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The Great Train Race 2023 – Heidelberg Airfield

By Garth Calitz

In 1930, a Bentley Sportsman Coupé beat France's Famous Blue Train in a race from Cannes to Calais. This great feat is celebrated annually at the Historic Aircraft, Motor Vehicle and Historic Train Day at Heidelberg Airfield which is normally held on Heritage Day this year it was moved to the weekend after Heritage Day and sadly this clashed with other aviation events held the same day.

The clash in dates and the unbelievably high current fuel price kept the number of visiting aircraft low, fortunately, literally hundreds of vintage cars and motorcycles had come in by road. The attending historic aircraft were parked close to the vintage cars creating a wonderful opportunity for photographers to capture shots of cars and planes from a bygone era. The addition of beautiful period-dressed models brightened up the “old” aircraft and vehicles for the photographers.

At about 9:00 there was a mass exodus from the airfield to the Heidelberg station as the news spread that the Rovos Rail steam train was on its way. In pre-Covid events, Reef Steamers supplied the train but they, unfortunately, did not survive the lockdowns and sadly no longer operate. Rovos Rail however obliged by adding Heidelberg to one of their very popular commercial routes. While the train was making its way slowly to the siding it was joined by Ivan van der Schaar in his beautifully restored Boeing Stearman.

The Classic vehicles then drove back to the airfield, escorted by members of the Gauteng provincial traffic department, the full blue light “Gupta” treatment was afforded to the convoy.

Once the majority of the vehicles were back at the airfield The Puma Energy Flying Lions flew in from Rand Airport to perform a wonderful three-ship formation aerobatics display. For the more ground-orientated enthusiasts, The Sons of Speed vintage motorcycle racing club had laid out a dirt track and were racing vintage motorcycles around it.

As the visiting aircraft started leaving they were requested to hold as the Goodyear Eagles were on the run-in. They performed one of their signature displays this time only a three-ship formation.

Henly Air spent the day flipping anyone who wanted to see Heidelberg from the air in one of their trusty Bell 407s, later in the day Capt Flippie Vermeulen arrived in Springbok Air Safaris' beautiful Beech 18 and took a few people for flights in this historic airliner.

Overall it was a great event joining all forms of historic transportation in one event is always a winner, it is a pity that the train line is quite a way from the airfield and one had to leave the airfield to get a glimpse of this magnificent feat of steam engineering, a scale version of a steam train was however at the airfield treat children on all ages to a ride around the temporary track.

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