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FASHKOSH – Stellenbosch Airshow

By Rob Russell Photos by Trevor Cohen

Friday dawned, a somewhat windy and party-cloudy day, and after two years the much-awaited Stellenbosch airshow was about to happen! After the very successful show two years ago, there was much speculation as to whether or not the organisers could match it.

It promised an action-packed programme, with speed, noise, aerobatics and everything you expected at an air show, however, the organisers had something in the back pocket that surpassed the last show and left, not only the crowd lost for words, but will need the organisers to do something special at the next show to exceed it.

Judging by the queue to get in, it is evident the demand for a 2-day show is there. Having it at such an iconic venue, starting on a Friday afternoon is just what the people wanted. And they arrived in numbers.

Doubts were cast at one stage as to the show going ahead. Thanks to ATNS having to withdraw their Air Traffic Services, in part, due to the CAA – they were insisting on compliance with certain regulations regarding the Controllers' qualifications (CARS part 65 for you aviation types) and some ATNS concerns iro liability over ATNS. This issue has never come up before this show, in the event of an incident. This lack of ATC at an Airshow could have major implications for those partaking, or rather not wanting to partake and put the future of air shows at risk.

However, thanks to the sturdy pre-planning and work by the Director Airshow, Rickus Erasmus and his well-organised and professional team, as well as the discipline and professionalism of all the pilots and ground personnel involved, the show ran without incident and clockwork precision – even the Swiss Railways would have been impressed!

This impasse between CAA and ATNS needs to be addressed and resolved and there are many indeed many concerned parties working hard trying to resolve it, However, until one or two senior managers sit down and forget about the times passed and their egos, it won't be resolved quickly and aviation, and the public, will have to suffer.

The gates opened on Friday, at 2 pm, and the crowds were soon pouring into the spectator area, keen to get the best spot to see the displays. All ages were there and it was evident they were hungry for an air show. Having the show over the holiday period, was a great idea too – good to see so many youngsters running around, too. The organisers had learnt from the last show and there was no shortage of beverages and food options, for them. From the usual boerewors rolls to pizzas and gourmet meals! And a good selection of the local flavoured grape juices too!

The show commenced with a solo performance in one of the SAAF’s Pc7 Astras. A well-flown display, which was followed in rapid succession by some brilliant and well-flown performances, which kept the crowd thoroughly entertained. The Marksmen team, as well as Patrick Davidson and Andrew Blackwood Murray, delivered high-energy displays and the crowds were thoroughly entertained. Among them, Derrick Lord, who recently passed 30,000 flying hours– in itself no mean performance - performed in his Bosbok. Juba Joubert gave an outstanding show in his ALo 3 and kept the crowd gasping at how he threw his helicopter around. Alewyn Burger entertained the people with his awesome display in the Antonov 2 – lots of noise and smoke but not much speed though!! Not to be outdone, Grant Timms also thrilled the crowds in his L29 jet.

However, the last display of the evening was the highlight of the afternoon and a fitting end to the day. The Puma aerobatic team, sans their leader, Scully Levin, who was taken ill, delivered another outstanding and polished display. Between the noise and smoke, the crowd were left breathless. The display was flown whilst the Stellenbosch City Orchestra played in the background – the dramatic classic Il Solenzio, with that unbelievable trumpet solo. The piece was selected, as Scully is an outstanding trumpeter himself and also to honour all those that had given their lives, in aviation. Throw in the dramatic background, with flashes of lightning, from the dramatic clouds in the area and it was an utterly breathtaking display, seldom to be seen, if ever again. The crowds were left speechless and many a tear was shed. It was something to be amongst them and the atmosphere was electric and hard to describe.

The evening was rounded off with the Orchestra playing aviation-themed music. It was a concert of note and the crowd warmed to the music and the Orchestra certainly delivered a quality show.

Saturday dawned and the Sky Gods missed the decent weather request! It was a cool overcast day – the whole area was covered in low clouds and the temperatures were more akin to a winter’s day. That did not stop the crowds from attending, though. As the gates opened at 8, the race was on for good seats and the coffee stands.

The Safety Officer and his team were thinking about delaying the start – pilots were also wondering and making plans to change their displays to flat ones. But at 0945, Alewyn Burger took to the air, in his Antonov 2, with the skydivers and after a gentle climb over the airfield managed to get to a decent altitude to throw his parachutists out. The show was on! The parachutists descended to the National Anthem and a hectic programme began.

The display pilots frantically re-organised and managed to get their flat displays all sorted out and the Safety teams granted approval. They all gave very polished displays and it was interesting to see how smoothly and quickly they adapted from a vertical one to a flat one.

The same teams and pilots, who flew on Friday evening, with a few extra participants, kept the crowd thoroughly entertained. Instead of the usual displays, the 2000-odd-foot cloud base meant all the displays were flown below the cloud. Walking amongst the crowds and speaking to many of them, they seemed to prefer the Saturday flying. It seemed, to many of them, to be busier and closer and gave them the chance to see the aircraft at a closer range.

The Working on Fire teams with their two Hueys and 2 bombers kept the crowds enthralled with their formation water bombings and showing how fires are put out.

It was very much evident that the crowds were desperate to see more and many of them stayed for the whole day, so they could see all the displays being repeated in the afternoon

Just after lunch, the crowd was treated to an awesome flypast and some formation flying, from the Leading Edge team. Their Blackhawk and 2 Hueys gave a great show. The hawk was proved popular with the crowds and many would have enjoyed seeing a longer display or perhaps a solo one. Many of the crowd had seen it in action, around the numerous mountain fires over the last few months and they enjoyed the opportunity to see it flying close by.

Air shows are more than just about aircraft tearing around the skies. It's an opportunity to expose the youth to what aviation is all about. It was good to see some of the participants walking amongst the crowds talking to the younger generation and answering questions. The SAAF had a PC7 on static display and personnel were around to answer questions about a career in the SAAF. Another great aspect of this show was the number of retired pilots who were there. It was good to see them catching up with ex-colleagues and friends, many of whom they had last seen many years ago and listen to them talking about the good old days and the naughty things they got up to. (Not that they would admit they were ever naughty!). It was fantastic to see, amongst them, Graham Smith and Chris Rademan enjoying the events. Many of them will tell you that you don’t come to an air show to see aircraft but rather catch up with friends!

But all too soon the show came to an end. The crowds were happy and left in good spirits. Thoroughly entertained and many with exhausted children. Many stopped at the beer tent and a few hospitality hangars for a last drink and debrief and they were lucky enough to see the 2 SAAF Astras depart. After heading south, they returned and gave a high-speed close formation fly passed – pity they didn’t do it during the show and the Marksman team flew passed, in a tight formation, to say farewell.

The organiser committee, under club Manager, Anton Theart did it again, delivering a well-organised show. Thanks also to Rickus Erasmus and “Hosepipe” Hanekom, together with their safety teams for managing an incident-free show, despite the trying circumstances and lack of ATC. But it was well managed and they, and the participants, who all deserve thanks, can be very pleased with all their efforts. The bad weather on Saturday turned out to be a blessing in disguise and many of the crowds liked the Saturday displays over the Friday – something organisers could well take note of, for future events – vertical displays look good and impressive but the crowds want the aircraft near them and low!

And who can forget the dramatic end to Friday’s show and the superb musical performance?

Roll on 2026! It can only be bigger and better!

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