Our Collective Heritage - The SAAF Museum Airshow 2019

By Jaco Pitout

The SAAF Museum airshow is a highlight on the South African aviation calendar. This year it was scheduled for Saturday the 7th of September and I attended the airshow to capture the action. As Saturday dawned the remnants of the cut-off low system that swept through the eastern parts of South Africa was still very apparent. It was COLD! Coupled with the cold, the cloud ceiling was quite low which was a concern from an airshow point of view, armed with a cup of coffee and several layers of clothing I set off to Airforce Base Zwartkop. Parking and entrance onto the historical airbase could not have been simpler. I parked opposite the entrance to the Airforce Gymnasium and after the friendly staff of Computicket had scanned my ticket I walked a short distance to the northern end of the crowd line where I took up position.

Proceedings started with a cavalcade of emergency vehicles featuring brand new high technology fire tenders of the South African Airforce.

After the cavalcade had been presented, the Airforce band marched down the crowd-line in perfect unison while entertaining the crowd with music from their instruments.

The Chief of the South African Air Force, Lieutenant General Fabian Msimang, was flown to the airshow by means of an Airforce museum Allouette 3. He opened proceedings on the day by addressing the growing crowd with regards the collective heritage of South Africa and the South African Airforce. Further to this, he accepted the salute from the Silver Falcons as proceedings got underway.

Once the formalities had been concluded the flying program could begin. At this time, the low cloud remained over the airbase leading to difficult photographic conditions. The SAAF Museum ensured the readiness of two Allouette 2 and two Allouette 3 helicopters as well as a Puma to start off the air displays.

As the weather started lifting, the diminutive de Haviland Vampire was flown by Capt. Glen Warden much to the delight of the crowd. It is pleasing to see that the Vampire is still looking factory fresh despite it being over 50 years old.

Capt. Warden had a very busy day as he would also fly the Aero L-29 Delfin shortly after the Vampire display.

In keeping with the heritage theme of the airshow, Menno Parsons brought his much loved and much photographed P51-D Mustang, Mustang Sally to the show. The South African Airforce operated Mustangs extensively during the Korean War.

The Puma Energy Flying Lions always ensures that the crowds look skyward. The distinctive sound of the Harvards' propellers cutting through the air resonated between the historic hangars of Airforce base Zwartkop.

When it came to advanced aerobatics and modern aircraft, the airshow certainly did not disappoint! Andrew Blackwood-Murray threw his Extra 300 around the crisp, clearing skies, much to the delight of the crowd around me.

The fast jet action was imminent as I saw the Hawk Mk120 of 85 Combat Flying School get airborne with Lieutenant Colonel, Craig 'Shark' Leeson at the controls. With the moisture in the air, I was certain that we would be able to see some vapor on the wings as the Hawk was put through its paces.

The lightest aircraft on the line-up was the Magni Gyro flown by Andre van Zyl. The capabilities of this unassuming machine had the crowd on the feet! It was spectacular!

The Airforce museum displayed several of its fixed wing aircraft in a mini war to the delight of the crowd. It was interesting to see the Bosbok equipped with rocket pods as it would have done duty during the Border War. The display included several explosions to simulate a conflict situation as well as the extraction of a downed pilot.

Without any significant delays in the airshow program, the action was almost non-stop. The capacity crowd took full advantage of the on-site food vending options as well as the many curio shops. It must further be mentioned that the ablution facilities were serviced throughout the day. Plentiful waste bins were also provided in the crowd area.

Settled again, I took aim at the classic formation of a Tiger Moth and two Chipmunks expertly flown by Steve Brown, Gavin Brown and Grant Timms.

Nigel Hopkins flew a solo display to the amazement of the crowd. There were eruptions of terror, laughter and elation as Nigel pushed himself and the Extra 330SC to its limit.

The weather, though cold, had cleared into a bright sunny day at this time, just in time for the next jet sequence this time flown by Glen Warden. The L39, belonging to Menno Parsons was flown with running commentary to the crowd during the sequence.

The next display brought a memorable response from a young boy that was sitting next to me on the crowd line, "look, it's a cow!" He watched the display from the Tailift Cows team very closely. The cleverly disguised Pitts Specials danced through the air in the experienced hands of Capt Scully Levin, his daughter Sally and team member Sean Thackwray. In an add-on display, Arnie Meneghelli and Ellis Levin flew a two-ship display in a pair of Extra's.

The Antonov 2, Little Annie always has the crowd on their feet. The display was flown by father and son team of Mark and Jon-Marc hill with commentary from Courtney Hill alongside Brian Emmenis in the commentary tower. The maneuverability and the speed envelope of this unique aircraft is something to behold. The Antonov was joined by Ivan van der Schaar in the Stearman and Riaan Prinsloo in the Yak 18T.

The Goodyear Eagles celebrates its 10-year anniversary of sponsorship with Goodyear this year. What an achievement for Captain Dennis Spence and his team. The high energy display at this airshow was flown by Glen Warden, Johan von Solms, Jason Beamish and Nigel Hopkins.

Back to military action, an Airforce Oryx helicopter demonstrated various types of troop insertion and extraction methods.

Team Extreme, featuring Nigel Hopkins, Jason Beamish, Mark Sampson and Mark Hensman had a better weather window in the late afternoon and took full advantage of the clear blue skies to display what their team had become known for, thrilling precision aerobatic displays.

The Silver Falcons also had an opportunity to do their full display in the beautiful afternoon light after being forced to do a bad weather sequence earlier in the day.

One of the highlights of the afternoon was a mass Harvard display with no less than 8 of the classic aircraft in a dual diamond formation. The very famous Harvard, Nelson, with tail number 7111 made an appearance.

The day concluded with several fast jet displays. The final Gripen display flown by Major Geoffrey Cooper left the crowd breathless!

I think Major Cooper's smile after his display summed the day up perfectly, flying brings joy and happiness, whether you are in the air or on the ground. What an incredible event!

Events 2019
SA Air Force

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