By Garth Calitz Photos By Andre Venter and Dian Townsend
The Aero Club of South Africa hosted their annual Air week at the Middelburg Airfield from Friday 3 March to Sunday 5 March, the much-improved turnout is a great indicator that recreational aviation is recovering after the dismal support this event has received in the last few years. The uncertainty of the pandemic and the unstable and extremely high fuel prices sucked the life out of the general aviation community, fortunately, this all seems to be in the past now and the “GEES” is returning.
Friday was dedicated to arrivals with members arriving later than usual due to the rather nasty weather conditions on the Highveld at as the day progressed the afield started to come alive with people arriving from all over South Africa. Tents were pitched and fires lit as everyone shrugged off the working grind and prepared to have a wonderful weekend of flying, fun and camaraderie. Neil Bowden had set up tents that could be rented for those that didn’t feel like the hassle of bringing and setting up their own tents.
Middelburg Airfield was woken up by the sounds of hot air balloons being prepared for flight, this was long before sunrise. Many of the visitor's sleep was interrupted by a serious Highveld thunderstorm that had made a rather unwelcome appearance around midnight, so the commotion wasn’t received well by some of the campers but all was quickly forgiven when the balloons drifted into the crisp morning air. The Balloon and Airship Federation of South Africa (BAFSA) is the section of the Aero Club tasked with the oversight of Ballooning.
The balloons were joined by the members of the South African Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (SAHPA) buzzing around the airfield with their powered paragliders 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, they too prefer flying in the calm morning air as flying in the heat of the day in a small microlight is far from fun.
As the morning progressed more and more aircraft arrived many from the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA). The EAA has always been a very active section of the Aero Club organizing at least two flying events every month. The EAA’s main focus however is assisting home builders with their projects some of which have gone on to be commercially manufactured. One prime example of this is the stunning Orion Cub built by Kevin Hopper and his team based at Krugersdorp Airfield. Kevin originally designed and built the earlier version of what has now become the Orion Cub as a fun aircraft to fly himself, he soon realised that there was a lot of interest in his design and decided to build a prototype aircraft. The Orion Cub has been well received and orders are starting to stream in.
Many sections of the were represented at the Air Week after the 2022 Air Week was severely curtailed with no demonstration flights allowed. The Sport Aerobatics Club (SAC) secured permission to perform demonstration flights of all the competition classes. Ivan van der Schaar represented the Sportsman Class in his Pitts Special, an Intermediate demo was flown by Warren Eva in his Yak52, Jason Beamish demonstrated what it takes to compete at the Advanced level and finally, Barrie Eeles took to the blue skies to demonstrate what unlimited aerobatics is all about.
Sticking with Aerobatics permission was granted by the CAA for two AOC’s to perform demonstration flights these were the Puma Flying Lions in their North American Harvards and the Goodyear Eagles in their Pitts Specials.
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.
South African Power Flight Association (SAPFA) hosted a Speed Rally time trial in an attempt to lure more pilots into the wonderful world of Speed Rallies and ultimately the sport of Navigation Rally Flying. In the 2022 World Rally Flying Championships 50% of the South African team was made up of teams that recently joined the sport after flying Speed Rallies.
There can be no more pure flying than the experience of flying powered only by the elements. Gliding has become a very popular sport worldwide and the members of the Soaring Society of South Africa (SSSA) are always willing to introduce young beady-eyed future aviators to their unique sport. Mark Howse was winch launched into the stunning Highveld sky for a demo flight on Saturday afternoon, judging from the comments of the spectators I am sure SSSA will be gaining some new members soon.
The South African Gyroplane Association (SAGPA) were represented by a handful of enthusiasts that 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.
After a very exciting day of flying and time spent with like-minded individuals, it was time t head off to dinner. The dinner was held n Richard Lovett’s hangar which could rival any hangar anywhere in the world not to mention the collection of aircraft that normally occupy the space. At the dinner, the prizes were given in a variety of categories, and judging was done y a team of judges all hand-picked from the aviation insurance industry.
First up was the award for the most enthusiastic visitor, Rob McFie was the unanimous favourite for his Quinta Cyclic Petro Keg Sculpture, which he and former Aero Club MD Andrew Evans Haynes spent the day riding around treating unsuspecting victims to a quick ride.
The Piping Hot Award for the Hottest air balloon went to Chris Burger (ZS-HVH)
The old and beautiful award for the best vintage aircraft went to Karl Jensen well actually to his Cessna 170 as Karl has never been accused of being beautiful (ZS-VAL)
The Fairy Award for the best light sport aircraft went to Kevin Hopper and his team for the Orion Cub.
Bob the Builder award once again went to Derek Hopkins for his immaculate home build on his RV8 (ZU-NDH)
Lee-Ann Lombard was awarded the Smoothest operator paraglider award.
The Aerial Antics Award for the Best Aerobatics demo went to Jason Beamish for his flying in the Pitts Special (ZS-MXZ)
Mark Howse was the recipient of the Smoothest Air Skate award for the best Glider of Motor Glider
The Pampered Powdered Bum Award for the best warbird went to Kous Venter
The Chopper Suey Award went to Rob Osner and his Alouette III this is awarded to the best helicopter.
The So Fly Award for the best model flyer was awarded to Jeandre vd Schaar for his faultless flight during the demos.
Martin Burt was awarded the Jumping Frog Award for the best gyroplane present.
Events like this are only possible due to the dedicated sponsors that are willing to get off the sidelines and make them happen, unfortunately, the list of this year's sponsors is a little too long to publish here. Middelburg Flying Club has over the last few years proven that no task is too big to ensure the success of the Aero Club Air Week. A special word of thanks must again go to Richard Lovett for once again making his immaculate hangar available for the event Last but not least Nigel Musgrave for once again handling the highly stressful appointment as Safety Officer with his own particular brand of authoritative calmness.