By Ian Beaton
Well, the saga continues, in November 2019 I wrote about a group of intrepid aviators based at Tedderfield who went on a journey seeking enlightenment in the sport of aerobatics. In that instance we arrived at the fountain of knowledge, to be found at Kitty Hawk and attended our first Aerobatic Camp organised by the SAC. Read Here
You may recall the anxiety we spoke about, the concern about the “Bone Dome Brigade” and our perception of their disdain at our poor attempts at aerobatic manoeuvring. Well we survived, the Bone Dome Brigade were approachable, helpful, complimentary and even managed to teach us a thing or two. It seems that the SAC committee are actually quite good strategists, as resulting from that camp, the hook was properly set, and they had four fish on the line.
Then things got really interesting, someone in China, ate an armadillo, or the weapons development lab in Wuhan lost a vial of some virus, and here in South Africa we were all locked into our homes for a month, then let out with not much to do and finally our logical, clear thinking civil aviation regulator decided that flying an aeroplane on you own was more dangerous than driving a taxi packed with people to anywhere, as long as one window was open, and for months prevented flying taking place.
Anyway, the Aeroclub managed to get through to them, and we were eventually able to fly from our own field within a 2.5-mile radius, for an hour a month. Our engine appreciated that, and we duly did what we could until we ran out of fuel, as at Tedderfield we do not have a fuel bay. (Only joking, we fly using 95 unleaded so it was not a problem, but for some who fly using the same blue aftershave that I am partial to, when I want to pick up chicks potentially had a problem).
Eventually, we were returned to some sort of normality and Gary Glasson, clearly has a desire for hard work, leading a supportive team, announced another aerobatic camp at Kitty Hawk. The rules as to what could be done, who could stay over, whether we could refuel, lead to our attending the second camp to see how much we had forgotten from the first. Read Here
Now a little like the Nationals which is what I am supposed to be writing about, bad weather came in to play, so for day 1 of the camp a small number eventually made it to Kitty Hawk, wherewith a howling gale, smoking fire to keep us warm, we were briefed, ate a little lunch and eventually returned home with no real flying taking place, this was rectified the following day. In my case, Eugene was allocated as my instructor and he managed to magically block one ear so I retained a little bit of the knowledge he imparted. Another fantastic event, well organised, well run and well attended.
Next was the Nationals at Tempe, one day a mail arrived in my inbox, saying Nationals is on, Conrad has painted the box markers at Tempe, so we better all get down there. In the meantime, I had got in touch with Trevor Warner and Barry Eeles and a little bit of practice and coaching was received. This was a little tougher than the aero camps. Tighter lines, stay in the box, positioning and presentation were all identified discussed and worked on, naturally, my flying by now was so good that all of my figures were perfect ahem, cough…cough.
It was a relatively easy decision, I blocked out the Wednesday to Friday in my diary. Sent off my documentation, including copy of my by now expired license, proof of payment of the renewal and all of the necessary forms. Supported once again by an extension of the validity of the said expired document, which is some two months after the application date still outstanding from the really efficient regulator.
We arrived in Bloemfontein on Tuesday evening after a beautiful flight down. Touched down taxied in and were directed to a hangar, I shut down, was still sitting in my aerie and it was pushed back into a hangar, parked, unpacked whilst I wrote up my logbook. This time by none other than the chief Bone Dome Brigade members Gary and Eugene. Eventually, they coaxed me out of the cockpit with a beer, we got to meet Conrad and a few other folks from Bloemfontein, were transported to our B&B, checked in, and were dropped off by Alec, who got out of his car, handed me the keys and said, use it. I was dumbfounded, here he lent two people, whom he had never met, his own personal vehicle. We all have heard that the farmers in the Free State are a generous lot, but this was exceptional, and so the week got off to a great start and Alec we hugely appreciate your generosity.
First flight was a practice, I managed to get a slot donated to me by Andrew Fletcher, who did not feel that he would be ready by 07h20 in the morning, anyway as it turned out the time was pushed by an hour because and I only got to fly at 08h20. Conrad’s work on the box was clearly visible from the air and made for a really wonderful introduction into competition aerobatics.
Competition Day 1, weather was not fantastic, but we were there to fly, the cloud base was just high enough and we were good to go, after some weather breaks, finally the RV class took to the flight line for the first competition flight in anger. Then the wheels truly came off, the nervous energy of a bunch of newbies eager to get going and keep to the time schedule meant that the first aerie went off before the judges were ready, causing much consternation for the Contest Director. Eventually, with everything under control I watched the person before me start-up taxi out, and then after he had taken off, I fired up took off, climbed up into the box, and flew my sequence. For the first time ever, I got it mostly correct, all the figures linked together, all completed, all pointed more or less in the intended direction, all in the right sequence, I was truly now a flying god (to quote one Richard Hammond from TopGear).
The afternoon was taken with assisting with some judging, learning to scribe, and for the first time understanding what this competition Aerobatics is all about. The beautiful straight lines I flew in the cockpit were not that beautiful and straight when viewed from the ground. So understanding the criticality of drawing the line, extending the line after the roll, before breaking off at the top of the loop all took on a different perspective. A new language was developed, Hard Zeros, Interruptions, Insertions and Perception Zeros were demonstrated ably by my flying competitors from all classes, and this behaviour confirmed the flying god status in my mind.
Well, the weather did not play ball and eventually on Saturday we got the second flight in. Once again, I flew it really nicely, in perfect conditions and scored a little better than the previous flight.
This out of the way, some time spent watching others, talking aerobatics, dreaming about more capable aircraft and a super dinner rounded it all off. I did manage to snag the third place in the RV class and so to my instructors, Trevor, Eugene, Barry and a guest appearance from Bertus, the evidence suggests that I did manage to listen.
What a great event, well organised, well attended and many thanks to the SAC for exposing me to a new aspect of flying and truly making me a significantly better pilot than I was just 9 months ago. Special thanks must go to Conrad and his team in Bloemfontein, Gary Glasson and the committee, Mark Hensman, Natalie Stark and the judges for all of the hard work, we do really appreciate it.