The Rand Airshow is like your favourite breakfast cereal. It’s familiar and you know what you are getting, but it never lets you down.
Most of South Africa’s aerobatic teams and display pilots are based at Rand, and it’s home to more radial engines, Harvards and Pitts Specials than anywhere else in the southern Hemisphere, so it’s little wonder that that the core of the airshow doesn’t change – but it doesn’t need to.
And, just as your favourite breakfast cereal can be spiced up with a few raisins, nuts and sultanas, so the Rand Airshow is spiced up every year with something new. So, for Rand regulars like me, there is always a great deal of anticipation – and 2017 was no exception.
This year, despite cool August weather and low-key advertising, around 20,000 spectators turned up to be entertained by something old, something new, and lots of spectacular flying.
Africa’s oldest flyable aeroplane
First up on the programme was South Africa’s oldest flying aeroplane, a 1935 Aeronca C3 owned by John Illsley and flown by Brian Stableford. Whilst this was its debut at the Rand Airshow, it was in many ways a return home, because this very same aircraft was flown from the UK to Rand in 1936 by John Llewellyn – and it has been restored in the colours it carried during this flight. With its little two-cylinder 40 hp Jap J99 engine for propulsion, the C3’s 9,000-mile, 21-day flight must have been an epic adventure.
Also representing something old was the de Havilland Rapide from Queenstown, which was flown by Flippie Vermuelen in formation with a de Havilland Chipmunk flown by Jason Beamish. This is the Rapide’s second appearance at Rand and its detailed restoration is a work of art.
Radials and more radials
It’s a tradition at Rand to put together a mass radial formation. This year it consisted of 10 Harvards, a DC-3 and a Twin Beech. There were also displays by the Flying Lions Harvards as well as a Dakota solo display and a two-ship formation consisting of the Springbok Aviation Twin Beech and John Wright’s stunning bare metal Harvard.
Special mention needs to be made of the Flying Lions, who in my view are flying the most accurate and smooth formations I have ever seen since they first formed 18 years ago.
Helicopters were well represented this year. Rand is home to most of South Africa’s Bell 222s, and Henley Air took the opportunity to fly Bell 222s and a Dauphine in formation. This five-ship formation was one better than last year’s four-ship. Will 2018 be a six ship? Another first for Rand was the display of the beautiful Bell 430, ZT-ROS. Despite the Bell 222/230/430 design being more than 40 years old, they remain some of the most beautiful helicopters ever produced, and NAC’s Alistair Brown displayed it expertly, providing spectacular shows for the spectators.
Another helicopter that put in impressive displays was Menno Parsons’ Bell Huey. With its striking Tiger paint scheme and the loud thudding of those massive blades, it never fails to get the crowd engaged.
As one would expect at Rand, there were many aerobatic displays by SA’s top pilots, several of whom will be representing South Africa at the World Aerobatic competition being held at Malelane in September.
SA is now home to three of the latest and arguably best competition aerobatic aircraft, the Extra 330SC, of which two were on display. Whilst we have become familiar with Nigel Hopkins’s world class displays, this year Barrie Eeles put his new 330SC through its paces in a terrific display with Elton Bondi in his Extra 300L.
In addition to his solo aerobatic display, Nigel demonstrated his new party trick of putting his Extra into a prop hanging hover alongside a Bell 407 helicopter. Neville Ferreira’s display in his Slick 540 was once again one of the most high-energy, frenetic displays you are likely to see anywhere. He has perfected the art of tumbling the Slick while pouring out voluminous amounts of smoke, creating a memorable performance.
Team displays this year included the Goodyear Eagles and Team Torre with their Pitts Specials, and Team Extreme with an Extra, an MX and an SBach. It was also great to see the two ex Mazda Zoom Zoom Team Extras doing a formation display flown by Arnie Menegelli and Ellis Levin.
Mustang Sally’s last display … for a while
Rand is home to Menno Parsons’ collection of aircraft, including his beautiful P-51 Mustang called Mustang Sally. Many thousands of spectators have been thrilled by Menno’s displays and this year at Rand was no exception. The Mustang’s engine is due for overhaul, so we won’t be seeing her in the air again for quite a while. However, Menno made good use of the remaining hours on the engine to produce a spectacular display.
Jet displays and more
Jet displays included a formation display by Pierre Gouws and Larry Beamish in two L-39s, and a solo display by Glen Warden in the L-29. At the opposite end of the speed spectrum, the Just Love Mission’s Antonov AN-2 also put in a spirited display – just way more slowly! The day was closed out by a display by an Embraer EMB-120 from Swift Flite Air Charter.
And there you have it, a day filled with all the favourites you have come to enjoy, with some extras thrown in to make sure you come back for more next year.