Swartkops Airshow 12 May 2012


Good day fellow earthlings! Yes, it’s been a while…

Last weekend was the annual airshow at Swartkops Air Force Base in Pretoria, or as it’s better known these days, Tshwane.  Not that this name change mean anything to me – its áfter all in Pretoria where I was at high school, varsity and where I’ve been living now for the past 5 years. But before I get distracted, ah, the airshow.

I remember my first proper airshow – which was incidentally also at Swartkops – like it was yesterday. I think I was probably 13, so it must have been 1992-ish. I went with my dad that day and it was extremely windy. Dust everywhere. August. A civilian pilot, Nick Munnikhuis was doing aerobatics in his Extra 300 (the first plane of that kind in the country at the time) late in the afternoon. His routine went smoothly and he must have been at the end of it when, coming out of a loop he hit the ground and the plane broke out in flames. It happened so fast and unexpectedly that it almost didn’t make sense or feel real. In any case, it was very real and the pilot succumbed to his 100% burns and injuries  a few hours later. Airshows definitely carry a certain element of risk due to the close proximity with which pilots perform their displays to the ground. It does however bring a level of excitement to the show as you won’t ordinarily see planes fly so low and close to you.

I couldn’t be early at last week’s airshow due to other commitments during the day, but arrived there just before 3pm to catch the afternoon program. The last two hours didn’t disappoint. As I went through the gate I could hear the Gripen take off and was just in time at the crowd line to see it start its show. It was flown superbly by Blokkies Joubert. As much as I love the Mirage III for its sleek lines and thunderous roar, the Gripen does give a much better show due to its tight turn radius. To also see it do a power climb is always awe-inspiring.

SAAB Gripen (c) Eksteen Jacobsz

Next on the program was the  airforce’s flagship formation team, The Silver Falcons. What made this performance special was that it was the last flight as a Falcon for Major Gerhard Lourens and he was sent off with a perfectly symmetrical break-away over a pyrotechnic explosion.

Break-away salute to Major Gerhard Lourens. (c) Eksteen Jacobsz

Next up was a first for me and a very unusual display. An escader of current and ex-SAAF helicopters. They all hovered in line, facing the crowd and spear headed by the intimidating Rooivalk. They kept the hover for what felt like ages and it was quite a sight to behold. Definitely something different and memorable.

Big Brother is watching you. (c) Eksteen Jacobsz

Then it was time for the mass jet fly past. It included some very interesting aircraft, first of which was the De Havilland Vampire and the North American T2-Buckeye. The Vampire is a very odd looking plane and was a experimental jet that became operational way back in the late 40’s after the 2nd World War. The T2-Buckeye was the United States Navy’s intermediate training aircraft, intended to introduce student naval aviators to jets. It entered initial service in 1959. The Buckeye was a highlight for the simple reason that I haven’t seen it before. One drawback of South African airshows is that the same aircraft are displayed and flown show after show. It reminds me a bit of the South African music festivals… So a big thumbs up to whoever’s plane this is.

North American T2-Buckeye (c) Eksteen Jacobsz

There was also a beautiful 3 ship fly-past by the Hawk, Impala and Gripen, which was followed shortly there after by a nostalgic Vampire / Gripen formation. The air force’s first jet, together with its newest aquisition.

Hawk, Impala & Gripen. (c) Eksteen Jacobsz

Aero L-39's with the T2-Buckeye (c) Eksteen Jacobsz

4 Ship break-away. (c) Eksteen Jacobsz

After that Scully Levin’s Pitts aerobatic team closed proceedings with a very precise and entertaining display. You can see from their slick flying that they do this day in and day out. Truly a world class outfit.

The Switchblade. (c) Eksteen Jacobsz

I was extremely disappointed to have missed Mustang Sally’s display, the P-51 flown by Menno Parsons.  I get the feeling this plane is somehow eluding me, but hopefully I’ll see it fly in the near future.

P-51 Mustang Sally (c) Eksteen Jacobsz

Congratulations to the SAAF and SAAF Museum for organizing and executing a flawless and safe airshow. I can’t wait for the AAD show (which has been held at Ysterplaat AFB the past few years) at Waterkloof AFB later this year. Over and out.


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