Spotlight on Leading Edge Aviation

For more than 25 years Leading Edge Aviation has served the community in South Africa and the surrounding areas. Established in 1996, this family-run business is located near the southern half of Kruger National Park, an area rich with fertile agricultural lands, massive fir and eucalyptus plantations, abundant minerals resources, and tourist attractions. The forest companies are their major clients. They have also provided firefighting assistance in Kruger Park when lives and structures (mostly grass thatch roofs) are in harm’s way.

Leading Edge Aviation specializes in heavy lift and firefighting operations and is also registered with the South African Civil Aviation Authority as an aircraft maintenance facility. They have also built a reputation for their expertise on resprays and refurbishments across the globe…and their fleet and facilities can be booked for film and TV production. 

Owners Mark and Charmaine Jackson with sons Peter and Stephen own three Restricted category ex-military helicopters certified for civilian use: one UH-60 Black Hawk and two UH-1H Hueys. These helicopters are ideally suited for aerial firefighting as well as heavy lift operations. 

Mark fighting the fire at Table Mountain/University of Cape Town April 2021

While Leading Edge has been active in firefighting for 16 years, the company is also involved with conservation efforts, anti-poaching, and relocation of endangered rhinos. With the heavy lift capability of the Black Hawk and medium lift Hueys, they can move supplies and equipment to hard-to-reach areas. Leading Edge has worked with several aid organizations including Mercy Air, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) World Vision, and Samaritan’s Purse. Transporting emergency supplies for much needed relief, they assisted with the 2000 Mozambique floods, Indonesian Boxing Day tsunami, Pakistan earthquake, and cyclone floods in Zimbabwe and Mozambique in 2019. 

Leading Edge Aviation is the South Africa distributor of Van Horn Aviation blades. After meeting VHA CEO James Van Horn and president Dean Rosenlof at the 2009 Heli-Expo, Mark purchased the first set of 206 tail rotor blades produced by VHA immediately after the blades received FAA approval. The helicopter with those blades is still flying in South Africa, mostly doing anti-poaching work.

Leading Edge Aviation has flown in excess of 3000 hours using the VHA tail rotor blades on its Hueys with outstanding results. Firefighting most often occurs in hot and windy conditions, and Mark recalls times where he would be at limits with the anti-torque pedals when lifting in difficult fire conditions. 

“Quite often, lifting water from a dam or river, there are tall trees in the direction that you need to go, but due to the wind direction one finds that you have to fly slightly out of wind, meaning full left pedal to keep flying into the headwind,” Mark said. “Since flying the VHA blades, we have never ‘run out’ of left pedal, meaning a safer take off in the most trying circumstances. Flying VHA blades has always brought me comfort and subsequently peace of mind. Operating ‘legacy’ helicopters comes with obvious challenges but being able to upgrade by installing new efficient VHA blades is a welcome modernization step forward, allowing the older aircraft to keep up with newer technology.”

Almost all UH-1H Hueys in South Africa are now fitted with the VHA tail rotor blades supplied by Leading Edge Aviation. 

Mark talked about his relationship with Van Horn Aviation. “I have been very impressed with the support that VHA has given us over the years,” Mark said. “Whenever clients have brought in damaged blades requiring repair or a second opinion, Dean, Jo and Gobi get back to us within days, advising us on the state of the blades. We are only as strong as our support base, and we feel very fortunate to have the backing of the VHA team.”

Speaking on the feedback from other operators of VHA blades, Mark explains, “We have received very good reports from our clients using the Bell 206 series fitted with the VHA main and tail rotor blades. The feedback is not only do the clients have more yaw control, but they also say the ride with the new VHA main rotor blades is far smoother. As we all know, a smoother helicopter allows components to last longer. A winning situation.”