Durban Virginia Airshow - Saturday 9 September 2023

By Brian Spurr

After a gap of 10 years the Durban Virginia Airshow was back! The last Durban Airshow was held on the 13th of July 2013. This event has been sorely missed by a great number of Durbanites (and visitors) and not only by avid aviation fans. The event was staged by the Smoke on Go Foundation who assembled a wonderful programme of displays, to revive airshows at this iconic airport. Virginia was always one of the favourite venues in the country due to the proximity of the crowd to the action. Ironically this was also one of the factors that led to the show being put on hold for so long. Safety rules were increased after Glen Dell's tragic accident at the Secunda Airshow in October 2013. This year an extra safety barrier was erected between the runway and the crowd line.

Kitplanes for Africa

This year's event had a maximum crowd limit of 8500 people. The official ticket sales were almost at that amount. An event like this does not happen without backing and the following sponsors supported the event: - Shell Aviation; Atlas Aviation; Amrho Tourism; Armscor; Aeronautical Aviation; Avcon Jet Africa; Hollywood Bets; Thirsti; Starlite Aviation Group; Netcare 911; Southern Sun; Pick n Pay Hypermarket; I.G.S and Ticketpro and Exujet.

The organisers were very lucky with the weather as September can be very unpredictable as far as wind and rain are concerned. As it happened the weather was perfect for a day of high action flying. Pilot's Post arrived at 7 am there were already queues at the gate. When the gates opened, people were quicky and efficiently admitted and by the official start time of 10 am, the prime spectator areas were full.

The show commenced at 10 o'clock on the dot with four skydivers being taken aloft in a Gazelle helicopter. The jumpers from Durban Skydivers provided a wonderful start to the show coming in fast and landing with pinpoint accuracy at air show central. The first group to jump were Vernon Kloppers, Bob Simpson, Michael Nyman and Dave Ladell. Later there was a second jump this time comprising Roy Steemson, Michael Nyman, Alan Hosmer (Capital Sounds canopy) and Dave Ladell. The Drop Zone Officer was Ian Douglas (a man with over 9000 jumps to his credit).

Next to go were the Marksmen Aerobatic Team of Mark Hensman (Extra 300 - ZS-DCR), Eugene du Preez (Extra 330SC - ZS-THS) and Johnie Smith (Extra 330LX - ZS-SMI). Mark was flying an aircraft borrowed from Elton Bondi. Their tight formation aerobatics wowed the crowd ensuring that the airshow began with a bang.

Next up injecting the wonderful smell of Jet A1 into the proceedings, was the beautiful Aero L-39C Albatros of Dave Mandel. The aircraft has a camouflage paint scheme and gave a tight display that was a crowd favourite.

Then we had a three aircraft De Havilland (Canada) Chipmunk formation. These venerable old aircraft first flew in 1947 and are much loved by the pilots that have flown them over the years. They put on a graceful display of tight formation flying.

The Nashua sponsored Extra 300LP of Andrew Blackwood-Murray was next. Andrew is a vastly experienced pilot who spent six years in the South African Air Force and flew for South Africa Airways from a young age. He is currently Chief Commercial Officer for JAG Cargo. He went to Michaelhouse and currently lives in Cape Town. He gave a very impressive display.

After this we had the phenomenal flying skills of Juba Joubert in the stunning Aerospatiale SA-341G Gazelle (ZS-RLU). Juba has a long and distinguished military flying career and his handling of this helicopter has to be seen to be believed. The spectators could be heard gasping at some of the radical manoevres. It is not often you see rotor wing flying of this calibre.

Following Juba was another South African aviation legend Scully Levin flying the beautiful blue Cirrus SR-22. Scully can fly just about anything. He was training captain at South African Airways but has flown a great variety of aircraft and in many formation aerobatic teams. His flying CV would take up more than this one article has space for. He really showed what the graceful Cirrus is capable of doing.

Then came the Raptors Display Team with a two-ship display of Van's RV-7 aircraft (ZU-FLV and ZU-EYP), led by Trevor Warner. Trevor is a B737 training captain with FlySafair. The second aircraft was flown by Ryan Beeton. They put on a wonderful showing of close formation aerobatics.

Then the South African Air Force flew their impressive Eurocopter-Kawasaki BK-117A-3 (380). The display involved winching down two people and then picking up two barrels in a cargo net. Excellent flying to show off the capabilities of this machine. They also demonstrated the search and rescue abilities picking up a 'patient' using the rear cargo doors. The BK117 demonstration was flown by Major Corrie Oberholzer with Flight Sergeant Coert Steynberg as his Chief Engineer. The rescue demonstration was flown by Captain Jared Oliver with Coert Steynberg. It was Steynberg's farewell flight as he is retiring. Also at the show was a hero Captain Matthew Allan, who was on board an Oryx helicopter in the DRC, when a sniper shot killed the flight engineer and wounded the pilot. Captain Allan moved the injured pilot and took over, flying them back to base. He received an ovation from the crowd when his heroism was announced.

The SAAF had quite a large contingent at the show and on Friday they had a workshop for learners on the variety of careers in aviation.

Red Bull sponsored Patrick Davidson was next to display in his Game Composites GB1 Gamebird (N71PD). This is a beautiful aircraft with a unique paint scheme designed by Patrick himself. A modest man Patrick has a huge amount of aviation achievements including competing in the elite Red Bull Air Races and winning the Sky Grand Prix of Aerobatics. A world class display, worth watching.

Local businessman Roger Deare then flew his Extra 300L (ZS-OLR) in the Hollywood Bets Activation. The aircraft had been wrapped in Hollywood Bets colours especially for this occasion to promote the on-line Aviator Game. On the day selected spectators had to guess the altitudes Roger was flying at in order to win hampers or a cash prize. He also threw in an aerobatic sequence as a bonus!

Following Hollywood Bets was the highlight of the show for many an absolutely awesome display by Airlink of their Embraer 195AR (ZS-YDE). Flown by Jaco Henning and Dean Nicholas this was one of the best displays the writer has seen, of a commercial airliner, at an airshow. This beautiful black liveried aircraft did several low and graceful flypasts that had the crowd on their feet. It was a show stopper, very impressive.

The programme was repeated, in most cases, for a second display and flying continued until almost 5 pm.

In between these were two displays not flown in the morning. One was by the unique looking Beech 18 (ZS-OIJ) flown by Flippie Vermeulen with his son Ben. So good to see this unusual aircraft flying in Durban.

The other team that did not display in the morning were the Flying Lions in their Harvards. Three of the four aircraft only arrived at 12:30 as they had displayed at another air show earlier. The team comprises: - Scully Levin, Arnie Meneghelli, Ellis Levin and Sean Thackwray. They did two displays in the afternoon and they brought the show to a close with their final flight. The thundering radials and precision flying are always a big drawcard.

The commentary for the day was done by Brian Emmenis and his team from Capital Sounds. Brian kept the crowd informed on what was happening at all times and this was very informative, particularly for the many first-time airshow visitors present.

Brian, in his commentary, acknowledged and thanked some of the people making this event possible, namely: -Durban Fire, Durban Metro, Durban SAPS, NSRI, SAP Divers, SAP Rescue, Netcare 911, SA Navy Divers, SAAF, Smoke on Go, Creative Media, Capital Sounds, ATNS, ASSA, IPS Security Company, Mama Luciano, Marshalls, Vendors and last but not least the participants.

So ended a wonderful day out witnessing some great flying. After the event we only heard positive comments. Despite the fact that it may not have been as big as some previous events it was fantastic to have this famous airshow back on the calendar. Times are different now with high fuel prices and other logistical hurdles. The organisers pulled off what many thought to be impossible and they are to be congratulated for that. Let's hope this is the start of a long run, we look forward to the next one.

PZL Wilga First Engine Run

Events 2023

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