Vampire T55 Aircraft, Air Show Waterkloof Air Force Base 2011

Air Force Base Waterkloof

It is very dark and quiet outside. I'm already awake, even though it is not yet 4:30 am. Maybe this is due to the fact that today Martine (my wife) and I will be visiting Waterkloof Air Force Base for the 2011 Air Show and Lifestyle Expo. For the best seat in the house, you must arrive early.

Yesterday (Friday) everything was finalised for this momentous occasion. It is not every year that we get a change to visit such an awesome event. Our Nikon and Sony cameras spit and polished, batteries charged and the previous photographs downloaded to computer (make sure photographs are safely downloaded before formatting). Not having enough memory space or the fact that you have formatted your Sandisk Ultra SD card before you've had a chance to save it can cause a lot of frustration. Believe me, I’ve been there.

At 6.00am we arrive at the Air Force Base Waterkloof, joining a very long queue of people anxiously waiting to enter. There is something about air shows that attract an assortment of spectators and a lot of enthusiasm. Even the young ones are eager to enter. Finally the gates open. Everybody rushes off with their equipment (food, water, camping chairs, camera equipment, rain jackets, hats, you name it, everything must go). Like pack-mules we plod along the red dusty road to the main aircraft landing strip. On any other day I believe most of us would express dissatisfaction with this heavy load, but not today.

Finally the air show starts. It kicks off with mock combat. The announcer tries his best with his eloquent radio voice to keep all the spectators well informed. Between the loud explosions and my earplugs, I immediately loose track of all the vital information.

High up in the sky at 9000ft, or so, a small plane drops off a few pathfinders. Gently these parachutes descent and land on firm soil. Then two huge planes appear (C-130 Hercules, Dakota) dropping off a dozen or so soldiers and subsequently ammunition, medical supplies, food and water arrive via the sky. Manna from the sky so to speak. Gripen and Hawk fighter planes rush past with an imposing, thunderous sound, leaving the little ones squinting their eyes and covering their ears. Followed by a lot of explosions. Awesome! Helicopters (Atlas Oryx, Rooivalk, BK117) rush in to assist the troops. Some are dropped off and others are hoisted back up. Everybody stands amazed. This surely deserves an applause.

The rest of this eventful day was filled with stunning aerobatics. This was even more exciting than the mock battle. The Harvard aeroplanes provided a much needed break form all the loud noises. With their distinct droning sound they too are a spectator favourite. Look, air shows are the apex of beautiful sound. It doesn't get better than this. If Van Halen could play at an air show, it would be Gripen.

Even though the Gripen JAS 39 was almost everyone’s favourite (facial expressions and loud comments as proof), the one plane that got my attention, was the quaint Vampire T55 with its stunning sleek design and bright orange stripes showing prominently. As the plane glided effortlessly through the air (as if it is in control of itself), heads followed it everywhere. I took a few pictures, amazed at what an old museum piece are still capable of. They can bring back the Vampire T55 into production, any day. This, and the Alfa GTV 6.

The performance of the Silver Falcons (Pilatus PC-7 Mk II Astra) was also a captivating event, absolutely awesome, well coordinated with daring manoeuvres. Just contemplate the amount of man hours that have to go into perfecting these flight patterns and stunts. The most spectacular event of the day (according to me) must’ve been the Mirage F1AZ Aerosud. This is how it should be. Up there, up in the blue, forever. Time to go home. •

Words & Photos: Adriaan & Martine Venter - (Air Force Base Waterkloof, Air Show, 2011/10/01, 100 images)