Bethlehem Airshow 2019

One of the joys of having an aircraft is having the ability to fly in to various airshows, especially those that you would never have considered attending due to the distance. Bethlehem (FABM) lies about 99nm south of Baragwanath, an easy hour’s flight. It would be a shame not to take the chance to attend what is generally considered to be an excellent airshow.

I did my homework beforehand – the airshow box was going to be active from 09h30 local until 14h00 so I needed to be airborne early to get there in time. Of course, this suited me right down to the ground – the best time to fly is that hour or so after sunrise.

ZU-IBM continually surprises me with how little fuel is consumed – I filled both my Jerry cans (50l total) at the filling station on the way to the airfield, but could only squeeze 28 litres into the tanks. This is where the advantage of Mogas comes – I could simply put the rest into my car! As I was planning to cruise at FL105 I sorted out the oxygen tank and the cannula and taxied out only about 20min later than I had hoped for.

Date Aircraft Route Flight Duration Total Hours
24 August 2019 ZU-IBM FASY(Baragwanath) – FABM (Bethlehem) 1.3 163.0
SkyDemon plot FASY – FABM

After routing between Vereeniging and the Iscor Steel Plant, I was able to escape from under the TMA. Johannesburg Information cleared me to climb to FL105 and it was time to apply the sexy oxysaver cannula. Yes, I realise that 10500’ is not in the “oxygen altitudes” but I feel safer and more alert when using it – the major expense is in the acquisition of the equipment – oxygen itself is cheap at around R0,25 per liter (about $0.02).

I had an interesting problem with Joburg Info – they queried my flight level according to the semi-circular rule which says that VFR flights 180-359 deg must be at even levels + 500ft and those 000-179 degrees at odd levels +500ft. They initially told me that my cruise level on request was incorrect, that I should ask for FL115 or FL095, then quickly asked me what my heading was. I responded, ”182deg” and that seemed to placate them and they let me continue to FL105. It makes me wonder though if they actually look at the flight plans or simply draw a line between 2 airports and say, “well, the straight line heading between these airports is 178deg so he must fly odd levels”. I had the same issue on the return leg as well.

Despite this minor annoyance, this is really a very pleasant flight. Up at FL105 the air was smooth, the sun was catching ’just so’ on the wing and on lakes and dams off to the left side – it was almost idyllic. I gave the autopilot some stick time and found that it is still able to control the aircraft reasonably well (funny that…). Too soon, it seemed, it was time to call for descent. I was handed over to the Bethlehem tower and reported inbound from the north, 12miles out.

On golden pond – the Vaal dam from FL105

I have a knack, when going to airshows and flyins, of timing my arrival at the same time as multi ship aerobatic formation teams who seem to insist on doing flyovers of the arrival airfield. This time was no different – a 4 ship Pitts Special team was on downwind as I reported in and shortly after, another Pitts team reported behind me. I was told to report on a right downwind and of course, they wanted to overfly the field with the smoke on from the north so they were told to report a non-standard left downwind.

The Pitts approach speed is quite a lot faster than mine so I decided to keep the speed (and the flaps) up until established on final. The Sling is pretty good at this stunt – you can fly the base and turn onto final at 110-115 knots then pull the throttle right back, dump two notches of flap through 80kts and cross the fence at 65kts without any ruffled feathers. It’s not a technique I particularly enjoy as I prefer a stabilised approach but sometimes it is needed to not disrupt the pattern. Yes, I could have flown a long downwind and let the Pitts land ahead but there was also a DC-3(C-47) behind them.

As I rounded out on the landing and put it down fairly firmly (Airport #29) I noticed that there was a Harvard parked off to the right o the runway with some emergency vehicles around it – I never did find out what happened. The sense of urgency to clear the runway meant I took the first exit and as it turns out this was a great plan because the ground control parked me in with all the other display aircraft and not in the general parking (which was at the end of the runway). This meant I could wander around the display planes and chat to the pilots to my heart’s content.

I’ve discovered a trick to airshows – wear a high vis vest and carry a big camera – you can go wherever you want… After wandering around the parked GA planes I entered the fray that was the actual airshow ground. The unusual layout of the field at Bethlehem (with a grass runway at an angle to but not intercepting the asphalt runway, meant that the crowd line was along the grass with airshow performers taking off and landing from the asphalt. Unusual, but it worked really well.

Bethlehem Airfield Diagram

The best part of the the show from my perspective was the massive attendance by local primary school kids – all turned out in their uniforms! It is so important to make airshows accessible to children and to share the excitement of flight with them.

The program was organised in similar fashion to most SA airshows – a full morning program and then a repeat of most of the acts in the afternoon. Highlights for me were the P-51D Mustang (of course), the RV-7 and -8 Raptor team, The Flying Cows aerobatic team (Pitts S-2 and Extra 300) , the glider display and The Silver Falcons.

My favourite RV-7 at the moment – ZU-FLV – really crisp, well done paint scheme.
The simplistic layout carries through into the cockpit (ZU-FLV)
The Kitfox of the guys from About2Stall (https://www.facebook.com/about2stall/) – ZU-INY
Vans RV-8 ZU-NRV

The glider display is noteworthy because the display pilot has recently had a pneumonectomy and has had a 3year battle with the CAA to have his medical reinstated. The display was beautifully flown and there is something about a high speed low level pass from a glider that messes with your head – so fast yet almost completely silent.

I got waaaaay too much sun (despite my initial intentions of watching the show from under the wing of my own plane), had lots of the traditional pancake with cinnamon sugar that seems to be a feature of food stalls in SA, and basically spent the whole morning soaking up the aviation atmosphere.

Below follow some more photos of the displays.

Vans RV-10 ZU-IKX
Flying Cows Aerobatic Team
Pilatus Glider doing a high speed low level pass
Goodyear Pitts S2A ZS-MZY
Harvard (texan AT-6) ZU-AYS of the Puma Flying Lions team
AN-2 ZU-JLM “Little Annie”
Extra 300 ZS-OEO
Silver Falcon No 4 – Pilatus PC-9
Date Aircraft Route Flight Duration Total Hours
24 August 2019 ZU-IBM FABM(Bethlehem ) – FASY (Baragwanath) 1.3 164.3

The flight back was uneventful apart from the discussion about Flight levels and the endless entertainment annoyance value of people who don’t seem to understand how to communicate with ATC. With respect to the landing at Bara, all that can be said is that the airplane will fly again – not my best effort. In my defense however, the August winds are in full effect currently and the crosswind was sporty to say the least.

This is the sort of mission I love having my own aircraft for. Quick, easy and a great day out. Bethlehem will be on the list for next year for sure.

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