top of page

Virginia Airshow 2023 – Revival of a Giant

By Trevor Cohen Photos by Timmy Homan and Trevor Cohen

The last airshow held at Virginia was over 10 years ago and the organizers had to install special barriers for safety in case of a wayward landing aircraft as well as substantial barriers to keep the crowds where they belonged.

The day started off in true KZN fashion, a beautiful sunny day with a slight breeze but it was nice and warm albeit a bit humid. A media briefing was at 7:30 am followed by a pilot's briefing. The pilot briefing was quite intense as there were a number of different frequencies being used and anyone breaking 1000 feet AGL was going to need Radar vectoring due to the close proximity to King Shaka arrivals. The display line was over the Protective bush line and Beach, access by the public to the beach had been stopped from early in the morning for safety reasons. The organizers also had to have NSRI and Navy divers on fast boats at sea just in case an incident out to sea. The irony is that for a short time during the morning, the radar system went down and the show was put on hold for a period we were told.

Finally, the moment arrived that the Durban aviation enthusiasts had waited 10 years for arrived and the show got underway with Juba Joubert dropping four Skydivers from the Durban Parachute Club, Ironically they are based in Cato Manor and not in Durban.

The Marksmen were first flying display off the line flown by Mark Hensman, Johnie Smith and Eugene du Preez, with an MX-2 and 2 Extras this display had to be modified slightly as they do a pass right after take-off, the problem is the runway is too close to the crowd line. The pilots started high with the display getting progressively closer to the group. The high-speed display picks up and gets faster and faster with switchblades and high-speed passes. The crowd does not know where to look first. The display ends with an aircraft doing a knife edge pass and a high-speed inverted pass from the opposite side.

Dave Mandel who is based in Plettenberg Bay performed his display with his Aero L-39 Albatross. A very graceful display and beautifully showed off the capabilities of this Eastern Block Jet.

The three-ship de Havilland Chipmunks formation was next off the line flown by Rodney Chinn, Grant Timms and Ryan Briggs. A very graceful display and the guys held a very tight formation in these 70-year-old aircraft.

Juba Joubet then returned for a display in the Aerospatiale Gazelle. Juba starts with a high-speed low pass take off down the runway and then pulls up to finishing in a torque turn and repeats this from side to side.

Scully Levin put a young flight instructor through his paces in a Cirrus showing the general public what this beautiful aircraft is capable of.

Trevor Warner and Ryan Beaton did a new look show with two RV 7’S, the show starts off with the guys doing the opposite of what they did last year where they finished with the single aircraft following the leader aerobatics, almost like a “Torra Torra Torra” show. The guys then move on to formation flying, the RVs are always tight and graceful and are always a pleasure to watch.

The SAAF, all the way from PE represented by Major Jared Oliver and Flight Sargent Coert Steynberg, performed their first display of the day flown by Jared showing everyone how they operate with cargo slings and how the BK 117 performs. They also displayed how they use the on-board winch to lower and lift people.

Patrick Davidson also from PE raised the temperature with his fast and very energetic display in his Gamebird GB-1 sponsored by Red Bull sporting the famous and strikingly beautiful Metallic blue, red, yellow and white livery. Patrick showed the crowd why he is an aerobatic champion and was invited to fly in the Red Bull Pylon racing.

Roger Deare then took his Hollywood Bets Sponsored Extra 300 up and did a few runs along the runway at different heights and then told the crowd what height he was. A group of contestants then had to guess other heights and the closest to the mark won a hamper from the made sponsor.

Dave Mandel took his camo-painted L-39 out for another high-speed thrilling display to warm the crowd up for the afternoon show. By this time the crowd sat so far deep that there was a single person-wide channel, between the crowd and the buildings in each direction for people to walk. There were close to the maximum of 8500 people in attendance if there was more place available I have no doubt that it would have been filled.

Bryan Emmenis from Capital Sounds then hyped the crowds into a frenzy and then it happened Black Betty made her entrance from the South. Capably flown by Captain Jaco Henning and Captain Dean Nicholas on behalf of Airlink. The Embraer 195 flown in the display has a black livery and is an absolute machine to fly in.

Jaco brought her in from the South West low level a few hundred feet above the tower as he reached the runway centreline he pushed that nose left and the whole aircraft banked steeply left and gave the crowd now on their feet the top view, he then levelled off and flew North to reposition for another flyby. As she was descending to land on the runway just before touching down she did a go around turned left and raised her undercarriage. She then did a spiral climb over the runway to the sounds of Opera music played by Capital Sounds and the applause and absolute excitement of the crowd.

Andrew Blackwood-Murray in his Nashua-sponsored Extra 300 took to the air to do his aerobatic dance in the sky. Andrew has a graceful way of displaying very difficult manoeuvres very gracefully. Andrew will be jetting off to Las Vagas later this year to compete in the Advanced World Aerobatics Championships, We wish him and the rest of the SA team all the best.

Ever the Gentleman and ex-SAA pilot Flippe Vermeulen flew his Beach 18 twin radial and took to the air to show the Durban crowd what a passenger aircraft of this size can do and how well she can handle. The Marksman then did their afternoon display and the crowd was again on their feet.

The Puma Energy Flying Lions of Arnie Meneghelli, Scully Levin, Sean Thackwray and Ellis Levin took to the air with a roar of those radial engines. The graceful two-ton aircraft are very well controlled by all and put on a smooth and energetic display. If one listens closely you can hear the pistons firing to turn those large props in the front of the aircraft bite into the air.

The Durban parachute club did their final jump with a Capital Sounds parachute amongst the jumpers, Some guys preferred to be on the ground faster than others and proceeded to do a high-speed descent and approach timing it perfectly.

Lt Colonel Corrie Oberhozer accompanied by Flight Sargent Coert Steynberg performed the second BK-117 display. Corrie flew in the stiff breeze with very soft hands holding that helicopter perfectly still sideways into the wind. The Display moves from the beach to the airport and from left to right. Corrie even manages to disappear from view and suddenly pops up over the Bush on the far side of the airport.

Trevor Warner and Ryan Beaton did their final display once again starting with their “Tora Tora” display. They were followed by Roger Deare for his final competition flight for Hollywood bets, he flew up and down the runway at different heights and competitors had to guess his last height. The final person won R5000.00 to take home.

Rodney, Grant and Ryan performed their final Chipmunk display in pretty windy conditions, they did a fine job of holding those machines in check. Patrick Davidson used the wind to hover the Gamebird during his final display for the day.

Juba did his final flight in the Gazelle in trying conditions and even the military guys stood still in amazement at how he was able to manoeuvre the aircraft, It is absolutely beautiful to watch. The show closed with the Puma Energy Flying Lions performing their trademark sunset show. A fitting way to close the first Virginia Airshow this decade and long may they continue.

A few points in closing.

  • Well done to Sally Fleck for doing all the hard work in the background.

  • Well done to Airshow SA for all the work they did.

  • Well done to all the pilots for entertaining the crowds.

  • Well done to Capital Sounds for getting the place ready for sound and de-rigging in such a quick fashion.

  • Well done Brian Emmenis for getting those bums off chairs and making the flying so interesting to everyone.

Lastly my gripe.

Airshows are a business. If they don’t make a profit there will be none. The ticket sales cover the fuel and nothing else. Sponsors and vendors cover the rest.

  • The security costs money.

  • Air Show SA costs money.

  • The insurance costs money.

  • The aircraft time and pilots cost money. Etc etc.

However with all of us who are blessed to be involved in this business maybe we have lost our way? We are to focused on who owns the show or who makes a profit or the airshow is not paying the pilots enough. We are too focused on whose Ramp it is or who has the final say.

At the end of the day, we are here for the love of flying and we should not forget it. We need to be safe and protect all those who are involved and those who are here for the same reasons we are for the love of flying.

Please Browse our Gallery of this Event