The SAC National Aerobatics Championships, held at New Tempe airfield, was the result of nothing less than dogged determination by Gary Glasson, SAC Chairman, and Conrad Botha. The COVID-19 pandemic all but ruined their plans to have the Nationals in May accompanied by an Airshow, but Gary and his team along with local Bloemfontein pilots managed to pull off a competition that would rival any in the past.
When South Africa was moved to Level 1 lock-down, by the president, only three weeks ago the planning started in all earnest. Conrad started by acquiring sponsors for fuel and other essential costs, as many leading aeros pilots in SA have been without a decent paycheque since February and the competition just wouldn’t be the same without them.
Somehow with unwavering determination, the competition came together and on Tuesday 29 September New Tempe airfield was suddenly awakened by the arrival of high-performance aerobatic steeds from all over South Africa. Everything was in place for a brilliant weeks competition, unfortunately, no matter how hard us mere mortals try we can not control the weather and it was exactly that, that threatened to throw a spanner in the works.
Wednesday, Day 1 of competition, came along with far from ideal weather but it was flyable and all the competitors managed to get one flight in before all flying was stopped. Despite the terrible conditions the pilots still managed very respectable scores, the reigning National Champion, Nigel Hopkins managed a lifetime best score of 85,090% a score that would put him right on top of leader-boards anywhere in the world.
Day 2 of the competition had to be cancelled completely as the relentless wind stayed well above the acceptable levels for safety, at times gusting at very close to 40 knots. The only flying that was witnessed the whole day was a bunch of noisy Black Korhaans complaining noisily as they took off in the terrible wind. A late afternoon shower seemed to improve the conditions but by that time the daylight was all but gone and hope was transferred to the following day.
Friday morning arrived and conditions looked marginal, raising serious fears that the competition would end without a result, as according to FAI rules each pilot must complete two sequences for the competition to be valid. After a deliberation some of the pilots decided to take on the horrid conditions and attempt to get a sequence done, this, unfortunately, was short-lived as low cloud rolled in and after only three flights it was back to the Airborne Restaurant for some coffee and commiseration.
Once again there was a thunderstorm in the late afternoon and as the day before the wind seemed to subside and conditions once again became flyable. The Advanced Class pilots took to the air, fighting a nasty North-Easterly wind and terrible visibility but they were adamant to get a result in this year from hell commonly known as 2020.
Four pilots managed to complete their sequences before low cloud once again called a halt to the days flying. With very heavy hearts the competitors left the airfield hoping for better weather the following day. We all awoke to conditions that cannot have been better a slight Westerly breeze and not a cloud in sight. After a quick briefing, the pilots made their way to the aircraft and the first pilot took to beautiful blue skies just before 8:00, starting off what would be an exceptionally busy day for all.
The pace that Day 4 took was blistering as soon as one competitor wagged his wings to indicate his sequence was complete the next entered the “Box” and so it continued the whole day. Each competitor managed to complete two sequences for the day. Unfortunately, the Freestyle competition had to be scrapped as time just didn’t allow for it, the fact that the competition in the aresti section was completed was nothing short of miraculous. With the fast pace of the competition one would be forgiven if the thought of safety infringements came to mind, nothing could have been further from the truth as senior judge John Gaillard remarked later “this was the safest competition I have judged in my long career, the airmanship was impeccable”.
During the short lunch break, some light entertainment was planned as Nigel Hopkins and Jason Beamish side-slipped their Extra 330’s behind a line of parked cars and motorcycles from the Bloemfontein Ferrari, Porsche, Harley Davidson and Sports Car Clubs. Each vehicle owner had paid a sponsorship fee for this photo opportunity of a lifetime which in turn contributed to making the competition happen. Lunch, however, was a very short affair and very soon it was back to serious work of flying aerobatics.
The afternoon session saw the wind increase slightly but nowhere near the previous few days levels. The flying continued at the blistering pace of the morning keeping the guests at the Airborne Restaurant entertained throughout the day. All the Classes baring the newly formed RV Class managed to fly three sequences during the competition. The RV class was made up mainly of pilots that had been introduced to the sport by Gary Glasson and Eugene du Preez’s RV training camp initiative. In fact, one-third of all the competitors had been through the RV introduction clinics voting exceptionally well for a strong future of the sport in South Africa.
With the flying done and dusted it was time for everyone to freshen up before meeting up at a local Game Lodge for the Gala evening. Helmut Ludwig welcomed everyone and thanked all involved for their unwavering determination in managing to organise and host such a successful championship despite all the constraints. Gary, Eugene and Conrad received a special mention as they managed to achieve what many thought was an impossible task. Events like this would never happen if not for the generous sponsors that even in this time of dire economic strain stuck their hands deep in their pockets and contributed unreservedly. WZ Betonwerke, H&L Hardware, Blazecor Crushers, EAA Chapter 503 Bloemfontein, Human Ford, Salleys Yamaha, Woodlands Hills Checkers and Protein 2 Go sport drinks all joined forces to assist the SAC.
Then the moment arrived that everyone was waiting for, the results of the last few days tight competition. Helmut started with the newly formed RV Class followed by the Sportsman Class, Intermediate Class, Advanced Class and finally the Unlimited Class, the winner of which is also crowned the South African National Aerobatics Champion for 2020.
Congratulations to all the winners and all the competitors for an outstanding competition. Thank you to Mark Hensman for accepting the role as Contest Director a function not many people are willing to take on, Natalie Stark for her dedication as Scoring Director, John Gaillard for a job well done as Chief Judge leading a very capable team of internationally recognised judges and finally Quintin Hawthorne, Laszlo Liszkay, Helmut Ludwig, Johnie Smith, Kelly McAuley and Cindy Weber for a marvellous job judging under sometimes terrible conditions.
The Sport Aerobatic club is hoping to have two more competitions this year, one regional championship and the season finale “Ace of Base” in which the pilot that achieves the highest % score on the day is crowned Ace of Base.
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