By Rob Russell Photos By Dean Wingrin
After a huge build-up, in part due to an impressive advertising campaign, on social media, the last Saturday in September dawned and the West Coast Air Show had arrived
Unfortunately, the day broke with a thoroughly overcast, rainy and generally miserable day. That did not deter the locals, from far and wide, who arrived in the early hours, to secure their prime viewing spots. Even the local seagulls were in the queue to get in! The rain contributed to the car park and surrounding area threatening to turn into an unscheduled 4×4 driving training area! The weather also put a brake on a few pilots who had been planning to fly in for the day.
The weather showed no signs of clearing up and the airside safety team, decided to, wisely, postpone the start of the show for 90 minutes. The new time was not what the spectators wanted, but they understood why. Luckily, the organising committee had arranged for more than enough other entertainment for them. The spectator area was full of food vendors and various other vendors, selling various goods from toys to electric goods. There was even a stall selling local indigenous plants. Surely a first at an air show! Spectators were also afforded the opportunity to fly an Impala simulator from the SAAF, which many potential future pilots had a chance to fly (and crash!)
There was a gradual improvement in the weather and after a meeting between the safety team and the display pilots, they agreed to get the show underway, with the pilots adjusting their displays to fly and stay below the cloud base, which was now at 2000ft. The show got underway just after 10.40. The safety team and display coordinators did a sterling job re-organising the programme and adjusting it as the weather chopped and changed. The pilots and their various support teams also deserve praise for the short-notice adjustments to the programme and adjusting their displays, to ensure the crowds were kept happy.
The crowd were kept enthralled with displays from Dave Mandel in his Aero L39 Albatross jet, Derrick Lord in his Bosbok, Andrew Blackwood-Murray in his Extra 300 and displays from the SAAF in a B 117 helicopter and a solo display from the Silver Falcons solo pilot in a PC7. There were many disappointed people in the crowd, who were hoping for a display by the full complete Silver Falcons team, but brutal budget cuts have all but put an end to what was a great team, and indeed a great Air Force, but they warmed to the display and one aircraft was better than nothing. The Silver Falcons did have a static PC7 available for the public to look over and their tent did a roaring trade selling.
Just as the show was getting close to lunchtime the weather was improving and the show was getting busy with displays coming fast and furious, the organisers were forced to put a hold on the displays. A serious motor accident, a few kilometres down the road from the airfield, required the emergency response teams to leave the airfield and attend to the accident. Air show safety requirements need a certain amount of these vehicles to be present on the airfield, while the show is on and now being below the required minimum for emergency vehicles, the organisers were left with no option but to suspend the show. No problem for the crowds, they used the opportunity to hit the beer tent and various food vendors for their lunches and not miss the show! A fine performance by the local Navy base, displaying some smart drilling skills, also kept the crowds happy.
The vehicles soon returned and the afternoon show got underway with a parachute display. The organisers were now under pressure to get the show completed by the scheduled ending time, but with CAA approval the NOTAM was extended by an hour. The weather had improved, the sun had come out and the afternoon crowds were treated to some impressive displays.
People come to an airshow to see and hear noisy aircraft being thrown around the sky. Despite no aerobatic teams present, the display pilots all did a sterling job putting their aircraft through their paces, making noise and lots of smoke and the crowd was happy! Despite a very busy and entertaining afternoon, the show finished at 4 p.m. The very strong and gusty upper winds did not help the pilots, but they really did well to manage their shows around the turbulence. A great display by a gyrocopter brought the show to an end and the crowds moved over to the one side of the parking area, where various local bands played into the night.
An all-around successful and incident-free show, despite the miserable weather. There were a few problems which I am sure the organisers will remember for the next show, but they can be pleased with their efforts and the crowds left happy, well fed and hoping to see another show in the near future.