Waterkloof displays and then on to Cape Town - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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Waterkloof displays and then on to Cape Town

Having barely had time to meet and greet their hosts, the Team got airborne to practise their display routine. This was essential for two reasons. Firstly, it was required by the Display Regulations which called for all participants to demonstrate their routine so that flight safety officers could be satisfied that no display contravened their rules. Secondly, the airfield at Waterkloof is what is known in the trade as "hot and high" - ground temperatures well into the upper 30s Centigrade and an altitude of 5,500 feet above sea level. In these conditions jet engines give less thrust than at sea level in temperate climates with the result that aircraft turning circles get physically larger and looping manoeuvres use up more height and are more difficult to fly in close formation. While the Team was airborne on the practice, one of the MoD public relations officers accompanying me decided to give an interview to a lady reporter who was putting together a package for an English language radio station that covered most of Africa by short wave. I stayed in the background until I heard the following exchange.

"How do you think the Red Arrows will cope with the hot and high conditions here in Johannesburg?" asked the reporter.

"Well, they've displayed in a lot of hot countries on the way here," said my colleague, rather patronisingly, having completely misunderstand the question. "I think our pilots know how to cope with high temperatures. The height is no problem - it was even higher when they passed through Nairobi. Plenty of liquid and the right clothing is so important!"

I stepped in quickly, to rescue the astonished reporter, and completed the interview. That was how my colleague learned what pilots mean when talking about hot and high conditions and how dramatically they can affect aircraft performance. The practice display showed that the 20-minute UK display would take 23 minutes at Waterkloof and the flying programme timings would have to be adjusted to take that into account. Other overseas performers had to make similar adjustments to their own displays and timings, even the Russians' mighty Su-27s.

The official reason for the Red Arrows' presence at Waterkloof was to help the SAAF celebrate its 75th birthday. High level representatives of the British companies funding the Red Arrows were much in evidence in their companies' display areas and they were delighted with the Red Arrows presence. Having the Team appear in their bright red flying suits on the display stands of the companies that had contributed to the Pot of Gold acted as a magnet, so much so that companies occupying adjacent stands eventually became a little peeved that we were taking attention away from their products.

On the first proper day of the show at Waterkloof, 27 Chiefs of Air Staff from air forces around the world were present, including our own, Sir Michael Graydon. In the following three days the Red Arrows gave five more full displays. According to official estimates, over half a million people attended the air days at Waterkloof and countless thousands throughout the Republic watched the extensive live TV coverage.

"I have never displayed in front of such enthusiastic and friendly people as those we found at Waterkloof," John Rands said in an interview after one of the displays. "Displaying hot and high was a new and fascinating experience."

One of the little things that kept Red Arrows personnel amused was estimating how long it would take any South African citizen to introduce the subject of the Rugby World Cup into any conversation: 75 seconds was about average. You could easily wind up proud South Africans by innocently asking them which World Cup they were referring to! (In case you don't know, the 1995 Rugby World Cup was the third in the series and South Africa's first. It was hosted, and won, by South Africa a few weeks before our arrival. England was 4th.)

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