RooivalkThere are very few things cooler than a fighter jet screaming through the sky at breakneck speed, and if you have any sense of cool whatsoever (and happen to be living in the Cape Town area), then you simply had to be at Ysterplaat Airforce Base over the weekend for the Africa Aerospace & Defence 2008 extravaganza that attracted well over 150 000 spectators over Saturday and Sunday, the days on which the show was open to the public.

Now I didn’t get around to going to the 2006 air show here in Cape Town, so I was more than just a little eager to catch this year’s spectacular, and thus was understandably excited to learn that Chantelle was just as keen, if not more so (must be the whole ‘men in uniform’ thing!), than me and so we quickly made arrangements to attend.

After crashing at the Montgomery clan stronghold in Bellville on Friday night following the previously chronicled Hellboy II outing, we opted to sleep in a little later than usual on Saturday morning seeing as we hardly ever get the chance to take cognisance of this luxury thanks to our usually busy weekend schedules. However, come noon and both of us were dressed and en route, ready to hit either the Koeberg or Ratanga junction entrances to the airbase and witness history in the making. Well, at least that was the plan until we both realised that neither one of us had a frikken’ clue where we were going and after some rather heated debates, we ended up driving in circles for what seemed like an eternity.

Nevertheless, we eventually found ourselves outside the airbase and began the torturous parking crawl, searching low and high for even the slightest space that we could squeeze ourselves into but finding none. Dejected but not defeated, we returned towards Milnerton and nearly jumped for joy when we spotted the large signs advertising the air show shuttle service running from KFC, Milnerton. Parking right next to the store, we hopped into one of the literally dozens of big, shiny new Volkswagen Kombis and were shuttled, free of charge, right to the entrance of the airbase! And don’t think that the superb organisation ended there – oh no – after paying our R50 cover charge each, we were then picked up by yet another shuttle right at the front gate and ferried straight into the heart of the air base, meaning we literally had to walk a couple of steps to end up right in the middle of the expo!

The first thing to take in was the mass of people that surrounded you. It seemed that easily half of Cape Town had pitched up for this extravaganza and one had to pick their steps carefully lest they accidentally hit and bounce back off a silicon enhanced citizen who just may be crossing their path. The second thing to take in was all the oh so wonderful armaments, vehicles and air craft just loitering around, be it in the open or sitting in the shade of a giant hangar, there was literally something of everything for all those little war nuts within us. From giant tanks, killer fighter aircraft and malicious looking attack helicopters, only the coolest of the cool from the various merchants of death were on display for the entire world to see.

And whether you are anti-war or not, you can’t help but be impressed by the sheer scale of some of the things on display (Naturally, neither of us remembered to bring a camera along, so you’ll just have to take my word for it).

Of course the air show had more than prepared for the influx of civilian tourists it was receiving over the weekend and as such sported a huge food court area, a theme park attraction for the kids and then complemented it all by throwing down an insane amount of hay in an effort to cover up and at least absorb just a little all the horrible mud that was oozing all about, thanks to all the torrential rain the Cape has been receiving over the last while.

Of course, some of the more intelligent mortals amongst us came prepared with gumboots or at least a little sausage dog to walk on top of, but naturally the other nine out of ten arrived in sandals or high heels, much to the amusement of everyone else around them. Thankfully we arrived in appropriate enough footwear, meaning we got away without someone sniggering behind our back (unlike how we were sniggering at some of those before us!)

Anyway, now on to the important stuff of any air show to be honest, the actual aerial displays! Sadly our decision to only arrive later in the afternoon cost us the opportunity of seeing our much vaunted Gripen fighters in action, but this was made up more than enough by a fantastic display of two Lightnings who went on to break the sound barrier twice, leading to some very interesting reactions from a very surprised crowd down below! (Apparently the sonic booms could be heard for miles away, causing untold nuisance to all manner of creatures great and small).

There were the usual acrobatic flying displays, as well as some great flying from some Zimbabwean fellows in their rather dated fighters and some impressive helicopter action, including an appearance from South Africa’s much vaunted Rooivalk attack chopper. However, one the greatest sights of the day simply had to be the incredible close formation flying of two giant Boeing 737s, with the two of them flying so close that the announcer sitting up in the flight control deck was forced to tell us a joke about how a women had sms’d a message in warning them of two aircraft in trouble, so much so that the one was towing the other in! It was also this display that caused the greatest amount of heart attacks when the one Boeing unexpectedly cut in below the other’s flight path, leading to more than just a few swear words being uttered aloud down below!

A person could go on and on about all that was on display on the day, and perhaps it is best summed up by a simple “if you didn’t go, then you missed out big time”. It was an excellently organised event that had something for everyone in it and if you really want to call yourself a guy, then you simply have no excuse for not attending! Just for that, you’ll have to go on both days the next time this unique show rolls back to Cape Town’s sunny shores! :)

(Oh yes. If you can’t tell by now, I thoroughly enjoyed it. What I didn’t enjoy was the sunburn garnered from a nasty forgetfulness involving hats and sunblock. You’d think I’d have learned by now, wouldn’t you?)