2020 will forever be remembered for the impact that the coronavirus pandemic had on the world. The virus, labelled Covid-19, spread quickly and reached every corner of the globe by March when almost every country closed their borders in an attempt to stem its tide. Only world wars and plagues had resulted in universal ‘lockdowns’ of this ilk in the past, most of which were followed by years of protracted economic hardship. Locally, the airline and tourism economies were decimated, resulting in wholesale job losses.
The restrictions on international travel forced all the scheduled international aerobatic championships to be postponed to 2021 while there was only limited aerobatic competition in some countries during the lockdown. Despite being postponed several times from the originally scheduled dates in June, the lockdown restrictions were lifted sufficiently to allow for the South African Nationals to be held at the end of September albeit with required health protocols in place. Not many people had believed that any sporting activity would take place during the remainder of the year though, so the news was a relief to most aerobatic pilots.
Initial indications were that a large entry could be expected for this year's event at Tempe, Bloemfontein. A combination of new pilots entering from the RV training camps held at the beginning of the year, and the effect of the release from lockdown promised for a better than expected number of competitors. Although 35 pilots registered, 30 pilots showed up for the first briefing on the Wednesday afternoon. With a panel of internationally experienced judges under Chief Judge John Gaillard’s watch at the ready, Contest Director Mark Hensman got proceedings underway promptly and the first day’s programme was completed in perfect weather conditions. Unfortunately, that was not to be case for the next two days when a frontal system disrupted the competition schedule in much the same way that the coronavirus pandemic had caused havoc with the world. Low cloud and high winds allowed only a few flights to be completed during the two days of inclement weather. Those pilots were less than impressed with their fortunes and would undoubtedly have preferred to have been slotted to fly during the calm conditions on Saturday while some pilots had to fly in fading light at dusk in order to complete the competition schedule.
All classes except for the RV class got to fly three of the four programmes while time restraints allowed only two programmes for the RV pilots. The competition was fierce! Nobody was going to win without being both strategic and displaying a high level of precision in the box. The unknown sequences selected by the Advanced and Unlimited pilots in particular showed their determination to trip their rivals up. Advanced competitors Pierre du Plooy, Glen Warden and Jason Beamish were neck-and-neck before the final unknown programme. One fault could have seen a change in the final rankings. However, Pierre prevailed and took home the trophy with Glen close behind and Jason in third place.
The same scenario played out in the Unlimited class. Although three of the four competitors were flying ‘big gun’ Extra 330SCs, Gary Glasson challenged them in a four cylinder ‘knife’ Pitts S1 Falcon often showing more heart than horsepower. However, if any of the ‘big guns’ had scored a zero, his skill and precision would have taken them out! Nigel Hopkins once again displayed remarkable precision aerobatics to win his 6th national title, while Barrie Eeles finished second ahead of Gary Glasson. Nigel remarked afterwards that the unknown sequences were some of the most difficult he had encountered and winning was not an easy task!
The Intermediate class was the most provincially representative category with competitors from the Western Cape, Free State, Gauteng and KZN in the mix. Unfortunately for some the contest meant that they were all subjected to the strong wind conditions for the second programme so it was not surprising to see that the three Cape-based pilots edged out the rest in the final rankings. It was clear that they were more au fait with the windy weather. Andrew Blackwood-Murray beat Markku Torppa with Jurie Steyn finishing third.
For many of the pilots in the Sportsman class, this was their first national championships. The nine competitors displayed similar skill and competence flying a variety of aircraft types including Extra 200, RV, Decathlon and Yak 52 and true tussle emerged with the rank order changing after each programme. Testimony to this is that less than five percentage points separated the first six places by the end of the contest. Tristan Eeles narrowly pipped brothers Wian and Machiel du Plessis to take the overall win with a fraction of a percent separating the first three places. It could have been anyone’s game!
The competitive spirit washed over the RV boys too with similar scenarios emerging after the two programmes. Dane Laing (RV4) took top honours ahead of Johan van Zyl (RV7) with Ian Beaton (RV7) finishing third.
While the year may be remembered for the coronavirus chaos, the 2020 SA National Aerobatic Championships will always be remembered for the fierce competition in tough conditions. Above all it was done safely. Undoubtedly, it was the the tenacity and drive of the committee and organisers that made it all possible.
The second edition of the publication Aerobatics - the South African Story is now available. Originally intended to be published in conjunction with the Centenary celebrations of South African sport aviation during 2020, unfortunately the Covid-19 pandemic put paid to those celebrations in 2020 and the release of the book was delayed to include the results of the 2020 National Aerobatic Championships. The book documents the progress of sport aerobatics in South Africa over the past 60 years and includes detailed results and accounts of national championships, achievements by individuals at both local and international competitions amongst many other related topics. The book contains 100's of photographs and illustrations over almost 300 pages.
The book retails for R450 excluding postage and can be ordered by registering here.
By Dane Laing, as published in www.flightlineweekly.com
As a young boy, I always dreamed of taking to the air, when I left school I was adamant to start my flying career as soon as possible and was fortunate enough to realise this at a young age.
I now have amassed over 5600 hours and currently flying for a local airline but one of my aviation dreams had still not been realised until fairly recently that is. I’ve always wanted to delve into the adrenaline-filled world of aerobatics and thanks to the dedicated guys at the Sport Aerobatics Club (SAC) this is finally becoming a reality.
The journey began when a beautiful Vans RV4 appeared on the market, my father decided to purchase the machine giving me access to an aerobatic capable aircraft. The RV range of aircraft is the perfect all-round aircraft that allows you to perform “gentlemen aerobatics" with some going very far in professional aerobatics.
I had been shown some basic aerobatic manoeuvres in the RV4 but had never had any formal aero training. The only manoeuvre I was comfortable to perform on my own was an aileron roll but craved more and needed some proper training in the aircraft.
The SAC arranged a number of RV aerobatic training camps throughout 2019 and word got around in the RV Fraternity, all very positive I must add. When I heard about a camp being hosted early in 2020, pre-Covid days, I jumped at the opportunity.
The camp consisted of two days of thorough briefings as well as a number of flights with an aerobatic instructor going through the various basic and slightly advanced aerobatic manoeuvres. Unfortunately, due to work commitments, I was only able to attend one day of training and was unable to complete the course. I did, however, learn a lot through my instructor, Elton Bondi, and left feeling a lot more confident and with immense respect for aerobatic flying.
A few months had passed since the aerobatic camp with no real practice from my side due in part to the restriction on general aviation during lock-down, my confidence had all but disappeared.
Fortunately, a close family friend, Jaco Van Zyl, who has been flying competition aerobatics in his RV7 for a number of years, reignited my passion. He took me up in his RV7 and coached me through the basic the aero manoeuvres, which allowed me to regain my confidence, I then went out and practised in the RV4.
Jaco then reintroduced me to Gary Glasson and Eugene du Preez from the SAC and with their help and a lot of “crit" was able to iron out some of my bad habits and greatly improve my flying. I was finally signed out by Nigel Hopkins to perform the graduate sequence allowing me to finally pursue my dream of flying competition aerobatics. I hope to graduate to Sportsman Level at the next coaching clinic which will be held at Kitty Hawk on the 7th and 8th of August.
One thing I can say for sure is, “no amount of flying experience will help you when starting aerobatic flying”. It is flying on another level, a level that I would highly recommend to any pilot. Aerobatic flying has opened up another world for me in aviation. The camaraderie in the aerobatic fraternity is unbelievable. Everyone is there to help make you a better pilot. If you own or have access to an RV you would do very well to join one of the clinics planned and step out into a new world of flying.
As of 17 August 2020 all aerobatic activities may be resumed without restriction. It will however be subject to the implementation of suitable measures to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus by following guidelines published by the Government. In view of this change, the 2020 National Championships will be held at Tempe airfield from 30 September to 3 October 2020.
A team from the SAC was recently invited to conduct a training camp in Swakopmund, Namibia for local RV owners. By all accounts it was a successful venture and enjoyed favourable compliments from the participants. Read the recently posted article on Flightline Weekly Online magazine, below.
Johnie Smith, Quintin Hawthorne, John Gaillard
Two SAC judges were honoured at the 2019 Aero Club Awards function held at Rand Airport. Quintin Hawthorne and Johnie Smith both received Special Recognition awards for their achievements at World Championship events during 2019 where each was ranked first at the World Aerobatic Championships (WAC) held in France, and the World Intermediate Aerobatic Championships (WIAC) held in the Czech Republic, respectively. Judges are assessed and ranked according to their ability to correctly apply the requisite judging criteria and to correctly rank the pilots overall placing.
While attending the World Aerobatic Championships in France earlier this year, I came across a newly released book that has, as it turns out, an important South African aviation connection. Written by acclaimed aviation author Annette Carson, Camel Pilot Supreme tells the story of a South African born pilot who achieved fame during the Great War.
It was with sadness that we learnt of the passing of Ian Popplewell on 6 October 2019 after an illness bravely borne. Ian was one of the longest serving members of the Sport Aerobatic Club and apart from the most recent years, he was actively involved with aerobatics for almost 40 years. Based at Baragwanath from where he flew his DH Chipmunk, Tiger Moth and Pitts S2A aircraft in local competitions, Ian served on the committee of the SAC for many years and in his quiet inimitable manner, got whatever task he accepted, done. He was Team Manager of the team that competed at the 1986 World Championships in England for which he was awarded National Colours.
Our condolences and thoughts go out to his wife Helen and their extended family.
RIP Ian Popplewell.
There’s a bunch of pilots who dedicate lot of time working behind the scenes, sharing their aerobatic knowledge and experience with those still new to the sport. These good spirited guys spend a chunk of their free time over weekends training and coaching others to become more proficient at the sport. All with the goal of achieving better scores at contests. Because that’s what you need. Better scores. Those in the know will tell you that trying to better your skills on your own is just a waste of time and avgas. Having someone on the ground who has been there already, offering advice on the little tricks and nuances to get you those scores is a no brainer! And it’s safer! However, not everyone is within easy flying reach of these dedicated guys, so what to do? No problem, they’ll make a plan to head over to an airfield near you.
The 2019 World Aerobatic Championships – a judging perspective.
The pinnacle of achievement for any sport aerobatic competitor is winning the World Aerobatic Championship at Unlimited level. Beating the worlds best is no mean feat and it obviously takes an enormous amount of practice, time and money to be able to reach that level of expertise. Sport Aerobatics is still an amateur sporting discipline and unlike golf and tennis and any major achievement is limited to the respect and admiration of your peers and somewhat devoid of major media exposure. However, the aerobatic community across the globe shows a keen interest in these major achievements, and that’s what matters.
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