By Alewyn Burger
How things have changed, and how nothing has changed. Rally Flying is still rally flying, maps are still maps, plotting still plotting, Cessna’s still Cessna’s, Turn Point Photos and Enroute photos still the same and spot landings, well, what goes up must come down.
What has changed though? Allow me to give you a brief history of what happened on the Rally Flying scene in the last 3 years.
Historically the World Rally Flying Championships would be held every second year. Competing in the South African Rally Flying Nationals leading up to it is then very important for those that want to be selected for the Protea Team in order to represent South Africa on the world stage. To represent your country is a privilege and an honour, not a right and it is something you have to earn. South Africa won the bid to host the WRFC 2020 and Stellenbosch was ready to host it! Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, it got cancelled but thankfully it rolled over to 2021. France was going to host the WRFC in 2022 and theirs then got pushed out to 2023.
It was decided that to stay proficient and once again earn their place in the Protea team everyone needs to re-qualify at Nationals 2021 to make the Protea Team for WRFC 2021.
It was agreed that given the fact that WRFC 2021 will still be held in the Cape it will give the Protea Team more practice and home-ground advantage to hold Nationals at Stellenbosch. At the same time, it gave a couple of new teams the opportunity to join in and try to earn a spot on the Protea Team. Unfortunately, the results were a reality check for most including some of the seasoned pilots! Only 3 teams made the proverbial cut on merit and the selectors decided that they needed to see more flying. Using their discretion as per the rules to select a maximum of 10 teams for the hosting country from a lower bar was apparently not an option.
It was then decided to host a Qualifying Session 2 (AKA another 3 Day Nationals) in Brits to give the northern teams a chance to save on some ferrying and commuting costs while also proving our salts worth to fly in any conditions and be good enough. It was a great event once again; the scores were good on merit and the selectors were able to pick a team. WRFC Champs 2021 here we come! One small problem, we were going through another wave of coronavirus in South Africa and nobody wanted to travel to South Africa under those conditions. France was not willing to roll over another year and World Rally Flying Champs for South Africa simply got cancelled. We were disappointed, to say the least.
But wait, there is a Silver Lining! Somehow the SAPFA team managed to pull something out of the hat and got a special bid to host a WRFC 2022. Everyone around the world was so hungry for a Championship. This time it was decided to host it in the Northwest for various reasons above my pay grade but importantly, we had a world championship and WRFC 2022. It was a bit of a letdown for us “Capies” but nonetheless, were going to earn our Protea Colours and represent in Brits!
And so once more I saddled my trusty steed, the Cessna 180 in 2022 to make the journey from Stellenbosch to Brits for a week of practising followed by one more round of Nationals to ensure we have a spot in the Protea Team. By now it will be the 3rd time we have had to prove ourselves worthy for the team in a 15-month period but in the meanwhile, we were gaining valuable experience and getting better at our craft.
WRFC22 finally happened at Brits, and it really was an incredible experience. Finishing with a good score on the last day we were on such a high. Steve and I looked at each other and just knew were going to have to go to France in 2023 to show them Polish, Czech and French what we are really made of! South Africa has unfinished business! How and with what funding from where we are still not sure but we are going, come hell or high water.
So now back to the present. Do you want to go to France? You then have to fly Nationals for the selectors to check out your performance! SAPFA allocated the date 9-11 March 2023 in the calendar last year already with venue TBC.
Some of us lobbied for Stellenbosch as the venue. We’ve just had a Q2, Nationals and WRFC Champs in the North over the previous 18 Months and the Cape Winelands terrain represents closer to France than Gauteng would. After careful consideration, it was decided for the first time in history that there will be a Cape Nationals at Stellenbosch and a Gauteng Nationals at Brakpan both over only 2 days to compete for the same Trophy and for the selectors to pick a Protea Team. Times are tough and I do understand the expenses involved in making the trip down to Cape Town and visa versa.
Nonetheless, we have a Nationals in the Cape! The mission, score well and make the cut for the Protea Team once more. Bonus prize, win the SA National Rally Trophy!
March in the Cape usually comes with the most beautiful blue-sky days you can imagine. Did I mention it usually is? My rally partner Steve Van der Merwe and Marko Nel’s rally partner Leon Boutell flew down on FlySafair on Wednesday and landed here in the Cape in the pouring rain. By late afternoon the weather gave us a small window and we were able to get one practice flight, to the north of Stellenbosch staying clear of high ground and mountains. Thursday was a day of plotting and map studying as the clouds stayed low and we were unable to fly.
Day 1 of the SA Nationals Cape addition finally came it was a case of the briefing, discussing the weather and then waiting for it to improve. By mid-day, it finally lifted enough to do a route over the mountains to the southeast towards Hermanus and Theewaterskloof dam. Paul Smit and Thys Roux, winners of the last ANR Rally at Stellenbosch stepped up to the plate and entered the Rally too. Previous Protea Rally pilot Thys Van der Merwe participated in Class 2 Fun Rally with Sally Shaw.
On our flight, Steve was quick with the plotting and that afforded him more time to study the enroute photographs and commit them to memory. By the time we took off the North Westerly wind was rather breezy, it took some serious concentration to ensure the tailwind don’t push you above 75kts ground speed while climbing above the terrain with a high nose attitude while navigating and searching for a turn point. After nearly 2 hours in the hot seat, a had a brief lapse in concentration and the headwind got the better of me coming back over Sir Lowries' pass. That dreaded feeling when you apply cruise power and know you are still going to be late for the turn point and there is nothing you can do about it! However, we recovered from that slight setback and crossed the Finish Point with a Bingo. (No time penalty)
Back on the ground our loggers were downloaded, and the answer sheet was marked. We were horrified to find out the TP1 Photo was in fact incorrect. We were shown TP1 on google earth again and when we looked at the photo it became evident that we did indeed misidentify it. Well done to the route planners to slip in such a good “fake”! School fees were paid on that one. It turns out everybody said the photo was correct and so we were not feeling too lonesome. It was good to debrief with Marko, Tony, Paul and Thys to get their take on the windy and slightly turbulent conditions over a well-deserved cold beer. We were all in good spirits.
Overnight it rained cats and dogs but when Day 2 came on Saturday we were hoping to do a Northern Route once the clouds lifted enough. Day 2 also brought some newcomers to the sport. We had 3 new teams enter the Fun Rally Class 3 and they were excited to get their maps, start plotting and go fly the route, hoping for the best! Thys Van der Merwe also entered in the Fun class again but since he is an ex-Protea pilot and in this case also flying with Protea Navigator Jandre Loots they were placed in a class of their own, Class 2.
Due to a lack of ground staff officials in the morning, we were handed our envelope containing the unknown maps, task sheet, speed chart, TP photos, Enroute photos and other instructions from the upper clubhouse deck with an additional 3 min to get to the aircraft. Steve went to go sit in the aircraft ready to plot while I received the envelope and then made a “Le Mans” type start, sprinting for the Skywagon parked on the grass. I think this should be the new way to start Rally from now! That was fun!
I had a good feeling about the flight to come. Steve finished the plot and fill in the minute markers on the taxi to the holding point and by the time we got airborne, he was studying photos. I took a deep breath and crossed over a school for the Start Point within 2 seconds for zero penalties. Off to a good start! The rest as they say is history, The TP’s kept rolling in on time, most of the time. Every so often Steve would announce yet another en route photo observed and for me to mark it on the map to take the distance measurement from the previous TP later.
We crossed a Y-Junction as a finish point, observed the photo to be correct and now all I had to do was make a spot landing! Talk about pressure after a good flight. Steve reminds me to aim for between 5-10 meters deep as we will take a B box landing every day of the week and twice on Saturdays! 1 meter short of the line is a 60-point penalty so you really don’t want to land short. Off course, you also don’t want to land too deep either.
I managed to get the Cessna One Eighty down about 10 metres past the line to just slip into the Bravo Box for a 20-point penalty. Talk about relief!
Now one last breath-holding exercise, was the plot accurate and did we fly to the correct Turn points? The logger reveals it’s all good and the answer sheet result is very much favourable too!
The final score indicates a personal best for Steveand I. We are both content, happy and may I say, a little bit smug.
Paul sat out for day 2 due to other commitments but Marko and Tony both landed back with improved results over the previous days and were happy with their respective Navigator's performance too.
Shortly thereafter the Fun Rally teams spot landed back. The stories and laughs from them reminded me of our early days of rally flying and how far Steve and I have come. Most importantly is that all 3 Fun rally teams came back with smiles on their faces and as better pilots for it. They all confessed they want more, and they want to fly another route and improve their skills! It makes me proud especially given that I signed them up only 2 weeks earlier and gave them a single “long” briefing on the Tuesday before the event.
With that, Frank and Cally announced the results under the trees at the Stellenbosch Flying Club with the most magnificent view while we all are having pizzas and cold beers relaxing, shooting the breeze and sharing flying stories. This was sadly not the traditions of old, but at that moment, it was perfectly fine.
Now we just need to wait for the results of the SA Nationals Part II in Brakpan in 2 weeks’ time, through them all together and then crown the National Flying Champions of South Africa! We wish all the competitors in Brakpan flying under very different circumstances a little bit of wind and a lot of luck!
How things have changed and how nothing has changed. See you in France!