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WesBank Botswana International Airshow – Above and Beyond

Every year the Matsieng Flying Club seem to improve on the previous year’s airshow and 2019 was definitely no exception.

Making our way to Botswana this year wasn’t all smooth sailing we were held up at the Skilpadhek border post for well over four hours, the officials couldn’t understand that we were towing an aeroplane across the border albeit a Glider. After lengthy negotiations with the representative from SARS and a Clearing Agent we were allowed to temporally export the Glider into Botswana. In past years only a SARS declaration was sufficient, but I guess the “rules” had changed as theyso often do in Africa .

Arriving at Matsieng Airfield early on Friday morning one could feel the excitement in the air, aircraft were arriving from all over Africa and by lunch time over one hundred crews had cleared customs at the makeshift immigration centre that the Botswanans had erected for the weekend. On Friday afternoon display teams got some practice in for the following day.

All the festivities were almost cut short when a massive thunderstorm moved closer and closer to the airfield and threatened to ruin everyone’s camping experience. Fortunately, the only thing that arrived at Matsieng was some very strong winds, Gaborone on the other hand got hit by a serious downpour. After the wind had died down the party continued and lots of fun was had by all.

Saturday morning arrived and the excitement at Matsieng step up a notch or two, the locals started queuing from every early in the morning to get the perfect spot to watch the show from. Display pilots were doing their final checks and ground crew running around making sure everything was ready for the big day ahead.

At 9h00 exactly Chris Briers the safety officer for the show started the briefing at the pilot’s tent, he explained that the show was going to be fast and that every display had to be on time to ensure that they don’t start falling behind on the programme. The briefing had barely ended, and the first display got airborne, a formation of three weight shift trikes. While they were buzzing around the skies “ Little Annie” the famous Antonov AN2 got airborne with a load of skydivers from both Botswana and South Africa.

The Microlights were followed by a solo aerobatics display by Conrad Botha, Conrad normally flies a Slick 360 but it was in for maintenance, so he did a precise display in a Vans RV7. The fast paced nature of the show became very apparent when both the RV Raptor team and Ivan van der Schaar in his Stearman got airborne during Conrad display.

As Conrad landed the Raptors ran in for their display, the four ship formation is normally led by Pierre Gouws, he was unavailable as he was flying an Airbus A340 in the Inauguration flypast at Loftus Stadium in Pretoria. Nigel Hopkins took over the lead and was joined by Ryan Beaton, Dion Raath, and Mark Hensman, Mark was flying his MX2.

Ivan van der Schaar was next to wow the growing crowd in his Boeing Stearman, Ivan and his wife Sonica painstakingly rebuilt this amazing machine from a wreck a labour of love that took them quite a few years. Ivan just completed his slow flypast and Brian Emmenis from Capital sounds had everyone looking skywards searching for “Little Annie” with her load of skydivers, then one by one they emerged out the door.

Once all the skydivers were safe on the ground the legendary chopper pilot Johan “Juba” Joubert entered the box in an Aerospatiale Gazelle, Juba seems to wear a helicopter and it becomes an extension of his body and effortlessly flies manoeuvres that would strike fear into many lesser pilots.

The Puma Energies Flying Lion team taxied out ready for take-off while the Ariel ballet above them kept the crowed in awe. Scully Lavin led the team of Ellis Levin, Arnie Meneghelli and Sean Thackwray through their normal polished routine.

Sticking with the radials Riaan Prinsloo delivered a graceful solo aerobatic display in his beautiful Yak 18T, Riaan is based in Middelburg and only recently started flying in airshows. As Riaan called sequence complete Andrew Blackwood-Murry ran in for the first of the Hi-Energy displays in his Nashua Sponsored Extra 300L.

The excitement levels reached a fever pitch when Menno Parsons made a very high speed approach in the one and only Mustang Sally, over the years the P51 Mustang has become a favourite amongst the Botswana faithful, who can blame them, the sound of a Rolls Royce Merlin at full tilt has always moved people.

In absolute contrast to the high speed display of the Mustang, Little Annie joined the picture in a very graceful display of the abilities of the biggest Bi-Plane ever built. Mark Hill and Keith Fryer were very busy in the cockpit as they performed various slow and fast passes accompanied by some very steep turns. They may be slower than the P51, but they are by no means less impressive.

The air suddenly went silent and the soothing sounds of George Zamphir pan flute was all that could be heard as Gary Whitecross gracefully painted lines in the sky with his Pilatus B4 glider, Gary, proudly flies the flag for Pink Drive after he had a very serious cancer scare recently. Gary has fought his way back from his sick bed to once again do what he loves (Read Gary’s story here) The veteran airshow pilot Derek Hopkins towed Gary to altitude in a Lambada TMG.

Absolute Aviation’s Team X-Treme were next on the programme, these four pilots just seem to get better and better each time we see them. Nigel Hopkins is the team leader and he is joined, in what can on be described as a unique formation aerobatics experience, by Jason Beamish, Mark Hensman and Mark Sampson. The team have performed all over the world and are regulars on the Chinese Airshow Circuit.

All the fast jet lovers got their fix when Glen Warden arrived overhead with a Aero L-29 Delphin, this Eastern Block lead in fighter trainer was used by most of the Warsaw Pact countries during the Cold War years and they have made their way all over the world where they are mainly owned by private collectors.

Andre van Zyl, also a relative newcomer to the airshow scene delivered one of the most polished and technically challenging displays I’ve ever seen in a Gyrocopter. Andre has spent many hours perfecting his routine under the very capable guidance of Len Kloppers.

Menno Parsons took to the air in his Pilatus PC12, which is probably one of the most remarkable single engine turbine aircraft ever built. Menno threw it around the sky in very much the same sequence as he performed earlier with his beloved P51. Menno has a large collection of fixed wing as well as rotor wing aircraft and flies most of them on a regular basis.

During a brief break in the programme, where the profits of the Matsieng Airshow are donated to various charities, the Motocross riders had the opportunity to go out on the track that had been constructed for the show. While the Handover was underway a group of skydivers were dropped from Little Annie, this time Ralph Ridge flew the massive Botswana Flag. Ralph designed the deployment system for the flag and has only trained a handful of jumpers to fly these massive flags.

After the formalities were done and dusted the show got up to speed again, Menno had the crowd on their feet with his hi-speed display in a Bell 407, the helicopter used for the display is operational with Netstar Botswana.

The fast paced nature of the programme had actually made up time and the show director realised that he was running ahead of schedule, so Nigel Hopkins was asked to do a solo display in his Extra 330Sc, Nigel narrowly missed out on a bronze medal in the Freestyle Aerobatics world championships in 2018, he showed off the skill that took him to fourth in the world. I am sure the RC pilots are sometimes jealous of what he can do with a full scale plane.

Ivan van der Schaar was also asked to do a second display in his Boeing Stearman this brought the programme back on time and it was all systems go for the afternoon section of the airshow. Dannie Terblanche took to the blue Botswana sky in his Husky for a display that defied physics, Dannie has been doing this act for many years at the Nelspruit Airshow and it was great to see him displaying away elsewhere.

In a first for me, Alister Brown put the new Bell 505 through its paces, the Bell 505 Jetranger X was released to the world in 2013 at the Paris Airshow and I believe this one of only a handful that are in Southern Africa. Alister was followed by yet another brilliant display by the Raptors, this time a five ship formation as they were joined by newest member Johan von Solms in his RV7.

After displays be Andre van Zyl in the Magni Gyro and a Juba Joubert in the Gazelle it was time for, yet another rarely seen display. Two Ryan Navions in formation originally this was planned to be a three ship formation but earlier in the week one of the aircraft had an engine failure after take-off and was damaged in the resulting forced landing thankfully the pilot wasn’t injured.

The Goodyear Eagles team in their Pitts Specials were the next team to wow the now very large crowd, Nigel Hopkins, Jason Beamish and Johan von Solms now man this team that have been gracing airshows for as long as most of us can remember. The Eagles somehow always seem to have a fresh approach to their displays and one never knows what to expect.

Brian Emmenis from Capital Sounds had been periodically asking the owner of an “illegally parked” vehicle to remove the offending vehicle to no avail. After a display in the Bell UH1 "Huey” the vehicle was lifted by the Huey and unceremoniously dropped in the bush opposite the runway.

Little Annie had a surprised planned for all the Children, of all ages, in the crowed Just Love Mission had individually wrapped hundreds of marshmallows each with their own “parachute” and as the Antonov passed over the crowed they were released, the smiles on the faces of the kids was something to behold.

Next up was a three ship formation of Decathlons also something we don’t often see at local airshows. As the Decathlons landed the excitement started to rise once again as Brian urged all the spectators to move closer to the display line and “get their cameras ready” this could only mean something big was about to happen, just how big it had caught us all by surprise.

The Puma Flying Lions started their normal display, and everyone wondered what the hype was all about when they formed up in line astern and commenced to run in from the South, low level, very low actually. On their second pass the longest wall of fire ever seen at an airshow in Southern Africa was unleashed, it was over one kilometre long and the heat it generated was pretty intense. Well done Matsieng Flying Club this will be hard to beat by anyone in the future.

In anticipation of a bush fire started by the explosion an Air Tractor AT-402B was launched full loaded with water, fortunately it wasn’t necessary the Air Tractor however did a demonstration of low-level crop spraying and fire bombing.

After all the excitement the crowd, thinking it was all over, started moving to the gates only to run back when Menno Parsons took off with Mustang Sally for his second display of the day, as I mentioned before the Mustang is a favourite amongst the Batswana crowd.

Glen Warden arrived overhead in the L-29 just as Menno landed for a second display, the display in the beautiful afternoon sun was a treat for all the photographers. Gary Whitecross followed up the jet in his Pilatus B4 Glider the pink hue cast over the aircraft was in tune with the Pink Drive message he carried proudly on his wings.

In her first public display “Daisy”, Little Annie’s sister AN2, joined Annie and some Radial powered friends for a formation flight. The sound of the four Radials was something to behold and they looked stunning in the late afternoon sun.

The show wound down with a display by Juba Joubert in the Gazelle and a final display by Team X-Treme. Then it was time for the finale, the customary sunset display by the Puma Flying Lions this has become a regular feature of most of the airshows around the country and is the perfect ending to a great airshow.

We would like to extend a very big THANK YOU to all the sponsors and organisers of this amazing airshow, coming to Botswana for the airshow has become a annual pilgrimage that I will do all I can to continue in the future, the burning question at the moment is what will be done next year to beat this one?

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