The small mining town of Klerksdorp became the centre of South African aerobatics last week, the best of the best from all over South Africa spent the week competing in the 2019 SA National Aerobatic Championship.
Aerobatics is divided into five Classes namely Graduate, Sportsman, Intermediate, Advanced and Unlimited the classes are determined by the pilot’s skills and experience. It takes pilot many hours to make the way up the ranks from Graduate to Unlimited; very few pilots ever progress to compete in the Unlimited Class. All the Graduates that entered managed to graduate to the Sportsman level and we hope to see them competing very soon.
Graduate class is not part of the National Competition and all graduate pilots are encouraged to validate and enter the sportsman class. Graduate Validations took place on the first day of competition.
The competition is judged in an area known as the “Box”; the aerobatic box is a volume of airspace in which the aircraft must remain while performing a sequence. Its length and width are each 1,000 metres (3,280 ft). Its height varies based on whether FAI, national aero club or local rules apply to the competition. White ground markers at each corner of the box make it visible to the pilot from the air. For most categories, penalties are assessed for flight outside the aerobatic box. The box has two axes, the identification of which is based on the location of the judges. The X-Axis runs across the line of sight of the judges. It is along this axis that most figures are usually flown.
The Y-Axis runs perpendicular to the X-Axis, toward and away from the judges. This axis is used for cross-box position correction. The official wind direction is always declared by contest officials to be along the X-Axis. This, however, does not always reflect reality, and generally during the course of a sequence the competitor will drift either toward or away from the judging line. The competitor can extend or shorten manoeuvres flown along the Y-Axis to obtain the desired positioning.
The box floor is as high as 460 metres above ground level (AGL) for sportsman level competitors and as low as 100 metres AGL for Unlimited level competitors. The box ceiling is 1,000 metres above its floor. Before a category starts, a competitor will mark the box by flying along its boundaries at its floor. This allows the judges to visualize the box in the sky and prepares them to adjudge an aircraft flying below the box floor.
The programme was designed to be complete in four days with a fifth set aside in case of bad weather, the North West Province delivered beautiful flying over the competition days. On the final day of the competition an airshow was organised in an attempt to showcase the sport to a wider audience, and maybe ignite the aerobatic passion in a few of the young visitors.
The Sportsman Class was dominated by Chris Joubert, Chris is a commercial pilot working for Emirates and is currently flying the Boeing 777 when he is not practicing in his Zlin 50. He was followed by another airline pilot, Johan von Solms in a Pitts special. Third place was taken by Machiel du Plessis in a RV7. Machiel and his brother on recently started taking part in aerobatic competitions.
Intermediate Class was also led by two airline pilots, in first place was Steve Brown who is also a Emirates 777 driver, followed by Glen Warden who flies Boeing 737-800 for Comair, both Stave and Glen competed in Slick 360’s. Jason Beamish came in third place in his brand new Extra 330Lx, Jason is a member Team X-treme the international formation aerobatics team.
Advanced Class was by far the largest class at this year’s nationals with eight entries, Eugen du Preez manged to out fly the rest of the field in his Extra 330Sc, it wasn’t an easy task with Gary Glasson less than a percentage point behind him in second place. Mark Sampson filled the remaining spot on the podium, Mark competed in his X-treme Air S-bach.
Unlimited was a Three-way Battle between the three “Top-Dogs” in competition aerobatics in South Africa, Nigel Hopkins managed to keep the others at bay taking top honours with a small margin of half a percentage point. Patrick Davidson, SA own Red Bull Air Race pilot, competed for the first time in his brand new Gamebird GB1, he has only had the aircraft for three weeks one of which was spent in Russia competing in the Red bull Air Race, but still manged a good second place. Barrie Eeles’ hard work over the last year has definitely paid off, he manged a very good third place, both Barrie and Nigel fly Extra 330Sc’s.
The four minute Freestyle competition was held on Saturday and was incorporated into the Klerksdorp Airshow, the intensity of the flying proved to be a big winner with the airshow patrons. Nigel Hopkins once again took top honours, as he has for the last six years. Nigel received a very competitive 85,249% which would have placed him very high if it was an international competition. Barrie Eeles and Patrick Davidson fought it out for second, Barrie manged to squeeze ahead of Patrick with 4%.
After the competition and Airshow an awards dinner was held where the results were made public and all the winners were announced.
Chris Joubert, Steve Brown, Nigel Hopkins and Eugene Du Preez
The World Aerobatic Championships 2019 will take place from 21th to 31th August 2019 in Châteauroux-Centre airport in France. We certainly hope to see some of the South Africans taking part.