Sipho Mabena

By Sipho Mabena

Premium Journalist


Air Force helicopter tackles Gautrain in battle of machines

Race between Gautrain and Allouette II helicopter aimed at garnering public interest for 12th SA Air Force Museum Air Show.


The Gautrain, with a top speed of 160km/h, may be the fastest train in the country but it stood no chance against the South African Airforce’s (SAAF) 185km/h speed Alouette II helicopter in a battle of the machines. The eight-minute race, to promote the upcoming air show, between by the four-car [180 tons per car] train on land and the Alouette II in the air kicked off from the Midrand Gautrain station and ended at the Centurion Station on Wednesday morning. https://twitter.com/TheGautrain/status/1653658355754229762 But passengers on the Bombardier Electrostar train, manufactured in Derby, England, were seemingly in the dark about the…

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The Gautrain, with a top speed of 160km/h, may be the fastest train in the country but it stood no chance against the South African Airforce’s (SAAF) 185km/h speed Alouette II helicopter in a battle of the machines.

The eight-minute race, to promote the upcoming air show, between by the four-car [180 tons per car] train on land and the Alouette II in the air kicked off from the Midrand Gautrain station and ended at the Centurion Station on Wednesday morning.

But passengers on the Bombardier Electrostar train, manufactured in Derby, England, were seemingly in the dark about the spectacle as the train whizzed and snaked on the rails with the SAAF helicopter above.

ALSO READ: SANDF budget cuts send Air Force into tailspin

“I heard a roaring helicopter above but thought maybe it was monitoring traffic as it was peak hour. I did not even know that a helicopter could race a train,” Zanele Ntuli, who was onboard the racing train, said as she hurried out of the Centurion station.

Old but mean

SA Air Force helicopter Gautrain race
The SA Air Force had a race between the Gautrain and an Allouette 2 in Centurion on Wednesday, 3 May 2023. The race was to promote the upcoming SAAF Museum airshow that is taking place at the Mobile Deployment Wing (Formerly known as Swartkop Air Force Base) on Saturday 6 May 2023 . Picture: Neil McCartney / The Citizen

Though it was retired in the 1980s, the Alouette II, piloted by Colonel Dave Keijer, demonstrated that it could match and surpass the speed and prowess of modern technology in the Gautrain.

Lieutenant-Colonel Aobakwe Gaelejwe, SAAF Museum Officer Commanding, said the light helicopter joined the SAAF in 1960 and has been in the Air Force ever since.

“After the active service in the SAAF, they moved to the museum… it has a payload of 500kg and has a capacity to carry a pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer and two passengers,” he said.

Gaelejwe said the Alouette II is one of the oldest rotary-wing aircraft that will be participating at the 12th SA Air Force Museum Air Show on Saturday.

Aviation spectacle

The race between the Gautrain and SAAF aircraft has been held since 2015 to entice the public’s interest on the air spectacle held at the Air Force Base Swartkop, the country’s oldest Air Force base which also houses the museum.

Chief of the SAAF, Lieutenant-General Simo Mbambo, said it was important to note that the museum was not funded, and largely relied on sponsorships.

ALSO READ: SA Air Force grounded by funding crisis

He said the air show’s main aim was to ignite future careers in aviation, give exposure to entrepreneurs and bring aerospace enthusiasts together.

Mbambo said the show was also a way of testing systems and grooming pilots as well air crew in line with the SAAF’s core function.

“Our museum is one of the only few museums around the world that are able to have both the static and flying activities taking place,” he said.

He added that community around the air force base should expect a barrage of roaring sounds from fighter jets, fixed wing aircrafts and helicopters.

Free transport

Gautrain Management Agency’s Tlago Ramalepa said although it lost the race, the locomotive remains the fastest train in SA.

“We are proud to be part of the air show. We have been supporting the air show for many years… Gautrain is not only a public transport service, it is a project to promote and empower communities along the route… the air show is exactly that,” she said.

She added that Gautrain will provide free midi-bus services from its Centurion station to the Air Force Base Swartkop to anyone attending the SA Air Force Museum Air Show.

NOW READ: SANDF member injured while practicing for expo – critical but not dead

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