By Garth Calitz
Kumbululuka Kwa Bafana Zambia celebrated its second year this year, when I got a call from Felix Gosher asking me please to join them I was honoured and a little sad as the cost of the flights and accommodation was a bit out of my budget. I sadly had to decline, Felix, being who he is wasn’t going to accept no for an answer and quickly secured a sponsor to get me there. I am eternally grateful to the sponsor for answering the call and of course to Proflight Zambia, for massively discounted flight fares. The Southern Sun Ridgeway General Manager, Ross Mackay, offered the SA Media first-class accommodation, Thank you.
Flying out of OR Tambo International was a pleasant enough experience, the Proflight Bombardier CRJ was very comfortable and the cabin crew were exceptionally friendly to make things even better we had a significant tailwind that saw us arrive fifteen minutes early. The first impression of Zambia was wonderful, the young lady working at immigration met us with a smile and some pleasant conversation.
Once out of the Stunning Kenneth Kaunda Airport Building, Felix met us and we accompanied him across the runway to the Airforce Base located on the Southern side of the Airport, he was in the process of repositioning aircraft that would be used for the following day's flights. The Zambian Airforce officers were rather concerned about all the cameras that had suddenly arrived on the base and requested that we refrain from taking photographs until we were fully briefed about where and what was permissible to capture.
Jason Beamish had arrived the day before and also repositioned at Airforce Base, he was requested to do a validation flight for the ZAF safety crew. The absolute joy on the faces of all present told a story of its own, Zambia has not seen a civilian aerobatics display in many many years some estimating as far back as fifty years.
Saturday morning arrived and it was an early start as the children were scheduled to start arriving at the AF Base at 7:00 all transported to the venue Sarago Motors. Once all 500 children were safely at the Airforce Base The event was opened in prayer by a ZAF Chaplain. Lt-Gen Colin Barry, Chief of the Zambian Airforce, then joined a selection of senior officers to acknowledge the Zambian National Anthem played by the ZAF Band. Three ZAF Parachutists graciously dropped out of a Harbin Y-12 carrying a large Zambian flag.
The first group of children were then invited to accompany Lt-Gen Barry Proflight's newly acquired Boeing 737-500 over 100 children accompanied by a team of adults were taken for a rather large circuit over Lusaka. This first flight was known as “Alpha Flight”. Alpha Flight was intended to be in two parts, unfortunately, the second part was a flight in a ZAF Mil-17 helicopter which had to be withdrawn at the last minute for operational deployment.
Once the Boeing was back on the ground the flying started in all earnest, many sorties were flown by the ZAF Beech 1900, Xian MA60, Cessna 208 Caravan and two Harbin Y-12 they were joined by ProCharter Cessna 208 Caravan.
The proceedings came to a halt when the Zambian Airforce Golden Eagles Aerobatic team took to the air for a brilliant display of formation aerobatics. The sequence would have caused a major uproar if it was performed in South Africa, the Golden Eagles flew their Karakorum K-8 lead-in jet trainers directly over the crowd while performing rolls and inverted manoeuvres.
The programme was held up when one of the K-8s bust a main gear tyre on landing and the runway was subsequently closed until the stricken aircraft was retrieved. Jason Beamish had to shut down and wait to get confirmation that the runway was once again operational. After a lengthy wait, Jason was given clearance to commence his display, which he had to break off periodically to allow scheduled flights in and out of the airport despite the delays the children loved it.
After Jason landed a three-ship formation of Hongdu L-15 Falcon fighter jets took to the sky with a series of high-speed passes, these aircraft were acquired to fill the gap left when the Mig-21 fleet was grounded.
After all the unforeseen delays the day was quite far behind schedule and that’s when Felix unleashed the civilian squadron that he had put together. A gaggle of Cessna 210, Cessna 206s, Beechcraft Barons, a Britten-Norman BN-2 Islander, a few Slings and even a Zenith SkyJeep spent the afternoon doing circuits for all the remaining children.
The Zambian Airforce had taken the opportunity to host a mini open day for members of the public, the public area was set up right next to the Children’s Flight hangar. Many food and beverage vendors were on hand to sell their wares to the people who made an effort to come out and support the ZAF.
Events like this would just not be possible without, firstly, people with the drive and passion of Felix Gosher and his team and secondly the generous sponsors. Sponsors stepped up to take care of every need the Children might have had throughout the day. A large variety of food and drinks was made available to the children and the crew. There are just too many sponsors to name them all individually.
To everyone involved in making the 2023 Kumbululuka Kwa Bafana the success it was, we salute you and thank you for your selfless enthusiasm you definitely have made a difference in many children’s lives.