SAAF Mobile Deployment Wing hosts successful Elders Flight 2024

1708

The 2024 edition of the Elders Flight, held at the South African Air Force (SAAF) Mobile Deployment Wing in Centurion, was the biggest yet, flying nearly 500 elders and military veterans in over 100 different aircraft.

This year’s edition, on Saturday 6 July, was also historic in that it was held at a military facility for the first time, due to challenging new regulations regarding air traffic control at the smaller airfields where it has previously taken place.

The partnership between the organisers, headed by Felix Gosher, and the South African Air Force, appears to have borne fruit, with a successful day at what used to be known as Air Force Base Swartkop.

Chief of the South African Air Force, Lieutenant General Wiseman Mbambo, in his opening speech remarked that elders are the custodians of history, and it was heartwarming for many of them to have their first experience of flight, with the volunteer aircrew willing to ‘pay it forward’.

Mbambo thanked the organisers for putting the event together, which was combined with the SAAF Museum’s flying day that takes place on the first Saturday of each month. The Chief of the SAAF added that there are plans to expand the Elders Flight to SAAF Museum branches in Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth) and Cape Town in the future.

The Elders Flight first took to the skies above Germiston’s Rand Airport in 2018, happening again a year later before the COVID-19 pandemic put it on hold for two years. Last year Brakpan Airfield on Gauteng’s East Rand hosted more than 40 aircraft – fixed and rotary wing; vintage, veteran and warbird – giving the elderly, including military veterans, an opportunity to take to the skies, thanks to generous sponsorship and owners willing to share their aircraft. Last year some 300 underprivileged elderly people and military veterans flew – many for the first time. In comparison, the 2019 Elders Flight flew just over 100 elders.

This year some 140 aircraft were present at SAAF Mobile Deployment Wing, flying around 450 elderly people from local townships, care centres, and churches for the first time, as well as 50 military veterans. Amongst these was Captain (ret) Ivan Holshausen, who flew Mustangs and Sabres in Korea. At the age of 94, he flew back seat in Menno Parsons P-51 Mustang ‘Mustang Sally’.

The event was kicked off with a South African flag drop from an Antonov An-2, followed by Mbambo’s speech and aerobatic displays by the Flying Lions team. An Extra 330 two ship formation performed more aerobatics in what amounted to a mini air show, followed by other performers including the Goodyear Eagles. Mass helicopter and Museum aircraft flypasts filled the sky with aircraft as elders flips got underway. A surprise visitor was a Rooivalk attack helicopter that stopped for fuel.

After a full day of flying, the afternoon was rounded out by a final formation fly past by two North American Harvards from the Harvard Club.

After their flights, Mbambo bestowed replica wings insignia to all the elderly people, military veterans, and everyone who took part in the Elders Flight day.

In attendance were two former Chiefs of the SAAF, Lieutenants General Carlo Gagiano and Fabian Msimang, who also flew some of the aircraft. Former commander of the Zambia Air Force (2021-2023), Lieutenant General Colin Barry was also present for the event – Barry was a big supporter of the Children’s Flight Zambia during his tenure.

The Elders Flight 2024 organisers managed to attract a large number of sponsors and supporters – around 100 sponsors provided everything from high-visibility jackets to food, fuel, gift bags and ablution facilities. Volunteers provided aircraft, pilots, fuel and transport, amongst others while the Jeppe’s Boy High played the bagpipes.

Gosher is also organising the related Children’s Flight, scheduled to take place on 6 September at Bloemfontein’s New Tempe Airfield.

Click here to view the gallery.