Bethlehem Air Show- 24 Aug 2019

By Brian Spurr

On the way up from Durban in the early hours of Saturday morning the temperature dropped to minus 1.5 degrees centigrade at times outside the car. On arrival at Bethlehem it was already quite warm and the day turned out to be magnificent. Probably the warmest Bethlehem Air Show the writer has been to. The whole day was sunny and windless at the outset with only a slight breeze later in the day. Perfect weather for the only air show in the Free State. The optimum weather conditions meant that all visiting teams and display aircraft were able to make it in easily.

The show was very well organised and had a varied programme. Air Boss for the day was Keith Fryer, flight safety was in the hands of Francois Hanekom. The Ramp director was Keith Andrew and he was ably assisted by Nigel Musgrave.

Eagles pilots joined by Mustang pilot Menno Parsons.

Pilots at the pre-show briefing.

The Dihalabeng Local Municipality executive mayor Cllr. Lindiwe Makhalema.

All of the necessary emergency services were in attendance but fortunately their services were not required. The Air Traffic controllers did a great job keeping the show moving and all the traffic safe. They were Sean England from Durban, Roanda Steyn from Durban, Bridget Mathobela from Lanseria and Rouviere Roux from Bloemfontein.

Brian Emmenis and his crew from Capital Sounds were central to proceedings providing commentary for the public. They are also an integral cog in ensuring the viability of air shows. They help to promote aviation in South Africa and to provide access to this exciting activity. Hopefully some of the youngsters at the show will be inspired to learn to fly. The informed commentary could be easily heard throughout spectator and flight crew areas. This year the commentary of the show was broadcast live on Maluti FM, considerably expanding the reach of the aviation message. Commentary was in three languages, English, isiZulu and Sesotho.

The show was attended by a large number of spectators of all ages. Many school children were among them, many were dressed smartly in school uniforms. There were a large variety of food stalls and other fun activities that included helicopter flips. Two machines were kept busy all-day flying members of the public.

Just before the show there was a small incident when one of the Puma Lions Harvards, that was being ferried to the show by Grant Timms, had an apparent flat tyre on landing. This resulted in a ground-loop that caused a fair amount of damage, Grant was not injured. As the aircraft could not be repaired in time it meant that the Lions had to revert to a three-ship display instead of the usual four-ship one.

The show started at 10 a.m. on the dot with a parachute drop from the SAAF CASA C-212 Aviocar (manufactured in Spain).

The flying continued with a wonderful display by the Tailifts Cows Aerobatic Team flying their Pitts Specials and this time joined by the Extra EA-300. The team on the day was Scully Levin, Arnie Meneghelli, Sean Thackwray with Ellis Levin in the Extra.

Next were the very tight Raptors team flying their RVs. This time the team had three machines flown by Pierre Gouws, Trevor Warner and Johan von Solms.

Andy Blackwood Murray then flew his Nashua sponsored Extra 300 in a wonderful aerobatic display.

Andy was followed by a fine display of gliding by Gary Whitecross who displayed his beautiful Pilatus B4 glider. Gary was towed up by Derek 'Pops' Hopkins in the Lambada. The low pass prior to coming in to land was impressive.

Then it was the turn of the Goodyear Eagles aerobatic team flying their Pitts Specials. The team comprised Glen Warden, Dennis Spence, Johan von Solms and Jason Beamish. They gave the usual immaculate display.

Next was a welcome, first-time medical services display by the Helicopter Emergency Medical Service. The helicopter used was their Bell 222 (Halo 3) and it was flown by Alan Smith. The demonstration included first responders in ambulances and a fire truck. Precision flying was required to ensure the ground team and 'patients' safety. It was great to have new blood, no pun intended, at this airshow!

As already mentioned, the Lions had to amend their display to a three ship. Their show was still great. Their professionalism showed through when they were noticed practicing the altered routine in the distance before the commencement of their show. The crowd were then treated to an all action all smoking display!

Andre van Zyl followed in the Magni Gyro giving his little machine a real workout. It is amazing to watch him perform extreme manoeuvres with seemingly little effort.

Then the crowd was treated to the feature display of the day. This was the South African Airforce's pride the SAAB Gripen from 2 Squadron. It was flown by Major 'Doberman' Vundla with Lieutenant Kevin Chetty in the rear seat. The display was impressive, very fast, very loud and very powerful. This induced screeches from the throngs of school children, many of them seeing a warplane close up for the first time. It is sure to have left a lasting impression.

Next was a slow and graceful display by two radial engine bi-planes. The first was the large Antonov AN-2 flown by Jon-Marc Hill and Juba Joubert and the second a Stearman flown by Ivan van der Schaar whose day job is a Comair pilot. The two flew in formation and also did solo displays.

The Silver Falcons display team, pride of the SAAF, followed in a four-ship display. As usual they gave a wonderful show in their Pilatus PC-7's painted in the team colours.

Many of the displays were repeated in the afternoon as is the norm but the following were additional one-off displays.

The first of these was Menno Parsons who demonstrated his stunning baby "Mustang Sally". The North American P-51 is a warbird that is loved the world over. Menno displayed the machine beautifully showing off its speed, agility and good looks. The sound of the wind whistling through the gun ports is a distinctive characteristic of this polished silver beauty.

Then it was George Orsmond in his Turbo Thrush who demonstrated the crop spraying and water bombing capabilities of this aircraft. The Orsmond family own a large aerial spraying company headquartered on the airfield in Bethlehem.

Then in front of the crowd a team of motorcyclists on trials type motorcycles gave a wonderful display of trick riding. Balancing of back and then front wheels, ramping and finally flying on to the top of their trailer. Something a bit different for the crowd to enjoy.

Pierre Gouws then flew the immaculately turned out L-39 Albatros owned by Richard Lovett. Pierre is a veteran of the airshow circuit and was thus able to fly an impressive routine demonstrating the lovely lines and capabilities of this jet.

Taking time out from flipping, the Bell 222 of Henley Air did a great demonstration of this helicopters handling capabilities.

Next to display was "Delaney" the veteran Douglas DC-3 of Classic Air Travel. This wonderful old radial engine aircraft was flown by Derek Hopkins. It is always a delight to watch and listen to this old lady of the sky and to reminisce about simpler times. Late in the afternoon Derek had to work around a lot of smoke from a grass fire that was started outside the airfield boundary. The fire was prevented from taking hold and did not interrupt the show.

The show was closed as is traditional by the Silver Falcons. The huge crowd were well entertained. In addition to those inside the airport many thousands enjoyed a free show watching from the banks near the shopping centre and also parking their cars along the main road. The fact that this small town can put on a show of this size is remarkable. It was a day well spent, long may the Bethlehem Air Show continue.

Events 2019

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