Swartkop Airshow Report

Saturday 21st May 2011

The South African Air Force Museum hosted the 2011 Swartkop Airshow at the Swartkop Air Force Base facility in South Africa's capital, Pretoria. There was a lot of hype surrounding this event with many exciting and rare appearances that were unexpected. As it transpired, airshow enthusiasts across the country had every reason to be excited as this event turned out to meet and exceed all expectations.

Gerard Griessel reports from Pretoria, South Africa.

The theme of this year's event was "From Canvas to Jets" celebrating the long history of the South African Air Force (SAAF) including the 70th birthday of Swartop Air Force Base from where much of the SAAF originated. The organisers had the two-fold task of staging an airshow to celebrate the history of the SAAF as well as showcasing a demonstration of power and excellence within the South African National Defence Force in order to provide an all-important recruitment drive in the country. Every single member of the airshow team pulled out all the stops and were rewarded with a 60-odd thousand strong crowd - numbers which have not been seen in South Africa in nearly a decade.

One of the most popular items on the programme was the mini-war. This featured SAAF heavy metal and helicopters in a ground battle complete with well-timed pyrotechnics. The most eagerly anticipated feature of this show was the involvement of the Denel Rooivalk attack helicopter. The chopper was officially handed over to the SAAF earlier in the year after it was modified and standardised by Denel Aviation, bringing the SAAF's 16 squadron up to full strength. The Roovalk made a big impression on crowd members and one can see why the general public in South Africa have such a love for this indigenous attack helicopter that has been said to be in competition with the American AH-64 Apache.

South African Airways along with the official SAAF display team, the Silver Falcons, performed another unforgettable series of flypasts over the crowd line with the Boeing 737-800 forming up with the five Pilatus PC-7MKIIs from Central Flying School. The Boeing 737-800 also gave an impressive solo display, flown by airshow legends Pierre Gouws and Nigel Hopkins.

As most people know, an airshow cannot really be called an airshow without the presence of fast-jets and this year the crowd was in for a treat. The ex SAAF Mirage F1AZ owned by Aerosud, flown by test pilot Leon Bath, call-sign "Condor" put in a magnificent display. This display was one of the finest F1AZ displays ever seen in the country with pilot Condor expertly showing this aircraft's capabilities to the large crowd. An ex-SAAF Cheetah D owned by Denel Aviation was also displayed by maintenance test-pilot Mike Wyngartz from Denel Aviation. The SAAF Gripen unfortunately could not make it to the event due to the fact that the Squadron was tied up with their own operations at the time. 2 Squadron is the solitary SAAF Gripen squadron and is currently going through a very important stage of the Gripen's introduction into SAAF service, with many pilots currently transferring onto the type.

Another popular item with crowds was P-51D "Mustang Sally", owned and flown by Menno Parsons. This aircraft was brought into the country only last year, shortly before the delivery of a second Mustang now owned by Port Elizabeth based operator Stu Davidson. The Mustang hasn't been seen in South African skies for a long time and Menno Parsons' display was a welcome return of the type to the SA airshow circuit. Commentating was kept at a minimum during the aircraft's displays leaving the crowd to enjoy the immense roar of the Rolls Royce Merlin engine.

The 2011 Swartkop airshow was an immense success for both the SAAF and SAAF Museum. All the air and ground crews from both the SAAF and civilian fraternity should be commended for bringing such a top class event to the South African crowds. It was an event that will be remembered for a long time.