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Aircraft Unlimited Speed Rally – Witbank

By Garth Calitz Photos Andre Venter

Witbank Aeronautical Association hosted the first event in the 2021 Speed Rally season, the date was set for 6 February but due to inclement weather, the rally was postponed for a week.

As the weekend drew closer it looked as if the weather may have the last word again but fortunately, by Friday, it cleared enough to go ahead. The week's delay, however, did come with a few challenges as many of the marshals were unable to make the event, Rob Jonkers, Jonty Esser and the rest of the team quickly came up with a contingency plan and did some hasty training for the people that kindly offered their time to help with the officiating of the event.

Teams started arriving early on Friday morning all very eager to get this season, of what has become the most popular sport aviation format in the country, underway. The speed rally format has done wonders for Rally flying in general, with many of the teams that were enticed into competition flying by the speed rallies now training at full tilt to be included in the South African team for the upcoming World Rally Flying Championships which are due to be held in Stellenbosch later this year.

With all the test flights done and Friday draws to a close it was time for the evening briefing and issuing of the race numbers. It was at the briefing that my weekend plans took a bit of a turn, Michael Heffill’s Navigator had to withdraw at short notice, I was asked if I would like to experience the rally from a competitors viewpoint I intermediately jumped at the chance.

After a rather nervous night, all the competitors got together for the morning briefing which kicked off at 8:00, the weather had improved overnight and the expected low cloud didn’t arrive leaving great flying conditions, except for quite a nasty easterly wind that promised to make the navigation that little bit more interesting. After the briefing, it was time to get all the aircraft parked on the starting grid ready for the scrutineers to inspect. Marc and Shane from Century Avionics, long-time supporters of the Speed Rallies, disabled all the participating aircraft’s autopilots to ensure that the course had to be hand flown. All “contraband” i.e. cell phones, hand-held GPS devices, smartwatches and the like are then sealed in a bag and signed off by the scrutineering team.

Twenty minutes before the designated take-off time teams are issued with their papers, this includes two course maps, one set of turn point photos and a speed scale for marking minute markers on the map. Twenty minutes seems like a long time but before you know its time to head to the start.

The regular starter, Mark Clulow could not make it and ChareenShillaw was kind enough to step in and ensure everyone got off at exactly the right time. At times the starting area can become extremely busy with many of the aircraft with similar handicaps taking off very close together if they are to close a minimum spacing of 15 seconds is maintained for safety.

The first turning point is, as always the end of the runway and then the “race is on” the 138Nm course comprised of ten turning points, excluding the end of the runway, all to the North and East of Witbank with Loskop Dam basically as a centre point. I thought I will get a few photographs of the dam but to be honest I didn’t even notice it was there at all, my focus throughout the route was no more than two minutes ahead of us. The hour or so that we were airborne flew past and before we knew what was happening we were in a straight race to the finish with all the other competitors. The race is designed that all the aircraft should converge on the end line at the same time if they flew an accurate route. The airspace gets very busy very quickly, fortunately, the controllers from ATNS got everyone expertly separated on downwind ensuring safe landings.

Once on the ground, the teams hand their loggers to the scrutineers and the long process of downloading and scoring starts. Getting the results out on time proved to be a challenge, with changes in the scoring system there were some gremlins that had to be fixed, and that required extra time, also with impending bad weather moving in, many competitors started to depart.

Aiming for a 2 pm prize-giving was just not working out, and with too few left at the field, it was decided to postpone the prize-giving to later the day, however, a small prize giving was held for the Most Creative Route – which turned out to be the Cessna 310 crewed by Derek Bird and Riaan van Helsdinging that somehow took a scenic trip to Nylstroom, the trophy for the Host Club was once again presented to Witbank Aeronautical Association. Lourence Matthee and Christo Esasmus once again received the trophy for the most enthusiastic crew.

The scoring team had their hands full with some gremlins that somehow crept into the system and having to check video footage of some of the more experienced crews that flew so accurately that autopilot use had to be ruled out. The weather started deteriorating quickly and many of the competitors decided to make the trip home before the expected thundershowers showed up, that meant very few crews could wait for the results.

A virtual prize giving was held on Whatsapp once all the results were in, the delays meant this would only be possible on Sunday.

The Speed Rally competitions are scored in two different disciplines, Navigation Accuracy and Speed to Handicap.

Navigation Accuracy

In the navigation section, Jonty and Jonathan Esser managed a third place in their Prompt Roofing Cessna 150

Phil Wakeley and Mary de Klerk came in second in their Century Avionics sponsored Cessna 210

First place in the navigation section belonged to the 2019-2020 season winners in their Fast Flame Laser cutting Sling Aircraft Sling 2

Third place went to Roger Bozzoli & Nadine Brooker in their Piper Arrow

Veteran air race team of John Sayers and Jack Coetzer managed a good second place in Mighty Mouse a North American Aircraft T6 Harvard

Mad Dogs Von Hamman and Ron Stirk in their Cessna 150 took first place

Overall Winners

Third place belonged to Season one champions, Leon Bouttell and Martin Meyer in their JB SwitchgearEvektor Harmony

Mike Blackburn and Steve Briggs in their Sling Aircraft Sling 4 took overall second place

The overall winners of the 2020 Witbank Speed Rally and current championship leaders were Ryan and Chris Shillaw in their Cirrus SR22

Many thanks to the Witbank Aeronautical Association for hosting this fantastic event, supporting with logistics and great meals available throughout the day, Nigel Musgrave as the Safety Officer, Dirk and Louna de Vos doing the scoring, Chester Chandler on handicapping, Marc Robinson with his team from Century Avionics for Scrutineering, Chareen Shillaw for taking on the role of starter, Clarissa for handing out competition papers to the crews.

Special thanks also extended to Santjie White of the ARCC who always watches over these events.

Aircraft Unlimited once again took the role of signature Speed Rally Brand Sponsor, without your generous assistance events like this could just not happen. Last but not in any way least thank you to our team sponsors, Prompt Roofing, Fast Flame Laser cutting, Century Avionics, Beegle Micro trackers, JB Switchgear.

Join the Speed Rally family for the next event on 27 April 2021 in Middelburg a great way to sharpen skills while having heaps of fun. This is your last chance for some hands-on practice for the Presidents Trophy Air Race.

Please browse our gallery of this event