South African Powered Flying Association (SAPFA) hosted the South African National Landing Championships, The competition was held simultaneously in Brits in the Northwest Province and Stellenbosch in the Western Cape. In a sad twist of Irony, this is the weekend that the World Rally Flying Championship was to be held in Stellenbosch, the Covid pandemic, unfortunately, ran the plans for this prestigious competition into the dust.
A total of fifteen entries were received, splitting the competitors very much in half with eight from the Northern Region and seven taking part in Stellenbosch. Sadly Rob Jonkers and Martin Meyer could not get out of Kitty Hawk as they experienced a technical issue with their Cessna 182 and had to withdraw leaving only six participants in the Brits affair.
In the weeks leading up to the competition, there was lots of debate about how the scoring would be adjusted to allow for the vastly different conditions at the two venues. After some robust interactions, the SAPFA board decided to exclude any possible weather allowances and the two groups were to compete under the same criteria with no compensation for the vastly different weather. Everyone agreed to this and the competitions were set for Saturday 13 November.
I was fortunate enough to attend the Brits competition and conditions were not exactly ideal for a landing competition. Vastly variable wind conditions the moved through almost 180° kept the competitors guessing, for some the first landing was with a crosswind then a tailwind and then a headwind, this made things very difficult especially for the power-off landings. The temperature didn't help much either with highs reaching well into the upper 30°s, and density altitude of 7800ft. The competitors from the Southern tip of our continent seemed to be blessed with better weather, the wind varied between 4 and 9 knots straight down the runway and the temperature reached a maximum of 23°.
After a safety briefing by Competition Director, Jacques Jacobs it was time to get the show on the road. At about 10:00 the first aircraft got airborne at Brits and almost intermediately news from Cape Town reported that their competition was also underway.
The competition comprises of four landing attempts, the first is a normal powered landing and the pilot can choose his flap configuration, the second is a landing with no power the pilot has to pull the power back to idle as he crosses the abeam the Bingo line at between 1000 and 1200ft, no power may be used thereafter the flap configuration for this attempt is totally up to pilot discretion. The third landing is a power-off landing but the pilot may not use flaps. The final attempt is an obstacle landing, a two-meter high obstacle is erected across the runway at fifty meters from the Bingo line, the pilot must clear the obstacle and then land in any configuration of their choosing. Two separate sessions are judged and all the points are combined.
A landing box is set up with a line marked every meter before and after the Zero or Bingo line, landing short incurs larger penalties than landing deep, penalties are also incurred for abnormal landings and excessive bounces. Judges are set up along the length of the box to record the exact position of the landing video is used if a depute arises. A new “webcam” based video system was tried out at the Brits competition and seems very promising, with a bit of refinement, for future competitions.
After two rounds of landings in both Stellenbosch and Brits, the final scores were combined to reveal the Hans Schwebel came out on top with a very impressive 232 points, Second place belonged to Martin Venn, the top Cape pilot on the day, Martin achieved 248 points not far behind Hans. Third place was claimed by Frank Eckard, a veteran of many world rally flying competitions.
Overall the competition was a great success, considering the unorthodox format, both the Brits and the Cape Town teams had a great day and hopefully, the competition will be back to normal soon.