de Havilland Vampire T55, Lt Col Rama, SAAF Museum

Unclaimed Dreams

Have you ever wondered what happened to all those unclaimed dreams or the ones that got away?

Sunday morning and I’m primed and ready to board the Gautrain (Hatfield station) to Centurion and then the bus to the Waterkloof Air Show (Waterkloof Air Force Base). My previous excursion saw me plodding in the red dust for kilometres before reaching the airstrip; this year a friend of mine suggested our brand new rail system, and as usual I was on for something new and exciting.

With our arrival at the air force base, there were already thousands of people making their way to the edge of the airstrip—the best seat in the house is definitely the front row. By the time the Pitts Special Goodyear Eagles (aerobatic biplane designed by Curtis Pitts – September 1944) mocked the sky with trails of white smoke, the place was already packed to the brim. In the backdrop the US Air Force band—Touch N Go—was competing against the thunderous sounds up in the blue sky.

As with any event of this magnitude, I also had my favourite plane to lock onto, up in the blue yonder. Without a sound it crept from the right of the commentary-box, only when it was right above you, did you hear the Goblin centrifugal-flow engine (designed by Frank B Halford) blasting passed. The Vampire T55 (de Havilland Vampire) is one of the best preserved fighter planes of the Zwartkops Air Force Museum. Most people will opt for the more modern day aircraft, the SAAB Gripen (JAS 39), maybe the Hawk, or even the Rooivalk Helicopter, what about the Cheetah... Well, not me. The Vampire T55 with its silver body, dual cockpit and vibrant orange stripes remains a timeless classic, just like the Deep Purple song, Child in Time.

Hanging onto the security fence were a few youngsters, waiting expectantly for the next event. With animated voices they described to each other the different types of fighter planes, what these planes looked like and how they performed. Taken aback by their knowledge (almost accurate) of modern day aircraft, I waited expectantly for the next aerial performance.

I for one was gobsmacked when the announcer proclaimed that the Zimbabwean Air Force (Air Force of Zimbabwe – AFZ) will be showing their muscle in a Hongdu JL-8 (Nanchang JL-8), also known as the Karakorum-8. I was under the impression that Zimbabwe went down the dark abyss due to economic woes. Well, I guess there is still some light at the end of the tunnel and the pilot has proved it to be true with his extraordinary aerial manoeuvres.

When the commentator announced the mini battle (mock war) it got the crowd going, especially when he announced that things would be blown up. Like an ocean tide, the masses moved forward, thoughtless.
Paratroopers rained from the sky, followed by parachuted crates of supplies, food, water, and maybe a Bar-One or two...
From above the Hawk 120 and Rooivlak Helicopter delivered their attack on the enemy, while the Olifant and Rooikat tanks rolled in from the right with forcefully loud punches. With a couple of loud bangs the mini war was in full swing, consequently knocking a few toddlers into a perpetual state of tears. As quickly as it blasted off, it came to an end. The event edged into the memory of every spectator and of course Facebook.

What ever happened to unclaimed and lost dreams, you might ask? I guess some of us stood next to the airstrip, marvelling at something that we can only dream about, that we can wish for but will never have. Only the fortunate few that held onto their dreams went up into the blue yonder and showed the rest what can be achieved if 42,000+ gazed upon them. •

Words & Photos: Adriaan & Martine Venter (Air Force Base Waterkloof, Air Show, 2012/09/23, 45 images) Main Image: de Havilland Vampire T55 #277