By Jaco Kotze

“Always strive to be a proper human being”
Menno Parsons

When it comes to human nature and our societal structures, showing respect and admiration to our Elders has always been fundamental to human civilization - over the centuries and throughout all different cultures. The life knowledge and experience they have to share is priceless to the upcoming generations and should be cherished and is often neglected by modern society, at great peril. Caring for those less privileged than us, especially for our Children and our Elders, is in my humble opinion the fundamental core to being a “proper” human being.

The Elder's Flight is an exceptional initiative to uphold this critical balance in our modern society. Started by Felix Gosher in 2019, this event aims to give recognition and respect to our Elders and Military Veterans by treating them to a day where they could experience the magic of flight for the first time, or again after many years, in the case of our military veterans.

This year the event was hosted at the Mobile Deployment Wing Air Force Base, which given the rich history of the base makes for the most perfect location to host this special event. Formerly known as AFB Swartkop, this air force base is one of the oldest in the world, with many of our veterans having done active duty on this very base. With the sun rising over the base with the most vibrant colors, the scene was scene for this very special day!

The plan for the Elder's Flight 2024 was ambitious, yet meticulously crafted - to give a flying opportunity to 500 Elder's and Military Veterans using more than 100 aircraft. The general discussion amongst all on the day, both military and non-military were that they haven't seen this many aircraft on the apron at the base in more than a decade! Despite the high number of aircraft, their movement was expertly managed by a very experienced ATC team, led by Air Boss of the day Col. Pat Cele.

The day started at around 05h00 with the arrival of the event team, the unsung heroes of the day who worked tirelessly to ensure that everything was perfect for the arrival of the Elder's. The Elder's and Military Veterans started arriving at 07h00. At 07h30 the Air Force Chaplain opened with the Lord's Prayer followed by the Chief of the Air Force, Lt.Gen. Wiseman Mbambo. We are very honored to have the Chief himself attend and support this amazing event and for all the support given by the South African Air Force. Following the General's speech, Sean Schook did a parachute jump with the massive South African Flag whilst the National Anthem was playing, uniting all together whilst we stood in solemn respect for our country.

The Elder's were then treated to a mini airshow, flown by some of our best airshow display pilots. The old halls of the base reverberated again with the sound of the Harvards of the Flying Lions display team. Watching them flying majestically around the Air Force Memorial with thick white smoke and a bright blue sky set the tone for what was to become one of the most spectacular events of the year!

Nigel Hopkins and Jason Beamish followed with the Master Power Extra 330 two ship display. We are very grateful to have had the team complete for this event with Nigel living abroad most of the time, making time to come display at this event.

Compliments of Henco Ingram, Juba Joubert was up next with the stunning green Alouette III, who we are getting spoiled to see at so many airshows this year! Flown expertly by Juba, this is really always a treat to watch!

Being aviation lovers to the core, it I very easy to get so engrossed by the displays for our own delight and to forget what the day is really about - it took only a quick glance around to look at the faces of our Elder's and to see the pure joy and amazement looking up to the sky - these are the images that really stick to your mind.

One of the most anticipated displays of this mini show was the long-awaited fly past by the Hawker Hunter (ZU-HUN), flown by Ron Wheeldon. This magnificent fighter jet from the late 1940's was flown by the Swiss Air Force (T.68 J-4202) prior to being sold to Ron. Originally built as an F.4 for the Royal Air Force it was sold back to Hawker-Siddeley who converted it to a T.68 and sold it to the Swiss Air Force in 1975 where it flew up until retirement in 1994. We are all very excited to see more of her at the upcoming airshows!

The Goodyear Eagle twin team then gave their standard breathtaking display consisting of tight coordinated turns and perfectly timed switchblade maneuvers, much to the delight of the Elder's.

The SAAF Museum followed with a flying display and a formation flypast and then Andre van Zyl gave another spectacular display in the Magni Gyrocopter. That Magni Gyrocopter must certainly be the most travelled of its kind in the world! Thank you, Andre, for your passion and commitment to display this amazing machine throughout Southern Africa and also on this special day for our Elder's.

The last flying display before the passenger flying program started was a specially coordinated mass warbird memorial flypast. This mass formation layout was specially designed by Nigel Hopkins and his team for the Elder's Flight; consisting of four Allouette III helicopters, five Cessna C185's, four Harvards and three Bosbokke, this was a spectacular sight to behold.

After the mini-airshow food was served to the Elder's, Veterans and crew with compliments of Barcelos, Sausage Saloon and Roman Pizza whist being entertained by the Marimba Band of Education Africa. We also had another surprise visitor - a SAAF Rooivalk of 16 Sqn on its way back from Makhado AFB did a quick flyby on its way to get refueled before it was off again to AFB Bloemspruit.

Broadcasting and commentating for the event were done by the dependable team of Capital Sounds, with Brian commentating on the flying displays and also handling all important announcements for the day. He also had some very interesting interviews with veterans in the local airshow circuit, such as Dennis Spence, who is one of our most experienced pilots and also the owner of the Goodyear Eagle display team.

Kitplanes for Africa

The long-awaited passenger flying program then started with the arrival of the Cemair Dash 8 Q400 (ZS-DHB). The first flight of 60 Elder's, including the VIP's including the Chief of the Air Force and his family then embarked to the aircraft, being led out to the aircraft by Felix himself.

After the Dash 8 took off, the rest of the flying program for the Elder's started in full swing, with some super human coordination by the ground team to ensure that the Elders were safely escorted or taken per shuttle to the awaiting aircraft. With this being a very busy day with lots of moving aircraft on the apron, safety was paramount and the entire flying program was executed without any incident.

We were then treated to another special flying display by Andrew Blackwood Murray in his Nashua sponsored Extra 300LP. With Nashua's sponsorship, Andrew has been a cornerstone display act at all the Children and Elder's flight events over the years; thank you Andrew for always being there and sharing your passion!

A very special ceremony which was also held during the event was the unveiling of Arthur Piercy's Mirage F1 cockpit by himself and Lt. Gen. Mbambo. This cockpit is the original cockpit of the Mirage F1 in which Arthur was shot by a Mig 23 launched missile over Angola. Without any hydraulics for braking and no drag chute, he made a miraculous landing at Rundu, running over the end of the runway into a large rock pile while cause the left main undercarriage and causing Arthur to be ejected from the plane. Arthur suffered severe back injuries since the ejection seat was not designed to be activated whilst on the ground. This very special cockpit section has been donated back to the SAAF Museum and will be restored for a special display (Photos and writeup on Arthur's story credit Russel Dixon-Paver).

Photos by Russell Dixon Paver

At 13:00 it was time for the Military Veterans Ceremony. The ceremony started with the Jeppe Boys Pipe Band playing their nostalgic bagpipes with retired Captain Ivan Holshausen walking out to the P-51D Mustang Sally with Menno Parsons for the opening flight. Captain Holshausen was part of the original SAAF 2 Squadron, 'Flying Cheetahs”, who served in the Korean War during 1952 - 1953 where they mostly provided close air support and ground attack missions flying the F86F Sabre. Capt. Holshausen trained on Harvards in which he has more than 700 hours. He also has about 60 hours on Spitfires, 50 hours on Vampires for jet experience and about 8 hours on P-51 Mustangs. He then converted onto the F86F Sabre in which he has logged more than 300 hours in total.

Following the Mustang's flight, the rest of the chosen military veterans took to the sky in various historical aircraft, including Harvards, Alouette III's, Bosbok & Chipmunk to name a few.

After all the flying was completed, it was time for the wing's ceremony where each participating Elder, Military Veteran, Aircrew, Ground Crew, Air Traffic Controllers, Medical Crew, Airshow Commentary Team, Aviation Refuellers and the Safety Team lined up to receive their wings from the Chief of the Air Force.

With a final formation fly past by the two ship Harvards from the Harvard Club of South Africa, the 2024 Elder's Flight came to an end. With what has been the largest and most successful event of its kind in South Africa, a huge congratulations to Felix and Belinda Gosher and the rest of the Elder's Flight team for arranging this very special event. Finally, a massive thank you to all the sponsors and pilots and the SAAF, for without you this event could never have been. We are all truly humbled to have been part of it and we look forward to seeing this event being taken all across South Africa to give all our Elder's and Military Veterans the same opportunity.

Some last words for thought:

Fly - with your dreams, Feed - your soul with all that is good, Love - with all your Heart - Inspire - the coming generations, for they are the future!

“And once you have tasted flight you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you would return.” - John H. Secondari

Dornier 27 Movie Star

Events 2024
Events 2024

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