Photos by the Flightline Weekly Team
Swartkops Airforce Base in Centurion, the oldest operational Airforce Base in the World, came alive on Saturday 7 September with the annual rendition of the SAAF Museum Airshow. This Airshow will go down in the record books as one of the best and considering all the challenges the team faced, I believe they did an exemplary job. The Airshow was planned for its customary date in May but unfortunately it had to be postponed due to a clash with the National Elections, the final approval only came through a few weeks the spectacle was set to take place. Col Trish Schoeman, LtCol Melvin Bruintjies, Maj Ntokozo Ntshangase and your entire team deserve all the accolades for a job well done.
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One could see the operation had been stepped up a gear this year, from the seamless accreditation process to the hospitality shown on the day, the Airshow team were pulling out all the stops to ensure this show was one of the best. Unfortunately, the one thing the team couldn’t control was the weather and on Saturday morning it looked as if the weather was going to ruin all the hard work done. The morning was bitterly cold with low cloud, the muggy conditions were so severe at Rand Airport that most of the Aerobatic teams based there couldn’t get out for the flight to Swartkops.
Even with the inclement weather the team took the classic mindset that “The Show Must Go On” and at 8:00 the emergency services cavalcade made their way down the runway. In the cavalcade were the two brand new Marcé Rhino 6×6 ARFF Vehicles, these proudly South African state of the art fire tenders were designed and built by Marcé Fire Fighting Technology PTY LTD who delivered them to their new home the day before the show.
Lt-Gen Fabian Msimang flew himself to the show in one of the Museums Alouette III helicopters, Gen Msimang is an accomplished helicopter pilot in his own right and was once the officer commanding 87 Helicopter Flying School before taking on a more administrative role in the SAAF. Lt Col Bruintjies was on hand to welcome the CAF and he was introduced to Col Rodney King the show director for the day. The CAF then inspected the SAAF Band who were on hand to lend the musical accompaniment to the opening ceremony.
The Show was opened in prayer led by Chaplain Melanie Smit of the SAAF, followed by and address by Gen Msimang. After the formalities it was “Show Time” and first on the bill were the Silver Falcons, the first team in the 52 years of the Falcons to consist solely of black members, unfortunately they were limited to a very flat show due to weather.
The muggy air was then filled with helicopters from a bygone era with the SAAF Museum Heritage Flight performing aerial ballet with two Alouette II’s and two Alouette III’s, while the Puma held to the West of the base, waiting to enter the box and impress the rather small crowd of diehard aviation enthusiast.
The Heritage flight continued with a brilliant display by LtCol Glen Warden in the SAAF Museum’s pride and joy, the Vampire T55. The Vampire display was accompanied by a band from the South African Army as they marched along the extremely long crowd line.
Swartkop then erupted in a thundering pleasure as the SAAF’s frontline fighter, the Gripen JAS39 got airborne. The display from Maj Geoffrey “Spartan” Cooper had the photographers cheering as he generated lots of vapour off the wings in his high “G” manoeuvres. The flight doubled up as an announcement to the Pretoria residents that the Airshow was a “GO” despite the inclement weather.
Team X-Treme, South Africa leading formation aerobatics team were the next display to take to the sky, which now was showing the odd blue spot raising hopes that it would clear as the day went on. Nigel Hopkins, Jason Beamish, Mark Sampson and Mark Hensman fly a variety of hi-energy aerobatics aircraft in a fast paced display of the aircraft and the pilot’s capabilities. Team X-Treme have become a truly sought after international display team and have displayed in China, Botswana, Mozambique and countries in the equilateral region as well as almost every South African Airshow.
Glen Warden, by far the busiest pilot at the show, was airborne again this time in the East Block Aero L-29 Delfín, this aircraft was once part of the NATO Tigers formation team which was disbanded a few years ago. Many of the Umkhonto WeSizwe liberation movement pilots were trained on the L29 in the Soviet Union during the “Struggle”.
The L29 display was followed by a firm crowd favourite, Menno Parsons in his much loved North American P-51 Mustang affectionately know as “Mustang Sally”. Meno returned to the SAAF Museum Airshow after an absence of five years, welcome back Meno, its great to see the aircraft flown by SAAF Pilots in the Korean War on display at a SAAF event.
As the sky cleared and the crowed streamed in, they were greeted with a familiar sound, the roar of the Pratt & Whitney R-1340 Wasp on the North American T6 Harvard’s of the Puma Energy Flying Loins. Scully Levin, Arnie Meneghelli, Sean Thackwray and Ellis Levin performed a graceful display of tight formation aerobatics.
Andrew Black-Wood Murray raised the adrenaline levels with a magnificent display in his Nashua sponsored Extra 330L, Andrew’s day job , or should I say night job, is a cargo pilot for SAA. Most cargo flights are operated at night when the airports are less congested.
LtCol Craig “Shark” Leeson put the BAE Hawk Mk120 through its paces, the Hawk replaced the Atlas Impala as the lead-in fighter trainer in 2000. Craig is the current Officer Commanding 85 Combat Flying School but will be leaving soon to attend Senior Officers Staff Course, so this Airshow was a bittersweet one for him as he will no longer be the display pilot of the Hawk.
Finally, the forecasted blue skies arrived as Andre van Zyl got airborne with his Magni Gyro, Andre is a successful businessman for Pretoria and has been flying displays at airshows for the last two seasons, his display has improved exponentially over that period. Andre has managed to take a very mundane aircraft and develop a very exciting solo display.
While the Aircraft for the historic “Mini War” got airborne and final preparations were made, everyone was treated to yet another piece of SAAF History in the form a Rolls Royce Griffon run-up. Unfortunately, not on the great Shackleton but mounted on a trailer, the sound however was amazing. The Avro Shackleton MR3 was operated by 35 Squadron predominantly in a Maritime Patrol role until they were grounded in 1984.
In a break form the traditional Brian Emmenis from Capital Sounds was joined by a team of commentators from various Squadrons in the Airforce. Maj Mandisa “Comet” Mafeka, the first black female fighter pilot in the SAAF was joined by legends like Catharine “Siren” Constable and Lance “Lancelot” Mathebula having first-hand commentary of the Military displays from these masters in the air was very informative and peaked the public interest.
With all the Museum assets airborne it was time for the “war” to begin, a pathfinder in the form of Lt Col Japie Keet was dropped from the Atlas C4M Kudu. A SAAF Cessna 185 had to make a forced landing and the troops were called in to ensure the pilots safety, the troops were deployed by Puma helicopter under top-cover from two Alouette III’s. As soon as the downed pilot was safe the enemy were attacked by a missile fire from an Atlas Bosbok. The “Mini War” was concluded with a flypast of the three helicopters followed by all the fixed wing assets that took part in the demonstration.
In the spirit of our collective heritage a historic flight from the Gavin Brown stable in Springs, did a graceful fly past in a Tigermoth and two Chipmunks. Both of these aircraft types were manufactured by de Haviland, although the SAAF never operated the Chipmunk our neighbours to the North did and many of the SAAF pilots came to know them well in joint operations. The Tigermoth however was used very extensively in the SAAF between 1930 and 1955. Steve brown led the formation, in the Tiger, followed by Gavin Brown and Grant Timms in the two Chippies.
Once all the vintage aircraft were safely on the ground Anton von Willich entered the display box in his beautiful Aérospatiale Gazelle, the Gazelle originated in a French Army requirement for a lightweight observation helicopter intended to replace the Alouette III. The SAAF went a totally different route when it came time to upgrade the Alo’s.
By now the weather had cleared beautifully and the sun was causing some of the public to get a little sleepy, that was quickly remedied when Nigel Hopkins took to the air for a solo display in his Porsche and Absolute Aviation sponsored Extra 330SC. Nigel proved again why he is rated as one of the best aerobatic pilots in the world, at times the Extra resembled a RC Model one can only imagine what forces were acting on his body as he threw his machine around the sky.
Glen Warden was once again airborne this time in the Aero L-39 Albatros, the replacement for the L29 that he had flown earlier in the day. Glen who is no stranger to fast jets spent his early career in the SAAF, flying Mirage III’s and Cheetah, before moving to Comair where he is currently.
The Taillift Cows had a new take on their display with two extras replacing the solo aircraft, Sally Bates the daughter of team leader Scully Levin is the newest member she joins Scully and Sean in the Pitts Specials and Arnie and Ellis take up duty in the Extra 300’s. The new display is fast paced and the inverted formation and mirror image adds a lot of excitement.
Next up was a formation flight of three of the most iconic Radial powered aircraft ever built, the Antonov AN2, Boeing Stearman and the Yak 18T. Each of these aircraft then broke off to do a solo display.
Little Annie has become an almost household name with her exploits all over South Africa and neighbouring countries, many young children have been inspired to follow their dreams after a flight in this Giant Russian Bi-Plane.
Ivan van der Schaar gracefully manoeuvred his Randolph Eyewear sponsored Boeing Stearman through the bright blue sky, in a display that could have slotted in perfectly in a 1950’s barnstorming meeting. Ivan is a captain at Comair flying B737-800’s his love for aviation is almost contiguous.
The Yakovlev Yak-18T, a four seat fully aerobatic utility aircraft, was originally introduced as training aircraft for Aeroflot pilots. Riaan Prinsloo recently started flying airshows and seems to be having lots of fun, so much so that he has now taken part in two international shows as well as a few local shows.
The high paced nature of this show must be commended as there was never a dull moment, Col Rodney King and his team did a brilliant job of keeping exciting and adhering to all safety measures at the same time. The Goodyear Eagles one of the oldest aerobatic teams in the country keep up the pace of the show with yet another brilliant display, the Eagles and good year recently celebrated ten years of cooperation and as things stand, we expect to see them in the air form many more years.
Gen Des Barker, one of the SAAF’s legendary test pilots from TFDC, took to the air in an Atlas Angel. The Angel is an ex SAAF Atlas Kudu that has been retrofitted with a Walter Turboprop motor, the conversion greatly increases the performance of this airframe. The Atlas Angel has become very popular amongst skydiving clubs due to its ability to climb very quickly.
“Enter Giant” the Atlas Oryx, replacement for the Aérospatiale SA 330 Puma in the SAAF, showed off the different methods to deploy and extract troops in a battle situation. These range from abseiling to fast-lining for deployment and hoisting for extraction and of course the long line for rapid extraction of a group of troops, this is not for the fainthearted.
Once the smoke had cleared it was the turn of the transport section of the Airforce and more specifically 41 Squadron with three of their aircraft, known as the “Pointer” formation, due to the pointer on their squadron emblem, they flew a very tight formation in a Pilatus PC12 and two Cessna C208 Caravans. 41 Squadron has a very rich history dating back to the early 1940’s.
Once the pointers had left the airspace it was time to bid farewell to Lt Col Craig Leeson in what is possible his last display in the BAE Hawk Mk120. Craig flew a brilliant display and in a very rear photographic opportunity he was cleared to drop multiple flares as he performed an Upper Charlie, Craig your infectious enthusiasm will be missed on the airshow scene and at 85 combat flying school as well, I’m sure.
While “Shark” was taxing past the long crowd line, everyone’s attention was once again drawn skywards, a mass formation of eight Harvard’s entered the box. Four of these magnificent machines belong to the SAAF Museum and the other Four are operated by the Harvard Club of South Africa. They then broke of for individual flypast while simulating a “Torre Torre”. These special aircraft have a very prominent place in the history of the SAAF, as many of the pilots still active today learnt how to fly in the cockpit of a North American T6 Harvard.
As the shadows started lengthening it was it was time to once again enjoy the sound of the Rolls Royce Merlin motor powering the might P51 Mustang flown by Meno Parsons form Master Power Technologies, Meno has built an impressive collection of aircraft over last few years. The Mustang looked beautiful in the late afternoon sun, but then again it always looks beautiful.
Team X-Treme once again got the crowd to their feet with their unique brand of hi-energy aerobatics, followed by a brilliant display by the Silver Falcons, who were able to stretch their legs as the weather was much better than the early morning display slot.
In yet another display of air supremacy by the one and only “Spartan” put the Gripen through its paces, this young man has truly mastered the art of flying a fourth generation fighter.
The show was officially closed off with a brilliant display by the MAD Formation team in their Weight shift Trikes. Marius, Pieter and Adrienne have installed smoke systems and led lights to their aircraft which made for a wonderful display in fast disappearing light.
A special word of thanks must go to everyone involved in this amazing event; the excitement has been ignited for SAAF 100 next year. Well done to the SAAF Museum for making this airshow one to remember.