By Steve Onions Photos by Paul Cormack
Wings Park was the host to the Eastern Cape aerobatic regionals held by the Sport Aerobatic Club of South Africa this past weekend. There was an impressive number of contestants and aircraft that entered for the competition and with great anticipation from our local aviation fraternity and after much planning, the aircraft eventually began to arrive as early as three days before the event to practice and prepare to compete.
The story for us at Wings Park in East London began only a short while ago when a few of our pilots purchased a YAK 52 aircraft and decided to embark on aerobatic training. After a very successful training camp was held, Mitchell Hill (ATP career pilot) flew his graduate sequence and passed which allowed him to enter this week’s competition and then on Saturday, Darren Hanner (East London Businessman) flew his graduate sequence and was endorsed by the Judges – Shortly after the recent aerobatic training camp was completed, the idea and seeds were planted to host the regional competition at Wings Park.
Mitchell Hill approached the Wings Park EXCO (Darren is a member of the EXCO) with a proposal which was enthusiastically received and fundraisers were held to fund the installation of proper ground markings for the aerobatic box by using large sections of conveyor belting and white paint located in the Wings Park game reserve section to the South of the airfield. Several of the competing pilots praised the box markings expressing that they stand out significantly when contrasted with the green terrain. The local fraternity enjoyed watching the competitors doing their practice sessions on Thursday and Friday in anticipation of Saturday’s competition.
Friday evening ended off with a catered supper in the Boma and many stories shared as folks chatted and enjoyed the evening. Saturday started with a cool breeze and the competitors and Judges shared breakfast in the Wings Park Boma – soon it was time for the competition director, Annie Boon, to brief the pilots in the Boma and after their session, they emerged ready to fly their competition slots and each competitor had two slots, one in the morning and the second in the afternoon.
The weather on Saturday was great with no cloud, but a fresh breeze played a significant role in testing the competitor’s accuracy to stay inside the box. Several local pilots, Wings Park shareholders and friends visited the venue during the course of the day and background music and a light commentary was provided to keep all informed as to who and what was flying.
One of the highlights was a step by step sequence commentary given by Cliff Lotter as Mitch Hill flew the YAK52 through his first Sportsman competition sequence and this really helped the visitors understand the sequence being flown and what the Judges would be looking for. Food and drinks were available from caterers throughout the day with complimentary Wings
Park labelled bottled water on hand.
Local pilots Kelsey Yelseth and Summer Mair ensured that each competing pilot was handed a bottle of water soon after they landed. The competition sequences and slots went smoothly with the Wings Park refuelling station energetically filling up aircraft as they landed getting ready for their next slot. The onlookers were treated to some really great flying skills as the competitors in each class flew their sequence. ATC manned a designated Wings Park ATC frequency on Saturday.
With the last routine flown, it was time for the Judges to add up the scores and determine the winners in each category. The evening banquet prize giving was held in the brand new wedding/conference venue, LÁvion, which is in close proximity to the main runway, (The Judges posts were set up on the venue’s veranda during the competition). Once the competitors and other guests had arrived and settled in with a few drinks, the award ceremony was underlaid with Annie Boon announcing the winners in each category.
The Wings Park Airmanship & Aerobatics Trophy does not necessarily go to the pilot with the highest score. The team at Wings Park, after much deliberation, determine who the award should go to. This year it was awarded to Gary Glasson. Gary flew a brilliant comp in his Pitts Falcon winning the unlimited class in an underpowered four-cylinder machine is a remarkable achievement.
As soon as the award ceremony was over, everyone enjoyed a spread of savoury platters which was topped off with scrumptious sweet platters, The bar served drinks while folks chatted and enjoyed the vibe as a live four-piece band (3rd Degree) played some awesome music with stunning vocals. Lots of fun and chatter continued as the evening progressed and as the live band played, many enjoyed letting off some steam on the dance floor with moves almost equal to some of the graceful aerobatics observed earlier in the day. All too soon the time approached the COVID curfew and the evening came to an end. On Sunday morning the visiting aircraft departed for home after a very memorable event. It would be great to host this event every year at Wings Park.