By Garth Calitz Photos by Andre Venter and Karl Spangenberg
The Johannesburg airshow faithful has had to wait for three years for the return of what is arguably the most entertaining in Gauteng. Rand airport offers a unique “L” shaped display line due to the layout of the airport, this makes for some stunning views of the top of aircraft which are far more difficult to achieve at conventional straight display lines.
I arrived at Rand Airport at 6:30, rather early for an Airshow that was scheduled to start at 11:00, even at that early hour the aviation-loving public was forming long queues at all the access points, fortunately, I was able to bypass them, the joys of having media accreditation.
The Immortal Guardians Motorcycle Club were invited to take a slow ride around the runways and taxiways before the show officially kicked off, the opportunity to ride on the runway of an active airport is not something that comes around every day and many riders joined what I believe to be the largest motorcycle cavalcade ever to be seen at an airshow.
The official opening to the airshow was marked by a skydiving display expertly performed from Menno Parsons’ Tiger Bell "Huey" UH-1 by Graham Field, Bailey Edmunds, Paul Marcellin, Johan Greyling, Japie Keet and Barend Pretorius. Menno took the “Mustang Sally” girls along for the ride, they opted to stay safely in the helicopter until they were back on Terra firma.
Grant Timms and Steve Brown started taxiing out as soon as the skydivers were safely on the ground, Steve and Grant flew a beautiful two-ship display in the Classic Flying Collection de Havilland Tigermoths. The Classic Flying Collection is a museum alive with vintage aircraft, classic cars and military memorabilia based at Springs airfield definitely well worth a visit.
The great excitement of the Puma Energy take-off quickly turned sombre when the four-ship T6 Harvard team performed a “missing man” formation in honour of the victims that sadly lost their lives in a horrific SAPS Pilatus PC6 Porter accident that took place the week before, may they rest in peace.
Immediately after the missing man formation, the Flying Lions, consisting of Scully and Ellis Levin joined by Arnie Meneghelli and Sean Thackwray, entered into their famous four-ship aerobatics display, which was concluded by a series of low and high-speed passes.
The formidable team from Henley Air Rocket HEMS team were next on the agenda. The display was started with an “emergency” situation that called for a rescuer to be hosted by a Bell 222 to rescue some children that had found their way onto a hangar roof, Brian Emmenis and his team at Capital Sounds did an amazing job of getting the ever-growing crowd hyped up about the “emergency”.
The rescue helicopter dropped off their rescuer and was then joined by five other Bell 222s in a wonderful display of six Bell 222, the sound of these helicopters can not only be heard but clearly felt as well.
Our current SA unlimited Aerobatics Champion and Red Bull Athlete Patrick Davidson then took centre stage with a stunning display of freestyle aerobatics in his GameBird GB-1. Patrick will be taking part in the Air Race World Championship which will début later this year building on the legacy of the hugely popular Red Bull Air Race.
In an airshow first Ivan and Juandre van der Schaar took to the air in both a full-scale and a radio-controlled aircraft simultaneously, a few months ago this would have been deemed too dangerous but with the skill of both pilots, they managed to design a sequence that is perfectly safe and achieved CAA display authorisation. Ivan flies his beautifully restored Boeing Stearman and his son Juandre flies a large-scale Extra 330.
The RV Raptors then took to the beautiful blue Highveld sky, the team normally comprise of a four-ship flown by Pierre Gouws, Ryan Beaton, Dion Raath and Trevor Warner but at Rand, they were joined by Nigel Hopkins and Johan von Solmsmaking an impressive six-ship aerobatics formation. The tail chase they perform was especially spectacular with six aircraft drawing smoke lines across the sky.
Competition Aerobatics in South Africa is sadly in a bit of a downward spiral at the moment due to the high-cost fuel for competing and practising, in an attempt to lure new pilots to the sport Protea pilots Elton Bondi and Barrie Eeles performed a Competition Aerobatics Promotion. Both pilots have represented South Africa in world aerobatics competitions in the past and both were flying the world-leading Extra 330 which has dominated world aerobatics for the past 10 years.
The pace of the next display slowed slightly but the intensity of the display was no less impressive, Andre van Zyl took to the air with his Magni Gyro. Andre has become a firm favourite at airshows over the last few years.
After a short break for lunch, it was time for the Hired Gun Pitts Special Team, this is one of the longest-running teams on the SA airshow circuit, they have sported many different sponsors over the years but the one constant has always been their brilliant display skills. The current team is made up of Arnie Meneghelli, Scully and Ellis Levin and soloist Sean Thackwray.
As soon as the Pitts team landed Nigel Hopkins took off in his Extra 330SC for what we thought might be a solo display but he was then joined by two Bell 407 helicopters flown by Alister Brown and Menno Parsons. They then proceeded to stage a hover competition in which Nigel did exceptionally well considering his aircraft isn’t exactly designed for hanging on its prop.
Jason Beamish then showed off both his abilities and the abilities of a 76-year-old de Havilland Chipmunk. Aerobatics in a Chippie is a very graceful affair, extremely slow but very impressive. Partick Davidson then went up to impress the crowd with some slightly faster and higher impact aerobatics in the GameBird GB-1.
While Patrick was performing a stir was developing at the Master Power tent, a sound that has been missing from airshows for the last few years was heard starting up, Menno Parsons was about to taxi out in his Mustang. Mustang Sally has always been and will always be a firm crowd favourite, there is just something about a WWII Rolls Royce powered fighter that stirs something in the soul of any aviation enthusiast, not to mention the whistle of the gun barrels as the beast races past at high speed.
The Goodyear Eagles Pitts Special team followed the Mustang and once again proved why they are regarded as one of the best formation aerobatics teams in the world. The team is now led by Nigel Hopkins joined by Johan von Solms and Jason Beamish. Trevor Warner joined the team after the tragic loss of previous team leader Glen Warden last year.
To ensure the jet fans don’t feel neglected Pierre Gouws then flew a brilliant display in soviet era Eastern Block pilot maker the Aero L-39 Albatros. Pierre is currently flying for FlySafair and recently was part of the team that performed the B737-800 flypast over Ellis Park before the Springbok Wallabies game.
Sticking with fighter trainers, Gavin and Steve Brown were joined by Grant Timms in a stunning three-ship de Havilland Chipmunk formation. It's hard to believe that these aircraft only differ in age by 22 years, such was the pace of aircraft development in the 1900s.
In yet another airshow first, two of the Puma Energy Flying Lions Harvards were joined by two Extra 300 from the Puma stable. Ellis Levin and Arnie Meneghelli joined Scully Levin in the lead Harvard for some formation aeros while Sean Thackwray performed the solo fillers. The two Extras then broke off and performed some body-breaking negative G formation aerobatics.
With Rand Airport located so close to OR Tambo, the spectators saw many airliners going in and out, unaware that they were about to be treated to one up close and personal. Airlink was gracious enough to let one of their Embraer ERJ-190AR pop over to Rand for a wonderful display that was masterfully flown by Capt Jaco Henning and his flight deck crew. Airlink is a privately-owned, premium, full-service regional airline serving a comprehensive network of destinations throughout Southern Africa.
After a short Solo display by Trevor Warner in his RV7, it was time for Team Iveco to wow the spectators with a hi-impact aerobatics display. Nigel Hopkins and Jason Beamish, both flying Extra 330s have been flying together for many years and it shows in their display, the trust in their teammate is evident as they perform intricate manoeuvres with very little separation.
Not even the petrol heads were left out of the mix Menno Parsons challenged A1 class single-seat racer Alan Eve to a bit of a dice around Rand's many taxi and runways. I do believe Alan got a bit worried when he realised Menno would be Racing him in a Bell 407. At times it looked like the helicopter was toying with the car but when they entered the straight down runway 35 the A1 stretched its legs and Menno had a bit of a problem keeping up.
As the shadows were getting very long and the heat of the day took its toll on the spectators, it was time for the closing act. The Puma Energy Flying Lions took to the air accompanied by the beautiful il Silenzio trumpet solo, one would be hard-pressed to find a more fitting end to a great day's aviation.
Congratulations must go to the Rand Airport team for delivering a great show despite what must have been a very difficult week before the show. Brian Emmenis and his team from Capital Sounds for keeping the spectators not only well informed but entertained as well. The safety crew from the show director to the marshals all did a superb job, last but not least a special thank you to all the paying public without your support we will not see spectacles like this.