The Antonov An-2 biplane ‘Little Annie’ has found a new home at Grasslands airfield southwest of Pretoria, as she celebrated her 30th birthday.
On 3 September Little Annie and the Just Love Mission flew some 30 underprivileged and special needs children from Grasslands and cut a specially crafted An-2 birthday cake. The celebrations also coincided with Grassland’s Spring Festival. Although primarily a powered paraglider field (home to Epic Aviation training school), Grasslands is expanding is host to an increasing number of other aircraft, mainly microlights and light sport aircraft.
Little Annie has been looking for a new home for some time now, and the Grasslands committee decided to offer her a permanent base. Adrienne Visser, Grasslands Sport Club Chairperson, said Little Annie would be good exposure for the airfield and be more economical for Just Love Mission to fly from, as Grasslands will not charge landing fees for the aircraft.
Little Annie has been allocated space at the field, and the runway is being extended to around 1 000 metres and power lines nearby have been moved, but a hangar still needs to be built. Funds are being raised towards this. Keeping the aircraft out in the open is problematic – it suffered some hail damage during a storm in October last year, for instance.
In addition to Little Annie flying children around, Grasslands over the weekend was also host to a Yak-52 from the Yak Club, microlights and light aircraft. On Saturday 2 September the Silver Falcons flew past the field on their way back home to Langebaan (they also routed past AFB Zwartkop where they did a short display). Over the weekend some two dozen aircraft visited Grasslands, including some Harvards from the Harvard Club.
According to Just Love Mission’s Mark Hill, Little Annie has flown 1 600 children since the project was launched in 2014, and reached the milestone of 1 000 children at the Nelspruit air show in June. It most recently flew 60 children during the Children’s Flight at Grand Central airport on 1 September.
Little Annie was flown from Russia to South Africa in 2013 and became part of the Just Love Mission in June 2014. This non-profit organisation relies on donations to keep going (the aircraft costs around R10 000 an hour to operate), as well as fuel provided by air shows – it is a regular on the South African air show circuit. Its next appearance will be at the Polokwane air show at the beginning of October.
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