17 December 2011

Working on Fire Day, Fisantekraal

Thursday, 15 December

For the first time in 3 years, I remembered the Working on Fire ‘display’ held at Fisantekraal Airfield at the start of every fire season in the Cape. This is when all the aircraft and pilots come together to put on a little show (normally for VIP’s) demonstrating their fire fighting capabilities.

When I arrived at Fisantekraal all I could see were pilots in their yellow and blue flight suits. I wandered around a bit, chatted to some of the pilots, and then made my way to a gleaming Ayres Turbo Thrush. This was the first time I’d ever seen one ‘in the flesh’ (I was going to say metal, but, it’s made of both metal and fabric...). Beautiful.

While everyone was milling around waiting for the demonstration, I made my way up the tower. It was erected a while ago for a film shoot, and never taken down. Many months have passed and the paint has faded, and the wood is starting to look a little tired. Needless to say I didn’t feel too comfortable standing on the thing.

However, the view was awesome; to the West, Table Mountain. And to the East were 8 proud Huey’s, 3 majestic Turbo Thrush’s, 2 monster Dromader’s, and 4 faithful Spotters. Heaven.

The ‘event’ started with a few speeches, and the ground crew based at Fisantekraal strutting their stuff. They marched around (it looked better than the marching I’ve seen some people in the military do), and then sang the national anthem. People always have something good or bad to say about Working on Fire, but that day, I saw a dedicated group of people that seemed to be proud of their job.

The flying side of things kicked off with Spotter 3 spluttering to life. That was followed by three Turbo Thrush’s turbine’s slowly spooling up (they were so quiet that I only heard them for the first time when they applied power to taxi). And then one Huey. And another. And yet another. And last but not least, the little whine and growl of a Dromader.

The yellow machines looked good, and they sounded even better. The thump of the Huey blades shaking the ground, the drone of the Dromader rattling your bones.

One of the Huey’s got airborne and circled just to the north of the field, a Working on Fire crew on board. The Spotter then took off and circled the field, as if he were spotting for a real fire. The other two Huey’s set off towards a dam to fill their 1000l bambi buckets. And then, one by one, the bomber’s took off.

Once all the aircraft taking part were airborne, the first Huey dropped off the crew and they began beating the ‘fire’. The bomber’s then came in one by one, and dropped their load of water. As soon as they release the water, they pretty much shoot up into the air, it’s a sight that won’t get old. The pilots of the more manoeuvrable Turbo Thrush’s seemed to be having a lot of fun.

After the bomber’s, the Huey’s came in and emptied their bambi buckets. By this stage the crew on the ground were suitably soaked.
To end off, the bomber’s did a low-level fly-past each, the main gear mere metres from the ground (I pictured a lush green field below them, instead of the nasty concrete runway), and the Huey’s thundered past before landing.

It was great chatting to some of the pilots. Looking into the cockpit of the Turbo Thrush’s was even better. And hearing all those aircraft was the icing on the cake. May you all have a safe fire season!

12 December 2011

Ysterplaat Wings and Wheels 2011

This year, those of us in the Cape had a rather dull airshow season. In fact, the only two were the one at Swellendam, and the one at Stellenbosch, and they could hardly be called airshows (more like fly-ins).

So when the time for Wings and Wheels rolled around, I was quite excited.

The show was on 9 and 10 December (Friday and Saturday), which is unusual; it's normally on Saturday and Sunday. I opted to go on the Friday, because I figured there would be less traffic and less people.

Despite leaving at 0600, I still ended up sitting in traffic for over an hour. But I still arrived before 0800, and I was greeted with loads of parking space, and not a single queue for tickets.

In fact, the place was empty. And it remained that way for pretty much the whole day.

Because it was a Wings and Wheels show, there were aircraft and cars. Unfortunately, there were more cars than aircraft, and the line-up of aircraft wasn't that great;
Dakota, 110 Squadron (Premier 1 and Baron), Lynx, Super Cub towing a banner, Silver Falcons, Working on Fire demo (x2 Huey's, a Spotter and Dromader) Oryx, RV Team, Solo RV, Yak, SAA 737 did a high fly-past, T28 Trojan, Pitts Special, Christen Eagle, Diamond, Provost, Hawk, L39 (x3) and the Gripen.

No parachutists, no Hercules, no foreign visitors.

The flying and car displays weren't very well-planned; they had cars racing up and down the taxi-way during an RV display. Do I watch the cars, or the RV? Hmmm... And the revving cars masked the sound of the aircraft.

The time between some of the displays was upward of 10minutes. At one stage, there was at least a 20min gap with absolutely nothing happening. That's when the cars should've done their thing.

So while it was great not having to wrestle with hundreds of other spectators, the overall feel of the 'show' was rather pathetic.

However... the Silver Falcons had two great performances. Their routine has a few extras (they modified it slightly in September, I think), which made it interesting. So a very big congratulations to Team 72.

The Hawk displays, flown by "Shark", were stunning. He flies a fast-paced, low display, that has you thinking "Please pull out of that loop/dive... come on, you're getting low. Don't hit the ground... Phew!". And the sound alone is enough to get people grinning.

And then there was the Gripen...
Flown by "Cobra", it was the best jet display I've seen in my 4 years of attending air shows. He kicked things off by taking off with a fairly strong tailwind, the aircraft handling it as if it was nothing.

His display consisted of many high-speed fly-pasts, tight turns (showing off the diamond paint scheme and underside well), loops, and rolls. The slow fly-past ('High Alpha') not only looked good, but sounded wonderful (especially as the engine spooled up as he prepared to climb away).

And then, saving the best for last... He did a high-speed fly-past, pulled up, vapour clinging to the wings (not something you see often in the Cape), afterburner glowing, and shot off some flares (which I missed... oops).

That display made the day worth it!

So all wasn't lost. But I hope that they plan things better next time.