PRETORIA, SOUTH AFFRICA - Daunted by the size of the C-5 Galaxy and KC-135 Stratotanker; mesmerized by the sleek, bold designs of the HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter and F-16 Fighting Flacon, crowds of children and military enthusiasts swarmed to members of the New York Air National Guard, showcasing their aircraft for the first time at the South African Aerospace Exhibition at Waterkloof Air Force Base, Pretoria, on 25 September 2004.
"People at the air show couldn't get enough of our aircraft, aircrews or maintainers, and we couldn't get enough of them, said Maj. Jody Ankabrandt, New York Air National Guard Public Affairs Officer. "Words can't express how much we enjoyed being here in Pretoria, representing the Air Force, New York and the Air National Guard. It was a cultural learning experience we'll never forget."
South of the equator, some 7,800 miles from home, four U.S aircraft along with their crews sat amongst an assortment of fighter jets and cargo transport planes from around the world. Biplanes performed aerial acrobatics. Parachutists jumped from the sky and hovered to the ground waving South African flags. And for both New Yorkers and South Africans alike, the event was a memorable experience.
"The minute we arrived I was overwhelmed by the support and hospitality of the South African people," said Maj. Tim Morgan, C-5 Aircraft Commander from the 105th Airlift Wing in Newburgh, NY. "At the air show, everyone asked us questions about our jobs and the C-5. A number of people requested autographs on tee shirts and hats, or wanted us to take pictures with them by the aircraft. Support wise, anything we needed we received. It was a great time," he said.
From a South African point of view, Monty Mashu from Centurion Lake offered his perspective. "Everyone from New York, at the air show, made me feel welcomed. When I had questions, they were answered with kindness and professionalism. Even my son Habbitt, 20, who came with me now wants to be a fighter pilot. I told him to keep studying his math, then maybe he can fly a plane," Mashu said.
The air show, largest on the African continent, was open September 21-24 to aviation representatives, VIP's and media. It was open to the public September 24-25 and attracted well over 200,000 spectators. But everyone from the oldest aviation aficionado to the youngest toddler couldn't get enough face-time, or snap enough pictures, of the 40 plus aircrew members and maintenance personnel from New York.
"I spoke to so many people while giving walk around tours of our F-16 that I nearly lost my voice," said Maj. Elmer Lunderman, an F-16 Instructor Pilot from the 174th Fighter Wing in Syracuse, NY. "But talking to the kids and seeing their smiles was worth it. I think as a state we made a great impression and hopefully we'll be back," he added.
New York's representation at the South African aerospace exhibition was made possible through the State Partnership Program (SPP), a National Guard initiative that aligns American states with countries around the world. The SPP encourages the development of economic, political and military ties between U.S. states and partner nations.
"The New York National Guard is deeply committed to its relationship with South Africa. It's an opportunity for our Airmen to participate in exciting events, share cultural experiences and interact with their South African National Defense colleagues," said Maj. Richard Sloma, New York State Partnership Program Coordinator. "It's our intention to maintain a robust program of bilateral visits in the future, " he said.