Ryan Beeton – The Raptors (ZA)

Formation Aerobatic Championships

I am married to Gillian and we have 3 children. Liam, Erin and Keira. Liam and Erin are at University and we have an 8 year old in Grade 3.

We love adventure and as a family we have sailed a 47 foot Leopard Catamaran around the Indian Ocean for a year, ballooned over the great migration in Kenya, tracked Lion and Elephant on foot, I spent almost a year as a Game Ranger in Mala Mala while Gillian returned to University at 38 years old to graduate Cum Laude for her PGCE post grad degree.

We love travel and are blessed to spend much time traveling as a married couple and as a family when all the holidays of our children coincide. 

I had a vision of owning an aeroplane and flying my family to holiday destinations after I started my business in 2008. 

I received my PPL in October 2008 and shortly afterwards began renting a C182 to fly my family around to game reserves and beach holidays. It was on one of these weekend getaways when I flew my family to Zebula to watch an air show. 

There was one performance that blew my mind. It was a 3-ship flown by Pierre Gouws, Larry Beamish and Nigel Hopkins in T6 American Harvards in the late afternoon sky. The roar of the radial engines, the tight formation and the sequence of loops and barrel rolls was world class. I was in awe of these aviators and wanted to fly like they did. 

In 2013 I bought my first aeroplane, ZU-EYP, a Vans RV7. It was the first tail dragger I flew and through the help of the local air school I began to fly very wide and slow circuits…… after several lessons I was ready to go solo, and on the day the instructor grounded the RV7 as he felt a 7 knot crosswind was too extreme for this little home build. Dejected, I began packing her away, when a friend of mine who had tagged along for the first ride told me to hang on as he knew someone who could help. 20 minutes later, Larry Beamish entered my life by arriving at the airfield to give me instruction on my newly acquired steed. 

Larry strapped in and we blasted off for the first of many exhilarating experiences we would share and a whirlwind introduction to real stick and rudder airmanship. Little did I know then, that this day would forge a new path for me in my aviation career. 

I was used to the air school circuit and this soon irritated the accomplished Larry Beamish, who 2 minutes ago was unbeknown to me. After much verbal abuse, I was told that the circuit was not to leave the length of the runway or the width of the boundary fence!!! 23 circuits in 34 minutes…. I was a broken wreck, but ready to go solo. 

Larry then asked if I would like to do aerobatics. I was given his address and told to collect him at 0900 sharp the next day which I duly did. Our first lesson was loops. The briefing was simple: Enter at 6500 feet at 180 mph, exit at 6500 feet. 3 in a row and we can home. This was demonstrated for me, which looked so easy…….. 53 loops later, I cracked it. What an introduction. Here I was, a complete ‘greenie’, being taught to fly aerobatics by one of the best in the game. 

Larry insisted that the next day we start rolls. We set off for an airfield 35 Nm away, and I was told to roll to the right all the way to the field using a smoke stack on the horizon as a reference. When we arrived, we promptly did a 180 degree turn and I was instructed to roll to the left all the way home……… 

We became good friends and he introduced me to formation flying. We rounded up some keen pilots and began flying flat formations under Larry’s instruction. I was hooked and spent extra time flying with Larry who then took me to the next level with loops and barrel rolls in formation. 

In 2014, I was introduced to Pierre Gouws who put together an 8-ship formation for the Harare International Air Show. 3 x Harvards, 2 x RV’s, 2 x MX’s and 1 x Extra 300 – what a privilege it was to fly in this formation and to do a world first 8-ship loop with these mix of aeroplanes. 

On the 25 Nov 2014, I called Pierre and invited him to fly RV’s with us. Reluctantly he agreed – these were home builds after all. Slowly the joy of flying an RV bit and Pierre was the proud owner of his Vans RV8, ZU-NRV, by January 2015!

Pierre has a passion for leading formations and for flying in air shows across the country. His excellent leadership took us to a higher level of flying and he introduced some new pilots to our squadron of RVs. Over time, the team formed a solid 4-ship that we enjoy today, with guys who were committed to the air show circuit and taking our skills to a much higher level.

An absolute highlight of my career was flying with Pierre and Nigel Hopkins at the Botswana Air Show – my first display on Pierre’s wing, where we put on a tight 3-ship display. Here I was flying with SA’s best and holding my own. Looking across and seeing Nigel on the opposite wing was surreal! 

In May 2015 I flew the Lowveld Air Show where we put out a 6-ship air show. It was symbolic for me as almost to the day, 3 years earlier I had gazed up at the sky and watched these 3 demigods performing breathtaking formation aerobatics, and today I was flying in formation with these 3 people, who had now become my friends and trusted teammates! This highlights the power of having a crystal clear vision – set a goal and chase it! 

Today, I am blessed to fly with the Raptors Aerobatic Team. We have a solid base of 4 aviators who are committed to each other, trust one another impeccably and thoroughly enjoy flying together. When Larry and Nigel are available they fit into our team seamlessly. Hayden Tunmer completes our team who is equally competent and an all-round solid aviator. 

In 3 short years, I have lived an incredible dream. I have stood on the shoulders of giants, who have mentored me to become the aviator that I am today.  I will forever be indebted to Larry who ignited a passion in me, then invested time in me and continues to give me great knowledge, support, advice and friendship. Pierre has stretched me and taken me to the highest level of formation aerobatics. He has invested huge amounts of time and experience into my flying, and drives our team to excel like we have, while always maintaining the highest level of airmanship and safety. It is indeed a real privilege and an honour to have had the time and the experiences I have enjoyed with these gentlemen of the skies! 

Formation Aerobatic Championships