The Parys Airshow held in the last weekend of May was an extraordinary event which looks set to define a new genre for country airshows.

The Goodyear Eagles putting on a “because I was inverted” display.

COMMENTATOR BRIAN EMMENIS of Capital Sounds waxed lyrical, saying that it was, “The best airshow he has seen in his 38 years of airshow broadcasting.” He says that the show was ground-breaking in that it was the first real digital airshow: where people could secure their place at an airshow with limited capacity by booking online.

After the long drought of airshows caused by the Covid pandemic, the need for an airshow was such that many people had to be turned away at the gate. Insurance requirements had limited the show to 3500 spectators and such was the demand, even from online bookings, that this was soon full.

The spectators got more than their money’s worth. The standard of flying and the range and variation in the performances was striking. The displays ranged from the Tiger Moths and Chipmunks all the way up to a Top Gun themed L-39 jet display.

‘The standard of the airshow displays has improved’

Perhaps just as importantly is that the standard of the airshow displays has improved during the long Covid lockdown. The quality of the flying was simply exhilarating. The standard that we have come to expect from the Puma Flying Lion Harvards is now matched by the incredible precision of the RV-Raptor formation team, the Pitts Specials of the Hired Gun team and the Goodyear Eagles, and the precision formation aerobatics of Nigel Hopkins and Jason Beamish in their Extras.

Thrilling too were the skydivers, with a notable performance from Colonel Laurel Thatcher who wowed the crowd with his tiny 110 ft² high speed canopy.

Another unusual performer was the jet powered JS-3 glider, ably demonstrated by gliding supremo Oscar Goudriaan.

Helicopters are always a crowd pleaser and again there was wonderful variation, with displays by Juba Joubert flying a Gazelle, Andre Coetzee in a Bell 407, and Menno Parsons in the Bell 222. Menno has become an airshow staple with his Mustang P-51 ‘Mustang Sally’ but unfortunately this was in maintenance.

Due to the massive demand for the limited admission, the patience of airshow visitors who hadn’t booked was tested to the limit with queues backed up all the way to the N1 highway and through the town of Parys. Many had to watch the show from outside the airfield boundaries as ‘roofkykers’. Despite the capacity crowd it was significant that none of the facilities were overrun and although the queues for food and toilets were long, they were tolerable.

The show was the product of the vision, drive and determination of Haley Horan, with her team from ‘Smoke on Go’ at Creative Space Media. For Hayley, it was her first airshow, and she had to persuade many naysayers that a country airshow in Parys could be successful.

In the end it was the people of Parys who contributed in a big way to making the airshow the success it was. Hayley Horan says, “The people of Parys were wonderful in the way they embraced the show. The spirit was fantastic; nothing was too much trouble and the crowd was wonderfully appreciative.”

The entire show went off without a hitch and this was to the credit of the professionalism of the pilots and in particular, air show director Rikus Erasmus who, with military precision, kept the airshow to within a minute of its time programme. There were no long gaps while everyone waited for the next display to arrive. It takes great skill to make sure that every airshow performer is ready and waiting to go at its appointed time and that the whole show finishes on time. This enabled all the performers to fly, and the show to be closed as agreed at 3.00 pm to give the crowds time to leave and get home.

Naturally there was the commentary from Bryan Emmenis and his Capital Sounds team, who had left their base and Welkom in the small hours to get to Parys by 5.00 am and, in the dark of the pre-dawn winter Highveld, to be set up and signed off by 8.00 am.

Hayley Horan and her team from Smoke on Go at Creative Space Media have reinvented airshows – with a successful new formula for country airshows.

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