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Stadium Fly Past by Airliners in South Africa

By Garth Calitz Photos by Stephan Rossouw

People have the uncanny ability to remember exactly where they were when certain events took place in their lifetime. The announcement that Nelson Mandela was about to be released, the 9-11 attacks in the USA and of course the 1995 world cup final are all examples of such memorable days.

In 1995 it was almost unthinkable that an aircraft the size of a Boeing 747 would fly low and slow over a packed stadium, this didn’t deter the team led by Laurie Kay having a message stencilled on the bottom of the wings and fuselage and flying over the packed Ellis Park Stadium to wish the Springboks well in the rugby world cup final.

That specific flight was kept so secret that only a handful of people in the country knew what was about to take place. Laurie was joined on the flight deck by Senior First Officer Billy Fourie, Senior Flight Engineer Don Coppard, and Senior Training Captain Selwyn Thomas for the historic flight. The team spent many hours planning the “mission”, they inconspicuously practised the route in a relatively small aircraft piston twin in the proceeding week, hoping not to give the game away with their presence over the iconic Johannesburg landmark. I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Laurie at his Midrand home where he talked me through the handwritten planning notes that he cherished until his untimely passing in 2013. There was a popular myth doing the rounds at the time that the crew had no idea what to expect when they dropped down to the approximately 6000 feet for the run in, believe me, they had rehearsed every aspect of the flight and there were absolutely no surprises.

During the filming of the hit movie Invictus, Laurie questioned Clint Eastwood on the inaccurate phrase used in the movie “Let the record show I have taken control of the aircraft”, Mr Eastwood's answer to this was a humoristic “Laurie, this is Hollywood”.

After this iconic flypast, stadium flights became more and more frequent and just last weekend we were treated to yet another magnificent flypast over Ellis Park Stadium (now known as Emirates Airline Park). FlySafair's Capt Joggen Zeuner (Commander), Capt Pierre Gouws, Capt Andrew Fotheringham (Timing and speed planning) and FO Gary Grant (Safety Observer) expertly manoeuvred a beautifully painted Boeing 737-800 over the stadium for two low passes over the stadium to inspire the Springboks in their second test against the New Zeeland All Blacks, sadly the Springboks didn’t manage the win but that didn’t take any shine off the spectacle in the Jo’burg sky above the stadium.

FlySafair was requested by the South African Rugby Union to do the flypast for the game, Capt. Murray Shaw (Chief training Captain at FlySafair) was originally requested to join Capt. Zeuner on the flight deck as he had done all the planning for a previous flypast some five years earlier. Since the flight earlier by Capt. Shaw the SACAA had introduced new rules regarding fly-pasts over public areas, the new rules state that the pilot performing the flypast must be in possession of a valid airshow display rating. Capt. Pierre Gouws was the obvious choice as he not only is a rated display pilot but is also a designated examiner for airline displays. Capt. Gouws gave Capt. Zeuner a display rating during the simulator sessions practising the flypast.

In preparation for the big day Capt. Zeuner and Capt. Shaw had flown a few practise runs with a Piper Seneca to get their timing and altitude spot on. They did originally consider a pass from the North but that was shelved due to the challenges of the high ground to the north of the stadium. Once Pierre was included he also did a few test runs in his RV8.

On the day the team did experience a few challenges, one of them being the inability to hear the ground team in the stadium on the radio fortunately Nigel Hopkins was in the air with a photographer and managed to relay all the information to the B737. The flypast was also delayed by four minutes, this in itself caused a bit of a headache for the crew as the entire holding plan had to be revised on the fly and if they arrived overhead at the arranged time they would have rudely interrupted the All Blacks famous HAKA.

The wind also caused a bit of challenge with timing as they had a tailwind off over 30 knots Capt. Fotheringham did a sterling job of adapting the timing and speeds so that the time over the target was spot on and it was greatly appreciated by the crowd and the countless viewers on TV.

A decision was made to do a banking pass on the second pass as it would present much better from the ground and prolong the spectacle slightly as a straight and level flypast is over pretty quickly.

One regret I personally will have to live with is having to turn down the opportunity to be in the air with Nigel Hopkins in his RV8 to photograph the event, I sadly had other commitments. I very reluctantly offered the historic flight to Stephan Rossouw who did a sterling job of capturing the action.

Here is Stephan's take on the flight

What started off as a normal Saturday morning, quickly turned out to be the opportunity of a lifetime. I received a call from Nigel Hopkins, saying he wants to take his beloved RV8 and fly alongside ZS-SJO while doing the flypast over Ellis Park. Needless to say, I quickly cancelled the rest of my plans for the day and got my camera gear ready.

I met up with Nigel and his dad Derek “Pops” at their Hangar at Eagles Creek. I mounted GoPro’s on each wing, and we proceeded to take off in the direction of the Joburg Country Club. We waited there for Pierre and Joggie to takeoff from FAOR at 16h20. We quickly had them visual and started to chase them down towards the holding point over Wemmer Pan.

We did about 4 holding patterns, which gave me the opportunity to get some great stills and of course the GoPro footage. I don’t know what was more spectacular, being tucked in underneath the belly of a 737-800, or for the Safair Crew to see a little RV8 on their wing keeping up with them.

The timing was relayed from the stadium, and we headed out towards the stadium for the first flypast. This had to happen on the windiest day in August, so the challenge was set to capture everything with some big bumps, but Nigel kept them to a minimum. After the second flypast, we headed back to Eagles Creek to land after what definitely had to be a “Bucket List” moment.