by Cally Eckard

The World Air Games were held in Dubai in the first two weeks of December, and were the first to be held since Turin (Italy) in 2009. The World Air Games comprises many disciplines, and new ones are introduced each WAG as new technology, apparatus and sports appear in the aviation world.  Amongst these are various types of skydiving, aerobatics, and disciplines involving gliders, paramotors, microlights, balloons, air ships and helicopters.  The selected South African team were Frank and Cally Eckard for General Aviation (ANR), Nigel Hopkins for aerobatics and Paul Jackson for paramotors. 

The Eckard team were selected from their results in the World Rally Championships in Poland in 2014, but the discipline implemented at the WAG in Dubai is a new one, called Air Navigation Race (ANR) and this is the first time it has been used in an international competition.  For most of the teams it was therefore a brand new sport requiring a brand new set of skills.  Instead of flying along a track and crossing turnpoints, the planes are given a zigzag “corridor” on a map, and are severely penalised for infringing out of the corridor.  Only the start and finish points are timed.   The competitive section only takes about 15 mins, and navigation is on a much smaller scale than rally, and requires good communication and teamwork between pilot and navigator.  Software has been developed to enable the map and track of the plane to be seen online in real time, making it more spectator-friendly. 

The husband and wife team arrived in Dubai with the intention of learning how to run this type of competition and how to fly it on a competent level.  Day one and two were training days, and they came in last position.  With several other aerosports taking place at the same airfield, in this case the Sky Dive Dubai Desert Dropzone, there was little opportunity to learn much from the training days, but a few team discussions and adjustments to their methods gave better results on Days 1 and 2.  They made it through to the next round, and beat the Austrian team in order to reach the semi-finals, which they lost to Norway, putting them in fourth place for the navigation category. 

Asked what the navigation conditions were like compared to South Africa, Frank pointed out that they had been flying over a lot of desert, and had to judge the width and length of the corridor based solely on visual comparison to the map and the few available landmarks.  Also the maps were Russian and not current, so there were many new features on the ground that were missing on the maps, making it a very challenging but interesting exercise. 

The wind came up on the day that the Landing Competition was going to be held, and with crosswinds of 20 knots at 90⁰ to the runway, the competitors were asked if they were willing to participate, since Cessnas are only indicated for a crosswind component of 15 knots.  They all agreed to the challenge, along with the fact that the aeroplane they were going to fly was not one they had ever flown before.  All the planes made available to them had glass cockpits (digital instrumentation) which none of them were familiar with.  Every pilot gets used to his aeroplanes little idiosyncrasies, and spot-landing an unfamiliar one in such winds is not something for the faint-hearted.  Frank took off, with a plan to cope with the cross-wind conditions, and landed the plane 1 m from the Zero line.  The next landing was to be an engine-off landing, using just flaps to guide the plane to the landing spot, and Frank landed -2 m from the line.  They were then in joint first place with the German team, so a “land-off” was required to determine the first position, and Frank nailed it again -2m from the line, and the German team were forced into second place with their tail-strike landing being judged “abnormal”.

   

In an official ceremony held at Sky Dive Dubai Palm Drop Zone, Frank and Cally were awarded gold medals for the Landing Competition, and Bronze medals for third overall.  The medals were presented by the new President of the GAC, Rodney Blois from Great Britain, and by the vice-President of the Sports Committee for Dubai.

Frank and Cally are very excited to introduce the sport to South African aviators, and hope it will inject enthusiasm amongst participants of the current Precision and Rally competitions, and encourage new pilots to join. 

For more information go to the World Air Games website at https://www.wagdubai.ae/ under the Press Section you can view all the photos and videos. The opening and closing ceremonies were spectacular and worth watching.