The day finally arrived and disappeared in a blur of nerves, excitement and relief. On Friday 18 March 2011 Team 71 was validated and pronounced proficient to conduct Air Displays by the Officer Commanding AFB Langebaanweg, Colonel Kenny Petso, assisted by former Leader Maj Scott Ternent. The validation took place at the base and being in familiar territory certainly helped. Nevertheless, nerves can do funny things to your body and just after changing to the Starfighter position I started experiencing “Shaky Leg”. “Shaky Leg” is a term that Captain Brad Grafton and I came up with when we were both flying BK-117s. It normally happens when you are concentrating hard on making very small inputs on the yaw pedals and used to occur mainly during pinnacle landings in the mountains under very turbulent conditions, where the leg which is experiencing the most pressure starts to twitch. Needless to say, I never thought I would experience it on the Astra!
There was no time to relax, as less than a week later we were due to fly our 1st official display at the Wings Parade held at AFB langebaanweg. The Chief of the South African Air Force, Lieutenant General Carlo Gagiano, would be officiating at the parade, and we were all really honoured to be able to fly our 1st display for our boss. As so often happens in aviation, along came Murphy. The weather was terrible for the entire week leading up to the parade and we were unable to conduct even one practice before the day of the parade. The day of the parade itself started off looking very dubious (weather wise) and our participation was reduced to a flypast to open the parade and a “break” to close the ceremony. Not what we were hoping for, but at least we did get some involvement in the parade. On landing a short hand-over ceremony was held where Capt Heybrech van Niekerk and I received our “Flag” helmets and the team was officially handed over to Capt Roy Sproul by Maj Scot Ternent. This was a really nice way to make the transition from Team 70 -71 official, but did prove to be more daunting than the flying! Let me explain… After landing we taxied up to in front of the podium. All the guests and dignitaries from the Wings parade were still in attendance. After shutting the aircraft down we climbed out, donned flight caps, and then marched in single file up to the podium. This little ceremony was obviously practiced before the time, and on more than one occasion in the practices we managed to get out of sync with each other in the marching part! I just had visions of this happening for real on the day and all the comments that would follow…”These guys are supposed to be the formation display team of the Air Force but they can’t even march in time together??!” Fortunately we stayed in step and avoided the otherwise certain embarrassment and ridicule.
Again there was no time to sit back and celebrate, as we still had 2 displays to perform at The Rapport Mykonos Lagoon Fees in Langebaan. Fortunately the cloud disappeared on Friday but only because the 40-50 km/hr wind blew it away! Friday morning’s practice helped us to realise that compensating for the effect of the wind was going to be challenging but crucial to making the display look good. Fortunately through a combination of Google earth and Capt Gerhard Lourens’ mathematical ability, we came up with a plan to deal with the wind and it worked well. Friday afternoon’s display proved challenging in the setting sun and howling wind, but it felt good to finally have the 1st “official” one under the belt. Saturday morning’s display, by contrast, was really enjoyable. Other than the still reasonably stiff breeze, it was a perfect day for flying and the team relished the opportunity to fly in front of a “home crowd”.
As always, the 5 aircraft in the air are only there as a result of lots and lots of hard work that goes on behind the scenes. In the last 3-4 months the Silver Falcons have been through a period of intensified training in order to get the new team up to show standard. In this regard I have to commend and thank all the members of AFB Langebaanweg, who’s excellent work (a lot of it after hours) is what keeps the team flying. All the Management, Instructors, ATC’s, Technical, Ops and Support personnel who work for/with the Central Flying School are the professionals whose competence, dedication and commitment to attaining excellence, is reflected in the team flying at an event. All the families of the people mentioned above also have to be thanked, for they make enormous sacrifices for their spouses/fathers/mothers to be able to do their jobs, and we are eternally grateful to all of you as well. Thank you once again.
This weekend the team will be in action at the SA Navy Festival in Simonstown, flying displays on both Saturday and Sunday. If you are in the Cape Town area this weekend come and support us.