By Garth Calitz
South African Powered Flight Association hosted the SA National Precision Flying Championships over the Human Rights day long weekend at Brits Airfield in The North West Province. The turnout was rather disappointing with only five pilots entering the competition and all of them are based in the northern part of the country.
The concept of Rally and Precision flying started in the Scandinavian countries between the two world wars. The object was to create a set of skills that combined hunting, flying and cross country skiing. The sport included flying to some remote location, landing in the mountains, skiing to a predetermined spot, shooting a target and then flying off to the next spot, to repeat the exercise.
In the late 1940’s more countries became interested in the concept and over a period of years a set of rules was drawn up that separated out the flying aspects only. Further evolution was to split the sport into two disciplines, Precision Flying and Rally Flying. The main difference between the two is that Precision Flying is a solo effort by a single pilot while Rally Flying is a two-crew operation – Pilot and Navigator.
Firstly there is a flight planning (theory) test. This is where a route is worked out by the competitor who has to calculate the distance, ground speed, time and heading of each leg of the route based on a constant airspeed and a given wind factor. No aviation or scientific calculators are allowed here and pilots have to use the traditional “Whizz Wheel”. Penalties are allocated for every incorrect calculation of time or heading. Only very small tolerances are allowed.
The second section is a flying test. Pilots have to fly along a track at a nominated speed, accurate to the second. Pilots also have to identify photographs and ground markers along the route. These need to be marked on a map. Penalties are awarded for each second early or late over certain unknown checkpoints and turning points as well as for misidentification/misplacement of the ground markers and photographs.
Finally, there is the landing section where the pilot has to perform four landings from 1000ft on downwind. Two of the landings are glides (one flap-less) and the other two are powered approaches (one over a 2-meter barrier). Pilots aim for a two-meter deep stripe painted on the runway. Penalties are awarded for each meter long or short of the line.
On Saturday The first of three routes were flown by all the competitors, Ron Stirk a Brits local narrowly snatched the lead from Adrian Pilling with the slightest of margins. The first route proved to be rather challenging as the scores indicated, Ron scored 663 followed by Adrian only 10 points behind with 673. The scores on the first day were all very close raising the pressure for all the competitors for the following days.
On Sunday the landing segment of the competition was held on the return from the days' route. Adrian Pilling had a very successful day scoring a very respectable 186, this was a world-class effort. Ron Stirk and Hans Schwebel came in second and third with 409 and 420 points respectively. Ron once again took the landing segment off the competition with a score of 123 followed by Hans and Adrian with scores of 143 and 150 all very good landing scores.
On the final day, the weather was far from ideal with low clouds and a bit of rain in places, Adrian once again took the top step on the podium with another respectable score of 233 this together with his very low observation and navigation penalties would see him into first place in the overall competition with Ron in second and Hans in third that left the rookies Tarryn Myburgh and Fanie Scholtz to fight out the reaming places. Tarryn managed to just edge out Fanie with the smallest of margins.
The National team will have the opportunity to compete in the World Precision Flying Championships which are scheduled to be held in Albi in France in August this year. Sadly the competitors have to shoulder the entire financial burden for themselves, which as one can imagine is to a large extent protectively expensive and sponsors for this, largely unknown sport are few and far between.
Many of the Rally Flying crews used the weekend as a training session for the Rally Flying Nationals that will be held later in the year and with the Rally Flying World Championships being held in South Africa in November every bit of training is welcomed.
A big thank you must go to Frank Eckhardt and his team for once again putting together a superb competition and of course the wonderfully accommodating people at Brits Flying Club for their ongoing support of Rally Flying in its various formats.