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PilotInsure Bethlehem Speed Rally 2019

Bethlehem was the chosen venue for the fifth Speed Rally, when clubs were approached to host this amazing new format of air racing Bethlehem Aero Club immediately put up their hand. The Speed Rally format has proven to very popular amongst aviators all over the country and as a result the “cap” on entries was lifted from thirty to forty for this round.

Friday morning saw most of the teams arriving and those that needed to teat fly to determine their handicaps were very quickly sorted out by the team of test pilots. Generally, everyone was satisfied with the handicaps they were given, and it looked like a great race was on the cards for the following day.

Mary de Klerk shared some of her vast knowledge of rally flying with the newer members of the of the Speed Rally Fraternity in the hangar before the briefing got underway.

At the formal briefing Rob Jonkers explained the rules to all the contestants and also shared some pointers that would definitely help to minimize the penalties accrued race. Danie Heath from the ARCC gave the contestants a short briefing on what to do in an emergency, something we hoped would not be necessary at anytime during or after the rally.

As darkness fell on a rather icy Bethlehem it was time for the briefing on steroids by Race Master Jonty Esser, this has become part of the Speed Rally build up and I personally believe it builds the competition levels for the following day. Each team is called onto the stage and to collect their Race Numbers from main sponsor Frans Smit, and while they are there a short introductory video is shown on the big screen this all is accompanied by music, lights and lasers. The friendly banter between the teams really gets the competitive juices flowing.

After the briefing everyone enjoyed a braai, prepared by the Bethlehem Aero Club members and of course a few beverages were enjoyed. Despite the near freezing temperatures, the comradery around the fires was definitely the type of thing that will inspire aviators to get involved in this fast growing aerial sport.

Race Day dawned and fortunately the cold weather had loosened its grip slightly, all the pilots got together in the main hangar for coffee and muffins before the morning briefing got underway. After roll call was held Rob Jonkers the Race Director once again outlined the basic rules and wished all the competitors a safe flight. The teams then went to their aircraft to await the scrutineers, teams had to disable all onboard navigation aids and all portable navigation devices, including cell phones and smart watches were placed in a bag and sealed. As all aircraft have to compete with full tanks the scrutineers also checked all the fuel levels.

The aircraft were parked in sequence from the slowest to the fastest down both sides of the grass runway, this is also the sequence in which they will take-off. The slowest handicaped aircraft would be the first to leave as they were all released for take-off so they would arrive back at the same time if they managed to fly a perfect route.

The crews have to wait for twenty minutes before take-off to get their first glimpse of the route that they will have to fly and once they get the papers and all important GPS logger, they almost immediately have to start taxing to the start point. Once at the start point, they have to wait for their specific “go” time. Sometimes there are two or more aircraft on their take-off roll at the same time. As the aircraft passes the first turning point, which is located at the end of the runway the race is on.

With the new format there are basically two competitions in one, the first is the time against handicap and the second the most accurate route flown the combination of the two decides the overall winner. The loggers used are accurate to within a few meters and also record the altitude at which the route is flown. Once they are downloaded the scores have an accurate 3D representation of how the route was flown, if turning points were missed or the turning points were flown at the incorrect altitude penalties are issued accordingly. Generally cutting a turning point would put the team out of contention for a win.

At exactly the planned time the first aircraft arrived overhead, unfortunately for them they had missed two turning points along the route and lost out on what could have been a comfortable win. The rest of the field arrived within a few minutes of each other, a testament to the accuracy of the new handicapping system.

The airspace became very busy as all the aircraft returned; the air traffic controllers had their hands full with over thirty aircraft all wanting to land as soon as possible. At stages there were up to ten aircraft on final approach at the same time, compliments must go to Rouvierre Roux and Roelof Janse van Rensburg the two ATC’s from Bloemfontein that volunteered their time to come and assist with the rally.

Once all the teams were on the ground the organisers realised that one of the aircraft hadn’t returned, Phillip Austin and Shaune Fryer had a propeller malfunction in their Sport Cruiser and had to land on a dirt road about 30km North of Bethlehem, fortunately the were not injured the aircraft sadly had suffered significant damage. Danie Heath from the ARCC immediately set to work leasing with the CAA and activating search and rescue. Frans Smit from Pilot Insure offered to go out collect the stranded crew as soon as a location was received.

The reactions to the course varied from confident to absolute despair, but the general consensus was that it was an extremely taxing course. All the crews agreed that it was great fun, and all said they are looking forward to the next one. Once final scrutineering was done, and the loggers were handed in everyone had an anxious wait for the scoring team to analyse the information and assign penalties where necessary.

Once the results were ready everyone made their way to the hangar for the awards ceremony, which had to be rushed along as many of the pilots had to get back to their home bases before nightfall. Jonty Esser, the race master awarded a floating trophy, and for the first time a trophy that can be kept by the team for the top three places in both the Track Accuracy and Handicap speed competitions.

Two tracks flown one not so good and one very good

The winners in the accuracy category were the team of Leon Bouttell and Martin Meyer Race #2 in an Evektor Harmony, in second place was father and son team of Quinton Kruger and Johan Whiteman Race #19 in a Piper PA28-235, and in third place Race #9 Simon Abbot and Chris Shillaw in a Cirrus SR22.

Leon Bouttell and Martin Meyer

Quinton Kruger and Johan Whiteman

Simon Abbot and Chris Shillaw

The overall winners in the best handicap speed were the team of Eduard Scholtz and Johannes Streicher Race # 16 in a RV10, in a close second place was Leon Joubert and Sandi Goddard Race #26 in a Lancair, third place belong to a very ecstatic Rhett and Ryan Shillaw Race # 39 in a Cessna 182.

Eduard Scholtz and Johannes Streicher

Leon Joubert and Sandi Goddard

Rhett and Ryan Shillaw

Special thanks must go to the Bethlehem Aero Club making their facilities available for event as well Nigel Musgrave “Safety Officer”, Mauritz du Plessis and Dirk and Louna de Vos for taking care of the scoring with the handicapping master Chester Chandler. Marc Robinson from Century Avionics for the technical scrutineering, Chareen Shillaw, Lizelle Kruger and Ashley Smit for handing out competition papers to the crews and assisting with the scrutineering, Jonty & Lizelle for putting together the launch event. Thanks also extended to Danie Heath of the ARCC who was on point when needed with the forced landing of the Sportscruiser.

And on a personal note Thank you Bennie du Plessis for transporting the Flightline Weekly team to and from Bethlehem.

Bethlehem AeroClub's Phillip Jacobs receiving the hosting trophy

Some of the officials

Events like these will definitely not be possible without the sponsors and especially the Main sponsor PilotInsure who have now sponsored two speed rallies and have already put their hand up for the third, Thank you Frans Smit for your ongoing support. Please read more about how Pilot Insure can help you.

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