By Rob Russell
Photos Andre Venter, Rayno Snyman and Trevor Cohen
After having their last air show, in 2020, cancelled by Government and its lock-down in response to a worldwide pandemic (remember three weeks to flatten the curve?!), the Stellenbosch Flying Club took the decision to hold another air show in March this year.
In the true tradition of Stellenbosch, their planning was nothing short of thorough and nothing was left to chance. Numbers were determined by Government regulations. Tickets went on sale at the end of 2021, with those people who had tickets for their cancelled show in 2020 being given first option to renew and take up tickets for this year. The remaining tickets were soon snapped up by a very keen Western Cape community, so brutally starved of air shows.
It was decided to hold the show over two days. One normally goes to shows over a Saturday and a Sunday, but this one was different. It was held on Friday and then Saturday. It proved to be a great decision and was an absolute winner and sure has set the tone for future air shows. Throw in a venue like Stellenbosch and you have the makings of a perfect venue and awesome air show. The glove has been thrown down and not many clubs and shows are going to be able to get close to this one.
Friday arrived, the club was a hive of activity with the entrance road and parking area converted into a maze of food and drink stalls – supporting local enterprise. Another brilliant idea, from the organising committee. Food and drink of all sorts were available. People were soon emerging from behind their masks, pouring into the venue and eager to catch up with old friends and see aircraft flying again.
The sky gods almost delivered a perfect day. There was a “breeze”, which kept the eager crowds cool and made the flying displays a bit harder for the pilots, but they rose to the challenge. Last-minute practices kept the early arrivals busy and entertained.
By 4 pm, when the show started the venue was full, people were waiting in anticipation and after a build-up by Brian Emmenis and his more than capable team from Capital Sounds, the show commenced with a 5 ship flypast by Pilatus Astras, from CFS Langebaan. They made an arrival from the east, with the Helderberg mountain, in the background. The show was on and the crowd burst into applause as they flew past. A fantastic afternoon’s entertainment, including a breathtaking show by the 4 ship Marksmen aerobatic team, from Morningstar, kept the crowd thoroughly entertained.
The evening ended with the Flying Lions Harvard aerobatic team giving a sunset performance. With the sky gods turning down the wind, the mountains in the background, a dramatic version of the il Silenzio trumpet solo being played, they too made their entrance from the east and kept the crowd on tenterhooks. It has to be one of the finest displays ever seen at an air show, anywhere in South Africa, if not worldwide. There was not a spectator that was not breathless and many old ex-Air Force pilots were seen standing with tears in their eyes. To be there and see it was, well there are no real words to describe it. Brian Emmenis chose this particular piece of music not only for its dramatic effect but as a tribute to the Flying Lions leader Scully Levin an accomplished trumpeter himself. The radio work was patched through, so the crowds could hear the pilots. After landing, the aircraft parked in front of the capacity crowd shut down their motors simultaneously and the 4 pilots stood on the seats, to thank the spectators for their support. The crowd literally erupted in applause. A sight seldom seen at an air show.
And so an amazing day was brought to an end in an incredible way. And then the entertainment began. Live music was provided, the food and drink stalls could not keep up with the demand and the spectators sure got their money's worth. The pubs were kept busy into the early hours of Saturday morning and many a spectator was seen either sleeping in a hangar, under a tree or in their cars! In fact, many spectators had bought their tents and camped overnight, on the neighbouring fields, under the trees! A winner all round and the organising committee must have been very pleased. Being pay-day also helped!
And so on to day 2.
And what a day it was! An aviation hungry crowd started arriving before most of the staff, From 0700 the early birds were queuing – eager to get to the front to get the best seats and await the day’s entertainment.
The show was officially opened, as is customary, with a skydiving display one of the skydivers was carrying the 83kg South African flag and the national anthem was played as he dropped. True to form the Capital Sounds team timed it to perfection with the last note sounding as the flag bearer touch the ground.
The crowds were kept thoroughly entertained throughout the day. From the outstanding and brilliant solo performances of Pierre Gouws in the Bosbok to Patrick Davidson in his Redbull Gamebird GB1 – his performances had the crowd gasping for breath. Patrick only arrived early on Saturday morning, having been held up along the coast due to the inclement weather there, as well as Andrew Blackwood Murray delivered a great performance in the Nashua Extra, to the sedate and bit more gentle performance, but still outstanding of Derrick Lord in his Bosbok, the crowds sure got their monies worth!
Ivan van der Schaar also delivered a sterling performance in the magnificent Boeing Stearman. Andre van Zyl entertained the crowds in his Magni Gyro, showing how much fun you can have in them!
Of course, an air show is not an air show without a jet or two and with the SAAF not having any jets to display, Grant Timms kept the crowds entertained flying the Hangar 51 Aero L29 Albatross. High speeds and lots of noise – it ticked the boxes and the crowds loved it.
The SAAF had a small presence. They opened and closed each day with a 5 ship flypast by Astras from CFS Langebaanweg, as well as delivering the Chief of the SAAF to the show, by Oryx, and a gentle, but good performance by a C47TP from 35 Squadron, based at AFB Ysterplaat. It was good to see some SAAF aircraft there. (Note to the TP Dak Pilot – next time keep it closer and lower!) The SAAF had brought along their Impala simulator and were giving some lucky kids, of all ages, a chance to “fly” this iconic trainer.
After the show had ended, the SAAF Fire and Rescue fire engine made lots of friends with all the children and well done to those SAAF personnel. They sprayed all the kids with water and the kids loved it! I mean who goes to an air show and ends up playing with a fire engine? Some were then lucky enough to get a drive around the airfield as well.
Air shows are not just all about pilots and the aircraft keeping crowds entertained. They are also an opportunity to educate the crowds and show how aviation works for them. With that in mind, The Kishugu backed Working on Fire, together with Leading Edge Aviation gave a polished performance over lunchtime on how they deal with fires. The Western Cape is at the end of its summer fire season and having a few devastating fires this year, it was good for the crowds to see the various helicopters and Air Tractor fire bombers at work. Good backup commentary from Trevor Abrahams, Kishugu CEO, left the crowd with a far greater understanding of how fires are dealt with and what the role of all the aircraft are, in combating fires and supporting the ground personnel. The formation water bombing by the 2 Air tractors was well performed and appreciated.
But the crowds wanted to see the Blackhawk at work and Mark Jackson gave a polished performance. It’s a monster of a helicopter and the crowd loved it.
Air shows also need some humour and fun- Just after lunch, John Smith bought his Piper cub out to give a flight to one of the older members of the crowd – a retired WW2 pilot in the guise of Alewyn Burger. Alewyn flies for Safair as a Boeing 737 training Capt. Whilst he was secured in the cockpit, John swung the prop and before he could get in, Alewyn headed out into the yonder. The crowd, not knowing what was really going on, were kept on tenterhooks, whilst Alewyn threw the Cub – if one can – around the open grounds and trees to the east of the airfield. A brief dip onto the neighbouring estate, Alewyn came back with a washing line attached to the aircraft! He managed to fool many spectators, but like all good things, he landed (just) and the crowd burst into laughter when the true identity of the pensioner was revealed.
Pierre Gouws and Trevor Warner delivered a good performance in their Vans RVs. The Marksmen aerobatic team under the leadership of Mark Hensman gave some truly polished performances in their 4 ship team. Close formations, interesting sequences and the clever use of smoke – including the making of a heart and arrow through it kept the spectators gasping and wanting more.
And they got it – from the Flying Lions Harvards under the leadership of Scully Levin. The Harvard is a big aircraft that makes lots of noise and that’s what the crowds wanted. The performances were also out of the top draw. After their performances on the Friday night, many wondered if they would get to that level again. They did and the crowds let them know.
Not to be outdone, SA Air Link displayed one of the Embraer E190 jets. It’s the largest jet in the growing fleet. Under the command of Jaco Henning, it made a dramatic arrival from the South West and the crew delivered a great performance. It’s the first time SA Air Link have shown off this jet, in the Western Cape and the crowds loved it. Thanks to Roger Foster for giving permission for it to perform.
But like all good things, the show must come to an end. The show officially closed with a great formation performance by the Hueys, from Leading Edge Aviation. Few spectators knew helicopters could perform at that level, flying in formation.
There was no doubt that the capacity crowds were kept thoroughly entertained over both days. The highlight was the Flying Lions evening performance, this time to the beautiful sounds of 'Time to say goodbye' but all the pilots delivered and the spectators reluctantly headed off, eagerly awaiting the next show!
A special note of thanks is due to Anton Theart, who headed up the organising committee and all this staff for delivering a truly great show. For the first show, after Covid, as well as being the first one on the air show calendar for 2022, you certainly did not fail! The crowds were amazed and truly appreciative of everything - be it the numerous food stalls, beer tents, which ensured the crowds were not left hungry or thirsty, to the magnificent venue that is Stellenbosch flying club and the amazing performances by all the pilots
You certainly have set the bar for future air shows!