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Sky Grand Prix of Aerobatics

By Gary Shephard

After a decade of aviation isolation, the people of Durban were treated to the Sky GP 03, the first being on the Durban beachfront in 2014 and the second at Greyville Racecourse in 2016. We woke up to crisp blue skies with variable southerly winds and a coolish temp, for Durbanites anyway. The gates opened at 8 am with eager spectators streaming in, with most of the tickets sold an estimated crowd of 5000 was expected, at the same time the three pylons were being inflated on the threshold of runway 05 and rwy23 with one in the centre.

The Sky GP is the brainchild of Roger Deare and Nigel Hopkins and with this year’s event, Roger’s wife Leigh and their son Christian were involved with the organisation.

With the competition set to take off at 10 am, there were three programmes to follow.

  1. Known Programme issued in advance and practised beforehand, the 3-minute time window to complete.

  2. An unknown Programme was issued to the pilots the night before, so no practice, and also a 3-minute time window.

  3. Freestyle Programme where the pilots can fly their own sequence with no height restriction and a 4-minute window in which to complete their display.

The pilots are ranked on their best performance over the three programmes which then determines the new Sky GP champion. Thursday was practice and validation day for the pilots and the airfield was closed to the public.

The commentators, Dave Guselli of East Coast Radio fame and Mike “Spanky” Galloway who is an accomplished aerobatic pilot and FAI (CIVA) jury member from the USA, kept the crowd entertained throughout the day.

At 10 am the parade of pilots took to the taxiway in luxury BMW cars to introduce themselves to the fans. Aarron Deliu from Australia and Aude Lemordant from France joined a large contingent of South Africans made up of Eugene du Preez, Nigel Hopkins, Mark Hensman, Barrie Eeles and Patrick Davidson.

With the parade completed four skydivers from Durban Skydive Centre took to the skies to jump out of a perfectly operable Cessna Skylane, always a crowd-pleaser.

To kick off the first round Tristan Eeles in his Extra 330SC, demonstrated the known programme to the crowd so they could get a better understanding of what’s expected from the competitors, especially height and aerobatic box limits.

In the Ist Round Aaron Deliu and Eugene du Preez, both flying Extra 330Sc's, took to the beautiful Durban skies to perform their known sequences.

Midway through the first round Radio Control pilot Cliff Chen displayed his Slick 360 model aircraft, he well and truly threw that around the sky, very impressive!

After the break, Aude Lemordant and Mark Hensman both in an MX2, Nigel Hopkins and Barrie Eeles in Extra 330SC's and Patrick Davidson in his Red Bull-sponsored Gamebird GB1 continued to wow the evergrowing crowd.

Once again to entertain the crowd before the second round started was another great RC display by Cliff Chen.

The second round then kicked off with all the participating pilots flying their unknown sequences. Just to spice things up a bit the Extra Duo of Nigel Hopkins and Jason Beamish performed an awesome high-intensity display with their Extra 330SCs.

To close off the competition side of proceedings all the pilots took to the air for their freestyle sequences. Freestyle is exactly what the name denotes, the sequence is determined by the pilot and they have 4 minutes in which to put together a series of figures that will impress the team of judges.

While all the scores were being tallied and verified the three-ship Marksmen Aerobatic Team with Mark Hensman, Eugene du Preez and Johnie Smith took to the sky with a close and precise display.

With everyone safe on the ground it was time for the podium celebrations and it was done in true Grand Prix spirit. The pilots all assembled just off the podium and waited to hopefully be called to take their places on one of the three steps.

Eugene du Preez, Mark Hensman, Aude Lemordant, Tristan Eeles, Patrick Davidson, Aarron Deliu, Nigel Hopkins, Barrie Eeles and Organiser Roger Deare.
Winners of the Known Programme, 1st Nigel Hopkins, 2nd Aarron Deliu, 3rd Patrick Davidson
The combined scores of both the Known and Unknown programmes were as follows, 1st Aarron Deliu, 2nd Patrick Davidson and 3rd Barrie Eeles
Winners of the Freestyle Programme, 1st Aude Lamordant, 2nd Aarron Deliu, 3rd Nigel Hopkins

The overall results are 3rd Barrie Eeles, 2nd Nigel Hopkins and the Sky GP Champion is Aarron Deliu
Podium Celebrations
A young fan gets his cap autographed by the Champion

Events like this would not be possible without the dedicated work of not only the organisers but the officials that put in so much hard work behind the scenes.

Contest Director Annie Boon

Scoring Director Natalie Stark

Flight Director Cliff Lotter

Chief Judge Quinton Hawthorne (RSA)

Judges Guy Auger (FRA)

Johnie Smith (RSA)

Laszio Liszky (RSA)

Well done to all involved, hopefully, this becomes an annual event with possible international destinations in the pipeline. Judging from the enthusiasm of the crowd for this event, the return of the Virginia Airshow would be greatly welcomed.



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