The second Sky Grand Prix of Aerobatics once again wowed the crowds over the skies of Durban on 28 May 2016, repeating the successful hosting of the event held in the same city in 2014. Whereas the previous event was held over the beachfront, this year's event saw the skies above the Greyville racecourse filled with the awesome aerobatic skills of some of the worlds finest pilots.
Included in the lineup were four international pilots; Robert Holland (USA, three times world freestyle champion), Mikhail Mamistov (Russia, twice overall world champion), Artur Kielak (Poland, freestyle medalist at the 2015 World Air Games) and the sole female competitor Aude Lemordant (France, female world champion). Their skills were pitted against the best South African contenders; Nigel Hopkins, Patrick Davidson, Neville Ferreira, Bertus Du Preez, Barrie Eeles and Mark Hensman.
The format of the contest required pilots to fly three programmes; a known, unknown and freestyle sequence between three pylons, and these are also required to be completed within a set time. Flying is fast and takes place at low level in front of an audience seated in the grandstands of the Greyville racecourse with American ace pilot and seasoned airshow commentator Mike 'Spanky' Galloway keeping the crowds informed all way.
Saturday morning produced near perfect conditions with the most magnificent windless blue skies and the scene was set for an epic showdown. The judges in position, it didn't take long for the sky to become filled with smoke and the screaming engines of the Extra 330SC, MX2, Su 31, Sbach, Slick 360 and Slick 540 to produce some top quality aerobatic flights. All the pilots found the classic sequences challenging considering that they are flown at low altitude overhead a golf course and horse racetrack with very unfamiliar ground references to rely on. Despite the calibre of these competitors, it proved to be a true aerobatic challenge with clear errors evident at regular intervals! This format brought aerobatics to front and centre of the stage and delighted the crowds who were hanging onto Spanky's enlightening commentary. This made aerobatic competition spectacular in it's own right.
As an added bonus, the Durban crowds were entertained to the impressive formation aerobatics of the Silver Falcons and also the RV Raptors, followed by skydivers.
Scoring of the flights was adjudicated by a panel of international judges; John Gaillard, Nick Buckenham, Laszlo Liszkay and Quintin Hawthorne, with the results being available within minutes of each flight. It was clear that the crowds followed the flights with interest and we could hear gasps every time any error was made - who said aerobatics is boring to watch! The first two programmes of the classic aerobatic sequences produced the overall winner and a separate contest was held for the freestyle programme. In what proved to be a really close contest, South African champion Patrick Davidson was crowned overall champion of the 2016 Sky Grand Prix ahead of Rob Holland with Nigel Hopkins in third place. The Durban audience were treated to some of the most spectacular display flying in the Freestyle contest - Aude Lemordant put the Extra 330SC through some epic aerobatic manouevres but was pipped to the post by Rob Hollands legendary freestyle flying with Nigel Hopkins taking the bronze medal.
With another successful Sky Grand Prix of Aerobatics over Durban coming to an end, the opinion of everyone was unanimous. Truly Epic!