Story by Pieter Cronjé, Pictures by Irene McCullagh
“Like the African Lynx, a predator cat, the Agusta Westland Super Lynx helicopter can pounce from the sky. I tried to capture that mood in the painting and its title: “Lynx on the Prowl”, says aviation artist Tiro Vorster from Cape Town.
It took almost six months to complete. Beforehand, he studied every image, footage, operational and technical detail of this helicopter based at 22 Squadron, Ysterplaat Air Force Base, Cape Town, Tiro’s home base during his flying days.
Tiro observed the Lynx hovering with aviation photographer Irene McCullagh recording every angle for him. Then he flew in it to experience the Lynx.
The framed painting, 110 x 140 cm features a stormy day in the Cape where the Lynx patrols, undertakes search and rescue missions. In combat mode it would have considerable firepower.
The fully marinised airframe, two LHTEC engines producing 1575 shaft horsepower each, a maximum cruise speed of 157 knots and 2 hours and 30 minutes endurance enable this multi-purpose helicopter to operate from small ships in extreme sea conditions and winds. It is designed to support all aspects of land, inshore and maritime missions.
The idea of the Lynx painting started after AFB Ysterplaat’s very successful traditional Aviators’ Evening on 21 October 2013. More than 800 people turned out for the event combined with Tiro’s first major exhibition of his life’s work in South Africa.
“Helicopters are the most difficult to paint – busy fuselages, colours, light angles, protruding equipment. I had to make a grey helicopter blend in, but stand out against a grey sky! The challenge was worth it,” he says.
Tiro has received international recognition for his aviation art. In 1994 he was made a full Fellow of the American Society of Aviation Artists (ASAA). He was invited to display eight of his works at the US “Centennial Celebration of Aviation Art” at the Dayton, Ohio Air Force Museum in 2003, together with a handful of international aviation artists. Tiro’s Spitfire painting was chosen for the official invitation to the event to celebrate a century of flight. A commissioned work of South African/British Air Force ace Sailor Malan for the South African Embassy in London took him to England.
His portfolio in pencil, gouache and oil includes two other interests, ships and fast cars. His work has been published in many aviation books and magazines. Through his art he has met many air aces of several wars, high ranking officers and captains of the aviation industry.
Tiro Vorster is self-taught. His childhood sketches of locomotives, tractors and machines on soap wrappers took flight when he saw his first large aircraft at age sixteen. He joined the South African Air Force (SAAF) and became flight engineer on the Alouette III helicopter and Shackleton maritime reconnaissance plane. He had nine combat tours in the insurgency wars in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Namibia. He received the Pro Merito medal for repairing an Alouette under enemy fire and insisting on flying back to base in it.
He sketched and painted the aircraft around him. As assistant editor of the SAAF aviation safety magazine, Nyala, Tiro could use his artistic talents to illustrate the magazine.
Tiro is drawn to classical and iconic civil and military aircraft – Junkers, Harvard, Mustang, Shackleton, Dakota, Lockheed Constellation, Lightning, Sabre, MIG and helicopters such as the SA designed Rooivalk and his latest, the Lynx.
With his extensive flying, mechanical and military experience, Tiro is meticulous with technical detail, historical accuracy, sky, mountain, sea, land and air base settings for his aircraft, ambient and reflected light.
Tiro usually works in solitude. The Lynx was different. “Several people were instrumental in this project they gathered at milestone moments. I kept a diary on the back of the canvas board and that will stay,” says Tiro.
Visitors during painting included Chief of the South African Air Force, Lieut. Gen. F.Z. Msimang, a helicopter pilot himself, and experienced Lynx pilot, Major “Gees” Basson, from 22 Squadron at AFB Ysterplaat – the pilot in Tiro’s painting.
Shortly after the Lynx was completed, Tiro started work on the twin-engined US PV-1 Ventura, featured in an adventure book from his childhood: “Coast of Death”. It is his kind of aircraft.