The year 2021 will go down in history as another year affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Nothing is as we knew it. Aerobatics has not been immune to the erratic social changes associated with the lockdowns and protocols brought about by the pandemic. Our aerobatic calendar was prepared with a whole lot of ‘maybe’ and all subject to change, much like our lives. So many amongst us have lost their jobs and have had to deal with illness and a lot of negativity. Traditionally, the national aerobatic championships is an event that we all look forward to, where we all get together and share in the competitive camaraderie of the sport. So, this year’s event scheduled for Bloemfontein was pencilled in and not a certainty until just a few weeks to go. Unfortunately factors other than the pandemic forced the committee to change the venue to Phalaborwa with a strong bid from their local pilot Ingmar Bezuidenhout.
“Where? Did you say Phalaborwa? F*@k that’s the furthest airfield from anywhere” was a comment heard in many quarters. Despite the distant location for some, it managed to attract a good-sized entry list, with the promise of dining under the stars an added attraction. Phalaborwa airfield is located adjacent to the Kruger Park fence and is not quite big enough to accommodate the judges within its boundary during the morning session. ‘No problem’ said Ingmar and promptly arranged for a judging position inside the Kruger Park amongst the wild animals. Sorted. And that was the reaction from him every time he was posed with a challenge, perhaps he’s learnt from the many challenges that he’s had to deal with during the pandemic over the past two years. He is so used to the ‘unusual’ for it to be normal.
Wednesday afternoon saw 21 pilots show up for the briefing, suitably held on the lawns outside the clubhouse to allow for some semblance of social distancing. This was followed by a judge’s seminar and a discussion featuring changes to the published judging criteria, before the first programme got underway in perfect flying conditions. From the first day’s scores, it was clear that it was going to be a closely fought tussle in just about every class. The scene was set and the pilots retreated to a local restaurant to begin working on the first set of unknowns.
Everyone was on time for the briefing on Thursday morning and the judges were promptly sent into the Kruger Park to be at the mercy of the wildlife, and without much delay the first competitor was cleared into the box. Apart from visits by a few curious but rather large predator birds, the mornings session went according to plan. The temperature managed to reach the forecast 37 deg C by lunchtime, so after some refreshment, the afternoon programme commenced in the very hot and increasingly windy conditions, which truly put the cat amongst the pigeons! By mid-afternoon, more than just a few pilots had been blown out of the box during their sequence, and by the time the scores were computed, it was clear that it was going to be all to play for! Except, the weather forecast for the following day was less than exciting. Low cloud, rain and the associated wind, with much lower temperatures, was to be expected from early morning and interfere with the days programme. The aircraft were put to bed and everyone headed to the local distillery for whisky tasting and dinner. Not everyone’s whisky tasted sweet though.
Friday morning produced the expected weather as forecast and the whole show was put on hold leaving just about everyone lurking around the taxiways while discussing their previous flights and strategizing their next programme, given the expected flying conditions. ‘Windy’ was consulted ad infinitum followed by furtive glances at the skies. In Unlimited, Paddy had a lead of about three percent and a zero would likely scupper his chances, so his serious demeanour was understandable. Nigel looked excited while Gary appeared more nervous than usual. After all he only had a noisy four-banger to challenge those Extras with. The rank order in the Sportsman class had changed after Quentin Taylor smoked his second flight, but it was anyone’s game with less than two percent separating him Warren Eva, Dicky Maritz and Ingmar Bezuidenhout. Intermediate contender Trevor Warner made his intentions known with an awesome first flight but made a complete hash of his second, letting Tristan into the game, but only by a fraction of a percent while Dusty flew his programmes without errors. It was all much the same in the Advanced class where all seven competitors were in with a shout. However, it was the relatively new Advanced contender Kayle Wooll who made his intention loudly clear of taking the crown from experienced Elton Bondi.
‘Windy’ had indicated that the cloud base would allow flying, with a free break, from about 3pm. So it was Ingmar’s duty to fire up his Bosbok and confirm that prediction. After his third weather flight, it was thumbs up, initially with enough cloud base for the Advanced and Unlimited competitors, so the judges were sent to their stations. What the pilots didn’t glean from ‘Windy’ was the wind strength. While not so evident from the ground, the upper wind was far stronger than the pilots had expected. The videographer Ricky had his hands full trying to record the ever-increasing distances those aircraft were flying out of the box. I heard one of the judges comment that it was ‘carnage at the carnival’ with virtually every Advanced competitor making an error.
Saturday morning’s weather was much the same as the previous day, preventing any flying but with indications that the clouds would lift by early afternoon. That did not leave much time to complete the full programme so the contest management spent most of the morning considering their options. Meanwhile the entire judging team headed for the Kruger to seek out some wildlife. As predicted, the clouds lifted by early afternoon and the contest resumed with fervour. Yet again the wind velocity sneaked up on the senior contenders, however they were bit more wise to it. But it was the competition pressure that caused the errors this time. Unfortunately, the Advanced pilots missed out on a third unknown programme when time ran out, leaving barely enough daylight to complete the Freestyle.
The four-minute Freestyle programme was completed just as the sun was setting on the Western horizon creating a red hue which together with the rising full moon formed a spectacular backdrop to the display zone. Nigel Hopkins took top honours for the seventh successive year in this programme, finishing ahead of Patrick Davidson and Barrie Eeles.
As is traditionally the case, the final results are only made known at the awards dinner. Not many of the winners could have been forecast with certainty after the final programme was flown, so the awards announcement was highly anticipated. There were surprises in virtually every category, leaving some pilots extremely pleased and others rather disappointed.
In the RV class, Martyn Redelinghuys cruised past the others to claim the spoils, beating Thys Kuhn and Dave Thomas. Quentin Taylor surprised himself by holding Warren Eva off, but just. Dicky Maritz nailed the unknown too and finished a close third. The ever-consistent Dustin Hughes took gold in Intermediate after Tristan Eeles zeroed a figure in the final unknown, with Trevor Warner finished in third place. Kayle Wooll will forever rue his decision to use his ipad in the searing heat instead of a sequence card. That resulted in two hard zeroes and placed him second in the final results behind Elton Bondi, with Pierre du Plooy taking the bronze medal in the Advanced class. Patrick Davidson was crowned national champion for winning the Unlimited class, beating Nigel Hopkins and Gary Glasson.
The Phalaborwa team excelled with a fine awards function, adding to their already complimented contest arrangements, rounding off a very successful national championship event. John Gaillard was presented with a special award acknowleding his role as Chief Judge for the past 31 years. Everyone in attendance voiced a vote of thanks to Ingmar and his team and we would all like to return there again soon.
Phalaborwa may be the furthest airfield from anywhere, but it made life feel normal again. And the cherry on top is the great sponsorship of R30 000 which will be used towards future aerobatic training camps.
And if ever there was anything to bear testimony to it being a ‘normal’ event in ‘abnormal’ times, it was Charlotte Stark bringing out her bucket of homemade crunchies! Thank you!
A new, much larger committee was elected at the recent AGM which was held virtually as a result of the Covid-19 restrictions. Traditionally the AGM would have been held at the Nationals, which this year has had to be postponed due to the pandemic, but it was decided to go ahead with the meeting on the originally scheduled date.
Cliff Lotter was the unanimous choice to fulfill the role of Chairman and Dusty Hughes elected to be his wingman. Retaining their previous portfolios was Annie Boon (Secretary), Quintin Hawthorne (Treasurer), and John Gaillard (CIVA Rep) while John Gaillard decided to step down as Chief Judge and Quintin Hawthorne elected to replace him. All provincial regions are now represented with a selection of enthusiastic club members.
Outgoing chair Gary Glasson had been faced with some unprecedented challenges during his tenure, all of which he managed successfully with the support of his deputy Eugene du Preez. The new CAA requirements for recreational aviation organisations after the demise of RAASA placed a huge emphasis on reviewing the way SAC managed its affairs. Gary spent an enormous amount of time attending to this task. He has earned some time off to practice for the Nationals.
Good luck to the 2021 committee!
The Aero Club of South Africa Centenary celebrations, due to be held in 2020, had to be postponed to 2021 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was hosted by the Middelburg Flying Club and held in conjunction with the annual EAA Convention resulting in a great turnout of aircraft and airmen. While it was well supported by most of the recreational aviation sections, the Sport Aerobatic Club of South Africa dominated proceedings with a selection of aerobatic aircraft, formations and demonstrations. Read the reports published by Pilots Post and Flightline Weekly.
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.
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.
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.
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