The town of Bethlehem in the Eastern Free State was the centre of the Airshow world weekend last weekend with many of the top South African display pilots making their way to wow the local crowds.
Bethlehem Airshow seems to have shrugged the curse of freezing weather that plagued the showpiece for many years, Saturday was a very pleasant day except for the 20knot wind that threatened to derail proceedings. The morning started off with some cloud and as a result the opening Para drop was slightly delayed but the show started on time with a great display by Matthew Zalewski in his Europe MT 03 Auto Gyro.
During Matthews display the weather cleared sufficiently for Little Annie to get airborne with her cargo of skydivers and soon the grey Bethlehem skies were filled with canopies as the skydivers descended. Unfortunately one of the skydivers misjudged his final turn in the gusty conditions and landed very hard injuring himself pretty badly. The Free State Emergency Medical Services were on hand and immobilised him and rushed him to hospital, we later learned that he suffered a dislocated hip but he was doing well, we wish him a very speedy and full recovery.
The Tailifts Flying Cows then took to the air and delivered yet another flawless display albeit with only three of the normal four Pitts Specials. Scully Levin could unfortunately not join the show Arnie Meneghelli, Sean Thackwray and Scully Levine kept the flag flying high.
Tailifts Flying Cows
BA Comair captain, Ivan van der Schaar, took to the air and judging from the ever-growing crowds “oohs and Aahs” the Boeing Stearman is fast becoming a favourite amongst the airshow public throughout South Africa.
Ivan van der Schaar
As soon as Ivan departed the Show box attention was diverted from the air to the ground, Nic de Wit and his merry band of extreme MX riders started showing off their repertoire of aerial tricks off the ramp at show centre.
Nic de Wit
When they had got the crowd cheering Nigel Hopkins joined in, Nigel sidesliped between the take-off and landing ramp while Nic launched himself over the passing aircraft doing a perfect back for good measure.
Arnie, Ellis and Sean then lifted off this time in the majestic Harvards of the Puma Energy’s Flying lions team. The Harvard was the initial trainer is the SAAF for fifty five years before it was replaced by the Pilatus PC-7 Mk II’s in November 1995.
Puma Energy’s Flying lions
The current Director Aviation Safety at SA Airforce Keith Fryer stepped up to the mic and took on the role of commentator in the absence of Mr Airshow Brian Emmenis as he could not make the show in Bethlehem. Keith was joined by Elvis Manene , who took care of the Sotho commentary, and they were supported by the very professional team from Capital Sounds.
Elvis Manene and Keith Fryer
Team X-treme were the next act to wow the Bethlehem faithful with a magnificent display of flying skill in terribly windy conditions, Barrie Eels joined the Nigel Hopkins, Jason Beamish and Mark Hensman for his maiden Team X-treme display…. Well done Barrie
The windy conditions were not subsiding as Conrad Botha a Free State local flew a very good display in his Sally’s Yamaha Slick 360. Conrad recently achieved a fifth place finish in the National Intermediate aerobatics championships held in Bloemfontein.
Dr Andre Coetzee Took to the air in a Bell 222, the 222 became very famous in the 1980’s as it was the helicopter used in the hit series Airwolf.
The Goodyear Eagles kept the fast pace of the show rolling, the team has been active on the SA show circuit for over twenty nine years and have been sponsored by Goodyear since the beginning of the 2009 season.
Bethlehem has long been known for its crop sprayers, centrally situated in the Eastern Free State, South Africa’s main wheat producing are Orsmond Aerial have been servicing the local farmers since 1973. An Orsmond Turbo Thrush gave everyone a glimpse into the life of a crop sprayers day to day life.
Andrew Blackwood Murray, a SAA Cargo pilot delivered a display in competition aerobatics in his Nashua Extra 300. The Extra design is undoubtedly the most successful aerobatic aircraft of recent times and with the latest model the 330sc the title seems to safe for the foreseeable future.
After a short lunch break the afternoon programme was kicked off with the second display by the Taillifts Flying Cows followed by another thrilling display by Conrad Botha in the Slick 360.
After the second display by the Goodyear Eagles, Matthew Zwalenski once again put his Auto Gyro through its paces, this time in much better weather conditions.
The wonderful sound of Radial Engines then filled the Bethlehem sky, first up was Ivan in his Boeing Stearman followed by the Puma Energy flying Lions.
The graceful aerobatics of the old ladies of the sky gave way to the Hi-energy display of Team X-Treme, Team X-Treme are not only favourites here on home soil but have become quite the celebrities in China where they perform on a regular basis on their airshow circuit.
Little Annie the Antanov AN2 snuck out during the Team X-Treme performance with yet another load of Skydivers on board after a bumpy climb to altitude the sky divers bailed out. This time conditions were better so the massive SA Flag could be flown.
As the show grew to a close the Flying lions went up for one more display, as the three aircraft were doing their final pass an impressive wall of fire was detonated. The large explosion caught many spectators by surprise as a loud scream from the crowd resulted
A very successful show was closed off on a very slow note with Little Annie racing against a very large tractor, the wind at that stage was so strong that the Antanov could almost hover above the tractor , the tractor managed to win this match-up . Mark and Jon-Marc Hill the pilots of little Annie have vowed to return next year for a rematch.
Stefan Fourie and his team once again managed to deliver a wonderful day of flying fun to the local Bethlehem population. Well done again guys and girls see you next year again.
Special thanks must go to Louw and Francine from La Motte B&B for the wonderful hospitality shown to us during our stay.
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