Smoke On, GO!

PS van Zuydam – Pietermaritzburg – 25 June 2012

For anyone with an interest in aviation the opportunity to fly in the iconic Harvard is to say the least amazing. These aeroplanes were used for 50 years to train SAAF’s ‘Top Guns’ and now I had the once-in-a-lifetime experience of sitting in the very seat where many of them may have spent their first hour with the air force.

I was told to report to the airfield at 8:30 sharp and after a short bit of milling around I found a group of fellow ‘flippees’ with whom I would be sharing this great experience, you could sense the mixture of excitement and nervousness in the air as we awaited the call. A short while after we were ushered onto the apron and toward the planes. The sheer size of the landing gear is quite intimidating to a student pilot.

We were assigned planes, scaled the side of the beasts, strapped in and we were off, “flying lions requesting intersection take off to the GFA.” Before you could say BUMPF we were in a tight formation heading toward the GFA climbing; four thousand feet, five thousand feet, six thousand feet, the magical sound of the radial engine thundering away. Then a slow right descending turn, the decent steepening and steepening until Scully gave the order and whoosh up we went again vertical, inverted then a full loop, the most awesome feeling of 4G’s pushing you into your seat.

We completed another two loops, a barrel roll and then returned to the field low level,the tree tops and ground whizzing by just below the wing. Over Hopewell dam we descended down to three feet above the water’s surface, the friendly local fishermen waiving their fishing rods in the air in appreciation of our display. Back over the familiar field we did a last flyby before joining left downwind for 16, an experience I will indeed remember for the rest of my life.