So you’re not Richard Branson or John Travolta. You can still own and fly your own aircraft…. Sorry Sir Rich, didn’t think you’d be reading this. Please take a seat. I’ll be with you shortly.
Whether, like me, you have an unquenchable thirst for all matters aeronautical, or you just want a gift idea for the man in your life (for the husband who has everything, the recommendation, naturally, is a course of strong antibiotics), seeing Port Elizabeth’s magnificent men and their model flying machines was a treat and a half.
The air show took place just to the West of Port Elizabeth over the weekend of 26th and 27thof May 2012, with a turnout by the public that was frankly astounding. On Saturday, the wind was sufficiently strong (about 20kph) that some of the events had to be adjusted. Not to be thwarted however, the outstanding pilots were pleasing the crowd with expert flying – sometimes even flying forwards!!
Sunday’s weather was predicted to be an improvement and the boffins were pleasantly correct. With the camera kit at the high port we set off bright and early. Arriving at the airfield, the show was underway with the WWI replicas opening the program.
The commentators kept the crowd informed, excited and amused with program announcements and interesting snippets of information – either about the aircraft on the flight line or its bigger brother in real life.
It was clear that some of the models had been the subject of several hundred hours of painstaking and loving attention to get them looking as close to their full scale originals as possible. From the smallest (a minute model of a microlight) to the massive half-sized J3 Cub with its 100cc motor. Fixed wing or helicopter – they were all there; even a flying lawn mower, I ask you.
To keep the crowd’s attention captivated, one of the events was “The Toilet Roll Drop” – which might have sent a subliminal message to the mothers/grannies to increase the lines at the porta-loos. In any event, one of the planes took up a toilet roll and at a random time, the pilot on the ground released the roll. The not insignificant skills of the other pilots (about seven or eight planes in the air at that time) were put to the test as they attempted to cut the paper with their propellers.
Then came the helicopters. This section of the display was opened by an item I can only describe as a dragonfly on ‘tik’ (that’s Crystal Methamphetamine – for my non-South African readers). This helicopter dodged and weaved, spiralled and spun about the sky in such crazy manoeuvres and with such speed that it was impossible to track with a long lens, but it sure captivated the imagination and attention of the crowd who burst into loud and spontaneous applause as the (clearly demented) pilot brought it in for a graceful landing.
The other choppers went through their routines in a more sedate, but no less impressive manner. The Augusta even had a sound card in it to produce the proper “whop whop whop” sound effects. Everyone, from 4 to 104 years old (because that’s how old I felt after trying to track that bally dragonfly), we were all enthralled.
In addition to letting your husband loose in a harmless pastime, the airshow is also an ideal place to bring Granddad because this is many a Granddad’s turf. I saw children in their element standing next to Dad or Oupa, asking a million questions. Mrs Chips and I were busy watching a little chap clinging onto his Dad’s hand and excitedly pointing at everything. A little later he exclaimed, “This is the best day ever!” It kind of makes you sad when mothers and fathers are too busy doing their own thing to spend quality time with this kind of outing. This is the place where machismo doesn’t have to be put on display. This is the place (like the model train and Meccano displays) where the Dads and Oupas of this world can take time answering those million questions AND be captivated at the same time.
Organisation at the show was top class, as befitting the best airshows, with crowd safety being the top priority. There was also plenty of secure (guarded) parking with marshals directing drivers into neat rows. On the Sunday when we spent the whole day there, the kitchen was pumping out brunches and lunches by the dozen. Although they fell a little behind at the lunch break causing a one or two complaints about the queues, the ladies of the club and volunteers did an absolutely sterling job of feeding the unexpectedly huge crowd. We stole a moment to grab our meal during a mid-morning lull and there was no queue to speak of, and I was back photographing in short order.
It was during this lull that the Radio Flyers pulled an ingenious stunt. This was called “The Sweet Drop”. The same plane who dropped the bog roll, also took up a sizeable bag of sweets. This was released over a deserted part of the grass airstrip, causing literally hundreds of children to race forward, happily scampering through the freshly cut grass in search of a sweet delight. I overheard a pilot remarking that the number of kids needed a larger plane and at least a 50kg fertilizer sack of sweets so that each child could get at least one.
One of the items was the display by the Mirage Jet turbine. You know technology has advanced when you see a jet motor that can fit into a kid’s shoebox. To put this little miracle into perspective, a normal car’s engine will red line at about 6 000 revolutions per minute. A formula one (F1) racing car’s engine’s limit is around the 18 000 mark. But these jet engines idle at about 40 000 and peak at well over 100 000 revs per minute. Technical specs aside, the pilot went through his routine and seeing the Mirage silhouette flash past caused a few private moments of nostalgic introspection. Your writer has been privileged to have witnessed these aircraft in action – in combat. But more of that another time – maybe.
You see, there were these two crows on a telephone wire, just as a Mirage screams overhead. The one crow says to the other one, “Geez those birds make a hell of a noise hey!”
The second bird replies, “So would you if your bum was on fire.”
Without exception, the events were immensely enjoyed by all, but one of the crowd pleasers was the “Fun Aircraft Surprise”. The first item was a motorised disc, painted like a target and flown by the cartoon character Snoopy. The next also elicited several chuckles, was a flying lawnmower.
During the lunch break, the order came to clear the sky for a surprise. This came in the form of the thundering roar of a Harvard Trainer, flown by local pilot Mr Davidson. He kindly thrilled the crowd with a ten minute display of the superb flying that has made the father and son team one of the South African aviation legends.
I could go on describing in detail each event, but instead, why not get yourself to the Port Elizabeth Radio Flyers (PERF) airstrip and check ‘em out for yourself. You’ll find them there on most weekends, especially when the weather’s fine. Better still, give flying a bash with a cheap model aircraft (you can spend anything from R700 to several hundred thousand). According to the PERF website (www.perf.co.za) they will even teach you. I’ve started saving already.
Here is a random selection of pics from the airshow.