Smoke on Go - It was time for the 2023 Parys Airshow
By Jaco Kotze
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Since its long-awaited return to the South African Airshow calendar in 2022, the Parys Airshow has quickly become one of the absolute favourites on the calendar. Hosted by Smoke on Go with Scully Levin at the lead, this year's programme was again jam packed with some exceptional displays.
The day was blessed with some amazing clear blue skies with wisps of spectacular white clouds, making for the perfect backdrop to all the flying displays. The wind did become a bit of a challenge later on in the day which really tested the skills of all the display pilots, who all handled it perfectly, again showcasing why they are the best of the best.
For those who got up early enough, the day started with participating aircraft flying in against the warm Free State sunrise. It is always great to see the familiar faces of the pilots of these magnificent aircraft when they happily wave and smile when taxing in to their allocated places on the apron. Out of all of the arrivals however, there is one in particular which really gets the blood pumping and that is the Tiger Bell Huey of Menno Parsons. You first hear the thumping sound of those massive Huey blades in the far distance and then you physically feel that thumping in your chest when he does his standard high-speed low-level approach followed by a steep left bank and then skilfully settling down on the apron.
One of the best surprises to this year's airshow was the participation of the South African Airforce. They sent three helicopters to the show, two for flying displays (16 Sqn Rooivalk & 15 Sqn BK117) and one for static display (17 Sqn Agusta A109). These stood proudly in the early morning sun, eagerly awaiting their chance to showcase why our air force pilots are held in such high regard, both locally and internationally.
Unfortunately flying can be a treacherous activity and there was an early incident before the official start of the show, involving a Cessna 185A Skywagon (reg. ZU-BMD) which tipped over to its nose during landing. Luckily none of the pax was hurt and the emergency response team was activated immediately. It is really good to see how efficient these emergency response teams function when the need is there. Exact details on the incident were not known at time of publishing and Pilots Post will await the official CAA report on the incident.
The show officially opened with the Parys Skydivers who were taken up by their very interesting red ex-Rhodesian Airforce Apollo T AL-60 Trojan. The first skydiver to terra-firma unfortunately had a bit of a "firma" landing on the "terra", Pilots Post wishes him a speedy recovery to his bruised sitting area as well as to his bruised ego! All the other skydivers made it down safely without any further incidents, albeit some had to walk a little bit further than the others…
Following the skydivers, it was time for the skies of Parys to be filled with the nostalgic drone of the Flying Lions Harvards. Having seen them display more times than I can recall, you simply cannot help but raise the camera to the eye to capture the beauty of their perfectly flown flying display. There really are very few things which could equal the sights and sounds of four Harvard's gracefully performing aerial white smoke art against a perfect blue-sky backdrop.
The next display was flown by Andrew Blackwood-Murray in the beautiful Nashua Extra 300. Andrew is one of the favourites at our local airshows and his aerobatic display never fails to awe. Flying such a technically difficult routine with such ease really showcases why he is one of SA's best aerobatic pilots.
Next up was the RV Raptors display team who had also become synonymous with our local airshows. With their colourful RV7 & 8's, the four-ship team perform spectacular tight formation flying, trailed by thick white display smoke.
Placing the needle on the Black Sabbath Paranoid record - it was time for the Tiger Bell UH-1 "Huey" display. Expertly flown by local airshow legend Menno Parsons, this is always one of the favourite acts at any local airshow. Having had the privilege to have flown in this Huey recently, this really is one magnificent flying machine!
One of the most integral aspects for having a successful airshow is having seamless world class commentary on the very busy programme, which as always, was provided by the familiar voice of South African Airshows, Brian Emmenis and his Capital Sounds team. This team works like a well-oiled (flying) machine. Expertly placing loudspeakers where they would provide perfect clear sound coverage to all the airshow spectators, running a seemingly endless amount of cabling and connecting it all up to the heart of it all which is the familiar Capital Sounds broadcasting van. What makes Brian one of the best airshow commentators in the world is not just his vast knowledge on anything aviation, but also his uncanny ability to read the airshow as it unfolds. Very few things are missed by his hawk eye and he provides seamless commentary - just watch out for his mischievous nature; we all would really have liked to see that 737 land on the grass runway Brian!
Just when everything seemed to be going so well, all hell broke loose! An overeager "student" pilot jumped into a parked zebra stripe painted Bushcat, in hot pursuit by ASSA ramp control. After turning sharply onto the grass runway at Parys, the Bushcat took to the sky after a few bounces! All of this of course was part of the very entertaining Crazy Flying act, expertly flown by none other than Jason Beamish, one of SA's most skilled unlimited class aerobatic pilots. It is really refreshing to see the addition of this act to our local airshows (which has been a crowd favourite at international airshows for many years). After getting a crash course on flying a fixed wing airplane, by a flying instructor, over the radio, while flying like some drunken stork, I am glad to report that the "student" pilot, aka Mr Beam-ish, made it safely to the ground! After some "orientation" by his instructor, we are confident that this would not happen again (soon)…
One display which I really missed this year was that of Oscar Goudriaan and his power JS3 Rapture glider; we hope to see you again at next year's show Oscar!
Following the light-hearted fun flying by Jason, two of SA aviation's great legends took to the sky in a deep rumbling twin Pratt & Whitney radial engined Beechcraft 18 with a special extended cargo nose, originally designed for the Hamilton Westwind. Scully Levin and Flippie Vermeulen certainly requires no introduction, both being flying veterans with a staggering collective flying time of more than 50 000 hours. The Beech 18 is owned and operated by Springbok Classic Air. This is truly one magnificent aircraft to see flying its proud and stately display.
Andre van Zyl's Magni Gyrocopter was up next and as always, he performed some exceptional flying manoeuvres, all seemingly without him even upsetting his well-known moustache. The gyrocopter is one of the most interesting flying machines you could think off, the flying principle being around that of autorotation of the main rotor blades, which is not powered by the main motor, but simply turning by means of the action of the relative airflow over the rotor blades.
By this time the cool Free State early morning temperatures had dissipated and it was getting nice and hot - time for some cooling down, and the very skilled pilots of Sandrivier Crop Protection was glad to be of service! They displayed typical low-level crop spraying by using their AT- 402A Air Tractor as well as their crop spraying converted Robinson R44 Raven 2. Their display ended with a spectacular water dump by the Air Tractor, crossing the hovering R44. It was however a bit disappointing that their AT-301 Wasp radial engined Air Tractor did not do any flying displays; hoping that next year we would see it take to the air again.
And then came what many of the airshow spectators were eagerly waiting for - it was hammer time! The skies were filled with the sound of the 16 Sqn SAAF Rooivalk and 15 Sqn BK117 starting up, getting ready to showcase the capabilities of these aircraft to the crowd. I am sure there were many a small boy and girl, watching eagerly as these two magnificent machines took to the air in a flurry of dust and grass. For many young ones, this might have been the exact moment that the little spark was ignited, which could see them go on to become one of these amazing SAAF pilots one day. Piloting the Rooivalk was Major Jannes Slabbert (callsign "Mad Max") & Major Corne Stadler (callsign "Stiffler"). On the BK117 it was Major Corrie Oberholzer (callsign "Serrano") & Flight Sergeant Coert Steynberg.
The Rooivalk and BK117 started their display by doing a formation flight along the flight line after which they flew directly at the crowd and performed the break manoeuvre. The Rooivalk went to "hide" behind a shooting range ground wall far off to the left of the show and the BK117 then did its typical high intensity display, with Major Oberholzer showcasing the exceptional manoeuvrability of the nimble helicopter. The MB/Kawasaki BK117 is used primarily for landward search and rescue and could easily be fitted with an external boom mounted cable hoist to assist with its role, with the very intricate hoisting operation being expertly managed by the flight engineer, Flight Sergeant Steynberg.
After the BK117 did a final high angle tilt-over, the Denel Rooivalk MK1 entered from the left side, flying fast and very low above the ground. The display flown by Major Slabbert was intended to showcase typical operational flight manoeuvres, something which the general public very seldom get to see. The Rooivalk illustrated its exceptional camouflage and hiding in plain (not plane...) sight capabilities by hiding right in front of the spectators, behind a large tree, slowly drifting into and out of view, with Major Stadler in the Weapons Systems Officer (WSO) seat keeping a watchful eye on the spectators, finally rising up and over the tree to expose its massive bulk. The Rooivalk is still acknowledged globally as one of the top 10 best attack helicopters and is something all South Africans could be really proud of! Unfortunately, it is a well-known fact that funding for the Rooivalk is really a massive problem and if that could be resolved, our fleet of Rooivalk helicopters could all be kept in perfect flying condition, ready to serve their important role in protecting our country (and other African allied countries), especially in times where extremist terrorist activity is significantly increasing.
Following the SAAF helicopter display, the Hired Gun Pitts Special Aerobatics team (flying a four ship of Pitts S-2B Specials) & led by Scully Levin took to the skies to wow the spectators with their exhilarating flying display, with their signature 3-way switchblade manoeuvres, knife edge cross-overs & breaks, these nimble aerobatic displays are always a crowd favourite.
Ivan van der Schaar and his son Jeandre, then showcased a very unique flying display, one between Ivan and his Boeing Stearman and his son flying his large-scale radio-controlled aerobatics plane. When they first performed this act, they were the first to do this unique flying arrangement. Since then, they have really refined this flying act with the proximity of the two aircraft leaving all watching amazed.
Ivan & Jeandre were followed by a very nicely flown three ship Chipmunk display. The De Havilland Canada DHC-1 Chipmunk is a tandem, two-seat, single-engine primary trainer aircraft designed and developed by Canadian aircraft manufacturer de Havilland Canada. They really have excellent flying characteristics and limited aerobatics capabilities which were expertly demonstrated by the pilots & Brian made sure the accompanying background music was nice and light-hearted to match the display.
Did someone say Wilson Pickett? Oh yes, it was time for one of the all-time airshow crowd favourites, Mustang Sally! Menno Parsons snuck off earlier in the day with the Huey after its display to go and collect his magnificent P-51D, fondly known as Mustang Sally. As always, he made a high-speed entry into the show box from the right hand side with the gun ports on the Mustang whistling to accompany the purring of the massive V12 Rolls Royce Merlin engine. With high-speed graceful banks and roll overs with the sun glistening off the plane, Menno loves to fly and showcase this beautiful historic plane at our local airshows, for which we all are eternally grateful! Salute to you Menno Parsons!
Following Mustang Sally we had Scully Levin flying a solo display in a very pretty Cirrus SR22. Scully showed just how nimble this little aircraft is in expert hands.
Dr Andre Coetzee, CEO of Henley Air then gave a spectacular display flying the Bell 230 helicopter which is painted in some beautiful livery. Dr Coetzee is very well loved in the South African aviation community and has been a mentor to countless helicopter pilots. The Bell 230 is an improved version of the well-known Bell 222, or "Airwolf" as most would fondly remember it.
The Goodyear Eagles needs no introduction; they are one of the oldest display teams in SA, having entertained crowds for nearly 30 years! Led by Dennis Spence, the team amazed the spectators with very tightly flown mirror passes, switchblades, cross overs and a very big smoke heart, displaying their love to their supporters.
If there is one aircraft which for me symbolizes the raw essence of powered flight, it has to be the De Havilland Tigermoth. Flown by Grant Timms & Steve Brown, the two ship of ex-SAAF DH-82A's flew a superbly nostalgic display. The strong wind which started picking up in the early afternoon at times made it look like these Tigermoths were actually hovering statically in the air!
After the calm and peaceful display of the Tigermoths, Johan "Juba" Joubert ensured that if you might have been feeling a bit drowsy, you very quickly woke up! Juba is known and very well respected as being one of the best helicopter pilots in the world and he certainly displayed why - flying the Black Aerospatiale Gazelle owned by Bennie de Jager, Juba performed a jaw dropping flying display, despite the wind which has gone from being mildly inconvenient to outright challenging. I am sure when Juba safely touched down on Terra-Firma, both Bennie and the Gazelle gave a sigh of relief! Honestly, I am not sure which looked more menacing, the Black Gazelle or Juba flying it!
The day's programme slowly started to come to an end, with the Flying Lions taking to the sky for their stunning flat display. Graceful the Harvards rumbled through the Parys sky, leaving trails of white display smoke where they have been.
The last display act of the day was kept well secret and certainly wowed the spectators when Brian excitedly announced its arrival from directly behind the crowd - a Boeing 737 flown by Captain Dennis Spence in close formation with the Goodyear Pitts Special team, this provided for a spectacular flying display. A very fitting closing act, to which has become one of the best airshows in South Africa.
Well done to the Smoke on Go team & ASSA for putting together this amazing airshow, can't wait to see what next year will bring!
In closing, one of the most captivating photos I took on the day were these of Scully Levin giving two massive thumbs up and blowing kisses of admiration to Andrew Blackwood Murray after his amazing display - this so perfectly shows his love for aviation and the aviation community, more than any words could describe! Thank you for your passion uncle, Scully, we love you just as much!