By Garth Calitz Photos by Andre Venter, Rayno Snyman and Sharon Cassidy
The Airshow Circus made its way from Pretoria to Nelspruit last weekend for another exciting rendition of the very popular Lowveld Airshow. The organisers of the airshow decided to keep it short and sweet with an afternoon show rather than a full day-show as we have become accustomed to over the years.
Arriving at the Nelspruit Airfield on Saturday morning there was massive doubt that the Show would actually go ahead, low clouds plagued the area but fortunately it was deemed high enough to go ahead with the show safely. The gates opened at 10:00 in the morning to already long queues, the people in the Mbombela region were hungry for an airshow as they have been starved since 2019. The crowd line filled up and by the time the first display was flown the airfield was packed to levels that haven’t been seen for many years.
Radio-controlled aircraft were the first to get airborne, the vry popular BEA Hawk scale model, painted in a perfect replica of the Saudi Airforce livery. The aircraft really got the crowd excited and ready for what was planned for the rest of the day. The jet was followed up by large-scale aerobatics models, what these RC pilots manage with these aircraft is amazing. Jason Beamish made a comment that if he tried to do what they did he would he would not survive.
Once the RC aircraft were safely on the ground Bobby Rowe took to the air in a Micro Aviation Bat Hawk. Bobby has the ability to show off just how manoeuvrable this versatile South African-built aircraft is. The Bat Hawk is now being used in many African countries for a variety of tasks, the predominant application is for anti-poaching, South African Bat Hawk pilots are currently busy working with the authorities in the Ivory Coast to set up an anti-poaching programme.
A parade of all the emergency vehicles that would be used for the safety of the pilots and the spectators, without these people the airshow would never take place. A group of bikers from the Nelspruit area joined the parade in an attempt to promote the “Look Twice for Motorcycles” initiative being promoted by the Lowveld Motorcycle Safety Initiative, more info at www.lmsi.co.za
A HEMS Bell 407 from the Mpumalanga Department of Health took to the sky carrying two skydivers, they were cleared to 5500ft for the drop and the skydivers jumped just below the cloud which made for a rather short free-fall and canopy ride to land in front of the crowd line.
The Goodyear Eagles were the first aerobatics team to 'wow' the spectators the team is made up of Nigel Hopkins, Jason Beamish, Trevor Warner and Johan von Solms. The Goodyear Eagles have been entertaining crowds in South Africa and the world for well over 30 years.
Danie Terblanche, a very well respected fixed wing and helicopter pilot from Nelspruit showed off the abilities of the Robinson R66, Danie is capable of manoeuvres in this helicopter that should definitely not be attempted by less experienced pilots. Danie has well over 20000 hours and has never flown long-haul in the airlines, all these hours are ruder and stick hours.
The weather sadly didn’t improve during the afternoon, actually, it got worse, fearing that they won't be able to make their way back to Johannesburg later in the day, The Puma Energy Flying Lions decided to do a flat display and immediately make their way home. The twilight display by Scully and Ellis Levin, Sean Thackwray and Arnie Meneghelli has become a favourite amongst airshow faithful, sadly the weather wouldn’t allow it.
As the light deteriorated the RV Raptors took to a rather murky skies to perform their formation aerobatics display. Nigel Hopkins led the team and was joined by Ryan Beaton, Trevor Warner, Dion Raath and Johan von Solms. The Raptors disappeared in their own smoke as there was not a breath of wind blowing.
Ivan van der Schaar and his son Jandre were next on the cards, they fly a display in both an RC and a full-size aircraft, Ivan normally flies his Boeing Stearman, but due to the inclement weather, Ivan decided to make the flight down to Nelspruit in his Piper Cherokee 235.
The air was then filled with the hi pitched scream of an Extra 330sc, Nigel Hopkins gave a brilliant display of freestyle aerobatics including both low-level and gyroscopic figures, It is always a pleasure seeing this seven times South African unlimited champion throwing his aircraft around the air.
With darkness creeping in very quickly, Working on Fire took to the air to give the Nelspruit locals a better idea of what they do all winter long in the surrounding mountains and forests. First up was the Cessna 172 spotter, followed by two Air Tractor 802F fire bombers and finally two Bell UH-1 Hueys. The two bombers then performed a formation run down the flight line loaded with blue and yellow fire retardant, after years of Ukraine support being shown on every platform one could be forgiven for thinking this is what the blue and yellow signified. Once the Air Tractors clearer the area the two Hueys moved in and landed in front of the crowd to attach their Bambi buckets, They then dropped into the valley to fill their buckets before passing along the crowd line and dropping their load.
With the temperature now dropping rather quickly it was time for Andre van Zyl to get his Magni Gyro in the darkening sky. Andre has the ability to manoeuvre the Gyro in was not many people would believe was possible, hopefully through his display he is proving that Gyro is not as dangerous as many people like to believe.
Airlink, a major sponsor of the show, brought their new Embraer E195E. Capt Jaco Henning, a local Nelspruit boy was at the controls, he was joined by Capt Dean Nicholas in the right seat and safety pilot Johan Niclaisen they expertly flew this rather large airliner around the tight confines of the Nelspruit Airport airspace. This was the first time Airlink had sent this aircraft to do an Airshow display. As Jaco climbed out for his flight back to Kruger Mpumalanga International darkness had pretty much taken over the airfield.
Nigel Hopkins and Jason Beamish then got airborne for the final display of the day, a very hi-energy two-ship aerobatics display in their Extra 330s. Nigel and Jason have been performing together for many years and are so in sync with one another the deteriorating conditions didn't bother them in the least.
All the spectators that had stuck around the whole day were well rewarded with one of the most impressive fireworks displays ever seen at an airshow in South Africa. Brian Emmenis and his team from Capital Sounds chose Hooked-on Classics to accompany the fireworks as well as all the flying displays throughout the day.
Special mention must go to ABSA who sponsored the event without their generosity airshows would not take place. Col Koos Kiek and his safety did a marvellous job of keeping the show on track despite the disruptions caused by the weather.