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Aero Club Air-Week Middelburg – GA Recovery Under-Way

By Garth Calitz

Arriving at Middelburg Airfield on Friday afternoon a sight welcomed me I hadn’t seen since before the world was dumped into turmoil due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a huge amount aircraft of aircraft with tents under the wings. Ever since the lockdowns were lifted aviators were very hesitant to camp out or even sleep out in a guest house at weekend-long fly-ins and as a result most historical weekend fly-ins became Saturday breakfast fly-ins. I estimate at least seventy aircraft were parked on the well-manicured grass areas before sunset, the majority of them had tents erected. Paragliders were out enjoying the sunset as most others made their way to the bar for some much-needed refreshment after enduring temperatures of close to 38 degrees in the day.

Saturday morning started very early with the usual suspects out for their morning patrols. Considering many of the visitors spent the previous evening partaking in lively camaraderie and a few adult beverages, the early wake-up call wasn’t appreciated by everyone to the same degree. It was however great to see members of different sections of the Aero Club enjoying the same airspace. Powered Para-gliders, Weight-shift Trikes, Home Built and Historic aircraft and even a Hot Air Balloon kept the early risers entertained.

At 8:00 the tower officially opened with Nigel Musgrave at his station, unfortunately, due to the CAA inconstancy highly qualified Air Traffic Controllers are no longer permitted to supply AFIS services at events that are held at unmanned airfields. Seems to me this is a clear-cut case of over-regulation leading to a potentially unsafe environment. I have requested information on the situation from the CAA but sadly have not received a response from them thus far.

Once the tower was opened the floodgates opened and aircraft started arriving from all over South Africa, the tower recorded well over 200 movements on Saturday alone, general aviation is definitely on the path to recovery and aviators are hungry for flying events.

The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) was once again the most active section of the Aero Club at this year's event with the majority of fixed-wing aircraft pilots being EAA members. All EAA members were invited to enter their aircraft for judging in various categories, the judging team was made up of the experienced team of aircraft engineers from Sport Plane Builders and led by Pierre van der Walt. The winners of each category were announced at the dinner on Saturday evening, held in Richard Lovett’s magnificent hangar. Members of the EAA were more than willing to share their experience with other home builders by hosting talks on various subjects, one very notable one was Ian Beaton's informative presentation on vaporisation in fuel systems.

South African Power Flight Association (SAPFA) hosted an Air Navigation Rally (ANR). A route of approximately 30nm was set up to the east of the airfield. The challenge is for crews to stay within a 0.4nm wide corridor throughout the route. The more time spent outside the corridor, the more penalty points are accrued. Timing at the start and finish gates was not timed for this fun event. The first half of the route followed roads and the difficulty ramped up towards the end of the route with limited navigation features available to judge your position or timing of turns.

The event was well attended with 11 crews participating. Experienced pilots and navigators were at hand to assist newer participants, and transfer knowledge to help improve the new team's skills. Tips and tricks were shared to give everyone the best chance of enjoying the flight while challenging their navigation and communication skills. As a fun event, crews and individuals were allowed to fly the route more than once either as the same team or mixed with new pilot/navigator combinations.

The Sport Aerobatic Club (SAC) were at Middelburg in full force with many pilots flying demonstrations of competition sequences from, Sportsman to Unlimited Class. Gary Glasson put his newly completed Rihn DR-107 One Design through its paces, Gary and his Father spent the last 12 years building this machine and will be competing in Unlimited Class with it soon. Jason Beamish flew a Spotsman Class demo in a Pitts Special, followed by Warren Eva and Ingmar Besuidenhout in a Yak 55 and Extra 200 flying Intermediate and Advanced Classes respectively.

Sticking with Aerobatics permission was granted by the CAA for the Puma Flying Lions in their North American Harvards to perform a three-ship aerobatic formation flight they represented Airshow South Africa (ASSA)

The Balloon and Airship Federations of SA (BAFSA) launched two hot air balloons very early on Saturday morning in far-from-ideal flying conditions. The wind managed to push them off course and they made their way past the airfield to the south. On Saturday evening the wind continued to ruin their plans and the planned nightglow was reduced to only a burn with two baskets.

The balloons were joined by the members of the South African Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (SAHPA) buzzing around the airfield with their powered para-gliders both of these aircraft types need pretty calm conditions to operate safely, hence the need to get out very early in the morning.

Not to be outdone by the other sections a large contingent from Microlight & Sports Aeroplane Association of South Africa (MISASA) arrived early in the morning, too prefer flying in the calm morning air as flying in the heat of the day in a small microlight is far from fun.

South African Model Aircraft Association (SAMAA) then took to the skies in various model aircraft ranging from fast jets to hi-performance aerobatic aircraft. Many of today’s aviators have cut their teeth flying models, it seems the incurable disease called “passion for aviation” can be contracted while flying these beautiful little aircraft and once the bug has bitten we all know the consequences.

The South African Gyroplane Association (SAGPA) were represented by a handful of enthusiasts who made their way to Middelburg for a great weekend out. In many quarters the Gyro hasn’t managed to shake off the reputation of being an unsafe aircraft, a reputation that was unfairly thrust on them during the developmental stage of their existence. Gyros have come a long way since then and are now as safe as any aircraft if the limitations are adhered to.

For many people, the words parachuting and skydiving conjure up images of adrenalin junkies and daredevils with little regard for their safety. One of the questions most frequently asked of sport parachutists is, "Who in their right mind would want to willingly throw themselves out of a perfectly serviceable aircraft?" well at Airweek only one of these people arrived to represent the Parachute Association of South Africa (PASA).

Dale de Klerk organised a Spot-landing and short take-off competition which resulted in an unintended shootout between three of South Africa’s bush-plane constructors. The Orion Cub prototype went up against not one but three aircraft from the Kit-planes for Africa stable and the mighty BatHawk, the KFA Safari took top honours for the shortest take-off with Dale once again taking the spot landing section in the Orion Cub. It must however be noted it wasn’t a true equal shoot-out as the KFA had a much more powerful engine and of course, Dale has extensive experience in landing competitions. It will be great to see these aircraft compete with the same power plants which will be possible soon as the second Orion Cub has just rolled off the production line and is equipped with a comparable engine.

Events like this are only possible due to the dedicated sponsors who are willing to get off the sidelines and make them happen. Santam Aviation Insurance stepped up this year and made a sizeable contribution to this year's Air Week as well as other events including the prestigious Presidents Trophy Air Race.

Middelburg Flying Club and the Lovette family have over the last few years proven that no task is too big to ensure the success of the Aero Club Air Week. Last but not least Nigel Musgrave for once again handling the highly stressful appointment as Safety Officer with his particular brand of authoritative calmness.

See you all next year!!

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