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Potchefstroom Airshow 2024

By Garth Calitz

Photos by Garth Calitz, Trevor Cohen and Dian Townsend

Country Airshows have always been special. I’m not sure if it’s the enthusiasm of the people or just the feeling of getting out into the countryside for a break from the city stresses but there is definitely some appeal that gets one excited. The Potchefstroom aviation fans have been waiting since 2009 for the airshow circus to come to town again, so the excitement level was really high.

The show was scheduled to start at 10:00 but by 8:00 the crowd areas were already beginning to fill up quickly. The crowds were happy to watch the arrival of all the display teams who flew in from their respective home bases. Intime for the pilots briefing.

At exactly 10:00 Juba Joubert got airborne in the Alouette III carrying three skydivers from Johannesburg Skydiving Club based at nearby Carltonville. The Alouette came to a hover at roughly 3500’ AGL and one by one the skydivers exited, popping their canopies very quickly after the exit. The skydivers expertly landed at show centre to officially open the show.

Drum majorettes from the Potchefstroom Girls High School went through their sequence on the disused cross runway which was being used as the display line for the show. The uneven ground, long grass and howling wind didn’t make this easy for the young ladies.

As soon as the “dummies” got safely behind the crowd line Jason Beamish entered from the right in his Master Power Technology Extra 330LX, this was the first of many displays that Jason would fly throughout the day in many different aircraft.

Local crop spraying and fire control company, Sandriver Crop Protection, who specialize in crop spraying and fire control displayed their Bell 206 Long Ranger, an Air Tractor 301, an Air Tractor 502 as well as their very large Air Tractor 802 which has a 3000lt hopper. The final pass was made in tandem with a John Deere R4030 Self Propelled Sprayer moving along slowly on the ground.

Soon after the air was filled with the familiar sounds of the North American T6 Harvards of the Puma Energy lying Lions. The three-ship formation was forced to perform their flat display as the northerly wind was pushing all the display aircraft onto the crowd line. Scully Levin, Arnie Meneghelli and Sean Thackwray had their hands full keeping these heavy radials on the display line.

Andre van Zyl then took to the very windy sky in his Magni Gyrocopter, the wind didn’t seem to bother him too much as he threw this little machine around the air. Andre has become a regular display pilot at all the airshows around the country and will be taking part in the upcoming Mozambique airshow later this year.

In the second solo aerobatics display for the day, Andrew Blackwood-Murray wowed the crowd with a demonstration of aerobatic perfection in his Nashua-sponsored Extra 300L. Andrew has recently moved up to the Advanced Class competition after winning the Intermediate National Championships for 2 years in a row.

The two-ship Goodyear Eagles Pitts Special formation continued where Andrew left off, Jason Beamish and Gareth Gill are part of the usual four-ship formation that we generally see at airshows, unfortunately, the other two pilots were not available this weekend due to work commitments at their airline jobs.

Jason and Gareth had just landed when the crowd were watching the glider that had just been aero-towed to gain altitude when Captain Flippie Vermeulen took off and performed a sharp right-hand turn and went directly into his display. The Beechcraft 18 he was flying has been flying since 1967 and is now resident at Rand Airport flying for Springbok Classic Air where they offer charters and scenic flights in this iconic aircraft.

From the roar of Pratt and Whitney radials to the silence of the Jonker JS3 effortlessly manoeuvred around the sky by world-renowned glider pilot Oscar Goudriaan. Oscar dumped all his water ballast and then fired up the tiny turbine that is mounted on the JS3 with the turbine a glider pilot reduces the risk of out-landings due to the loss of thermals.

The wind started to calm down a bit leading to much improved flying conditions for all the pilots and a much more enjoyable time for the estimated 5500 spectators. Brian Emmenis and his team from Capital Sounds were having a very challenging day with electricity supply problems, at stages the supply was down to 160 volts which is unfortunately not enough to power their equipment. The professional team quickly rectified the situation by switching to one of their backup generators, many people in the crowd didn’t realise there was a problem at all.

Jason Beamish and his soon-to-be brother-in-law Richard Nicholson took to the blue Northwest skies in two IPC Savannah aircraft. The LSA formation hasn’t been seen at airshows before and it's great to see young pilots being introduced to airshow flying as the pool of pilots is getting rather thin in recent years with many of the regular pilots moving abroad.

Joshua Twomey, the current National Large Scale Aerobatics Champion was asked to show off his and his aircraft capabilities. Josh flies an Extreme Flight Extra NG and some of the manoeuvres he manages with it, had the full-scale aerobatics pilots taking notes.

Johan “Juba” Joubert was next up with an ex-SAAF Alouette III, this man doesn’t just fly a helicopter he wears it, his ability has been honed over many years flying a range of helicopters in many war zones all over the world. The Alouette III served the SAAF for many years with distinction and will always be a firm favourite of anyone lucky enough to have served on them.

While Juba was flying a rather intoxicated member of the public had to be removed from the Orion Cub, an aircraft that is designed and built by Orion Aircraft based in Krugersdorp. The Orion Cub that was brought to the show is the only flying example of the model in the world, they have however sold 10 aircraft that are currently at different stages of manufacture.

While everyone was enjoying a lunch break the drunk individual returned to the aircraft and proceeded to climb in and start it up. He then powered up and took off on the very bumpy grass in front of police and the entire crowd. After flying around very erratically he managed to safely get it back on the ground he was pounced upon by members of the SAPS, only to be revealed as none other than Jason Beamish. The crowd loved every minute of the action.

While Jason was being released from his handcuffs two North American Aviation Navions got airborne and performed a beautiful two-ship formation display. Mike George and Reyno Coetzer flew these magnificent aircraft that are one of America's true 4-seaters. The two aircraft were expertly restored by Aircraft Inc who are based at Krugersdorp Airfield.

Jason and Richie once again took to the air in the Savannahs and were followed by Tristan Eeles in his On The Move Extra 330SC. Tristan has literally flown through the ranks of South African Aerobatics and has managed to take prizes with him at every stage, he will be competing in the Unlimited Class going up against his father, Barrie, who himself is a national champion. Barrie was commentating on Tristan’s display and the pride could clearly be heard.

For those people who arrived a bit late, there were repeats of the Alouette III and the Sandriver Crop Protection displays followed by a solo display in the Navion by Steve George, his son Mike had flown the earlier display.

A very successful show was then closed off by the Puma Energy Flying Lions with a second flat display. Throughout the day Henley Air were taking people for flips in their Bell 222. They managed to get over 500 people in the air which is amazing, hopefully, some of the young people were inspired to take up a career in the wonderful world of aviation.

Well done to all involved especially Rikus, Keith, Louise and the rest of the safety team you guys did a magnificent job. Brian and the team from Capital Sound despite the challenges you guys once again proved that an airshow in South Africa just isn't the same without you guys.

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