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Warmbad Taildraggers 2024

By Garth Calitz

Many of us have made the annual migration north to taildraggers many times in the last 15 odd years and most will attest that it is and was always one of the most enjoyable fly-ins on the calendar.

The original home of Taildraggers was Nylstroom but sadly the airfield fell victim to the uncontrolled growth of the neighbouring squatter camp. The airfield itself has now been gobbled up by the spread of squatter huts and now has small patches of mielies growing between the shacks. But I digress...

The first Taildraggers took place in 2009 and every year since, in 2020 it was postponed to November due to the pandemic but returned to its July slot in 2021, it was actually the first aviation event after the lockdown was relaxed.

My weekend started on Friday morning, I left Gauteng early to avoid the Friday afternoon traffic on the N1. Arriving at the Airfield I was pleasantly surprised to see a good number of aircraft had already landed and many were busy setting up camp. Since 2020 fly-ins have been reduced from weekend affairs to a bunch of aircraft flying in for a quick breakfast and then heading home again, unlike the Taildraggers of old where the majority of the visitors spent the weekend at the field.

The braai fires were lit pretty early in preparation for a very festive evening at the clubhouse, braai packs were available from the bar and salads, pap and sous were supplied by the flying club.

In true Taildraggers tradition, everyone sleeping at the airfield was woken up very early with the dawn patrol getting airborne to greet the sunrise. Once the ATC tower was opened the flybys had to stop and the arrivals started, they continued throughout the morning.

SAPFA took advantage of the gathering to host the first Speed Rally of the 2024 season, sadly only ten aircraft entered. The Speed Rally format is now in its sixth season and has proven to be a great feeder for the more advanced Navigation Rally World Championships. The Protea National team has sported pilots and navigators for the last few years that started rally flying in the Speed Rallies.

The course for this rally was a 120nm route out to the west of Warmbaths, keeping away from the mountains to the north and east. The teams are allotted a handicap according to their speed which is determined by a test flight on the day before the rally, the slowest aircraft start first and if all the aircraft fly a perfect route at their handicap speed they all should cross the finish line at the same time. Sadly we do not live in a perfect world so they very seldom all arrive at the same time.

Many of the Polokwane Airshow display teams had decided to spend Friday night at Warmbaths, with the aim to leave early on Saturday morning for the short hop up north. This didn’t go quite as planned as Polokwane was IMC in the morning, the airshow crowd had to hang around and wait for the low cloud to clear before getting airborne.

At 10:30 we finally got the go-ahead from Polokwane and the airshow crowd got to take off, unfortunately, this clashed with the start times of the Speed Rally, which is very time-sensitive. With some very efficient organisation by the ATC team, the airshow pilots were slotted in. I was invited to fly to the airshow with Nigel Hopkins as he was flying in his RV-8, his Extra 330SC had picked up a snag the previous day and could not be flown. Mike George and Reyno Coetzer, who perform a beautiful Navion display decided to cancel their show at Polokwane as it was getting way too late.

On our return from Polokwane the Warmbaths Airfield was clearing out with many of the visitors leaving before the ominous weather arrived, which never did but it did look very threatening. The usual suspects waited until the tower officially closed and then went and had some fun with flying around the area, late afternoon flights have always been part of the Taildragers Fly-ins DNA.

A great weekend was ended off at the clubhouse with yet another braai and lots of good company around the many fires.

On Sunday morning the remaining aircraft slowly cleared out after some banter over a cup of coffee. Taildraggers has definitely shrugged off the Covid curse and is growing year after year and I suspect we will be back to pre-Covid numbers soon. Richard Nicholson and his team from Bela-Bela Falcons Flying Club once again outdid themselves making sure everyone had a wonderful weekend, see you all next year.

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