By Garth Calitz, Photos by Trevor Cohen and Dian Townsend
Rand Airport in Germiston became a hive of activity on Sunday 3 September when they hosted their 2023 rendition of the Grand Rand Airshow. The organisers were blessed with wonderful weather albeit a bit windy, sadly, the public participation wasn’t quite what we have become accustomed to.
The show started off at 10 with a solo display by Grant Timms in a Sonex OneX Taildragger. Sonex aircraft are kit builds and their factory is based at the legendary Oshkosh field in Wisconsin. Sonex currently supply seven different models including the SubSonex Personal Jet.
Once safely on the ground Grant quickly changed aircraft and once again got airborne, this time in a De Haviland Tigermoth, he was joined by Rodney Chinn for a graceful display in these veteran schoolmasters of the sky.
Menno Parsons arrived with the all-new “Tiger Girls” in his Bell UH-1D Iroquois (Huey), The Tiger Girls were offloaded and their places were taken by a troop of skydivers led by Graham Field a veteran skydiver with thousands of jumps under his belt, this marked the official opening of the Airshow.
The Puma Energy Flying Lions were ran in for their display, they had got airborne while the Huey climbed for altitude. Scully Levin, Arnie Meneghelli, Ellis Levin and Sean Thackwray have become a fixture at all airshows over the last 20-odd years. The sound of a Harvard radial engine will still pull the emotional heartstrings of anyone who spent time in the South African Airforce whether they actually flew them or not.
Andre Coetzee the chairman of Henly Air appeared with the new “Kids Flight” Helicopter, Henly Air heeded the call by neonatal and paediatric medical workers everywhere and designated this heli to exclusively transport babies and young children in need. Many premature babies are sadly lost during transit to a facility capable of caring for them, The Bell 230 is equipped and staffed to take care of these fragile little lives while transported to a suitable medical facility.
Tristan Eeles took over duty from his dad Barrie in his usual formation with Elton Bondi, The two of them fly the same aerobatics sequence on opposite sides off the display line. Tristan, Elton and Barrie will be jetting off to Las Vagas later in the year to compete in the world advanced aerobatics championship.
Next up was the Goodyear Eagles with a magnificent display of formation and solo aerobatics, the team was under the leadership of Nigel Hopkins who was accompanied by Trevor Warner, Jason Beamish and Johan von Solms.
Mustang Sally then made her first appearance for the day flying a series of high-speed passes. The smile on Menno Parsons' face when he landed and taxied past the crowd proved just how much he enjoys flying his WWII P-51 fighter.
Sticking with the Master Power Aviation stable it was time for Mike Weingartz to get airborne in the Aero L-39 Albatros, this eastern block lead-in trainer still looks and sounds like it came off the production line yesterday.
The show slowed down considerably with Scully Levin taking a Cirrus SR-22 for and demonstration flight, it is becoming very sad that displays like this have to be incorporated into airshows to fill the programme but I guess that is the harsh reality in South Africa as the moment many airshow regular pilots have moved away form South Africa or ave sadly passed away leaving a large void.
Andre van Zyl had the crowd gasping for their breath with his Magni Gyro display, Andre does things with that machine that don't seem possible. There was a new addition to the Gyro that really got the crowd response, a smoke system had been added and Andre activated it just before spiralling towards the ground.
Oscar Goudriaan in a Jonker JS3 Rapture Turbine Sailplane was aero-towed into the beautiful blue sky by Riaan Denner in a Sling Aircraft Sling 2. Oscar then proceeded to do a light aerobatic display accompanied by The Lonely Shepard by Gheorghe Zamfir, a great choice of music thanks to Brian Emmenis of Capital Sounds. Once he had bled off some altitude he ignited the small but effective turbine motor which pops up behind the canopy and comfortably powers this super light aircraft.
Captain Flippie Vermeulen took to the air in his beautifully restored Beech 18 showing just how graceful travelling by air was in its infant years. The sound of the two Pratt and Whitney radials is something to be savoured.
Nigel Hopkins, Ryan Beaton, Trevor Warner and Johan von Solms then picked up the pace a touch with a superb display of formation aerobatics performed in Vans RV aircraft. Nigel and Johan both flew RV8s with Trevor and Ryan in RV7s.
The RVs were followed by a four-ship display made up of two Harvards and two Extra 300s, Scully and Sean were in the Harvards and Arnie and Ellis in the Extras.
Andrew Blackwood-Murray then took over the airspace in his Nashua Extra 300 showing just what it takes to make the national advanced aerobatic team that is scheduled to compete in the World Championships in Las Vagas later this year.
After all the hi-impact aeros things slowed down once again with a stunning three-ship formation of de Haviland Chipmunks flown by Rodney Chinn, Grant Timms and in his first airshow display Ryan Briggs. The three guys battled a bit with the strong wind but delivered a great display nonetheless.
The sound of rotor wings then filled the air with Menno Parsons and Buzz Bezuidenhout flying a breathtaking display in the Bell 407 and Huey respectively.
After the display, Menno hastily made his way to the threshold of runway 35 to accompany the two Extras 330s of Nigel Hopkins and Jason Beamish. Nigel joined Menno for a bit of hovering while Jason flew around them. Nigel then broke off and performed a freestyle aerobatics display incorporating many gyroscopic manoeuvres.
Nigel had to land very quickly as the Airlink Embraer E195 was about to run in, it was great to see the black Airlink livery up close. Captain Jaco Henning did an outstanding job manoeuvring the airliner in the relatively small Rand airspace. Arlink is now the largest operator of Embraer aircraft in the world.
The Hired Gun Coffee Pitts Special team kept the crowd on their feet with another faultless display by Scully, Arnie, Sean and Ellis. The world-renowned helicopter pilot, Johan "Juba" Joubert then took to the air in an Alouette II. Juba doesn’t fly a helicopter he wears it and it becomes an extension of his body.
Jason and Nigel took off for a final display and were joined by none other than the P-51 for a series of flypasts Menno then broke off and left the airspace to the Extra duo for one of their signature displays.
The final act for the day was a display by the Puma Energy Flying Lions accompanied by il Silenzio’s trumpet solo. The airshow circuit in South Africa seems to really be suffering with a lack of pilots and displays so much so that some pilots had to hotbed from one aircraft to the next just to keep the show going.