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Aero Club of Southern Africa Air Week – Centenary Edition

The Aero Club of South Africa held a very successful Air Week at Middelburg Airfield from 23 to 27 April. 2020 was the official centenary of the Aero Club but due to the Covid 19 pandemic, all celebrations were postponed to this year. Aircraft started arriving early on Friday morning and as the day went on everyone realised that the turnout was going to far exceed expectations.

By Friday evening there was well over 100 aircraft parked and Middelburg Airfield was full of life, the “tent town” was being set up and of course, the liquid refreshments were being used to chase away the Highveld dust.

Saturday morning arrived with the sound of powered para-gliders getting airborne into the cool smooth air. SAHPA is the section of the Aero Club that represents the hang-gliding and paragliding fraternity including powered para-gliders. Powered para-gliding is gaining popularity and is probably the most cost-effective means of flying. When Powered para-gliders first made their appearance SAHPA rejected their inclusion stating that the inclusion of motors and propellers was not in their realm of interest, a para-gliding steering committee led by Tony Gibson finally convinced the SAPHA committee to adopt the new sport props, motors and all.

While the para-gliders were flying the hot air balloons were being prepped for their early morning flight. Balloon and Airship Federation of South Africa BAFSA is the aero club section responsible for the management of these slight flying giants. On Saturday morning two balloons took off from the Middleburg Airfield slowly floating towards the sleepy town. When veteran balloonist Bill Harrop landed on the school rugby field it caused quite a stir and even made the local newspaper.

All the early morning activity was topped off by the morning patrol fixed-wing pilots that took to the air just as the sun peeped its head out. A fly-in will never be a fly-in without these enthusiastic pilots that preflight their aircraft in the dark just to be ready when the sun crowns the horizon. The Experimental Aircraft Association represent a large part of all the fixed-wing aircraft flying in South Africa. Many EAA members flew in for the weekend as they decided to incorporate the EAA annual convention with the Aero Club Air Week.

EAA was founded in 1953 by Paul H. Poberezny in the USA and has grown from a handful of aviation enthusiasts to an international organization representing virtually the entire spectrum of recreational aviation, with the Emphasis on home building. The EAA bring a lot of activities to Air Week one being the judging of aircraft in various categories.

The old and Beautiful Award for the best Vintage Aircraft was awarded to the Classic Flying Collection Team for their beautifully restored Stampe-Vertongen SV-4C, I was sadly at Springs Airfield after this aircraft was crushed by a hangar that collapsed due to excessive hail a few years ago. The work that has been done on her is nothing short of amazing.

The Fairy Award for the best Light-Sport Aircraft was won by Rhyne Maclean with his striking Alpi Pioneer 300.

Bob the Builder Award for best Homebuilt Aircraft was after much deliberation awarded to Daan Conradie for his home-built Vans RV-8. Vans RV made up a large part of the fixed-wing contingent at the Air Week.

The Sports Aerobatic Club kept the visitors entertained throughout the day with a selection of aerobatic sequences flown by all the classes currently competing in South Africa. The SAC are the section of the Aero Club that oversees competition aerobatics. Ivan van der Schaar flew a graduate sequence, Trevor Warner flew the RV sequence, Jason Beamish flew an Intermediate sequence, Andrew Blackwood Murray and Kale Woole showed the crowd what an Advanced Class sequence looked like and Nigel Hopkins showed his skill in both the Unlimited and Freestyle Class. Nigel sadly came very close to losing this magnificent aircraft recently if it were not for the intervention of two fellow aviators and the ongoing sponsorship by EKCO Unlmtd the Extra would now be flying in the USA.

For anyone interested in getting involved in aerobatics SAC will be hosting a training camp at Kitty Hawk airfield on 14 and 15 May. The camp is specifically designed to introduce pilots new to the sport of aerobatics, details can be found on the SAC website

In South African first a formation of 13 RV's took to the sky and flew a flawless formation pass and then a spectacular break, four of the RV's then formed up a performed a Missing man formation for the late Andrew Pappas the man behind the Bat Hawk success story. Andrew sadly succumbed to Covid 19 earlier this month.

Rise above Aviators, the Transformation and Development section of the Aero Club was busy throughout the weekend taking young aviation for introduction flights as well as very enthusiastically offering guidance to any young people at the event that showed interest in aviation.

Sling Aircraft surprised many when they arrived in their latest offering, the Sling TSI High Wing. The High Wing is a success story of note already and only one has been built to date. The confidence in the Sling brand is overwhelming with 43 of these aircraft already sold, unfortunately, if one were to place an order now the aircraft will only be delivered in late 2022. Well done James, Mike, Andrew, Sean and team, we will be following your success very closely.

Three airshow display teams were gracious enough to make the journey to Middelburg to strut their stuff. The airshow starved community were extremely happy to see formation aerobatics, something that has been sorely missed since the onset of the pandemic and the lock-down regulations. Airshows fall under the auspices of Air Show South Africa, another section of the Aero Club.

The Puma Energy Flying Lions delivered brilliant displays on both Saturday and Sunday in their North American T6 Harvards.

The Goodyear Eagles joined in with their own brand of formation aerobatics, this team of brilliant pilots always manage to shake-up their display.

The Raptors RV Aerobatics team kept the adrenaline going with a wonderfully polished tight formation aerobatics display.

The Saturday flying was closed off with a display by Pierre Gouws in Richard Lovetts stunning L39 Albatross he was joined by Nigel Hopkins and Jason Beamish in their Extra 330’s.

Dinner was held in the amazing Lovett hangar, Soft Spot Certificates were awarded to Middelburg Aero Club for offering the use of their facilities for the celebrations, Nigel Musgrave for fulfilling the task of safety officer a job he once again excelled at, Piet Fourie CAA Special events manager for all his assistance and last but not least Quinton Hawthorne for creating the Centenary Banners and setting up the Aero Club Museum.

Riaan Struwig was declared the Smoothest operator Paragliding pilot and the aerial antics award was bestowed on Jason Beamish for the best aerobatic display. Finally, the Rise Above Aviators team was adjudged the most enthusiastic team.

Sunday morning arrived and with it came the cold the previous day's heat had given way to a rather frosty morning, fortunately, the flying was hot. The Balloon teams once again got the morning going with a short flight from a field out to the east of the field, all four balloons managed perfect landings on the field.

The rest of the day was very much the same activities as the previous day dotted between the departures most of the 150 odd visitors that flew in for the weekend, departed on Sunday before the SAPFA Speed Rally that was planned for Tuesday.

On Monday the Speed Rally participants started arriving and Flight Tests took up most of the day. The Speed Rally is covered in a separate article. Sadly many of the Aero Club sections did not get involved in the Air Week this year.

Thank you to Rob Jonkers and his team for putting together an event that had many a person reminiscing about the good old days of the Margate Conventions held in the 1990s. And a very special thanks to the Sponsors that make these events possible.

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