Warbirds New Tempe Airshow 2011

Report and Photography by Andre Vermeulen

Now this is the start of my 2011 airshow reports and the first airshow I visited in months, armed with my new RAASA airside access, this was going to be a great event. It started early on Saturday morning with a drive from Johannesburg to Bloemfontein to arrive just after 7:30. Well, you can do the math - a very early start.

It was cold with a low fog bank just north of the airfield, yet quite a perfect day it was going to be. Upon arrival I met up with the normal crew of aviation photographers including the late Dave Bekker who quickly gave us the scoop for Friday and the big news that the Gripen may not fly as 3910 had suffered a bird strike on Friday and needed repairs. We would need to wait and see what happens.

Well it started quickly with the arrival of Agusta A109-LUH 4002 from 87 Helicopter Flying School at Air Force Base Bloemspruit. The weather played along with beautiful rotor tip vortices being formed followed shortly by Oryx 1246 with a similar result. The weather was playing along perfectly with the overnight rains resulting in the best quality air for photography. The arrivals started to hot up with the arrival of ZU-IMP the ex SAAF Impala MK 1 no. 479 flown by Mike Weingartz.

The Silver Falcons joined in with the 100th flight for Captain Roy Sproul, and this resulted in a quick salute to him from the fire crews. Menno Parsons flew in to especially fly Mustang Sally for the crowd and he did a magnificent display, it is amazing to see the Mustang flying and so gracefully.

Time for Cops and Robbers and the beautiful Corvette chased by a Chevy police car allowed for some awesome driving, and a few wow's and ooh's as they battled to race around the narrow taxiways and at times hinting of a possible roll over. The show piece included a great display by the Oryx and A109 pilots with the deployment of ground forces to take down the bad guys with green and yellow smoke being used for the extraction markers. With the ever darkening weather the Impala MK1 gave a stunning display with an early gear up, keeping her low on take off.

ZU-JET an L39 Albatross took off in some gloomy weather and the display enhanced by the storm clouds all around the airfield kept the eyes skyward even though a few drops started to fall. The Cell-C Harvards raced in doing their display to perfection even with the bad weather, allowing for a rare photo opportunity during their display. Prop vortices formed giving the display that extra special flair and excitement.

The Oryx extraction of troops was a real treat again with the poor soldiers being lifted up, dangling at the end of the rope in really bad weather. This is generally called a Hot Extraction with various different names but lets keep that for another article.

Weather started to become a bit of a pain, always threatening to spoil the airshow, but I think we got lucky in more ways than one with the arrival of Gripen 3910 flow by Johannes Joubert "Cobra", a rare treat was the rainbow and some really breathtaking views of the Gripen in the rainbow giving an unmistakable once in a lifetime photo opportunity.

The airshow was drawing to an end with many departures, there was some activity around the Rooivalk, which indeed was going to leave. We had a wonderful discussion with the crew who got the go-ahead to on departure do a fly-by for us. I do apologize to the crew of 675, my notepad disappeared .... You guys gave us a spectacular display specifically with the setting sun and stormy weather as backdrop.

The weather allowed for some unbelievable light and backgrounds, the pilots gave it their all with spectacular flying and the organization was brilliant. Safety director Francois Hanekom did a brilliant job keeping it safe.

Oh dear, now came the big drive home back to Johannesburg, on the same day, this was certainly a long rewarding day, so next year I'll do this again, it's certainly worth the drive.