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SAAF Museum Airshow 2024 – “A Flight Through Time”

By Garth Calitz

Photos by Garth Calitz, Rayno Snyman, Trevor Cohen, Dian Townsend and Timothy Homman

Social media was buzzing with activity surrounding the 2024 SAAF Museum Airshow for the last few weeks, this excitement escalated in the week proceeding the show when everyone living in Pretoria was treated to the sights and sounds of aircraft running through the validation process. At Air Force-controlled airshows every participant is required to do a validation “dress rehearsal” run to be deemed competent to take part in the show, effectively this serves as a great marketing tool for the airshow as the aircraft are visible to the public days before the actual show.

At exactly 7:30 on Saturday morning the cloudless skies above AFB Swartkops, now known as SAAF Mobile Deployment Wing, were filled with Powered Paragliders that had launched at the nearby Grasslands Airfield. While we were all watching the Para-gliders one of the four wet-leased Ilyushin IL-76s took off at Waterkloof and moved past to the North of Swartkops.

Once the airspace was clear of the Paragliders the supporting services cavalcade commenced down the main taxiway, all the supporting services from fire and medical to local traffic police showed their vehicles off to the public.

BrigGen Donavan Chetty officially welcomed LtGen Wiseman Mbambo to the show, after a scripture reading and prayer the Chief of the Airforce officially declared the airshow open after a short speech in which he emphasized the need for the SAAF to embrace the “Space Age”. Three skydivers from the Police Task Force exited a SAPS Pilatus PC-6 Porter and skilfully guided the colourful canopies to land behind the podium. After the speech a beautiful crossover flight was performed by the SAAF Museums Bosbok, C185 and two Harvards crossing over a Puma, two Alouette IIIs and an Alouette II their positioning and timing was perfect.

Martin “Marlow” Louw and Daan “Spur” Conradie in the Harvards remained airborne for the first official display of what promised to be a wonderful airshow.

As soon as the Harvards landed in a very impressive formation landing the pace of the show was stepped up to jet level with a stunning display by Lt Col Scott "Prowler" Logie in the BAE Hawk Mk.120 lead in fighter trainer based at 85 Combat Flying School from AFB Makhado, Prowler is no stranger to displaying this marvellous aircraft and it shows.

The pace dropped off significantly with Andre van Zyl entering the box in his Magni M16C Gyro, sadly, due to an electrical fault Andre’s smoke system did not work on show day but that by no means took anything away from the brilliant abilities of both the pilot and the aircraft.

Sticking with the Rotor-wing fraternity Johann “Juba” Joubert threw a privately owned Alouette III around the sky like a radio-controlled helicopter. Juba is rated as one of the best helicopter display pilots in the world with extensive experience on many types of both eastern and western block choppers.

Andrew Blackwood-Murray kicked off the hi-energy with a stunning display in his Nashua-sponsored Extra 300LP. Andrew must have fond memories of flying at Swartkops during his years in the SAAF and later as a pilot for the Harvard Club of South Africa.

The SAAF Museum, who are almost 100% reliant on donations and profit made by hosting airshows must be commended for the tireless work they do to keep their large fleet of aircraft up in the sky where they belong. The motivated staff maintain not only the flying aircraft but a host of static displays which are housed all around the museum grounds some in hangars and some on the flight line. The first of many Museum displays was an unlikely three-ship formation consisting of two Alouette IIIs flanking a Cessna 185. Formation flying is difficult as it is, adding a mix of rotor and fixed-wing aircraft makes it more difficult.

Seeing only one Silver Falcon Pilatus PC-7 displaying was a bit of a letdown for airshow veterans who have seen the full five-ship team but I guess it is a sign of the times, hopefully, we will see a full Silver Falcons team in the air again soon. This sad fact did not take anything away from the brilliant solo display delivered by Major Morolong.

The SAAF continued with the displays this time it was the turn of the Agusta A-109 which is based at 17 Squadron at AFB Swartkops. 17 Squadron was formed in 1939 originally as a fixed-wing transport squadron, after WWII the squadron received their first helicopter, a Sikorsky S-51 and since then have focused on only helicopters. Over the years 17 has operated Sikorsky S-51 and S-55s, Alouette II and III, Aérospatiale Puma’s as well as the lone Aérospatiale SA 365 Dauphin 2 that was originally operated by the Bophuthatswana Airforce before 1994. The Squadron currently is equipped with A-109s and Atlas Oryx unfortunately all the Oryxs are currently grounded.

Celebrating the rich history of the SAAF was a stunning formation flight by Grant Timms and Ryan Briggs in iconic de Havilland DH82 Tiger Moths. These magnificent aircraft are part of the Classic Flying Collection based at Springs Airfield.

Next up was yet another odd formation by the SAAF Museum, this time they put two fixed-wing aircraft with a rotor-wing, Gen Piet Burger in an Aérospatiale Puma led two Havrads once again flown by Col’s Louw and Conradie.

The newest display team on the South African airshow circuit were next on the card, Steve and Mike Geroge together with Reyno Coetzer put together the team last year and flew their first official display at Wonderboom Airshow two weeks ago. One of their North American Navions, unfortunately, had a technical problem and Steve had to sit this one out.

Sticking with new acts, the newest solo display took to the air next. Tristan Eeles, a well-known personality at aerobatics competitions has made the transition to Airshows. Tristan has breezed through all the junior classes in the aerobatics world and his first year in Advanced Class qualified for national colours and represented South Africa at the world championships in Las Vegas last year. Tristan flies an “On the Move” sponsored Extra 330SC and his ability to master unlimited figures made for a very entertaining display.

From the newest to one of the oldest teams on the circuit, the Hired Gun Pitts Special display team have been around for as long as most airshow regulars can remember albeit with many different sponsors. Ellis Levin has taken on the role of team leader and he is joined by Arnie Meneghelli and Sean Thackwray and as always they delivered a top-draw display.

Captain Flippie Vermeulen invoked the nostalgia of airline flying from the golden age of flying with a magnificent display in his Beechcraft Model 18. This Beech 18 is somewhat of a celebrity and has been seen in many movies including “Amelia” the story of Amelia Earhart's failed attempt to circumnavigate the world where it pretended to be a Lockheed Electra.

After a short break, the airspace got very busy with SAAF and SAPS aircraft taking to the sky for the “Mini War”. The scenario playing out was a SAAF Casa 212 cargo drop that went wrong when the aircraft was hit by enemy fire and was forced to land. An Agusta A-109 was deployed as a battle coordination platform, the crew decided to call in the SAPS Special Task Force to parachute in to assist the downed pilot and crew but they were not able to overcome the enemy. The Hawks were then called in to suppress the enemy with both canon fire and bombs, which were simulated with explosives by the SA Army engineers. The Pilot was then airlifted out by a BK117 from 15 Squadron Charlie Flight.

After the fast pace of the Mini War, the three-ship de Havilland Chipmunk display was very a welcome change in pace. The Chippy never served in the SAAF but was extensively used by many airforces throughout the world including Rhodesia then our neighbours to the North. These beautifully restored Chipmunks were flown by Rodney Chinn, Ryan Briggs and Grant Timms.

The SAAF Museum ensured that no one lost interest with a skilled aerial ballet performed by a Puma and two Alouette III’s, the Alouette II was around to fill in the gaps as the larger aircraft repositioned.

The SAAF have an illustrious history having actively participated in many wars including the Korean War, where the brave pilots of 2 Squadron initially used the North American P51 and later the F-86 Sabre. Menno Parsons represented this period of the SAAF’s history with a stunning display of his P-51 Mustang Sally.

From the past to a hopeful future, Paramount’s Mwari showed one possible future for the SAAF, this two-seat, tandem cockpit aircraft with a high-wing and twin-boom pusher all South African design could be put to very good use by the SAAF if budget and political will would allow.

The SAPS were more than willing to demonstrate their response capabilities which are sadly called upon way too often with the amount of cash in transit robberies and other violent crimes we as South Africans have to deal with. The Pilatus PC-6 Porter dropped three Special Task Force members who once again did pinpoint accurate landings only to be collected by Tillanie Neethling expertly flying one of the brand new Airbus H125 Squirrel Helicopters, this young lady has some serious flying skill.

Not to be outdone by the police Col Corrie Oberholzer and Jared Oliver fired up their BK117s and proceeded to deliver a display that will be spoken about for quite some time. Their spiral climb while facing each other takes so serious skill especially when they are so close to one another. Well done 15 Squadron Charlie Flight.

Once again the emotions were stirred by the sound of the schoolmaster of the Airforce, everyone who had anything to do with the SAAF of yesteryear has some kind of connection to the Harvard and the “Rooi Neus Duiwel” holds a very special place in their hearts. Scully and Ellis Levin together with Arnie Meneghelli and Sean Thackwray with the help of sponsor Puma Energy have managed to keep the love for this amazing aircraft alive by displaying them at almost every airshow in Southern Africa for as long as I can remember.

Nigel Hopkins and Jason Beamish don’t need an introduction but their new sponsor does, Master Power Technologies has stepped up and ensured that this remarkable flying duo in their Extra 300s will be seen by more and more people. If any act at the show had the ability to inspire the young ones present it is definitely these two, the crowd's Oohs and Aahs told the story.

Once aging the SAAF Museum Puma took to the sky this time for a display of hoisting and slinging capability. The flight engineer was lowered to a concrete-filled 210l drum which he then attached to the cargo sling point on the underside of the aircraft, attaching the sling while the aircraft is hovering takes exceptional trust and good communication between the pilot and his crew. The engineer was then hoisted back into the aircraft and they departed the box.