Photos by Abri Kriegler and Trevor Cohen
Saturday the 23rd of March heralded the return of an old event in the Western Cape – the ever popular Stellenbosch Flying Club Airshow. After being missing for four years it made a show stopping return. Mother Nature played her part and presented the organisers with a stunning, almost windless day and temperatures in the lower 30's.
Initial sceptism about the entrance fee being too high proved to be utterly wrong when the 5000 tickets available, on the internet, were all sold two days before the show was due to start! Judging by the spectator turn out many more could have been sold, but the numbers were limited by health and safety legislation. Queues started to form at 06:30, and when the gates opened at 08:00, spectators were seen running down the road to get the best seats. The wise ones set up under the trees! The club car park was turned into a food mall, with numerous stalls selling food and drinks and the crowds were spoilt for choices. The beer tent was kept extremely busy as well. Thankfully it did not run out of golden fluids!
The show got under way at 09:45 with a drive-by passing the spectators, of the emergency vehicles. Shortly afterwards 3 parachutists descended on the airfield and the last one carrying a massive South African flag. As he got closer to the ground, Capital Sounds, with the legendary Brian Emmenis at the mic, asked the crowd to stand and the South African national anthem was played. It was a stunning way to open the show and set the tone for the day.
The Silver Falcons were next and gave their usual polished display, they kept the crowd enthralled with their tight formation flying and aerobatics. The display was at a great height and close to the crowds. Several spectators were disappointed that there was such a low key presence by the SA Airforce, but they honestly had to reason to complain. Only a few weeks ago, the SANDF Armed Forces week had taken place all over Cape Town and there was ample opportunity to see the SAAF in action there. A display Sliver Falcons tent was next to the apron and the crowds had an opportunity to interact with the pilots, have photos taken and buy memorabilia. A brilliant marketing opportunity for the SAAF.
What followed after has to be one of the greatest displays seen of the Boeing 737-800 for many a year. With such a perfect background as the Helderberg Mountains, the Mango aircraft under the pilotage of Scully Levin and Rodney Chinn enthralled the crowds with several low fly pasts and climbing and descending turns. The highlight was the final approach to runway 19, with a missed approach barely 30ft above the runway. The display was made even better, by the excellent on-board commentary from Bruce Hyde, Chief Training Captain, at Mango. The gasps from the crowds spoke volumes as to their appreciation of this amazing display of pilot skill and the Boeings agility. It’s not often the flying community, and indeed public, get to see such a big jet so low and so close, they really did appreciate the performance.
Thereafter, the spectators were treated to some utterly polished and professional displays by the various display teams. These included the Team Extreme, under Nigel Hopkins and the Raptors, under the leadership of Pierre Gouws. It was evident the pilots were enjoying being able to perform at the coast and the crowds were kept thoroughly entertained by their performances. The L39 under the command of Alan Fergus rounded off the morning entertainment.
Unfortunately, thanks to Eskom and rolling blackouts, the live commentary, was interrupted shortly after 12:00, when their backup generator failed. However, thanks to determined efforts by local club members, another generator was found in Stellenbosch and normal service resumed just after 1:20. However, in the tradition of air shows, the show continued.
The VIP area and clubhouse paid host to several legends of aviation, both past and present, in the Western Cape. Faces included Graham Smith, ex SAA and SA Express, Dietland Lempp, well known examiner and instructor and her family, Rene de Wet, recently retired from the Red Cross Air Mercy Service, Chris Rademann, recently retired from Emirates, and too many other names to mention here. The Chief of the SA Air Force paid a visit to the show, having flown in directly from Mozambique, where he had been to see the SAAF helicopter crews at work, helping out rescuing people and delivering supplies, after the devastation of the recent cyclone. He was present to see the afternoon performance of the Silver Falcons.
The afternoon displays included more displays by the various teams, as well as a polished display by Ivan van der Schaar, full time captain at Comair, in the Boeing Stearman and Derrick Lord, of SA Airlink, in the Bosbok, as well as a display from the Harvard, the well-loved initial trainer of the SAAF, that so many of the great pilots learnt to fly on many years ago.
There were also several static, and other, displays around the hangars for people to look at. The highlight was the Sakhikamva Foundation, who set up a great display for budding pilots. They were encouraged to build paper models and fly them and also sit in their Impala Simulator. Samantha Gie was on hand to assist parents and budding youngsters on a career in aviation. Well done Sam and your team. Judging by some of the queries from parents, and kids, there are many aspiring pilots out there now!
During the day the Crowd was treated to some amazing flying in a variety of vetran aircraft including a Cessna 195 Radial, a Piper Aerostar and of course the very rear Howard DGA-15P.
A Hijacking Scenario was staged showing the response of the Eurocopter-Kawasaki EC145 operated by Airborne Emergency Services assisted by their ground units. To further excite the rotor-wing fans NAC delivered a spectacular display in a Bell 407.
The show came to an end with a finale performance by the Silver Falcons and the Working on fire team gave a demonstration on how they deal with bush fires.
It was a highly successful show and it certainly set the bar for other shows. With such a stunning background, it could only be a success! The crowds went home well satisfied and ready for the next one!
Special mention must be made of:
Rikus Erasmus, the event Safety Officer,
François “Hosepipe” Hanekom, Flight Director
Grant Timms, of Mango, the ramp co-ordinator, who had the thankless job of getting the pilots to the aircraft and making sure they were airborne on time
Pieter “happy landings” Rau and his merry bunch from ATNS, who provided the Air traffic services
All the members of Stellenbosch Club, and the many volunteers who helped to make the show such a great and stunning success,
Brian Emmenis and his professional team from Capital sounds
Last but by no means least the pilots with their professional displays.
Many disappointed spectators arrived and could not get in, so they sat under the trees along the driveway, and ironically enjoyed some of the best seats! Something the organisers need to take note of – push the entrance back closer to the road!
Well done to you all and also the local Western Cape residents who gave the event so much support – it proved beyond doubt that there is a need for a regular air show event down here.
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