(Text and Pics: Guy Leitch & Garth Calitz ) Phalaborwa – Aerobatic contests are the most demanding and extreme form of FAI competition flying. It is therefore heartening to see the high standard engendered by the national Aerobatic Championships.
THANKS TO SPONSORSHIP from Ingmar Bezuidenhout, the 2021 National Aerobatics Championships were held in his hometown of Phalaborwa, in the beautifully situated but depressingly underused Phalaborwa Airport.
Phalaborwa is normally sunny and hot, but the weather turned out to be a major limitation. Some competitors arrived a few days early to practice in the new aerobatic box but the weekend weather limited flying. The first day of the competition was Wednesday 18 August and the fortunately the cloud base had lifted to the 2600 ft limit for the Intermediate, Advanced and Unlimited classes to fly their sequences.
Day 2 saw temperatures in the high 30 degrees which had the competitors sweating, but all the classes were able to fly. Then as a precursor to the weekend, low cloud returned on Friday and the start was delayed, giving some the opportunity of a quick safari to the adjacent Kruger Park.
‘A QUICK SAFARI TO KRUGER PARK’
When the clouds lifted on Friday afternoon the Advanced Class took to the skies for their third sequence, ensuring they had sufficient results to have a valid competition. Cliff Lotter, the current SAC chairman, was first up in his Yak 55, followed by Glen Warden in his Slick 360. Elton Bondi in his Extra 300 was next up followed by Andrew Blackwood Murray in his Nashua Extra 300, Jason Beamish in his Absolute Aviation Extra 330LX, Pierre du Plooy in his Ultimate Aviation Giles 202 and Kayle Wooll in his Extra 330LX completed the field.
The Unlimited class still needed to fly a third sequence to validate their competition and unfortunately, daylight waned before they could get airborne. The weather forecast didn’t look much better for the final day of the competition on the Saturday
And indeed, on Saturday morning there was again a low and solid cloud base. But by lunch the clouds started lifting. Ingmar Bezuidenhout and Competition Director Mark Hensman took off in Ingmar’s Bosbok but found the cloud base still too low and then Ian Beaton took off in his RV-7 and reported that the cloud base had lifted well above the 2600ft minimum.
The judges quickly set up their gazebos and as it was after midday they were placed next to the beautiful terminal building to face east. In the morning they were located inside the Kruger Park boundary to face west.
‘YOU WERE IN THE ZONE’
Barrie Eeles was the first of the Unlimited class to take to the now almost blue sky in his Ecko Unltd Extra 330SC. Gary Glasson in his tiny Pitts Falcon followed shortly after. Red Bull sponsored Patrick Davidson in his Game Bird GB1 was next and finally Nigel Hopkins in his Ecko Unltd Extra 330SC.
After landing from his Unlimited winning performance, Patrick Davidson said, “I’m super chuffed! It’s difficult to explain, when you land and you don’t remember what has just happened in the flight. That generally means you had a good one, that you were in the zone – I was just very, very lucky that it was my weekend and I got to win it.”
The Sportsman Class were able to enjoy the now perfect conditions, led by relative newcomer Quentin Taylor in his Extra 200. Johan van Zyl in his RV-7 was next to take to the air followed by Ingmar Bezuidenhout in his purple Yak 52. Dicky Maritz in his Decathlon was next up and the class was completed by Warren Eva in his Yak 52.
With the perfect conditions it was decided to give the RV Class another bite at the cherry, Dave Thomas in an RV-7 led the field out, followed by Thys Khun in his RV-8 and Martyn Redelinghuys in an RV-7.
The Intermediate Class then took to the sky for their Unknown sequence, Dustin Hughes was first up in the monster Yak 55 followed by the young Tristan Eeles in his Ecko Unltd sponsored Extra 330SC. Trevor Warner in an Extra 200 completed the Intermediate field.
There was unfortunately insufficient time left for the Advanced Competitors and with the shadows lengthening, the Freestyle Competitors took off. Patrick Davidson was followed by Nigel Hopkins and Barrie Eeles. When Barrie landed it was almost dark. But the competition had been a success with all classes managing to get in a result.
With stalwart Elton Bondi as Master of Ceremonies, the sponsors were roundly applauded and the prizes awarded. Special recognition was given to Ingmar Bezuidenhout and his wife Monika and Angelene Latskey were to thank them for putting together a competition under extremely difficult conditions under Covid regulations.
A total of 37 pilots took part in the Nationals, which were presided over by 7 judges, 4 of which were international judges. Aerobatics requires a large team of volunteers, notably: Contest Director Mark Hensman, Chief Judge John Gaillard, Scoring Director Natalie Stark and judges Quintin Hawthorne, Laszlo Liszkay, Helm Ludwig, Mike Stark, Johnie Smith and Cindy Weber.
Veteran Judge John Gaillard was presented a SAC Lifetime Award for his 31 years of service as Chief Judge and his unwavering support of the Sports Aerobatic Club, both locally and internationally.
The RV Class were the first to be called. Martyn Redelinghuys managed to keep Thys Khun and Dave Thomas at bay to take the honours. Martyn became the first recipient of the new RV Class Aerobatic Champions Trophy donated by Flightline Weekly.
Quentin Taylor took top honours in the Sportsman Class with an excellent 82,496%. In second place was Warren Eva and third place belonged to Dicky Maritz with a very respectable 79.658% in his portly Decathlon.
The Intermediate Class was a closely fought battle. Dustin Hughes managed to come out tops with Tristan Eeles in second and Trevor Warner in third. Only 2% separated the first and third places, proving that the class was very competitive.
As Master of Ceremonies Elton Bondi awarded himself the trophy for his win in the Advanced Class, which was by far the largest class at the Nationals this year.
Unlimited was once again an epic battle of the giants – between Patrick Davidson and Nigel Hopkins. Patrick triumphed this year. The fight for the third place did not disappoint either with Gary Glasson just managing to get the upper hand on Barrie Eeles. Gary impresses with his consistent performances in the tiny and underpowered Pitts Falcon.
The 4-minute Freestyle competition is the most spectator-friendly event at any competition, thanks to the air show feel with smoke and extreme manoeuvres. By late afternoon spectators had arrived from across the region and they were treated to spectacular flying. Nigel Hopkins showed his air show experience by winning the Freestyle for the seventh year in a row, this year by almost 10% ahead of Red Bull Air Racer Patrick Davidson, with Barrie Eeles in third.
After the pressure of competition, most of the pilots made it an early night, especially as the weather was threatening their journey home with a small window at 7:00 am to clear the escarpment. It was ten years to the day since the nearby tragic Tzaneen Albatross crash and it was a relief everyone made it safely home.