The Silver Falcons
Our Pride and Joy
The history of flight is without a doubt the most incredible story of technology and advancement know to man, from the Wright Brothers’ historical first powered flight in 1903, covering a distance of just over one hundred feet, a distance exactly half the wingspan of a modern day Boeing 747-81 airliner, to man conquering space with the first moon landing in 1969. It is almost impossible to highlight one single event as “the” pinnacle in aviation history over the last 100+ years. South Africa , specifically the Cape West Coast, has its own tremendously rich aviation history and the world renowned South African Air Force (SAAF) “Silver Falcons” Aerobatic Team is undoubtedly one of the greatest contributors to this. Through decades of dramatic and spectacularly choreographed public displays of precision flying both nationally and internationally, the Silver Falcons have become a household name and an integral part of South Africa’s proud aviation history.
BIRTH OF A LEGEND
The idea of a military formation flying aerobatic team was conceived almost sixty years ago, and in 1953 the first team, named the “Bumbling Bees”, was founded to represent and promote the SAAF by flying formation aerobatics in the De Havilland “Vampire” jet. The team, stationed at Air Force Base Langebaanweg on the West Coast, was also the first jet aircraft aerobatic team in the history of the country .
In 1958 the team was temporarily disbanded, and after eight years of dormancy it was reinstated in 1966, flying the Italian-manufactured Aermacchi MB-326 Impala Mk I, the SAAF’s newly acquired jet trainer. Due to problems with the translation of the team’s name into Afrikaans, the pilots of the team began to debate new possibilities, and on 22 November 1967, the team was officially renamed the “Silver Falcons”. Just two days later, on 24 November 1967, the team performed their first public display at the opening of the Atlas Aircraft Corporation. The team flew four all-silver Impala aircraft under the leadership of Commandant Chris Prins. The other founding members of the first Silver Falcons team were Captain Fred du Tait (No 2), Captain Chris Prinsloo (No 3) and Capt Hattingh (No 4). On numerous occasions , Fred du Toit was also called Chris by confused fans and spectators .
In 1985 the aircraft colours were changed to orange, white and blue to be more representative of colours of the South African National Flag at the time. In the years following , the Silver Falcons built their public reputation as cockpit ambassadors of the SAAF by traveling across South Africa , displaying the skill and professionalism of the nation’s military pilots. After flying a tight 4-ship display, the pilots would mingle with the public and soon became role models, inspiring many a child to follow their dreams of light.
March 1998 saw the addition of a fifth member and aircraft to the team. The new number 5 acted as a soloist during parts of the display , allowing for a more dynamic and varied routine. Sadly, however, during a display less than one month after the team’s expansion to five aircraft, Captain Kobus Griesel (Falcon 5) suffered an engine fire moments after breaking away for his solo display. This took place at the La Motte Wine Estate outside Franschhoek in the Western Cape on 16 April 1988. Unable to extinguish the fire, Capt Griesel ejected safely no more than 25 seconds after the first cockpit indications. The loss of this aircraft, Impala 470 , was attributed to a malfunction of the smoke generator in the tailpipe.
Five years later, on 2 October 1993, tragedy struck once more. During an air show at Lanseria Airport, Captain Charlie Rudnick (Falcon 5) was flying Impala 489 when the right wing of his aircraft suffered structural failure during the exit from a loop. He ejected immediately, but despite his lightning fast reaction time, the seat fired outside its design envelope and Capt Rudnick was killed by the high rate of descent with which he impacted the ground. In 43 years of existence and having flown in excess of 750 public displays, the Silver Falcons have only had the two afore-mentioned accidents, neither of which were attributed to pilot error, and the team has thus deservedly earned the title of safest aerobatic team in the world. This is truly a testament to the skill and training of the South African Air Force pilots.
At the end of April 1994, with the birth of democracy in South Africa, the country adopted a new national flag and thus the orange, white and blue colour scheme of the aircraft became obsolete. In order to embrace the new South African symbols, the Impalas were repainted. The new scheme maintained a similar design layout, but the colours changed to white , navy and arctic blue – the colours of the South African Air Force. On 10 May 1994, the new colours were displayed for the first time at the historic inauguration of President Nelson Mandela at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Six Impalas performed, trailing multi-coloured smoke in the colours of the new South African flag.
The Falcons flew their last display on the Impala in September 1997. For the next two years the team again went dormant. In 1998 it was decided that the Silver Falcons would be the ideal tool with which to display the new SAAF training aircraft, the Pilatus PC? Mk II “Astra”. On 30 October 1999, the first display utilizing four Astra aircraft was flown by Team 52, led by the infamous Lieutenant Colonel Dave Knoesen. For the next four years the Falcons continued to operate as a 4-ship team in the standard red and white livery of the SAAF Astra fleet. Numbers were applied to the vertical stabilizers of the aircraft to differentiate them from the training fleet. Although the Astra lacked the dramatic “jet-noise” of the Impala, the pilots were faced with new challenges in the form of torque/slipstream effects and the ever-present risk of a spinning propeller only inches away from the control surfaces of another aircraft! One big benefit of the slightly lower speed and increased manoeuvrability of the Astra was that displays could be flown in a smaller “box” and closer to the crowd.
In 2008, after a generous donation of paint by Mr Kuba Miszewski (MD of First African Paints), a long-awaited decision was made to again give the team their own identity by painting six of the Falcon aircraft in a unique blue and white livery and at the same time, the team was again expanded to a 5-ship. On 16 September 2008 the new livery was officially unveiled to members of the media and dignitaries at a cocktail function at AFB Ysterplaat. The next morning the Silver Falcons opened the African Aerospace and Defence Expo in their new colours. The striking new livery, portraying a Falcon’s head and wings , was an instant success with local and international public, air-show aficionados and photographers alike. Within a matter of weeks the Silver Falcons made the front pages of numerous newspapers and aviation magazines as well as a number of TV appearances . One of the greatest media coverage events for the team was the inauguration of President Jacob Zuma , where the Silver Falcons performed and received acclaim from no less than six international news channels including CNN, Sky News and the BBC. The team continues to instil national pride by dazzling crowds at air shows across South Africa.
All members of the team are full-time flying instructors. Team membership is voluntary and to ensure the highest of standards, members applying for a position in the team are required to do a “fly-off” with the current team before being selected. Unlike most other international military aerobatic teams , the instructors who fly for the Falcons do so over and above their normal work duties and outside of normal working hours. To be selected for the Silver Falcons is an honour and as such the longer work days and frequent time spent away from their homes and families is considered a small sacrifice for this privilege.
The safety of the team is paramount and this responsibility falls squarely in the lap of the leader as he plans the smooth execution of manoeuvres whilst monitoring the height, speed and positioning of the formation . Contrary to what many people might think , due to the proximity (about 0,5 m at times) of the aircraft to each other, the members flying in the team are unable to refer to their instruments during a display and can at times be unsure of their position and orientation to the ground or their surroundings, entrusting their lives to the leader. The leader also has the added responsibility of synchronising the solo display of the number 5 aircraft when he separates from the team . To avoid catastrophe , the pilots getting into formation are solely responsible for maintaining specific postures and strict formation integrity as required by the leader. Internationally, the Silver Falcons are celebrated for the exceptional quality of their displays and piloting skills, something that requires absolute precision, dedication and professionalism from each member of the team.
THE TEAM TODAY
The present Silver Falcons team is the 20th in the team’s history and are currently flying in their second season together. The leader, Major Scott Ternent, is an “A” category instructor and has a total of 2500 flying hours, he holds a Commercial Pilot’s Licence and has also flown the Impala jet aircraft. Before being selected as the leader of the team, Scott, callsign ‘Martian’, flew in the number 4 position for the Falcons. To date he has flown an impressive 100+ displays for the team and can proudly boast at being the holder of the second highest number of displays of any pilot in the history of the team. Maj Ternent is married and has two gorgeous daughters. He plans on returning to the fighter line again someday to fly the SAAF’s new fighter aircraft.
Captain Roy Sproul, callsign “Cougar”, is the number 2 in the team and is currently serving his second tour with the Silver Falcons, having previously flown for the team from 2002 to 2004 . He is an “A 1” category instructor and also the Chief Flying Instructor at the SAAF Central Flying School in Langebaan. Apart from the Astra, Roy has flown and instructed on a number of civil and military aircraft around the world, from the Dakota and Pilatus PC-9 to the Czechoslovakian L-29 jet aircraft . He holds a Civilian Instructor’s and Airline Transport Pilot’s Licence and currently has a total of 3000 flying hours. Captain Sproul comes from a family of military pilots; his grandfather was a celebrated fighter pilot, his father, Lieutenant Colonel Rob Sproul (also residing in Langebaan), is a legendary Test Pilot and his uncle is a senior military helicopter pilot and instructor based at Air Force Base Ysterplaat in Cape Town.
Capt Buti Tsebe, callsign “Karima”, is the number 3 in the team. Buti has a total of 1600 flying hours and is a “B” category flying instructor on the prestigious “Delta” flight at the Central Flying School. Capt Tsebe is responsible for training aspirant flying instructors for the SAAF, a task he tackles with zeal, frequently assisting students after normal working hours. He was selected for the team in July 2008 and made his debut in the number three position at the much publicised African Aerospace and Defence Air Show in September 2008. Buti also had the privilege of joining the team at the time of the launch of the new Silver Falcons livery, where he performed a faultless display in front of the world’s media. Capt Tsebe has now flown 34 public displays for the team and hopes to get at least fifty shows under his belt before moving on to the fighter line to continue his SAAF career. Capt Tsebe, with his professional and friendly disposition is truly an asset to the team and never fails to keep up the spirit of the team during extended trips away from home.
The number 4 in the team is Captain Gerhard Lourens. Gerhard, callsign “Venom”, is the latest addition to a legacy of professional display pilots and is the 93rd member of this prestigious team with a total of 1300 flying hours and 25 public displays to date. Fittingly, one of his passions and hobbies is falconry . Although only 27 years old and the “rookie” in the team, Capt Lourens is the “Navigation Officer” at the Central Flying School and does a sterling job co-ordinating the navigation planning and training for all pupil pilot and instructors’ courses passing through the school. Before qualifying as an instructor, Gerhard flew the Cessna 185 aircraft at 44 Squadron in Pretoria. Gerhard someday plans on moving into the fighter line. His inspiration to join the team stems from his father who, also a pilot, placed a Silver Falcons poster in his bedroom in 1990 when he was just 3 years old.
Maj Nico Frylinck, callsign “Whisper”, is the number 5 and soloist in the team. He has 2000 flying hours and is also an “A” category instructor serving in the Testing and Assessing department at the Central Flying School. Nico is also unique for two reasons: firstly , he is the only helicopter pilot in the team, having flown both the Alouette 3 and Oryx helicopters ; and secondly, Nico’s wife, Maj Clarita Frylinck, is also a “B” category flying instructor and Flight Commander in the SAAF. Nico, being the soloist in the team, has the task and challenge of entertaining the crowds during phases of the Falcons display when the formation is positioning for its next sequence. Maj Frylinck never fails to keep the crowds enthralled and gasping with his dramatic manoeuvres and daring aerial acrobatics. He is also an avid golfer and, with his great sense of humour, keeps the team thoroughly entertained on trips.
To date, of the thousands of pilots that have served in the SAAF since its founding ninety years ago, only ninety three pilots have ever been selected to fly for the team. Each time a new member is selected, the team number changes sequentially. Finally, no military aerobatic team could operate without the support of dedicated specialist technicians that spend hours maintaining the aircraft and the Silver Falcons are no exception. Before each display, a group of unsung heroes prepare and service the aircraft, working from well before sunrise to ensure that the team can perform with “Absolute Precision” and again hours after the last display of the day. For all the attention the pilots get at air shows, this dedication and commitment do not go unnoticed and the team salute their support crew and hold them in the highest regard.
With 2010 in full swing, the display season for the Silver Falcons kicked off with the Navy Festival in Simons Town during March and the West Coast Lagoon Festival in April. Apart from the normal air shows , supporters can also look forward to seeing the Falcons perform at the opening ceremony of the Soccer World Cup later in the year.
For more information on the Silver falcons, visit their website at www.silverfalcons.co.za