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Middelburg Airshow

July 21, 2017

On a cold, misty Highveld morning, the airshow ‘circus’ made its way to the industrial town of Middelburg in Mpumalanga. Fortunately the mist burnt off early, allowing Middleburg to once again deliver a superb show.





Calling this event a mere airshow isn’t quite accurate. Following in the wake of the Wonderboom Adrenaline Show, a large contingent from the motorsport fraternity were also added.

The expectant crowd started streaming in early in the morning, filling up the long crowd line, and at 10h00 the show got under way with Andrew Blackwood Murry taking to the now blue sky in his Extra 300, followed by Ivan van der Schaar in his beautifully restored pre-WWII Boeing Stearman.

Bobby Rowe entertained all with the first Bat Hawk to be fitted with the Rotax 914 motor. Bat Hawks are usually powered by the six cylinder CAMit engines. However, CAMit closed their doors about a year ago. The Bathawk is used extensively in anti-poaching operations as it is cost effective and makes a wonderful observation platform.

The usual top-drawer formation aerobatics were flown by the four ship Torre Pitts Special team, with Scully Levin, Arnie Meneghelli and Sean Thackwray manning the three white machines and Ellis Levin taking care of the solo work in the black aircraft; and the Goodyear Eagles who were led by Glen Warden with Johan von Solms on one wing and Paul Coetzer on the other. Mark Hensman and Pierre Gouws also performed a tight routine in the MX2 and RV7.

At one point, the Middelburg airspace was filled with very fast jets – not full size examples, but radio controlled machines. The Ultra Lightning displayed by Dean Grobbelaar reaches speeds well in excess of 300 km/h and is the current South African speed record holder.

Full size jets at the show were Richard Lovett’s L39 flown by Pierre Gouws, Dawid Laas’s Impala flown by Mike Wiengartz, and two L29s piloted by Glen Warden and Koos Kieck.

From jets to rotor wings, Mathew Zalewski displayed the Magni Gyro, and Johan ‘Juba’ Joubert teamed up with Dylan Smith to form a rapid response team: Dylan’s dirt bike gets strapped to the skid of the Aloutte II, Juba lands, and Dylan very quickly removes the bike and chases the bad guys.

Another motorcycle act was that of the XDL stunt bikes. They very seldom ride on both wheels, except when burning out the back tyre.

A simulated rhino poaching scenario was played out by the members of the Hi-Risk response team with the assistance of Anton von Willich in his Aérospatiale Gazelle. Dogs with their handlers abseil down from the hovering helicopter to rapidly apprehend the poachers.

Gary Whitecross’s sequence in his Pilatus B4 with smoke canisters mounted on each wing leave wonderful smoke trails in the blue sky. Gary ended his display by racing a souped-up Camaro. You couldn’t help feeling bad for the driver as Gary streaked silently past him.

In yet another aircraft/motorcar race, Neville Ferreira in his Slick 540 was pitted against an Audi R8. The car did a bit of farming when it arrived at the turning point faster than it should have. After the race, Neville went straight into his high-energy aerobatic display. Being an experienced Yak pilot and having represented South Africa in the Yak world championships, Neville also displayed the Yak 52.

The flying programme was concluded by a beautiful twilight display by the Puma Energy Flying Lions. Scully, Arnie, Sean and Ellis had a ball strafing the display line, accompanied by fireworks. The grand finale was a beautiful fireworks display put together by Dominik Fireworks.

The organisers of the Middelburg Airshow can be exceptionally proud of the show. In a first for SA airshows, every display had an individual sponsor, which reduced costs and allowed the entrance ticket prices to be dropped significantly, making the show more accessible. Well done Richard and team. See you at next year’s show.


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