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SAAF Museum Airshow 2023

By Trevor Cohen Photos by Andre Venter, Dian Townsend and Timmy Homman

When the chips are down that’s when change the level of the playing field. The USAF did it with the Doolittle raids. The RAF did it with the Black Buck Raids and I think the SAAF did it with the 2023 Museum airshow. Back after 4 years of world upheaval in aviation and life in general at what was originally called Air Force Base Swartkop West and now called Mobility Deployment Wing Swartkop.

Let’s call a spade a spade militaries worldwide are well known for being overweight black holes that money is allocated to and they cannot due to security reasons account for a lot of the expenditure. They tend to have a lot of dead wood. Well, South Africa had lots of that dead wood removed. With the hamstrung budgets the SANDF and SAAF are forced to operate in. this is not a military problem but a Political problem.

Airshows are not cheap and there is not a single cent extra the guys have to spend on the luxury of Air Shows. What the ladies and Gents did on Saturday the 6th of May was equivalent to pulling a rabbit out of a hat while free falling at 30 000 feet and everybody landing safely including the Wabbit.

At the end of the day this is the real reason for Airshows

Saturday the 6th of May was an early start as we were all on the base before 6 am. There was a slight breeze and a partly cloudy start to the day. The show opened with Powered Para-gliders doing some lovely flying around the airfield.

Then we moved on to the emergency vehicles parade. The Marce fire trucks showed the public that local built are better than anything else worldwide. The show then went back in history and the SAAF Museum then displayed their Harvard.

Andrew Blackwood-Murry put his Extra 300L through its paces for the first civilian display. The display is a perfect display of what the aircraft is capable of. As slow as the Magni Gyro is, it is still an amazing display and amazing to watch how she is flown so well by Andre Van Zyl.

Richard Lovett’s Aero Vodochody Let 29 Delfin was next up. Grant Timms flew the Austrian Eagle absolutely gracefully his tight turns and management of energy are always awesome to watch.

The Chief of the SAAF L Gen Wiseman Mbambo officially opened the show and thanked all involved and the masses that came out to support the show.

Next up was some rotary action from the BK 117 from 15 Squadron down in Port Elizabeth or Gqeberha was put through her paces by Captian Corrie Oberholzer. The BK is very deceiving, she is very manoeuvrable and very fast. It takes her 4 and a half hours of flying time from PE to Swartkops. Her display is fast and the BK gets all over the field very quickly.

An Auster flown by Steve Brown and hangared in Springs then did her display. The show moved up a gear with Captain Riaan Venter flying the Hawk 120, Riaan concluded the display with a drop of Flares.

The only Pilatus PC–7 MkII training aircraft of the Silver Falcons. The display as tame as it looks forces the pilots to endure between 2 and 3 negative G’s.

The Hired Gun coffee Pitts team of Ellis and Scully Levin, Arnie Meneghelli and Sean Thackwray. Their display was precise and again they use their speed and energy to thrill the crowd.

When asking Johan “Juba” Joubert how many types of aircraft he has flown it is easier to ask him what he has not flown, there are only a handful. With this kind of pedigree behind his name the display Juba puts on for the crowd is fast and its display shows the true capabilities of the aircraft it looks like Juba is still having a cup of coffee and a cucumber sandwich at the same time that’s how relaxed he is.

Next up were the Raptors led by Nigel Hopkins the other pilots are Ryan Beaton, Dion Raath and Trevor Warner. The Raptors flew the Vans Aircraft kit aircraft there were 2 RV 7’s and 2 RV 8,s. The display is always so tight and polished.

The crowd suddenly grows excited and the big guns grow louder. The call sign “Midnight” then kicks in the afterburners and releases the brakes. The JAS 39 Gripen then lurches forward and reaches skyward as soon as those forward canards are aimed upwards. Most of the display is flown at high speed and the aircraft has a large turn radius at speed. The sound of the afterburner can be felt in one's chest and is put through her paces to enthral the crowd. Midnight has to keep his eye on speed as he could easily get very close to the speed of sound. When it comes to managing energy it is not an issue in this 4th generation fighter jet Midnight just powers through any speed problems. After doing a few high-speed passes and a low-speed high Alpha pass he comes in for a last high-speed pass with a climb away to the heavens and the release of flares designed to confuse heat-seeking missiles to target the flares and not his afterburner.

Slowing things down considerably Rodney Chinn, Steve Brown and Grant Timms flew a superb 3 ship flight with the ever-graceful Chipmunks. Steve gave a moving tribute to his father Gavin Brown that recently passed away.

The SAAF museum then flew the Censna 185, two Alouette II's and two Alouette III's, a Puma, two Harvards and a couple of Bokskoks in various displays and flypasts with a Puma, two Harvards, two Alo II’s and an Alo III in formation and flying displays.

The Boeing Stearman was flown by Ivan van der Schaar who is back in the country for the show as he now flies for Qatar. Ivan and his son Jandre flew a display and Jandre also flew his remote-controlled aircraft at the same time as part of the display.

The Extra Duo consisting of Nigel Hopkins and Jason Beamish did their high-energy display of crossing each other and doing synchronized turns or hovering/hanging on the prop.

Menno Parsons took the parachutist's display team up to 10 000 feet and dropped 8 parachutists in for their displays and promptly then started his display in the UH1 Huey. Menno has improved his displays in the last year since his trip to Bell in the US. They are smoother and more fluid. The sound of those blades, when he transitions from one sequence to another, is amazing.

The tiger moth display was slow but it is so beautiful to watch the guys fly around the field in these classic birds. Next up was the four-ship Goodyear Eagles founded by Dennis Spence. The Eagles fly the Pitts special led by Nigel Hopkins the rest of the team consisted of Trevor Warner and Dion Raath.

Dennis Spence did a couple of flypasts in a Boeing 737-400 under ever-darkening skies. Dennis could not do a touch and go as there was a hawk waiting patiently to do her routine on the threshold.

The Roooivalk and Bk117 display, unfortunately, turned into the Rooivalk display as the Bk117 went technical and was unable to start. As a home-grown and very capable aircraft, flying at a weight of at least 7 tons she gets around and is very nimble. To hear her engines and gearbox growl while running under power was so like hearing a v12 F1 engine screaming past you at 10 000 revs it was Goosebumps sounds. She finished her show by deploying flares.

Going back to the Aircraft that featured so strongly in WWII the P51 Mustang, Menno Parsons flew Mustang Sally in a display under stormy skies. The sound of that whine of the wind over the gun barrels still pierces through one’s body and gives you a sense of what those in times gone by must have felt when they heard that sound. She flies very quickly and is very difficult to photograph professionally.

The Puma Energy Flying Lions three-ship formation performed a sunset display under very windy and dark skies. Flown by Scully, Arnie and Sean ( Ellis had a starter problem and could not join the team) they did their polished display under very trying conditions.

The show was closed by the JAS 39 Gripen flown by Colonel Musa Mbhokota call sign "Midnight". Midnight is a test pilot for Saab and a very capable pilot. Born and bred in South Africa he has very represented SA on the world stage with SAAB and other platforms he has flown.

The show was fast and beautiful with that afterburner showing her tail quite significantly with the lack of light. The rain stayed away for the show and the crowd was rewarded for staying with an outstanding display and closing flare drop. Midnight stopped his aircraft in front of the crowd and the temporary tower. He shut her down and got out to greet the crowd. I do not know who was the bigger crowd-puller. With a grin that is infectious Midnight then climbed out of the aircraft and met some of the crowd. Men became boys and women became weak at knees from some of the posts I have seen on social media. For a very reserved person and a very accomplished and capable pilot Midnight most definitely closed the show on a high.

In closing, there are a few points I need to make.

  1. The SAAF and those that work with her made this show happen even when there were questions asked will the show take place.

  2. From the ground crews to the security details, from the museum guys to the maintenance guys. From both Kieth Fryer ad Kieth Andrews who ran the show to Lt Colonel Stefan van Zyl and Captain Mpama they all pulled out the stops to make the show a success with the little they had. They gave the media more access than ever before and for this we thank you.

  3. The show is just aircraft in the air without Brain Emmenis and his team for Capital Sounds. Brian, the team and yourself have been in two parts of the country working and you have been up and down to Gauteng over the last month a number of times yet you still keep the balls in the air and with great skill and military precision. You bring the show to life and to the people in the crowd with your systems and tech, you literally give the show wings.

Till the next show may your cup overflow with life and your smiles be more than your frowns.