The Botswana International Airshow has become one of the must attend events on the airshow calendar – nowhere else can you get so close to the action.
2017 marked the eighth airshow held at Matsieng outside Gaborone. The first had no more than five displays and was more a fly-in than an airshow. The show may have grown exponentially, but the fly-in feel is still as it was all those years ago. Pilots from all over southern Africa make the pilgrimage, some arriving early on Friday morning and checking in at the temporary customs and immigration set up on the field and manned by officers from Gaborone’s Sir Seretse Kama Airport.
The tented camp at the Matsieng Airfield is a hive of activity on the night before the show, with old friends reuniting and new aviation friends being made. Absolute Aviation sponsored live music, on a makeshift low bed trailer converted to a stage for the weekend, and a hot air balloon provided additional entertainment with a glowing night display.
Saturday’s show kicked off with a brilliant display of precision aerobatics by the ‘wonderkid’ of South African airshow aerobatics, Jason Beamish, in his Absolute Aviation sponsored Extra 300. Jason had barely landed when local skydivers filled the sky, dropping from ‘Little Annie’ the Antonov AN2, flown by father and son team Mark and Jon-Marc Hill.
The air traffic control team at Matsieng persuaded a passing Hawker Beechcraft 800XP to do a flyby, treating all to a wonderful low pass.
Juba Joubert, an ex-SAAF helicopter pilot, showed why the SAAF chopper boys are held in such high esteem when he hoisted ‘Mal Jan’, the Jacaranda crazy man, from the back of a moving vehicle with a Alouette II.
Conrad Botha, in his Slick 360, displayed the manoeuvrability of his South African aerobatic aircraft. Team Xtreme, consisting of Nigel Hopkins (Extra 330 SC), Mark Hensman (MX2) and Jason Beamish (Extra 300), who had recently taken part in the World Formation Aerobatics competition in China, blew the crowd away with their formation aerobatics.
As soon as the smoke cleared, it was time for Gary Whitecross in his Pilatus B4 Glider who mesmerised all with his silent display.
The Goodyear Pitts Special team of Denis Spence, Johan van Solms and Paul Coetzer were next up, followed closely by Neville Ferreira in his Slick 540, whose tumbling manoeuvres had the crowd holding their breath.
Nigel Hopkins in his Extra 330 SC has become a firm favourite at the Botswana Airshow over the past few years. He will be competing in the World Unlimited Aerobatics Championships later this year in Mpumalanga. Ivan van der Schaar displayed his restored Boeing Stearman, which he and his wife, Sonica, painstakingly rebuilt over five years in their hangar at Petit Airfield. Altech Netstar gave a demonstration of their ability to track and recover stolen vehicles using a Bell 407.
The RV Raptors, led by Pierre Gouws, joined forces with Team Xtreme and treated all to wonderful six ship formation before breaking off for their very tight formation display. The Raptors were flying borrowed RVs, as their machines were still making their way back from China where they too took part in the World Formation Championships.
The fast paced show was stepped up a notch with the arrival of the Aero L29 Delfin staging from Sir Seretse Khama, still sporting the colours of the Nato Tigers formation team, expertly flown by Glen Warden. Glen and Denis Spence recently restored this remarkable Eastern Block jet.
Alistair Brown, flying a Huey, lifted an ‘illegally parked’ car and dropped it to the gasps of the crowd. Helicopter action continued with Dannie Terblanche showing why the Robinson R44 Raven is the leading game capture aircraft in Africa.
Something different was Matthew Zalewski in a Magni Gyro. The father and son team of Larry and Jason Beamish also made an appearance, Larry in his RV7 and Jason in the Extra 300. The fast pace of the show continued throughout the day with repeats of displays from the morning, except for a few surprises, one of which was a biplane formation consisting of the Antonov AN2, the Boeing Stearman and two Pitts Specials.
As the show drew to a close Brian Emmenis, the voice of airshows in southern Africa, built anticipation before Glen Warden in the L29 blasted past the largest wall of fire ever seen at an airshow in Africa.
The show was closed by a beautiful twilight display by the Puma Flying Lions followed by Dannie Terblanche in an LED loaded R22.
The organisers of this amazing event will once again donate the proceedings, around 160,000 Pula, to various charities. Guillaume Knipe, Gerhard Barnard and the De Wet family put in hours of selfless work to make it the exciting and successful show it always is.