With the Virginia Airshow having been stopped by RAASA, the Newcastle Airshow is now the only airshow in KwaZulu Natal – albeit, the north-eastern corner. Held this year on 3 June, it again did a great deal to promote aviation to the youth in this part of the country. And there is a charm at these airshows at smaller airfields that is often lacking at the larger events.
Although equidistant from Jo’burg and Durban, Newcastle is off the beaten track of the N3. It’s over three hours’ drive from both cities, but just a one hour or so flight. Thus the municipality appears to appreciate the potential in investing in the airport. A new airport terminal building is being built, along with new hangars, fences and other upgrades around the field.
Another form of development evident at the show was that of aviation awareness among school children. Air Total sponsored hundreds of pupils from the surrounding communities access to the show, and the CAA, Denel and South African Air Force took the opportunity to speak to them about aviation as a career. Pilots made themselves available to answer questions and the Ni-Da Group, based in Newcastle, opened its hangar to accommodate the presentations. The company’s PC12 parked outside the hangar made for the perfect backdrop.
Access onto the airfield flowed smoothly and the show got under way with a parachutist flying a big South African flag in front of the thousand plus strong crowd.
SAAF presence was in the form of the Silver Falcons and an Agusta A109. It was the first display of the Silver Falcons Team 81, with former Ground Liaison Officer, Major Bheki Shabangu, flying in the number five position and becoming Falcon #106. The team were as clinical as ever, flying two beautifully tight displays in the new line-up.
Other formation displays included the Puma Energy Flying Lions, whose display featured polished formation and solo aerobatics, and daringly low high-speed strafing fly-bys. For their afternoon display before heading home, they tucked in close and paraded the classic radials at the crowd-line, letting the iconic planes speak loudly for themselves. The Goodyear Eagles upped the tempo with their energetic three-ship Pitts Special display, while the L39, L29 and Impala brought jet power, flying individually and in a novel ‘East Meets West’ three-ship formation.
Neville Ferreira in his Slick 540, Andrew Blackwood Murry in the Extra 300 and Nigel Hopkins flying his Extra 330 brought high impact, speed and energy aerobatics, while Gary Whitecross in his Pilatus B4 glider flew a graceful, silent dance of a sequence of loops, rolls and stall turns. He managed his energy to perfection, finishing with a low high-speed fly-by after which he landed and gently coasted to his ground handler at the taxiway, who just had to stroll to the turnoff to catch the wing before it dropped.
A highlight of the day was the odd pairing of Menno Parsons in his Bell 407 helicopter and Nigel Hopkins in the Extra 330. The vastly different aircraft played in the sky together and off each other to deliver a unique display, which included the two aircraft hovering side by side, with Nigel hanging on the prop thanks to his Extra’s impressive power-to-weight ratio.
The race between Neville Ferreira in the Slick 540 and a C-Class AMG Mercedes brought cheers of excitement from the crowd, which pushed up against the fence to see the action. Racing back and forth along the runway, Neville and the driver timed their turns to perfection to make for an exciting race, with the Merc reaching around 250 km/h to clinch the victory.
The Newcastle Airshow was well organised, well attended, the aircraft were wonderfully displayed, and it did a great job of bringing the excitement of aviation close to the community and school pupils in the area. In all, a fantastic show.