AAD 2008 Airshow ReportDate: 13 October 2008
By Greg Pullin with additional input by Dean Wingrin
Africa Aerospace and Defence 2008 (AAD) will be remembered for a number of reasons: the ceremonial hand-over of the first four Gripen dual-seaters to the SAAF, the unveiling of the new five member Silver Falcon team and colour scheme and the number of international shipyards displaying solutions for the SA Navy's offshore patrol requirement (Project Biro) and "strategic support ship" (Project Millennium).
However, for the general public, the mass formations, numerous heavy airliner displays, two sonic booms over metropolitan Cape Town and general aerobatic performances will be in their minds for a long time.
AAD was held at AFB Ysterplaat from 17 to 19 September, with Saturday 20 and Sunday 21 September as public air show days, as the runways at AFB Waterkloof, Pretoria, are still being rehabilitated. Some of the fast jets had to be based at Cape Town International Airport due to the short runway at AFB Ysterplaat.
Being Cape Town based has the important advantage of allowing full naval participation, with SA Navy vessels being berthed in the V&A Waterfront, as well as a British destroyer, HMS Liverpool. This year, AAD featured more than 400 exhibitors from at least 25 countries, but only the USAF and the Air Force of Zimbabwe sent aircraft to participate in the airshow.
This report concentrates on the two public air show days. We were blessed with glorious weather, with blue skies on Saturday, but slightly overcast on Sunday. Heavy rains the previous week had caused the parking and spectator area to be waterlogged and very muddy, but this did not deter the spectators, who turned up in there thousands.
So, what was there?
The first pleasant surprise for me was the mass SAAF formations: what an amazing sight to see! I had previously lamented about the lack of formations at previous air shows and have now been firmly been put in my place. More importantly, hopefully this silenced the critics about the current state of the SAAF. There were two main formations; the turboprops and the helicopters. The turboprop formation consisted of eight Cessna 208 Caravans, two Beechcraft King Air B-200s and a single Pilatus PC-12, which was flown by Lt. General Gagiano, the Chief of the SAAF. The last pass ended with a spectacular formation break, as the Caravans peeled off on each side. The helicopter formation was split into two sections, one of ten and the second of four: Rooivalk, Oryx, Augusta A-109, Lynx and BK 117. Very impressive indeed.
There were two separate Thunder City formations, comprising of two English Electric Lightnings (ZU-BEW and ZU-BEX) in one; and a Lightning (ZU-BEW), Blackburn Buccaneer (ZU-AVI) and a Hawker Hunter (ZU-AUI) in the second; plus plenty of individual flypasts. Heady stuff indeed! Some of the overseas visitors had come specifically to see this. On the Saturday, the unbelievable happened; one of the Lightnings broke through the sound barrier over the airfield, above 20 000 feet, creating two terrific sonic booms. While this had been announced and was expected, many did not expect the ferocity of the booms and the shockwave. It evidently rattled windows as far away as Durbanville! There were a number of complaints about this, but on the day, the "fors" were far greater than the "againsts".
There was plenty to see on static display, both in and outside the exhibition halls: probably not enough time to see everything properly, unless you were there both days. The flightline was populated with many aircraft types, moving in and out for their respective displays. Civilian business jets, UAVs, military vehicles and weapons systems were spread out all over. The Westland Lynx and Westland Wasp were displayed next to each other, in a pleasing display showing the old and the new. Now Westland, how about sponsoring restoring the Wasp to flying condition?
The SAAF Museum was represented by a flying Harvard; and then the Shackleton, Coelacanth Dakota 6832, Albatros, S-55 helicopter in Royal Navy colours, Impala, Sabre, Super Frelon helicopter and an anti-aircraft drone, which were on static display on the hard stand. While the actual Museum was open to the public, not many visited it, probably because of the attraction of the air show itself. The Cape Scale Modelers Club (IPMS) had a display of over 300 models on show.
"East meets West": the ATE Mi-24 Super Hind Mk III (ZU-BOI) and a Rooivalk (675) flew a brief formation together, another first. Both gave impressive solo displays. While the Hind is beautifully ugly and functional; the Rooivalk seems to defy gravity at times and portray an element of brute grace, and is a firm favourite with the crowd.
Another highlight was the civilian Embraer 120 turboprop (ZS-SRW) and the Augusta A109 shooting flares at the end of their respective displays, which is not often seen at air shows. The Augusta A-109 is a "sexy" helicopter, reminding one of ballet dancers as the duo display pirouetted around the sky.
One of the several great photographic opportunities was the Silver Falcons "escorting" the SAA Star Alliance Airbus A340-600 (ZS-SNC) (Saturday) and Airbus A340-600 (ZS-SNI) (Sunday). This incredible formation, with the Airbus flanked by the Silver Falcons, was made even more spectacular by the Silver Falcons formation break. This display was sponsored by South African Airways, Airbus and Rolls Royce, who are to be congratulated.
The Silver Falcons showed off their new colour scheme and gave an imaginative display, with a new five aircraft display team. The comments about the new scheme have all been positive, the dark blue showing up well against the sky, as well as in cloudy conditions. The manoeuvre of the opposing single aircraft flying through the "box" was particularly exciting. As the aircraft are not silver (nor were they previously; they were red and white), is it not time for a change in name to the Falcons?
One of the crowd pleasers was the mini-war scenario, which showed the capabilities between the SAAF and the army, with a C-130 Hercules landing and deploying vehicles, troops and light weapons. There were plenty of helicopters flying around, deploying troops and carrying vehicles and troops slung underneath. It was plenty of noise and action. The various parachute teams made precision landings, making it look easy.
The SAPS Reaction Unit was not to be left out and also did a capability demonstration: the Bafana Bafana supporters bus hijack and rescue scenario. One of the interesting elements was the sniper sitting on the floor and skids of the helicopter, providing specialist fire.
Various SANDF military vehicles, such as the Olifant main battle tank and the Rooikat were also driven along the crowd line splashing glorious amounts of mud and churning up the airfield further.
Overseas military participation was limited. The two K-8 trainers (N2068N and 2106G) of the Zimbabwe air force made a welcome reappearance, together with a CASA 212 which was parked out of eyesight. The USAF was represented by three C-130 Hercules aircraft, two of which unfortunately were based at Cape Town International, rather than at Ysterplaat. Two C-130H Hercules from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, did a rather pedestrian fly past on both days, the most exciting part being a rather slight bank which briefly showed a view of the upper surfaces. A very interesting "Antarctic" LC-130H, fitted with ski undercarriage, was on static display and was open to the public to walk through. When it arrived during the week, it displayed typical American showmanship with the South African and US flags being held out of the roof hatch. The USAF participation, however, was still very much welcomed.
Fast jets, especially noisy ones are always a big attraction. The Gripen solo display by Lt. Col. Charl ‘Basset' Coetzee was an impressive demonstration of the capabilities and manoeuvrability of this aircraft. Unfortunately, the Mirage IIICZ "Black Widow" piloted by Col. Glen Warden had a bird strike with a seagull on the Friday, as it was approaching Cape Town International, which meant that it was grounded for the remainder of the air show. The damage to the wing was quite severe. Just a pity that the Museum Mirage F1 did not make an appearance.
There were many civilian aircraft and aerobatic aircraft and teams which participated. An interesting concept was the North West Province branded Extra 300's flown by Nigel Hopkins and Larry Beamish, who produced a dizzying performance. Zoltan Veres, the Hungarian aerobatic pilot, who flew Larry Beamish's Extra 300 in a thrilling aerobatic display which started high and ended low.
The four Castrol sponsored Flying Lions Harvards gave their normal polished display, their corporate colours standing out against the clear blue sky. While I personally would like to see Harvards in their SAAF colours, we would not see these aircraft at all if it were not for the dedication of their owners, pilots and the sponsors. The rasp of the Pratt & Whitney Wasp radial engines reminded one of the days when the SAAF Harvards were based at Ysterplaat and Youngsfield: close your eyes, and you can see it in your mind...
There were a couple of airliner flybys, one being the ivory / cream coloured Saudi-registered Boeing 747-400 flown by Duncan Gillespie and Derek Baum, which made several majestic passes on Saturday. It is privately owned by a Saudi Sheik and is probably the world's largest personal business jet.
The most spectacular display was that of the two SAA Cargo Boeing 737s in formation. The B737-200 (ZS-SIF) was flown by Scully Levin and his daughter Sally Bates, while the B737-300 (ZS-SBB) was flown by Pierre Gouws and Colin Gibson. In fact, the B737-300 was on display at AFB Ysterplaat for the week and took-off on the Saturday morning. Tight formation flying and an amazing fighter-style break was a first for air show goers. Absolutely magnificent!
Even a Delta Boeing 767 made a flypast at about 6 500 ft on the Saturday.
Challenges and Lost Opportunities
Now my normal "enthusiasts gripe", over the potential of what could have been:
At the formal opening of AAD 2008 on Wednesday 17 September, there was the official acceptance of four dual seater Gripens by the (then) Minister of Defence, Mr. Mosiuoa Lekota, and the Chief of the SAAF, Lt. General Gagiano. Preceding this, the four Gripens flew overhead in a diamond formation, for a spectacular single pass. They then landed. The lost opportunity was not to have flown past in the diamond (or other) formation along the flightline, i.e. from left to right (or vice versa) before they landed. For the rest of the show and the two public air show days, only Gripen 04 flew.
Our beloved Shackleton 1722 was not given a final gentle retirement flight and a fitting farewell ceremony. Impressive as she looked on the ground, this was a sadly lost opportunity.
I know that the Cheetahs have been withdrawn from SAAF service, but there is one at TFDC carrying out various tests. It would have been great to see it over Ysterplaat...
There were two South African flag-draped BAE Hawks on show, with an excellent display flown by Lt. Col. Ivan Pentz. Pity they weren't both flown in formation....
What a magnificent air show! At the end of the weekend, there were thousands of satisfied air show goers, who wished that it would happen more frequently. To the perpetual complainers, who have nothing better to do other than complain about life, the universe and everything; just be grateful that the one week of noise and traffic congestion every two years, is not a permanent condition imposed by a hostile force or nation: you were hearing the sound of freedom.
We would like to express our sincere appreciation and thanks to Billy Nel, the AAD 2008 media officer, and his team for the excellent media facilities, flow of information, press releases and photographic positions made available. This report would have been far more difficult (impossible) to produce without such support.
Other recognition which is seldom given, must go to the base emergency services and ATC services for their contribution. Lt. Col. Laurie Moore was the AAD 2008 flight director and safety officer. He was assisted by Lt. Col. de Castro who was the fast jet specialist, and Lt. Col. Casterns who was the helicopter specialist. Geoff van Hees and the AAD 2008 organizers and SAAF personnel involved in the whole event are to be congratulated on a well organized and smooth running event. Also, a huge thanks to Brig-Gen. Derrick Page (Director SAAF Heritage), Col. Kobus Butler (OC of AFB Ysterplaat) and Col. Peter Smith for their contribution.
The Capital Sounds team headed by Brian Emmenis provided the usual polished commentary. They were assisted by Doug Allen, a former F14 Tomcat pilot from the USA, Leon du Plessis and Jaco Klopper (ex SAAF).
As AAD 2010 is planned to be held at AFB Ysterplaat again, I can't wait!