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SAPFA National Rally Flying Championships

By Garth Calitz

The South African Power Flight Association hosted the National Rally Flying Championships at Brits airfield over the Youth Day long weekend. The competition got off to a very cold start on Thursday 16 June with temperatures dropping well below zero in the morning.

The flying however was red hot with the first seven teams scoring under 1000pts on the first day, showing that the teams have improved considerably over the last few years. This is all due to the attempts by SAPFA members and National team members to host training camps and share knowledge built up over years of international competition. The Speed Rally concept has also played a part in enticing crews to attempt the more demanding Rally flying.

On Day 2 there was an improvement in the weather improved with slightly milder temperatures but there was still a nasty nip in the air that kept most of the spectators in the warm Brits flying Club clubhouse. The Quality of flying was no less impressive with the top teams once again posting scores that would see them competing well in an international competition. One stand-out team was Nigel Hopkins and Mary de Klerk that by this stage had already set an almost unbeatable total.

The third day of competition was once again hotly contested by the top teams with the top two finishers within one point of each other. The landing judge Jacques Jacobs had his hands full with some very interesting landings, he had to determine whether they were within the rules as set out by the FAI General Aviation Commission.

The sport of Rally Flying is a two-crew operation, with a pilot and navigator. The emphasis is on accurate plotting and observation. The navigator is given a sealed envelope approximately fifteen minutes prior to taking off. The envelope contains clues for each turning point on the route. The navigator has to pinpoint the turning points on the map based on these clues in order to determine the track for the pilot to fly. The pilot has to fly accurately along the route at an elected speed and the aircraft is continuously monitored by GPS loggers the team have to reach turning points at the exact time according to the selected speed. There are also photographs to be found along the route. Photographs for the turning points are also supplied. These photographs may or may not be accurate, so creating a true/false situation that has to be contended with at each turning point. Points are accrued by flying off the track and not making the turning point at the right time, as well as not identifying the photos correctly. Each leg of the competition is concluded with a landing competition that is incorporated in the final score.

Once all the aircraft were safely on the ground it was time for the crews to relax and the officials to start working as the final results were eagerly awaited. This year SAPFA will once again attempt to host the World Rally Flying Championships, the last two years the Worlds were planned to take place in Stellenbosch but were sadly cancelled due to the Covid pandemic.

Brits will be the host for the 2022 Championship but sadly one massive challenge is plaguing the competition, the availability of Cessna 172s. The faithful old C172 is the aircraft of choice for most of the international teams but flying schools are not willing to hire out their aircraft as they will get far fewer flying hours at competition than they would when used at the school. It would really assist if SACOC would come to the party in an attempt to secure the required number of aircraft for this prestigious international competition.

The final results were announced at a very informal prize-giving ceremony, unfortunately, many of the teams couldn’t wait and had to head back to their home bases.

In third place was the father and son team of Hendrik and Jandre Loots, the duo additionally became the first winners of the new Rally Landing Trophy which is currently being produced and will be delivered to them when it is completed.

Second place belonged to the team of Alewyn Burger and Steve van der Merwe all the way from Cape Town with a very respectable score of 1267 over the three days of competition.

The winners and new National Rally Flying Champions Nigel Hopkins and Mary de Klerk flew a very consistent competition scoring world-class scores on all three days to secure the title. Nigel and Mary managed to score a total of 833 over a three-day period. They pretty much cleaned up all the trophies as well.

All the results will now be forwarded to the National team selection committee and a decision will be made on the 2022 National team that will represent South Africa in the upcoming world championships.

Special thanks must go to Frank and Cally Eckard and their team for once again putting together a magnificent competition, the Brits flying club for once again hosting with distinction and last but definitely not least all the competitors that with all the rising costs of fuel still made an attempt to compete in the championships.