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WATCH | Cape aerobatic aviators prepare to reach new heights in air show season

Covid-19 put a sudden end to their flights, but now the Marksmen pilots are ready to get into formation.

18 February 2022 - 06:17 By Maryam Adams
The Marksmen aviators have been waiting for almost two years to get back in the skies.
Ready to take flight The Marksmen aviators have been waiting for almost two years to get back in the skies.
Image: Maryam Adams

With more than 160 flights of training in the bag, the Marksmen aerobatic team of experienced pilots plan to rise with a bang as they make their debut at their first flying exhibition next month. Since the beginning of Covid-19, air shows had to draw to halt, which is why anticipation and excitement grows leading up to the show.

Formation aerobatics is an adrenaline-inducing sport which requires all four aircraft in the formation to stay in place, just half a metre apart as they perform twists, tricks and turns in the sky.

Fine skills and technique are at the heart it, and the team must fly in a manner that is neat, uniform, accurate and safe.

“People get through their entire pilot career and never get to experience what these guys do,”  said Frank Moody, a photographer and pilot.

The Marksmen practise their formations ahead of the upcoming air show season in Cape Town.
Wind beneath their wings The Marksmen practise their formations ahead of the upcoming air show season in Cape Town.
Image: Maryam Adams

A perfect recipe for a great aerobatic team

Mark Hensman, Eugene du Preez, Martin Schulze  and Mark Sampson were all drawn to the world of aviation for similar reasons, but it was their passion and search for new experiences that led them to the formation of the Marksmen team almost 18 months ago.

“We all have similar aeroplanes, similar backgrounds, we are good mates, we share similar skills and we trust each other, so it was a perfect recipe for a great aerobatic team,” said Hensman, the lead pilot and eyes of the team.

The significance of trust within this kind of team is a sentiment echoed by Du Preez — highlighting that trust is at the core of everything they do.

The Marksmen are a passionate team and since they came together they have been practising their carefully choreographed sequences in the sky. “Our sequence is dynamic and we have a number of different elements — close formation, looping, barrel rolls and much more,” explained Sampson.

Niche and costly but a rewarding journey

In SA aircraft aerobatics remains a niche and costly activity. For the most part the Marksmen are a self-funded team, with occasional sponsorship covering the running costs at events. This consideration is telling of the Marksmen's love for what they do.

• The team used R25,000 worth of fuel in their latest training camp

• The team works on an average cost of R7,500 per hour, which includes insurance, fuel, hangarage, maintenance and more

• Propellers are replaced every three years, costing about  R100,000 each

• The cost of the aeroplanes is R3.5m to R4m.

“You're on an ongoing quest to reach perfection which is almost impossible to achieve,” said Sampson. He feels this is what drives him and the Marksmen to be a top team.

Schulze suggests that any form of aviation will be a journey by nature, but feels the high intensity practice of formation aerobatics is exactly the kind of path that excites him and brings him great fulfilment.

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