The 10th Al Ain Aerobatic Show did not just feature military participants. Amongst a number of civilian aerobatic teams that also took part was one that I’d never seen before: South Africa’s Goodyear Eagles, a team that has been in existence for 29 years.
Managed today by former-team leader Dennis Spence, the four very smart Pitts Special S2B aircraft are flown by some of South Africa’s most experienced aviators, with in excess of 57,000 flying hours between them.
Leading the team in Al Ain was Glen Warden, a British Airways/Comair Boeing 737 Training Captain, and former South African Air Force pilot. Glen’s military career saw him fly the MB326 Impala, Mirage and Cheetah, and an exchange tour with the Chilean Air Force provided F-5E and A-37 experience too.
Glen is also a civilian jet instructor and display authorisation examiner and has the honour of displaying the South African Air Force Museum Flight’s Mirage CZ III, Vampire T11 and T-6 Texan.
Behind Glen in the formation are Neil Trollip, Johan von Solms and Nigel Hopkins.
Neil flies the Airbus A340 for South African Airways, but before that he also served with the South African Air Force. He completed tours on the MB326 and the Mirage, including acting as the South African Air Force Mirage display pilot between 1995 and 1997.
Like Neil, Johan also flies the A340 for South African Airways, and he too is ex-SAAF. He flew the Impala and the Cheetah, displaying the former in 1993 and the latter in 1995 and 1996.
Nigel has no military flying background, but that certainly does not mean his CV is any less impressive. With no less than 123 aircraft types in his logbook, Nigel holds a South African CAA test pilot rating, as well as a Grade One flying instructor’s rating. He is also twice South African National Aerobatic Champion. In his day job, Nigel is a South African Airways Airbus A319/A320 Fleet Training Captain.
At Al Ain, the team performed two separate displays each day. As well as a full, four-ship aerobatic routine, they were joined – albeit not for very long – by South African parachutists Graham Field and Amy Shaw for the second half of their performance. The pair each exited their respective steeds – having not actually been secured to the aircraft at any stage of the flight prior to that point – while inverted at the top of a loop, before parachuting to the ground!
While this was not something new for the team, having first performed it at an air show in the late 1980s, it was the first time a female had done it in public.
I was fortunate enough to fly with Johan for Friday’s practice run of the para-drop, and, while we weren’t as close as we needed to be to get any really worthwhile pictures, they certainly provide a very unusual perspective on the action!
I know from speaking to the team that they’d love to come to the UK to display. Maybe one day?!
Next time I’ll look at Jonathon Whaley’s last public airshow appearances in his legendary Hunter, Miss Demeanour.