By Garth Calitz, Photos by Andre Venter, Trevor Cohen and Timothy Homan
Airforce base Waterkloof was a hive of activity last week, AAD was back in town after four years. The expo opened its doors to trade visitors on Wednesday 21 September. The 2022 edition of the AAD expo was not quite as impressive as it has been in the past, floor space was greatly reduced, and in fact, two complete hangars less than in 2018.
For the aviation enthusiast, the expo proved rather boring with a serious shortage of general aviation wares on display, but that could be expected with the companies opting to spend money on display at Aero SA, a purely GA show, rather than at a defence-focused show. Notable by their absence were big companies like Absolute Aviation and Century Avionics that historically occupy large areas at AAD. Paramount did however bring AHRLAC in as a static display amongst their multitude of vehicles and watercraft.
As for foreign military participation, the US Airforce made a welcome return bringing along a Boeing KC-46 Pegasus, two C-17 Globemasters, a Hercules C-130J-SOF and a UH-60 Black Hawk. The Zimbabwe Airforce also made an appearance with two Karakorum-8 jet trainers and a CASA C-212 Aviocar, unfortunately, that was all from Africa despite the indications from the Zambian Airforce that they would attend with a large contingent.
The South African Airforce seemed to suddenly come alive over the duration of the show with many aircraft being returned to airworthiness just in time for the biannual spectacle. Three Gripens were flown into the expo after two years of being grounded, we did, however, learn that SAAB was behind the sudden return to the air as they feel it would be embarrassing for the manufacturer to have a strong presence at the show and not have one of their aircraft flying. The aircraft may have been flying in the show but sadly they are not yet operational in the SAAF this will still take a few months now that there is a maintenance contract in place. The Gripens taking part at the show were flown by reserve force pilots as the permanent SAAF pilots all lost their currency due to the grounding and the unserviceable simulators. We hope to see our front-line fighter capable of fulfilling the SAAF constitutional mandate soon again.
The Airshow promised to make up for all the downfalls experienced by the rest of the expo and always it was the highlight of the week. Col Keith Fryer and his team managed to put together a wonderful spectacle with a good balance of civilian and military participation. Anticipation built amongst the Pretoria the whole week with all the rehearsals and validation flights that took place. Sadly, during a rehearsal for the “Mini War”, a member of 500 Squadron was badly injured when he suffered a fall during an Oryx helicopter fast-roping exercise. He was immediately airlifted to a nearby hospital for specialized medical care where he was reported to be in a stable but critical condition, we wish this brave soldier a speedy and complete recovery.
The Airshow days kicked off on Saturday and the airshow starved Pretoria public came out in full force with queues forming at all entrances from as early as 5:00 am. The Saturday and Sunday shows were officially kicked off with a cavalcade of emergency vehicles led by the SAAF’s newly acquired Marcé Rhino 6×6 ARFF crash tenders who performed a beautiful water salute.
The programme for the two shows was very much the same except for a few minor differences on Saturday the show was kicked off with a solo T6 Harvard display by Martin Louw in Nelson (7111) and followed by a polished display by the RV Raptors team. The Raptors flew a five-ship on Saturday but reduced to a no less impressive four-ship display on Sunday, the order of these two displays was reversed for Sunday.
Grant Timms was next up in the Hangar 51 Aero L-29 Delfin, Hangar 51 have been reported to have purchased the Thunder City collection of aircraft and is planning on restoring a number of these to flying condition. Grant's smooth display was followed by an advanced class aerobatic display by Andrew Blackwood Murray in his Nashua-sponsored Extra 300L.
The fixed-wings gave way to Rotor-wings with a masterful display by 15 squadron in an MBB/Kawasaki BK 117, 15 Squadron is based at AFB Durban at the old Durban International Airport and operates these former homeland helicopters as well as the mighty Atlas Oryx. As the BK117 was exiting the airspace a four-ship formation of Cessna 208 Caravans from 41 Squadron entered from the west, 41 Squadron were temporarily relocated from Waterkloof to Swartkops along with other active squadrons for the duration of AAD.
The South African Airforce Museum also known as 200 Squadron performed a brilliant display of helicopter skill with, what can only be called helicopter ballet, a formation of five retired SAAF aircraft performed a sequence of coordinated manoeuvres that were extremely well executed by a team of reserve force pilots that keep these machine flying without any compensation. The SAAF museum completed their display with a flypast of some of their fixed-wing aircraft, in Saturdays show the Museum's Kudu lost the sliding door and had to be replaced by a C185 for Sunday's show, the door has been returned to the museum by a kind member of the public.
The newly formed Silver Falcons Team #84 were next on the programme, this team had little over a month to gel a process that normally takes much longer, they did exceptionally well considering all the challenges and a vast improvement in their display was noted every time they took to the sky in the week of practice leading up to the show. Well done team #84 may you go from strength to strength and keep the Silver Falcon flag flying high.
FlySafair the low-cost airline that morphed from the cargo airline Safair took us all on a walk down memory lane with an old and new display. A Boeing 737-800 was joined by the last remaining Safair Lockheed L-100 in the fleet which at one stage was the biggest L-100 fleet in the world. The L-100 will be retired soon as the company moves into a new chapter of its existence taking up the role as South Africa’s largest commercial airline. The L-100 will always hold a special place in the hearts of those of us that served in the Angolan Bush War where they were known as “Leo the min-day Flossie”. The B737-800 was then joined by the Silver Falcons for a fly-past and spectacular break.
As the Golden Eagles skydiving team was about to land after exiting a SAAF CASA 212 a swarm of bees decided to invade the crowd before making themselves at home on one of the many Capital Sounds speaker stands, they must have been attracted by the sweet sound of Brian Emmenis’ voice. The CASA 212 is operated by 44 Squadron which is based at AFB Waterkloof.
The Goodyear Flying Lions and the Zimbabwean K-8 were about to get airborne when an order to hold was relayed to them by the ATCs, three BAE Hawks were then scrambled to intercept a “Hi-jacked” biz jet that had entered the SA airspace, once the Hawks had departed the show went on with a beautiful display of gentle rolls by the Zimbabwean two-man crew in the K-8. The Goodyear Eagles then entered the box with a stunning display of synchronized aerobatics in the Pitts Specials. Their show was started by performing a double heart in the sky to the west of Waterkloof.
Andre van Zyl was about to conclude his display in the Magni Gyro when he was asked to land as the Hawks were escorting the “Hi-jacked” police Cessna Citation Sovereign in for a demonstration on how the SAP would handle a hostage situation. The air was then filled with SAP Air-wing Squire helicopters as well as SAAF BK-117s.
Nigel Hopkins and Jason Beamish kept the massive crowd entertained with their hi-energy display, Nigel and Jason both fly Extra 330’s the only difference being Nigel has a single-seat SC and Jason a two-seat LX. Their display was followed by a hair-raising helicopter display by Juba Joubert in an Alouette II, Juba is an ex-SAAF pilot and has travelled the world flying helicopters.
“Valggie” the BAE Hawk for from 85 Combat Flying School got airborne and immediately went into his display, the Hawk is being utilised as a lead-in fighter trainer by the South African Airforce they are based at AFB Makhado in the Limpopo Province. Flares are always a crowd pleaser and the Hawk display did not disappoint at all with a multitude of flare passes. Three other Hawks joined “Valggie” announcing the beginning of the mini-war.
The Mini War Has become a favourite amongst the AAD faithful, there are big explosions, para drops, ground soldiers on foot and in vehicles, jets, cargo drops, helicopter troop deployments and did I mention big explosions?
In the Saturday show, the spectators were treated to something that has never before been seen in South Africa, the US Airforce Hercules C-130J took to the sky and was joined by a USAF Pave Hawk helicopter in a simulated air-to-air refuelling exercise. The C-130 then performed a short field landing and takeoff proving that the only replacement for a C-130 is yet another C-130.
As the shadows grew long a SAAF C-130 appeared very high in the sky with the tailgate open, that could only mean one thing, soon the sky was littered with canopies from all branches of the military and a few police task force members thrown in for good measure. One of the skydivers was carrying a scroll that would announce the host company for the 2024 AAD.
In a ceremonial handover Solomzi Mbada, Armscor chief executive accepted the responsibility of managing the 2024 edition of AAD from Nombasa Ndlhovu, chairperson of AMD (SA Aerospace, Maritime and Defence Industries Association). The occasion was marked by a fly-past and flare release by the SAAF C-130 right above the podium. The handover was recorded by a multitude of drones that filled the late afternoon sky, this was the first airshow I have ever attended that featured drones as not only filming devices but actively took part in the displays.
Once the formalities were concluded it was time for the sunset displays to get underway, the first up was a Rooivalk joined by a BK-117 the two SAAF helicopters danced around the sky for a while before the Rooivalk broke formation and climbed where it spectacularly dumped a load of flares right above the runway.
As soon as the helicopters were safely on the ground the Gripen took to the sky in a beautiful display in the golden setting sunlight. Everyone was hoping that the Gripen would also drop flares but unfortunately, this did not happen.
The show was officially closed off with a beautiful twilight display performed by the Puma Energy Flying Lions to the haunting sound of il Silenzio’s trumpet solo, retired SAAF members that did their ab initio training in Harvards could be seen shedding a silent tear as their hearts longed to fly them once again.
Well done to Kieth Fryer and his organising team and of course Brian Emmenis and Capital Team for delivering a world-class airshow once again we hope to be back in 2024 to witness an even greater spectacle.