A Review of 2017 for the Sport Aerobatic Club of South Africa
 
2017 was not an average year for the South African Sport Aerobatics Club.  We had some significant highs, and lows too.
 
We very sadly said good bye to Werner Nel who was tragically lost when his engine failed shortly after take-off at Kitty Hawk.  Werner was larger than life character and a rising star in aerobatics; he is, and will continue to be missed by the Sport Aerobatic Club.
 
One of numerous highs for the club was the Unlimited World Aerobatic Championships that we were fortunate to be able to successfully host for the first time in this country.  It was also the first time in the history of international sport aerobatics that all competitors were able to fly all flight programs.  We received warm thanks and sincere accolades for hosting the event from many of the competing pilots as well as the international officials.   
Although we were very grateful to receive some corporate sponsorship we did not, despite a huge effort, raise as much as we had hoped to; in fact when one of the international jury members learnt how small the budget available to us was, he was truly amazed that we were able to pull it off at all.  There can be no doubt that this championship was a major undertaking for our club, and many people contributed significantly towards making it happen.   I would like however to single out for special thanks the following club members who went way over and above the call of duty to make the event a success – John Gaillard, Quintin Hawthorne, Annie Boon, Cliff Lotter and of course our honorary member Mel Preddy of Malelane.
 
In my opinion, the Advanced Class is probably the highest international class that is still purely amateur.  I say this because many of the top pilots in the Unlimited Class fly aerobatics professionally on a full time basis, either as aerobatic instructors, airshow pilots, or as part of a military squadron dedicated to competition aerobatics.  Against this reality our pilots did really well.  It is not difficult to imagine how well pilots such as Nigel, Bugs, Patrick, Barrie, Neville, Bertus, Sammy and Leigh would do if they had the opportunity to fly 3 or 4 practice flights a day, 5 days a week, with video cameras, judges and coaches over several years.   There is no doubt that our boys did us proud both in the Aresti contest as well as in the four-minute freestyle where Nigel again very narrowly missed getting a podium finish by less than a quarter of a percent.
 
Staying with the international scene, several of our members continue to shine on the global airshow arena with Team Extreme and the RV Raptors having been invited to perform overseas.   It has been said by several international formation display pilots that no civilian team currently flys as tightly as Team Extreme.   In addition, it is with great pride and optimistic anticipation that we congratulate Patrick Davidson on being selected as a Red Bull challenger pilot for the 2018 season.  Well done to all of you guys, you bring much glory to South African aerobatics.
 
The SAC also achieved great accolades on the local scene too; with the Aero Club of South Africa publicly recognising many of our members for numerous achievements this year through various awards, this includes –
 
Senior Protea Colours to our Unlimited team, being awarded to –
•    Nigel Hopkins
•    Patrick Davidson
•    Mark Hensman
•    Barrie Eeles
•    Neville Ferreira
•    Bertus du Preez
•    Annie Boon
Silver Wings for extraordinary services rendered to the club in connection with the 2018 world championships to -
•    Quintin Hawthorne
•    Cliff Lotter
 
Special Recognition Award for his contribution to the world championships went to our honorary member –
•    Mel Preddy
Special Recognition Awards went to the following members of the WAC organising team –
•    John Gaillard,
•    Mike Visagie,
•    Annie Boon,
•    Kelly McCauley,
•    Natalie Stark,
•    Adam Puc,
•    Cindy Weber,
•    Alan Evan-Hanes,
•    Mel Preddy,
•    Quintin Hawthorne,
•    Cliff Lotter
And Gold Wings for more than 10 years of active service to the SAC to –
•    Mark Hensman
•    Bertus DuPreez
 
This must be close to a record number of local awards for our club, well done to all of you.
On the local completion front we have also had a strong year.  There was a total of 121 entries across all our local competitions throughout 2017.  The average number of competitors for a completion was 15 which is not bad considering that we had 8 contests during the year.  A far cry from the days when the SAC only had one contest a year that saw no more than 20 or so entrants.  A huge thank-you to the various contest directors and organisers.
 
I would like to express the committee’s appreciation to the following pilots all of whom entered 6 contests in 2017 - Jonty Esser; Conrad Botha; Jason Beamish; Barrie Eeles; Nigel Hopkins; Neville Ferreira and Mark Hensman.  Your enthusiasm sets an example for us all and not taken for granted, especially those of you who are not based in Gauteng and have therefore had to make special efforts to participate.  We also appreciate our members who are based overseas, and yet who make great efforts to arrange their flight duty rosters in order to be in SA for many of our contests.  Thank you all, you guys are the backbone of this club.
 
No question about it, despite a tough economic environment sport aerobatics in South Africa continues to flourish, and our vibrancy as a club is further crowned with new aircraft continuing to grace the competition flight line every year.   
 
This positive momentum on the competition front was maintained until the end of the year with 20 pilots entering the final Ace of the Base contest. Well done and a very warm welcome back to our 2017 Ace of the Base Charles Urban, nice to have your humour back in the club, (WAAC 2018 perhaps Bud?).
 
Finally, a huge thanks to all our judges and officials, many of whom also travel great distances to ensure that our contests are a success.  
A few years ago there was an emerging concern regarding the number of qualified judges that we had available.  Thankfully this is no longer a concern as our judges rank amongst the best in the world and are often invited to judge national contests in countries such as Brazil and Australia, in addition to being invited to most international contests.  We had for example 5 international judges on the flight line for the Ace of Base contest.
 
During the world championships I was chatting to a senior member of the Australian aerobatic club, she was in awe at the depth and breadth of talent, experience and most of all enthusiasm that we have in South African aerobatics.  She said that despite the size of the Australian economy and the large number of competing pilots and aerobatic aircraft that they have over there, she could not see them pulling off a world championship like we did.  All of this in my view is because we have a core of very knowledgeable and super dedicated officials and judges who have been around longer than any currently competing pilot and upon whose shoulders this club stands.  We all know who these people are, and we don’t take any of you for granted.
 
On a less upbeat note, after the Ace of the Base contest I received several legitimate concerns (not negative complaints, rather concerns from both pilots and officials people who really care).  These concerns revolved around declining standards across some areas of our club which culminate in things as diverse as - contests not starting on time, poor briefings, paperwork not being ready on the judging line, final results not being ready in time to have an awards ceremony, through to concerns regarding unprofessional, irritating and at times inappropriate communications on contest groups that are set up on WhatsApp.   
The committee takes all this seriously and will be having a dedicated meeting early next year to not only to address these legitimate concerns and seek to regain lost standards, but to in fact improve our standards.   As one of the senior club members recently said to me – “the SAC has to move into the modern era, we have been doing the same things in the same way for a long time”.  Ideas that will be debated include small things such as –
•    setting up a separate ongoing social chat group so as not to ‘contaminate’ the more serious competition related chat groups; through to things such as –
•    assigning key official roles to members of the club, such as a dedicated safety officer –
•    we are also investigating using an integrated aviation software system to digitise our paperwork.   
•    amongst other ideas.
 
All of this will be discussed in detail early in 2018, and ideas are welcome from every member.
 
One point that is important to note on this topic is the fact that it is easy to blame the registrar and scoring office for delays in paperwork and results, because after all this is the nerve centre of every contest.  However, such accusation may well be misplaced - a quick review of the Ace of the Base contest showed that by the Saturday morning before the contest only 40% of the pilots were compliant in terms of paperwork, and in fact even by the end of the contest quite a few pilots were still not compliant and hence ought not to have been allowed to compete.   And so while we will make efforts as a committee to improve how we operate in 2018, please understand that we will all have a part to play in achieving this.
 
All that remains is for me to thank the committee for all their extensive and sustained efforts, guidance and indeed friendship during 2017, you guys have achieved much, and we as members have all added to our already very rich treasure chests of truly wonderful aerobatic memories.
 
It is my sincere hope and belief that we are entering a new and more prosperous political, social and economic era in South Africa, and this will have great benefits for us as individuals and as a club.
 
I wish you all a Merry Christmas and festive religious season with your families in December, and a prosperous, happy, inverted and safe 2018 with lots of G.