The South African Civil Aviation Authority hosted a very successful Career Expo and threw in an Airshow just for good measure. Ladysmith Airfield in Northern Natal was the venue for this amazing initiative in youth aviation awareness.
I was fortunate to have been offered a ride to and from the airshow with the team from Little Annie, this beautiful Antonov AN2 has become synonymous with introducing children to the wonderful world of aviation. We were off to a very early start on Friday morning, meeting Little Annie and the rest of the Just Love Mission team at their hangar at Wonderboom National Airport. After checking the fuel and topping up the oil it was time to leave, we finally got airborne just after 8:00 for the one and a half hour flight to Ladysmith.
On our arrival we could see the CAA had pulled all the stops to bring the aviation message to scholars from the area. The aviation career expo was in full swing with many exhibitors showing off their offerings. Young people from surrounding schools were bussed in to experience a world they had never dreamed and for some the dream became a bit more real when the SAAF took them for a flight in a Casa 212, the joy on their faces spoke volumes and hopefully some of them were inspired to follow a career in aviation.
On Saturday morning we arrived at a very wet airfield and there was a very threat that the airshow may be at risk due to the weather, fortunately the weather cleared and the show could go ahead.
The show kicked off at exactly 11:00 with the arrival of a Gripen from AFB Waterkloof, Maj Geoffrey Cooper flew his normal polished display and was also joined by the Silver Falcons. The Silver Falcons could not make the trip in their usual aircraft as corrosion was detected on many of the PC7’s based at Langebaanweg.
After the departure of the Gripen the Silver falcons continued with their display, it made an interesting change seeing the red and white Astra’s joining the customary dark blue aircraft. The team was led by Major Omphile 'Biggy' Mutloane, who is planning on leaving the team in the near future, he was joined by Major Lucky Mallocks, Major Sivuyile Tangana and Major Bheki 'Swaziboy' Shabangu.
Glen Warden was the next act to wow the crowd in the Eastern Block Aero L-29 Delfín, Glen has many hours in fighters and has become somewhat of a legend on the airshow circuit especially the days when he still had the honour of flying the Black Widow a Mirage 3.
No sooner had Glen landed and Nigel Hopkins had the crowd gasping in disbelief as he threw his Extra 330Sc around the sky resembling a Radio controlled model. Nigel is an airline captain with SAA and is currently flying long haul in the Airbus A330’s and A340’s.
Once Nigel had cleared the airspace it was time for Andre van Zyl to dance around the blue Natal skies in his Magni Gyro, Andre is based in Pretoria and has attended every airshow in southern Africa in the last year.
While Andre was doing his display Jon-Marc Hill got airborne in Little Annie with a load of Skydivers, Ralph Ridge “jumped” the massive South African, the flag is quite difficult to control and only a few jumpers are sufficiently experienced to handle the 82kg extra weight.
Unfortunately, the Flying Lions could not make it due to the inclement weather further north, the Goodyear Eagles however did mange to slip out of Rand Airport and they delivered a brilliant show as always in their Pitts Specials.
Major Cooper made a second appearance much to the delight of the modest but very enthusiastic crowd, Brian Emmenis and his very professional team from Capital Sounds kept the excitement levels up in their own unique way, Brian's ability to build anticipation is somewhat legendary on the airshow circuit.
After the Gripen cleared off to Waterkloof everyone was treated to a very rear sight as a SA Airlink Embraer ERJ-190AR did a series of low passes and tight turns. Capt. Jaco Henning proved that even large airliners can make for a beautiful display.
A slightly reduced Team X-treme then took to the slightly greying skies, Mark Sampson was flying in Nigel Hopkins’ Extra 330Sc, Nigel was flying in the recently built RV8 and they were joined by Jason Beamish. Sammy’s XtremeAir Sbach 342 has unfortunately been prohibited from performing aerobatics along with all Sbachs in the world due to a manufactures fault on the engine mounting.
Glen Warden and Andre van Zyl performed a second display in fast deteriorating conditions and when the Silver Falcons got airborne for their final display the safety officer decided to call them in as conditions were getting very dangerous.
Special thanks must go to Ms Poppy Khoza for taking this innovative to bring the aviation message home to the rural youth who wouldn’t normally get the opportunity to experience a spectacle of this nature. Thanks also to the Safety team of Rikus Erasmus and François Hosepipe Hannekom for keeping things running smoothly.