kykNET Overberg Airshow 2012

Report and Photography by Jens Frischmuth

The 2012 kykNET Overberg Airshow took place on the 21st of April at the South African Air Force's Test Flight and Development Centre (TFDC) near Bredasdorp in the Western Cape. Despite persistent morning rain, the airshow turned out to be a great success and the action was fast and furious once proceedings got under way. The TFDC airshows are always unique as this venue is one of very few places in the world were live weapons are fired during an airshow. This year proved no exception and the airshow lived up to expectations.

The evening before the airshow, a wine auction was held at the base. This was preceded by a twilight airshow, which took place just before dark. The Agusta A-109 helicopter display included the release of flares, which looked spectacular in the low evening light. Seeing the Gripen fly a display with the afterburner clearly visible in the fading light is something that will long be remembered by everyone who witnessed this spectacular display flown by Blokkies Joubert.

The airshow on Saturday started an hour late because of rain showers that passed over the Air Force Base during the morning. Finally, at 11am, proceedings got underway with displays by the South African Air Force's Agusta A-109 and Denel Oryx helicopters. This was followed by a display of a 35 Squadron C-47 Dakota. When the Silver Falcons taxied out for their morning display at around 11.30, they taxied along the runway and straight into another rain shower. They made the sensible decision to return to their staging area and wait for the weather to clear. Fortunately, the weather took a turn for the better from there on and by late afternoon, there was clear blue sky. The organizers and safety director did a splendid job in getting just about all the scheduled displays in before 5pm and after the flying resumed at midday, the action was non-stop.

Proceedings resumed with the "Working on Fire" display, performed by a Bell UH-1H Huey helicopter with a Bambi bucket, a M-18 Dromader of Polish origin and an Ayres Turbo Trush. All three dropped their water loads on a designated target. The Dromader and Turbo Thrush are agricultural aircraft used primarily for crop spraying and fire fighting.

Then, the Silver Falcons finally got in their display. Like the other pilots, they had to do their flat (bad weather) display because of the low cloud base. This display was the 128th display flown by the team leader, Major Roy Sproul (pictured right), and he thus becomes the most capped pilot in the history of the Silver Falcons. Also, Capt. Heybrech van Niekerk (Falcon 2) and Maj. Beau Skarda (Falcon 5) flew their 40th shows and Lt. Jacques Poolman (Falcon 3) his 10th show for the Silver Falcons on the day.

Then, Mark Hensman in his MX-2 and Stuart Saward in his Pitts S1-11B showed everyone what they and their aerobatic aircraft are capable of. Lt.Col. Craig Lesson from 85 Combat Flying School showed off the SAAF's Hawk in a display that included a touch-and-go and Dave Mandell in his L-39 jet trainer provided further jet action. Dick Henry flew his T-28 Trojan and then it was the turn for Blokkies Joubert's first Gripen display of the day. At the end of the display, he released flares to the delight of the spectators.

For the first time at a South African Airshow, live pictures from cameras in various display aircraft were beamed via a wireless data link to a giant screen situated at the front of the crowd line. Aircraft fitted with these cameras included the Gripen and Hawk. Further live pictures were provided by a Cessna Caravan, which circled overhead for a large part of the day. The Caravan was equipped with the Argos 410-Z Airbourne Surveillance System, which provides outstanding image quality in all weather. The Caravan also tracked other aircraft during their displays so that live coverage of an aircraft in the air taken from the air could be seen in real time for the first time.

The SAAF's Air Capability Demonstration featured two Hawk jets flown by Lance Wellington and Jannie Scott. They dropped live bombs and one of the jets, which was equipped with a 30mm Aden cannon pod, fired its guns. Simulating a high threat environment, they approached the airfield at low level and pulled up to release four live 12.5kg practice bombs each, which landed on the adjacent Overberg Bombing Range, which is situated to the immediate east of the base. Right after dropping the bombs, both planes released flares as a defensive measure, as the jets would be at their most vulnerable at that stage during a conflict. Then, an Oryx helicopter inserted troops into the conflict area. Meanwhile, the Hawks provided close air support, and in various passes over the area, they provided live cannon fire and released further flares. An Agusta A-109 helicopter performed a simulated casualty extraction and then the Oryx performed a troop extraction, which included loading troops into the helicopter and also flying 8 soldiers out whilst they were attached to the helicopter by a long rope. The demonstration ended with a formation fly-past by the two Hawks and a formation landing by them.

Thunder City made a welcome return to the airshow scene and the appearance of the Hawker Hunter and Blackburn Buccaneer was a highlight of the airshow. Ian Pringle flew the Hawker Hunter. Sadly, this was Ian Pringle's last airshow display, as he has decided to call it a day. Ian Pringle spent much of his career in Asia and Europe. He learned to fly ex-military jets in England and when he moved to Cape Town in 2004, he brought along two Cold War Jets and teamed up with Thunder City. He had been a regular performer at airshows since then. The Hawker Hunter F6A flown by Ian is the only one of its kind still flying and the plane previously served in the RAF with 111 Squadron.

Mike Beachy Head, owner of Thunder City, flew the Buccaneer. The Buccaneer is a British low-level subsonic strike aircraft with nuclear weapon delivery capability and the three Buccaneers operated by Thunder City are the only ones still flying. Interestingly, Ian Pringle and Mike Beachy Head are the only two civilian pilots to ever have flown the Buccaneer. Ian Pringle did the commentary on the PA system during Mike's display and provided interesting information about this 20-ton aircraft. He also commented on Thunder City's philosophy not to use g-suits, as Mike considers these "to be for whoosies".

Other afternoon displays featured the Super Lynx helicopter from 22 Squadron, a Harvard, Christen Eagle, Cirrus SR-22 and a second display by Stuart Saward in his Pitts. The Hawk and Gripen flew their second displays in the late afternoon, providing more jet action along with the Thunder City jets, and the Silver Falcons closed an action-packed airshow.