Porter
The pace of the show was suddenly quickened extremely, Team X-treme delivered another precise, hi speed and hi energy display showing why they are regarded as one of the top formation aerobatics teams in the world. Nigel Hopkins, Mark Hensman, Mark Sampson and Jason Beamish are also regulars on the Chinese airshow circuit.
Kigushu, the main sponsors of this airshow operate a fleet of Bell Huey helicopters, AT-802 Air Tractors from Nelspruit during the summer fire season. Four of their Air Tractors display their bombing capabilities, they can release their payload of over 2 tons of water and fire retardants with pin point accuracy.
AT-802 Air Tractors
The legend that is Dannie Terblanche delivered a display of helicopter manoeuvrability that would have Mr Frank Robinson, the designer of the Robison range of helicopters, gasping for air. The Robinson R66 is the newest member of the Robinson family and is powered by a Rolls-Royce RR300 turboshaft where its predecessors were piston driven.
Neville Ferreira got airborne for his second display of the day in the Slick 540 “Pocket Rocket” followed by another wonderful performance by the SA Airlink E190.
SA Airlink E190
The Black Hawk helicopter made its South African Airshow debut, this massive helicopter was brought tour shores by yet another helicopter legend, Mark Jackson went to the USA and test flew the Black Hawk and was instantly hooked and decided to bring one home with him.
While the Black hawk was displaying the Airfield suddenly got very noisy, with all the alarms at “Working on Fire” going off. The crews were scrambled to a fire and in no time the fleet of Air Tractor bombers and Bell Hueys were airborne, this time accompanied by a Cessna 210 spotter.
After their departure the show went on with a mass flypast of all three aerobatic teams seeing seven Pitts Specials, two Extra’s , a Sbach and an MX2 in formation was really a goose bump moment. After the flypasts the Taillifts Flying Cows went directly into their display. Scully ,Ellis, Arnie and Sean performed a new display in which two of the aircraft do a very tight inverted flypast.
Taillifts Flying Cows
Nigel Hopkins and Mark Hensman kept the adrenaline levels up with an amazing sequence which was started with an opposing take-off , they raced towards one another in knife-edge.
Mark Hensman and Nigel Hopkins
The “Working on Fire” crews returned just in time for yet another skydive this time one of the skydivers was flying a massive national flag, the flag weighs a massive 83kg. Emnotweni Sun donated R20000 rand to a local charity and the beneficiary was chosen by the where the skydiver flying the flag landed, Jumpstart Mattafin were the lucky recipients.
The Goodyear Eagles once again took to the air in their Pitts Specials and as always delivered a flawless display, the Pitts special is well over 70 years old and still going strong.
Dannie Terblanche once again took to the blue Nelspruit skies this time dressed as an eighty year old who “stole” the Husky, Brian Emmenis from capital sound had the built the crowd into a near frenzy when this “elderly” gent took off with the Husky. Dannie landed on one wheel then the other running off the runway in the process, The ability to make everyone believe that he could not fly at all must have taken an exceptional amount of skill.
“Thundering Jets the Sound of Freedom” enter Gripen, the SAAF sent a JAS39 Gripen from Makhado Airforce Base to thrill the crowds. The Gripen did a few passes then an upper Charlie before having to leave before its limited fuel supply was deleted.
Team X-treme delivered yet another perfect display for all the late comers that missed them earlier, followed by a military skydiving display once again being dropped from the Casa 212. Jaapie Keet a member of the SAAF Golden Eagles team experienced a control line failure and ended up in the trees to the east of the field. The Casa located him and directed the SAAF Oryx to his position where he was safely brought back to the airfield.
Safe in the Oryx
As the shadows got longer the Tailifts Flying Cows got airborne for their final performance of the day. They had just landed when all the “motorheads” in the crowd were treated to a race between a Jaguar and Range Rover team racing a Gazelle Helicopter flown by Juba Joubert. The cars managed to edge out the chopper and Neville decide to protect the honour of the airborne community by racing and beating the same two cars in his Slick 540.
Tailifts Flying Cows
A very successful show was closed off by a magnificent twilight display by the Puma Energies Flying Lions followed by the “Rock the Runway” fireworks display accompanied by a Rock Band and Night Glow Balloons.
The Lowveld Airshow was definitely one to remember and I believe it is a very strong contender for the airshow of the year prize this year.