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SA National Aerobatics Championships – Phalaborwa

By Garth Calitz

The Small Limpopo town of Phalaborwa last week hosted a very memorable SAC National Aerobatics competition. The towns normally laid-back relaxed atmosphere was somewhat interrupted with the arrival of High powered aerobatics aircraft, the town is a mere 2.5 km wide so everyone could hear the guys preparing for the competition.

The locals can be forgiven for thinking there was an airshow in town, many of them made their way to the airfield to try get a close-up look at these seldom seen machines. The local Community Policing Forum was requested by the organisers to man the gate and control the large crowds that arrived every day, and I must add they did a sterling job. Sometimes making it difficult for official visitors to gain access to the airfield after a few phone calls everyone that needed to be there were allowed in. Sadly all these measures were necessary as the event had to be compliant with both CAA regulations and Covid-19 lock-down requirements.

Phalaborwa was chosen after the incredible effort put in by Ingmar Bezuidenhout to create an aerobatic “Box” at the Phalaborwa airport. The SAC is still awaiting permanent approval of the Phalaborwa Box.

Some of the competitors arrived the previous week with the hope that they would get some local practice in before the comp kicked off, unfortunately, the weather didn’t play along and they didn’t manage to get off the ground. Sadly the bad weather they experienced continued and fears started rising that it would prevent the competition from going ahead.

On the first day of the competition (Wednesday 18 August), the conditions improved and the Intermediate, Advanced and Unlimited classes were able to fly their P1 sequences.

The high temperatures experienced on day 2 (into the high thirties) definitely didn't keep the competitors on the ground and a full days flying was achieved, setting the stage for a magnificent competition.

Gary Glasson

Sadly on Friday, the clouds had returned and the competitors spent a very frustrating morning watching a low cloud-base willing it to lift. Many of the judges and competitors decided to spend the downtime exploring the Kruger National Park which is just over the fence from the airfield. Everyone leaving seemed to be the motivation needed for the weather to change and no sooner had some of them left and a call was made to return to the airfield as the cloud was lifting. Ingmar took his Bosbok up on a “recce” of the cloud base and came back with good news, the clouds had lifted sufficiently for the Unlimited and Advanced classes to compete.

Ingmar Bezuidenhout in his Bosbok

The advanced class took to the skies for their third sequence, ensuring they had sufficient results to have a valid competition. Cliff Lotter, the current SAC chairman, was first up in his Yak 55 followed by Glen Warden in his Slick 360. Elton Bondi in his Extra 300 was next up followed very closely by Andrew Blackwood Murray in his Nashua sponsored Extra 300, Jason Beamish in his Absolute Aviation Extra 330LX, Pierre du Plooy in his Ultimate Aviation Giles 202 and Kayle Wooll in his Extra 330Lx completed the field. The Unlimited class still needed the third sequence to validate their competition and unfortunately, daylight waned before they could get airborne. Sadly the weather forecast didn’t look much better for the final day of the competition.

On Saturday morning everyone woke to more low clouds and a real threat that no flying would be possible. Once again many took the opportunity to make for Kruger. Thankfully, just after midday, the wind turned Northerly and the clouds intermediately started lifting the call was once again made for everyone to return to the airfield. Ingmar once again took the Bosbok up to determine the cloud base, initially, the could-base was still too low Ingmar flew out for no more than ten minutes and on his return, the cloud base lifted 600ft. Ian Beaton had flown in from Johannesburg and on landing was promptly sent up to once again gauge the cloud base, a collective sigh of relief was audible when he reported that all was good and the clouds had lifted well above the 2600ft necessary for the comp to continue.

Waiting for the weather to clear

The judges quickly took their positions, fortunately as it was after midday they were placed next to the beautiful terminal building, in the morning hours they were located on an open field inside the Kruger Park boundary fence. Barrie Eeles was the first of the Unlimited chargers to take to the now almost blue sky in his Ecko Unltd Extra 330SC. Gary Glasson in his tiny Pitts Falcon followed shortly after, Red Bull sponsored Patrick Davidson in his Game Bird GB1 was next and finally Nigel Hopkins in his Ecko Unltd Extra 330SC ensuring the unlimited competition validity.

The Sportsman Class were next determined to make the most of the now perfect conditions led by relative newcomer Quentin Taylor in his newly acquired Extra 200, Johan van Zyl in his RV7 was next to take to the air followed by Local Boy Ingmar Bezuidenhout in his rather bright Yak 52. Dicky Maritz in his 8KCAB Decathlon was next up, the class was completed by Warren Eva in his Yak 52.

With perfect conditions it was decided to give the RV Class another bite at the cherry, Dave Thomas in an RV7 led the field out followed by Thys Khun in his RV8 and Martyn Redelinghuys on an RV7.

Intermediate Class not to outdone then took to the sky for their P4 unknown sequence, Dustin Hughes was first up in the monster Yak 55 followed by the young Tristan Eeles in his Ecko Unltd sponsored Extra 330SC. Trevor Warner in an Extra 200 completed the Intermediate field.

With light fading quickly the Freestyle Competitors made short work of getting airborne, Patrick Davidson in his Stunning Red Bull Game Bird GB1 was first out of the blocks followed by Nigel Hopkins and Barrie Eeles both flying in Ecko Unltd sponsored Extra 330SC’s. When Barrie landed the light was all but gone and everyone commenced the nervous wait for the results that would only be announced at the dinner later that evening.

The prize-giving dinner was planned to be held under the stars in the Kruger National Park but due to the late overrun of the competition a contingency had to be made, Ingmar and his team quickly moved the whole event to his hangar, Ingmar however assured everyone that the dinner after the Limpopo Regional Championships will be held in the Kruger Park.

Elton Bondi drew the short straw and had to perform duty as Master of Ceremonies at the dinner, keeping a bunch of nervous pilots focused was no mean feat. Elton kicked off the evening with the customary “thank you’s” to all the people that make this type of event a reality.

The Sponsors are very often forgotten but without them, events would never happen, please make an effort to support all those that support aviation in South Africa.

Ingmar and his wonderful wife Monika and Angelene Latskywere presented with gifts to thank them for putting together a wonderful competition under extremely difficult conditions, these include date changes due to lock-downs, conforming to covid regulations when a large group of people are expected and many other challenges. WELL DONE !!!!!

And a special thanks to all the Contest Director Mark Hensman, Chief Judge John Gaillard, Scoring Director Natalie Stark and all the judges Quintin Hawthorne, Laszlo Liszkay, Helm Ludwig, Mike Stark, Johnie Smith, and Cindy Weber. After a bit of light-hearted banter, it was time to get to the important bit of the evening, the awarding of the “real” prizes. Veteran Judge John Gaillard was presented a SAC Lifetime Award for his 31 years of service as Chief Judge and his unwavering support of the Sports Aerobatic Club both locally and internationally.

The moment everyone was waiting for the awarding of the prizes for the brilliant flying that we witnessed over the last few days.

RV Class were the first to be called, Martyn Redelinghuys managed to keep Thys Khun and Dave Thomas at bay to take the honours. Martyn became the first recipient of the new RV Class Aerobatic Champions Trophy donated by Flightline Weekly, Dane Lang the 2020 winner is the first to carry the title of RV National Aerobatic Champion.

Quentin Taylor took top honours in the Sportsman Class with a brilliant score of 82,496%, in second place was Warren Eva. Third place belonged to Dicky Maritz with a very respectable 79.658%, scoring anywhere close to 80% in a Decathlon is a feat to be proud of.

The Intermediate Class was a closely fought battle throughout the competition with the lead changing hands a few times over the four sequences, in the end, Dustin Hughes managed to come out tops with Tristan Eeles in second and Trevor Warner in third. Only 2% separated the first and third place proving that the class was very competitive.

Elton Bondi once again managed a win in the Advanced Class, Kayle Wooll managed to keep the door closed on Pierre du Plooy to take second place. Advanced Class was by far the largest class at the Nationals this year with seven entrants.

Unlimited was once again a ding-dong battle between Patrick Davidson and Nigel Hopkins with Patrick coming out on top this year. The fight for the third place did not disappoint either with Gary Glasson just managing to get the upper hand on Barrie Eeles, Gary generally surprises everyone with his consistent performances in a very underpowered Pitts Falcon.

The 4 Minute Freestyle competition is, without doubt, the most spectator-friendly event at any competition due to the airshow feel with smoke and some crazy manoeuvres, Nigel Hopkins managed to outclass all the competition for the seventh year in a row this year he streaked ahead with almost 10%. Patrick Davidson came in second with Barrie Eeles nipping at his heels in third.

Most of the pilots made it an early night as the weather was once again threatening their trip home in the morning with a small window at 7:00 am to clear the escarpment. The hospitality in Phalaborwa will long be remembered and I’m sure everyone is chomping at the bit to get to the Limpopo Regional to experience it all over again.

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