By Andre Venter
Gariep Airfield was a hive of activity during the workers-day weekend with an invasion of Gyrocopters from all over South Africa. The Gariep area is well known for its amazing gliding conditions in the height of the Free State summer so the influx of these odd aircraft caused quite a stir.
SAGPA the section of the Aero Club that represents all the gyro pilots decided on Gariep due to its central location in the country and of course it picturesque beauty. The Gariep Dam is the biggest dam in South Africa and was completed in 1971 and was originally called Hendrik Verwoerd Dam. The name was changed to Gariep in 1996, which means “River” in the Khoekhoe language.
The town of Gariep was originally the residence of all the workers that constructed the massive dam wall which lies on the western side of the dam. Once the dam was complete Gariep became a regular stopover for people travelling from the north of South Africa to the Western and Eastern Cape coasts as it is exactly halfway from Johannesburg to Cape Town.
Gariep Airfield was originally built during the construction but there was little need for the field once the construction was done, fortunately, Gariep Gliding Club was created and they have kept the airfield active and maintained.
The first of the 75 odd Gyros that registered for the fly-in weekend arrived on Thursday with the bulk scheduled to arrive on Friday. The weather, however, had other plans and many pilots including an entire contingent from KwaZulu Natal were forced to turn around and return home from somewhere over the natal Midlands. Some of the pilots from the Cape had to sit and wait out the weather in Orania. Many Gyros managed to get through the rainy weather and by the time the braai fires were lit 20 crews had registered at the Club House all of course following the strictly enforced Covid protocols.
Friday morning arrived and with it came more rain, seriously threatening the whole event. Everyone gathered at the airfield patiently awaiting more arrivals and keeping warm with many cups of hot chocolate. The rain did clear up later in the day and a further 22 Gyros arrived joined by two fixed wings, a Jabiru and a V-tail Bonanza. Once again the braai fires managed to defrost the arrivals aided slightly by a bit of liquid warmth for the pub.
On Saturday the weather couldn’t have been scripted better beautiful clear blue skies and warm sunshine, the pilots took full advantage of the great conditions. The airfield was abuzz with aircraft coming and going, exploring the area and enjoying scenic flights over the very large dam. The day seemed to fly by and soon it was time to head off to the Gala dinner which was held at Gariep Forever Resort.
The dinner was a very smart affair and it was clear that SAPGA had spared no expense for their members that made the effort to join for the weekend. One had to feel sorry for the members that planned to join but due to weather had to rather miss it as condition were not ideal for safe flight. Once SAPGA chairman Andre van Zyl had welcomed everyone and made the necessary introductions it was time for the awards section of the evening.
Melt Morrison was voted to have made the Most Embarrassing Landing for the weekend not exactly the most flattering award, but as always it was in good fun. The Radio procedure King awarded was given to David Hainsworth. ZU-EGZ was the aircraft voted to have the most bells and whistles. Len Klopper was adjudged the best-spirited pilot (Geesbou Award).
The most valued up and coming AP Award went to Fransie Engelbrecht. Louis van Wyk won the award for the most valued AP. Val Field was the oldest pilot at the event while Rainer Janse van Rensburg and Louis van Wyk were the most valued instructors.
The female Gyro pilot ambassador award was shared between Juanita Kruger, Liesl Nel, Samantha Ellis, Lana Zulch and Christine Klopper. The platinum pilot award was shared between Val Field, Eben Mocke, Peter Goldsmith, Gawie Steyn and Roelf Palm.
Tommie Jordaan was honoured for his remarkable effort and dedication as the event organiser. The Autogyro award went to ZU-RTM, the ELA award to ZU-RDA, the Trojan Award to Johann von Ludwig and the Xenon award to Marius Kruger.
Andre van Zyl was recognised as the Gyro pilot who has flown the most air shows. The Christa Voster Award for the promotion of the sport of gyrocopter flying has acted as an exceptional ambassador in the preceding twelve months, inspiring other pilots to achieve excellence and also introducing the public to gyrocopter flying went to Rainer Janse van Rensburg. The Sean Klopper Airmanship Award went to Roelf Palm. David Hainsworth, Tom Vermeulen, Len Klopper, Louis van Wyk, Roelf Palm and Eric Torr were recognised for achieving more than 1000 hours. The gentleman's award was shared by Weskaap - Gert Coetzee, Natal - Mike French and Gauteng -Joe Terblanche.
Special thanks had to get to all the sponsors that make events like this possible BKB, Aliwal Toyota, Brulberg Game Ranch, Magni SA, Vleis Sentraal, Jody Bartelman, Telwiedre Voere, OFS Smart Panel Beaters, Squares Zastron, Prosper Electrical, Dasram Boerdery, McCloud Construction, Vultures Lodge, OVK Zastron, Jankelow Insurance, NoordKaap Makelaars, Mavtec, Nelis Wilken, Avrivet, Majestic Insurance, Virbac Animal Medicine, Nutrigrun, Henk Myburgh, Maxtec and Networks Unlimited went above and beyond to support SAPGA and this event in particular.
SAPGA plan to make this an annual event so we all hope to be back next year.
On Sunday morning everyone left very early in the morning for the long journey home. Sadly a massive damper was thrown on the whole event when we learned that one of the pilots and his passenger were involved in a fatal accident on their way home. Our sincere condolences to the family, friends and the Gyro community in general.
On a personal note Id like to thank everyone for a wonderful weekend, the treatment of the media was amazing.
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