In the Winter I Spring edition of West Coast Escape magazine I covered the history of the Silver Falcons and with all the positive feedback and requests for more information, Madelie (the Editor) graciously allowed me to contribute again and so I decided to write about the current team, Team 70. A “Proudly Langebaan” team that has set new records and will undoubtedly go down in South African aviation history for its achievements and unique bond, thereby further enhancing the image and notoriety of the Silver Falcons both locally and abroad.
In 1967 when the Silver Falcons were founded, the members decided that in order to track the various teams of the future, the team number would change sequentially with each new pilot. The team that has represented the South African Air Force and Langebaan over the last two years, is Team 70, which came into being on 8 December 2008 when Lt Gerhard Lourens was selected to replace Capt Deetlefs who was transferred to 35 Squadron in Cape Town, having served four years at the Central Flying School and just over a year with the team. Unknown to the members at the time, an exciting and unforgettable new era in aviation history had begun.
Unlike most Air Force Aerobatic Teams, the Silver Falcons are full time instructors and membership to the team is voluntary. As such, all practices and air shows are over and above their daily work schedules and without any benefits apart from the honour of having served in the team. Also, unlike other international teams which generally require a three year commitment from new members, the Falcons do not have this luxury. To date, there have been 93 pilots who have served for the team over the past 43 years. Although not a truly accurate statistic, if one were to divide the number of teams by the number of pilots, you’d find that on average, the teams only serve a period of about 5 months together before a member is transferred and a new member is appointed! It’s hardly a big jump of the imagination to realise that with the close proximity of the aircraft during shows and the intensive training required, that this situation is not desirable. Yet with over 600 hundred displays, the team still has the safest record of any team in the world, a true testament to the high standard of South African military flight training. Another downside of frequent team changes is that previous teams have had very few opportunities to change the show dynamic and manoeuvres. However, Team 70 changed all this…
Only three months earlier, the Falcons achieved international notoriety when after many years of waiting, and a generous donation of paint by Mr Kuba Miszewski of First African paints, the team got their unique identity back. Up to that point, the Falcons had flown in the standard red and white livery of the normaltraining fleet, which can still be seen daily in the West Coast skies as they carry out their task of training the South African Air Force pilots of the future. The new paint scheme in conjunction with the team’s expansion to a 5-ship, was announced at a media conference in Cape Town on the eve of the African Aerospace and Defence (AAD) Air Show in September 2008.
Almost immediately thereafter, in January 2009, the rollercoaster ride started with a 15 minute documentary for Pasella and hosted by Dieter Voight, who is himself not an unfamiliar visitor to the West Coast. The documentary was a great experience for the team, being filmed on the West Coast from Langebaan to Jacobsbaai, and for the first time allowing the families of the team members to be part of the show. As expected, the wind was howling for the duration of the shoot and much to the amusement of the team and film crew, Dieter was “man-down” by the end of the flying sequence which caused quite a stir that evening at Pearly’s where the team and crew had dinner, without the man of the moment who was in bed recovering. Fully charged by morning, Dieter went on to host the final days filming, which much to the excitement of the pilots kids, entailed a crayfish dive at Jacobsbaai and wrapped up with a braai on the beach at the Military Academy in Saldanha. From that point onwards, the team and its new livery graced the covers and pages of numerous magazines both locally and internationally, boosting both the team and the town of Langebaan.