By Gregory Clegg
Phalaborwa, is the venue for the final regional aerobatic competition for the year, this time the Limpopo regionals. Considered far from everywhere but worth every effort to get there. Situated in the Lowveld, the low airfield elevation at 1432 ft is appealing for competitors from the Highveld.
The lead-up to the competition was marked by many of the competitors arriving early in the week to get valuable practice ahead of the competition. Elton Bondi, Barrie Eeles and Tristan Eeles were among those who used this practice opportunity, with the crit of judge Johnnie Smith, to prepare for the upcoming World Advanced Aerobatic Championships that will be held in Las Vegas, USA next month. Elton, unfortunately, could not stay to compete on Saturday.
Initially, a promising 14 competitors indicated they would compete in Phalaborwa. By Thursday this had dropped down to 10 and by competition day on Saturday, there were 8 competitors who made it to the venue. The judging panel comprised Johnnie Smith assuming the role of Chief Judge.
Accompanying him were Maritza Boswell, Nadine Brooker, and the enthusiastic Gary Glasson – normally found being judged and not judging. Gary’s participation required minimal persuasion. The lure of "skilpadjies" proved to be all it took to entice Gary to be part of the action in Phalaborwa.
The idea of an aerobatic competition in Phalaborwa is all it took for Machiel Du Plessis to fly up in his RV7 from Tempe early Saturday morning. Machiel did not compete in this competition, but we are hoping to see him and his brother Wian back in the box soon.
With temperatures forecast to reach 40°C by 2 O’clock on Saturday, the competition briefing was planned for 7 AM - an early briefing by regional competition standards. By 07h15 on Saturday, the briefing had commenced, and the formalities were covered. Early morning the density altitude was forecast to be 2500ft and increasing to 4800ft by midday.
The beauty of Phalaborwa is that the town borders the Northern section of Kruger National Park, with the airfield being closest to the border. The aerobatic box is positioned next to the runway extending eastward. This meant the judges would be judging from Kruger Park for the competition. This puts the judges to the East of the aerobatic box – ideal for the morning sun. Host Ingmar Bezuidenhout arranged the necessary permissions earlier in the week for the judges to gain access to the park.
The field had entries of two competitors in each class in Sportsman, Intermediate and Advanced. There were also two graduates who had entered – exciting news for the growth of the sport. To obtain an aerobatic rating, graduates are required to graduate in front of a panel of judges and score more than 70%. There is no better opportunity to present in front of judges than at a competition.
By 08h30 most of the judges were set up and ready in the park. Gary, confused enough being on the judging line, still couldn’t make up his mind as to whether he was a judge or an anxious park ranger constantly on the lookout for wildlife that was out to get him.
Quentin Taylor flying a Yak 55, got the event off to a start flying in the Sportsman category. The lower limits of the aerobatic box are marked by the first pilot in each class should the Chief Judge request, 1000 ft AGL in the case of Sportsman. Graduates have the same lower limit so having a sportsman mark the box, takes the pressure off of them. Following Quentin, Bernard Botha showcased his skill in the Decathlon.
Flying a Super Decathlon, Eddie Vorster of Tzaneen was first up to fly his graduate sequence with success. Followed by Eddie was Phalaborwa local, Angelene Latsky flew a Yak 52. With her first attempt at the graduate sequence, Angelene became one of the few Lady aerobatic pilots in South Africa – a great achievement for her at her home base. Well done Eddie and Angelene!
With father and son, Barrie and Tristan, sharing an Extra 330SC and both flying in advance, Tristan went up first to fly his Free Known sequence before the intermediate class. Chairman and Vice-Chairman, Warren Eva and Ingmar, both competing in intermediate followed next.
Warren flew in a Yak 55 and Ingmar in his Zlin 50. Barrie was the last to fly before the short break. After the brief break, the same flight order followed. Both Sportsman competitors elected to fly the sequence they flew earlier the morning. The graduates, who did not need to fly again, grabbed at the opportunity to climb back into the box. After the nerves of their “first solo” aerobatic flight in front of judges out of the way, both pilots showed an improvement during their second flight.
With the heat and wind being challenging enough to endure, towards the end of the competition, smoke from a nearby veld fire started filling the box. The smoke could go anywhere but as Murphy would have it, it had to fill the box.
The competition was nearing an end with only intermediate and advanced left to fly. Both these categories flew unknown sequences for their second flight – these sequences were handed to them the night before and no chance to practice. The smoke got progressively worse as Barrie was flying the last flight for the day. The competition concluded shortly after noon. Sadly, this is the same fire that burnt down a few houses in Phalaborwa.
Bringing the competition to a close, Ingmar and Angelene had arranged for prizegiving to be held during a sunset boat cruise along the Oliphants River – A setting that could not be more spectacular for the occasion. While refreshments and snacks were enjoyed the scores were announced. Well done to all the competitors and judges who made the competition happen.
Ingmar's exceptional dedication and commitment in hosting the competition did not go unnoticed, a special thank you, Ingmar! It is now clear why pilots would flock to this remote gem known as Phalaborwa, what a venue!