By Garth Calitz Photos by Rayno Snyman and others
The first round of the SAPFA National Rally Flying Championships was hosted by the wonderful people at Stellenbosch Flying Club from Thursday 15 April to Saturday 17 April. The Nationals has been an “on again off again” affair for the last few months as the Covid-19 lock-down rules changed and changed again. When the last relaxation was announced by the president the organization team went into top gear and managed to pull off a brilliantly organised event.
Teams have been hard at work practising almost weekly in the hope of qualifying for the World Rally Flying Championships which will be held in Stellenbosch in November this year after the competition had to be postponed from last year due to the worldwide pandemic.
The possibility of earning Protea colours and representing South Africa has blown new life into this precision sport and it showed at the nationals with no less than fifteen teams stepping up to the plate.
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.
Initially, the sport was dominated by the inventors, the Scandinavian countries, but later the Eastern European Countries began to dominate. World Championships are held on a regular basis with entries from all over the globe. The world Championships that are planned for Stellenbosch will be the 22nd edition of this prestigious competition.
The sport of Air 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 and 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 continuously monitored by GPS loggers and 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.
The weather was exactly what was expected, clear skies with a bit of wind, and on occasion a bit more than just a bit but that’s how we know the Cape. The first day of competition took the teams to the north of Stellenbosch in mainly flat areas. The teams however found this route very challenging and it showed in the scores with only one team making the qualification standard for participation in the Worlds. Adrian Pilling and Mary de Klerk managed the best score for the day.
On day two the wind became a major factor, the route took the participants to the south and with the “Cape Doctor” blowing it was a very challenging course. Keeping the timing correct became a real challenge with the wind gusting at 40 knots at times. Unfortunately, the day's scores mirrored the difficulties on the day. Marko Nel and Leon Bouttell walked away with the laurels with a rather average score of 685.
To everyone’s relief, the third and final day delivered perfect flying conditions for the mountain route, the course took the teams over some of the most scenic areas in the country. Adrian and Mary once again took the honours pretty much cementing their title as SA Champions once again, Mary has all but dominated the sport for the past few years with a few pilots taking up the challenge to fly with her over the years.
The selection committee had the unenviable task of deciding who would qualify for national colours, considering the competition conditions and results the selectors decided that three teams have qualified for national colours after this, the first of two qualifiers. Adrian Pilling and Mary de Klerk, Tony and Pamela Russell and finally Marko Nel and Leon Bouttell will be representing the country in November. The other teams will have the opportunity of making the cut in the second qualifier to be held in Brits from 18 to 20 June.
A very informal prize-giving was held on the manicured lawns of the Stellenbosch Flying Club, then it was time to head back home and start practising for the next qualifier. Well done to Colin Jordaan and his team for organising a magnificent event, Frank and Cally Eckhard for setting the highly challenging but very scenic routes. And last but not least Nigel Musgrave for his service as the safety officer. Judging by what was experienced at this competition I believe Stellenbosch is ready to welcome the world in November.