AAD 2012 / AFB Waterkloof / 22-23 September


It’s been a week since AAD (Africa Aerospace and Defence) 2012 hit the city of Pretoria with all its might. This biennial show has been held in Cape Town recently (due to improvements being made on AFB Waterkloof’s runway) and it was a treat to have it back in the capital.

3 Days before show day, taken from where I live. Silver Falcons and Gooney Bird.

On first inspection of the program I was a bit disappointed as there didn’t seem to be any displays that you couldn’t see at other airshows during the year. I was pleasantly surprised though on show day as there were numerous stand out displays that let gasps of wonder and disbelief spread like a runaway veld fire through the crowd.

SAAB Gripen takes off from a wet and windy Waterkloof AFB.

Taking a back road through the affluent suburb of Waterkloof on Saturday morning I missed the mad traffic and had no trouble to find parking. There was rain and thunder in the air, which didn’t bode well, and as I made my way to the entry gate at 9am some people were already making their way home!!! Armed with only a t-shirt and camera gear things weren’t too pleasant as rain started to come down hard but luckily it lasted only for a few minutes.

Rooivalk doing its thing.

After a long walk of 20 minutes I finally made it to show centre and was just in time to catch the Gripen; the SAAF’s newest jet fighter, acquired in the controversial arms deal. It’s not as pretty or mean looking as the Mirage III, but will fly circles around it all day long. This aircraft flew numerous times during the two public show days and is growing on me as it always impresses. Maybe that’s because it is flown by the legendary Lt. Col “Blokkies” Joubert. An idea for a future show might be to do a six ship formation of this aircraft…

Cheetah D on the second day, in a tight turn with afterburner.

Denel’s Cheetah D ripped up the muggy sky soon afterwards. Although I’ll always prefer the Mirage IIICZ, this two-seater variant also has some serious grunt and show-stopper appeal. It may not have the tight maneuverability of today’s new generation jet fighters like the Gripen, but its classic delta wing lines and sentimental history makes more than up for it.

The brilliant Nigel Hopkins in his MX2.

A highlight performance on both days was Nigel Hopkins in his MX2. This amazing pilot stole the show with his energetic and tumbling aerobatic display. The Pitts Special and Harvard teams were solid as usual, but they seemed a bit out of place and over familiar. Props (excuse the pun) to the organisers though for only allowing one Harvard team to display. It’s more than enough (Take a hint future airshow organisers).

The Silver Falcons break away from SAA's Airbus A340.

A big feature and highlight of the show was the Silver Falcons flying firstly with SAA’s Airbus A340 and later with their newest team member, Goonie Bird, a turbo prop Dak. I’m at risk here of being severely critical, but I didn’t think the Silver Falcons flew their best shows ever at AAD 2012. There were quite a few instances where a member of the team would be noticeably out of formation. Nobody’s perfect and we all have our off days, but I have seen them fly tighter before. The photo opportunities of them and the A340 together were fantastic though and their break up split with it on both days were picture perfect.

The SAAF's Kasac participates in the Mini War demo.

The crowd swelled as the sun broke through the clouds at 1pm. The afternoon show’s main attraction was obviously the Mini War Demo. The Gripen pair against the Hawk was spectacular, but I can’t help to think how brilliant the display would have been if they could have replaced the Hawk with the Cheetah D.  A lot of thought, planning and money must have gone into this demo as it included the whole shebang; from the jets, air lift support, helicopters and tanks to the foot soldiers. This demo was a little boy’s dreams come true, but I did feel for the babies in the crowd who had to endure numerous loud explosions. (Who brings babies to these events???!)

The only two flying Vampires in South Africa.

Zimbabwe’s K-8 was overwhelmingly underwhelming. I would have much rather preferred anyone of the following: F-15, F-16, F-18, Eurofighter, any Mig or Sukhoi, or the Mirage 2000, thank you very much. The same goes for the L-29. Boring jet. The Impala at least looks much better and has nostalgic value. The lack of a foreign jet fighter was a big disappointment.

Menno Parsons' P51 Mustang Sally

Mustang Sally has avoided me ever since she started to participate in South African airshows, but at last I was able to lay eyes on this incredible machine, flown by Menno Parsons. Trying to obtain a decent static display photograpgh was impossible as dozens of people were either clambering, posing or draping themselves on or over her. I was surprised to see how relaxed Menno was about all this physical contact his plane had to endure. I had to wait until sunset (when the crowds had already dispersed and she was towed across the runway) to take her picture. His displays were beautifully flown, accentuating the lines and sound of the Mustang. It’s also incredible how fast this airplane is.

Cheetah, Gripen and Hawk formation.

The day ended with two jet formations : the first being two Vampires, an Impala and that hideous L-29. The second was made up of the Cheetah, Gripen and two Hawks. Why does the Gripen ALWAYS follow in these formations…surely they can switch it around to give an alternative photo opportunity.

Day 2’s weather was much improved with wide open blue skies and virtually no wind. The crowd dwindled in the afternoon, but it suited me just fine as access to the crowd fence became much easier. The sound system was very good and clear, but the same can’t be said of the South African commentary. Many a time when a break or something unusual was about to happen, there would be no warning and when they DID warn of an impending highlight (the Gripen flare on day 1 comes to mind here as well as the announcement that the Mustang had left the base after her display only for it to land a few minutes later) … NOTHING. Reading stats of an airplane from a piece of paper is also a waste of time and unnecessary.

USAF KC-135.

All in all though the event was superbly organized. The Computicket system worked perfectly, entry into and exit out of the venue was well marshalled and easy, there was more than enough parking space, toilet facilities were good and the crowd line was long enough so it meant everyone could find a decent spot from where to view the action. There wasn’t a lot of variety food-wise and it generally was overpriced, but I guess you take what you’re offered at events on the scale of this one.

It seems that for South Africans to experience another show of the same standard and scope as that of  1995, we’ll have to wait for the SAAF to turn 100, which is 8 years from now in 2020. AAD 2012 was very good, but in a sense it left me wanting more, which is probably a good thing, right?

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