Zwartkop Air Show a crowd-pleaser, despite low turnout

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The South African Air Force Museum’s 2017 annual Air Show, themed “Pioneering Our Future”, took place over the weekend at AFB Zwartkop outside Pretoria.

Museum aircraft flying during the show included AĆ©rospatiale Alouette II and III and Puma helicopters, the Vampire, and a liaison aircraft flight comprising the Atlas Kudu, two Bosboks and a Cessna 185A. The Puma carried a water tank and later lifted a SAAF member, showing its winch capabilities.

The day also featured a North American Harvard in its SAAF trainer colours, as well as inspired flying by the Flying Lions Harvard display team doing their popular “Tora Tora Tora” routine (a reference to the famous air war movie).

The museum’s De Havilland Vampire put in an impressive display, despite its age, doing loops and rolls and thrilling the fans with its unique sound and appearance. The Atlas Impala Mk I impressed the crowd, as did as did the Atlas Cheetah C single-seat fighter aircraft, developed from the earlier Mirage III.

Air show commentator Brian Emmenis said the show was the biggest of its kind in the country this year. While official figures were not available at the weekend, regular show goers indicated that there were fewer members of the public than in previous years, although a turnout of about 30 000 was a good guess. The air show is the museum’s main fundraiser of the year.

Earlier in the show, which was opened by Deputy Chief of the Air Force, Major General Gerald Malinga, who wore civilian dress, spectators had a chance to see the museum’s unique Patchen Explorer in action, along with the SAAF’s Golden Eagles skydiving team and some Special Forces high altitude paratroops.

Of the current SAAF types in service, two BAE Systems Hawk Mk 120s, two SAAB JAS 39 Gripen C single-seat multi-role aircraft and Denel Oryx were shown flying, the Hawk being the well-loved “Vlaggie”, painted in the national colours, which, along with the Gripen, did numerous aerobatic manoeuvres. The Casa C212 performed a paradrop with a “stick” of some 10 parabats.

Other museum aircraft on static display on the apron were another Cessna 185, the Canadair Sabre fighter and a Rooivalk prototype.

The aerobatics were not missing, either. Along with the Harvard team the show featured the Torre Pitts Special display team’s trick flying, as well as those of the Goodyear Pitts Special team. A notable absence was Menno Parson’s fleet of aircraft (Mustang, Trojan, Jet Ranger etc.), which usually grace the show.

Also drawing gasps from the crowd were Nigel Hopkins’ Extra 330 and the new Slick 540, which recalled the memory of the late world South African world champion flyer Glen Dell.

The day also featured a surprise appearance by a Mango Airlines Boeing 737-800 in its orange livery, as well as the largest single engine biplane in the world, an Antonov An-2, and a Boeing Stearman Type 75, the standard US military trainer before and during WW II.

The show ended at 16:00 with a thrilling routine by the Silver Falons in their Pilatus PC-7 Mk IIs. Once they had landed the team came to a halt in front of the crowd and put on smoke.

The Silver Falcons hope to attend the Lowveld airshow in Nelspruit on 13 May, the Newcastle airshow on 3 June and the Middleburg airshow on 24 June. Newcastle usually attracts the Silver Falcons as well as other SAAF aircraft, like the C-130 Hercules transport.
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