Sunday, October 25, 2020

Wesbank Air Show – everything else pales away in comparison to aerobatics

What is great about the WesBank Botswana International Airshow is that it provides Botswana opportunities for regional engagement since spectators and participants reside from both here at home and our neighboring nations.

WesBank Director, Justine Basiami could not have said it better in his statement prior to the show. The multitudes of locals and visitors at the Matsieng Aerodrome made for an awesome crowd. With all the goodies and kiddies games on offer the event has become more than just about the airplanes piercing through the skies. It is in a way, a nostalgic reminder of the old Gaborone trade fair before the turn of the millennium. 

There is so much stuff one can enjoy about the event but what would an air show be without the commentator? 

He is the Alan Smith, Martin Tyler of airshow commentary. Brian Emmenis has been the voice behind air shows for decades and has mastered the art of airshow commentating. He can make even a simple glide sound like something extraordinary. 

Emmenis and his company Capital Sounds have become synonymous with airshows across the region. His commentary and the background music he plays as the aircrafts take to the skies makes for a fantastic experience.

Perhaps more notably at the weekend was when he launched into the skyveteran Mike Weingartz (65) and Ben Laas (22)  with Berlin’s  ‘Take my breath Away’ , the famous soundtrack to Tom Cruise’ s 1986 aviation film Top Gun. Weingartz and his partner performed a string of aerobatic maneuvers in their Aeromachi MB 326 Impala. Veteran Scully Levin and his wingmen also took to the sky to perform a series of magnificent formation aerobatics in their 70 year old Pits Specials leaving symmetrical patterns of smoke as they pierced their way through the skies.

Under the leadership of Scully, the Torre Aerobatic Team has forged a brotherhood of pilots that has been flying together for some 20 years. His son Ellis Levin is also part of the team. Inside the Cockpit:

In an interview with Sky High Scully and Ellis share their experiences on what it means to be an aerobatic pilot. Scully says aviation runs through the family. “My family has caught the aviation bug,” he tells Sky High. He says that is why both his daughter and son are pilots. Scully says he had a real life aircraft in the backyard to play with from when he was just two years old. 

“I love flying all kinds of aircraft and performing various forms of aerobatics whether solo or formations. Having performed a formation at the Wesbank Botswana International Air Show last weekend he speaks about what makes for a perfect formationperformance. 

“One of the most important factors in any formation is that you maintain your position in regard to the leader and each other.” He says station keeping is of vital importance. Scully says maintaining a good station involves using references on the leader’s aerodyne (aircraft). “If everybody follows the same references the formation becomes symmetrical.” He says flying formations takes a lot of discipline and trust. “Never ask another pilot to do what you cannot do yourself.”

He says there is need to appreciate the apprehensions that a wing man might have and fly to the level where everybody is comfortable. He says having trust within the team means the wingmen can follow the leader into any situation knowing he would not endanger their lives. 

“You can be a phenomenal formation pilot and have a leader who does not understand what their specific positions do or require, and the result will not be gracefully pleasant to the eye of the spectators,” Scully says.

Forty two year old Elis Levin says doing aerobatics is no walk in the park. G-force (gravitational force) tolerance is also a factor, he says. “You start feeling sick at the beginning but as time goes on you develop tolerance and eventually it does not matter what kind of maneuvers you do.”

Ellis says the most difficult maneuvers to perform are ‘outside maneuvers’. With the outside loop, he says, the pilot gets thrown out of the seat with their eyeballs bulging and making it difficult to concentrate. He says levels of awareness depend on the condition of the aircraft or type of maneuver. 

“There is no time for fear because you are too busy concentrating on the job at hand.” Ellis admits however that there is a moment of nervousness when the pilot startsstrapping up and getting ready for flight. He says performing at airshows means displaying right in front of the crowd so they can appreciate the show. “You have to be on the stage all the time.” Weather is never really an issue where airshows are concerned, they say. It is only a factor when getting to the aerodrome or going back home. Ellis says he enjoys formations the most because of the camaraderie and challenges at hand. He enjoys the challenge of flying closer to another aircraft as well as the idea of other likeminded pilots working towards a common goal of perfection. Ellis says although solo aerobatics are lonely they do present one an opportunity to express themselves better and in far too many ways because they are not tied to anyone else. “The sky is the limit when you are flying solo.” With a solo one can do all kinds of moves from rolls, vertical,horizontal, to gyroscopic tumbles.

Scully Levin says there is nothing he would rather do than fly. “I have skied, I have done scuba diving, off road driving, and motorbikes but once you have done aerobatics especially formation, everything else pales away in comparison,” he told Sky High. An accident free show, impressive attendance, and minor changes to the program. The 2016 Wesbank Matsieng International Air Show met all expectations and more. 

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