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Exercise Vuk'uhlome 2023 “Lohatla Camp-Fire Story”

By Dian Townsend Photos by Tim Homan

Our Wednesday morning started off at Air Force Base Waterkloof where various military attache, delegates, invited guests and media gathered for our flights down to Combat Training Centre Lohatla. I was fortunate enough to get a seat with fellow photographers on the SAAF's CASA 212.

We got airborne out of Waterkloof just after 8 am with around 2 hours of flying ahead of us. The big advantage to flying down in the CASA was the fact that we didn't go to Sishen Airport, just outside of Kathu, like the other aircraft, we went straight to Dippies Airstrip inside Lohatla.

After our arrival at Dippies, we made our way over to the range where scores of military vehicles were positioned for the capability demonstration.

The demonstration started off with the airborne assets. First off was a BK117 and an Agusta A109 demonstrating their hoisting capability. The helicopters were soon followed by the "geraas-makers", the Hawks and Gripens doing bombing runs. The aircraft were fairly high up, making them quite hard to spot, but the dust clouds left by their bombs were not so easy to miss! The final part of the flying program was the CASA 212 dropping paratroopers who skillfully landed in front of the crowds.

The rest of the program was made up of various land-based military vehicles. Being more involved in the aviation industry and largely general aviation, I do admit to lacking military knowledge. Thankfully the commentary ensured that even guests like myself were well informed all the way through. Among others, some of the highlights were the Rooikat, Ratels, Olifant and the G5s.

As we made our way to the marquee tent for lunch after the demonstration, we received word that the CASA 212 we flew down in that morning and was supposed to fly back up with that evening, had an incident during the demonstration and would not be able to fly us back to Waterkloof that evening.

After the hour-and-a-half-long drive to Sishen Airport, we bid farewell to the other half of the media family and began writing the 2023 Lohatla campfire story. Members of the SANDF were extremely helpful in regards to assisting us with food and accommodation for the night whilst arranging transport back to Waterkloof.

After determining that nearby Kathu did not have a single hotel or guest house room available, we made our way through to the neighbouring town of Kuruman. After the best McDonald's hamburger in the whole on the Northern Cape, we bid farewell to the gentleman from the SANDF for the night and it was through the shower and straight into bed for us.

The next morning we woke to an already warm Northern Cape. The General who was assisting our group met us at the guest house at 6 am, ready to head back to Sishen Airport. We were all really happy to be reunited with our CASA crew who were all healthy and in good spirits.

The real treat and personal highlight of the day was our flight home. Or more precisely, the aircraft for our flight home. The SAAF had sent one of the Dassault Falcon 50s to come fetch the CASA group. As can be expected from a biz-jet, we had a wonderful flight back to Waterkloof. Waiting for us at the base was Lieutenant General Mbambo, the Chief of the South African Air Force, who personally made sure we all arrived back at Waterkloof safely.

What was an already very interesting day, turned into a two-day trip, staying in a place that was brand new to me and having a highly memorable flight back home. This adventure would not have been such a great one without the various distinguished members of the SANDF who stepped up in a difficult situation. The way the whole situation was handled and how we were treated throughout the journey from Lohatla all the way back home is where I give all due credit to the SANDF. I would like to extend a personal thank you to each and every member of the SANDF for their wonderful care and hospitality during this trip.



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