Vasteras, Sweden – 21 July to 6 August 2000.

South African Precision Flying Team Logo for Sweden

By Adrian Pilling

The South African Team to the World Precision Flying Championship in Sweden this year comprised of the following people:- Adrian Pilling (Captain) Nigel Hopkins Hans Schwebel Ron Stirk Barry de Groot Deon van den Berg (Team manager) Dicky Swanepoel (Judge) Frikkie Lubbe (Judge Observer). This is one of the strongest teams we have ever sent and to put it mildly, the competition was one of extremes.

The team notched up:- one blow out, one world champion, one landing double and two trophies. This is how it happened.

The team were seen off at Johannesburg International with a great farewell party. After transiting through Zurich, the team rented a mini bus and made their way to Vasteras airport about 100km north of Stockholm. The airfield is huge and is at sea level. Our accommodation is in a military compound, reserved for apprentice military mechanics – very professional indeed, and our home for two weeks.

South African Precision Flying Team 2000
The Team departing for Sweden

We got to work practicing as much as we could. The area is very difficult to navigate in, with lots of lakes and forests, it takes a lot of time to get your mind tuned into the maps, which are very accurate. Sweden was also experiencing a wet spell with floods and daily rain, and this really messed up our training schedule. We did manage to practice our landings at a nearby airfield called Johannisberg (can you believe it).

The official opening ceremony was a formal affair with a great fly past from a Viggen fighter and a perfect replica of “The Spirit Of St Louis”. There was even a flight by the only remaining Swedish WWll bomber, a B24, all very impressive stuff.

The Official Practice Navigation Day and the Official Landing Day went off without a hitch, just proving how fantastic the organisers were. Then it was an early evening in order to prepare for the competition.

Day one (Navigation task 1).

Hans Schwebel and Barry de Groot in Sweden at the info desk
Hans Schwebel and Barry de Groot with Ann-Sophie at the Info Desk

This day ended up being a disaster for our team. Adrian Pilling, who had an excellent rally up to turning point 3 (and was lying joint second at that point) had to call for radar vectoring back to Vasteras due to an incredible storm cell on his track. He was flying in solid IF with driving rain and lightning with virtually zero forward visibility and a rapidly lowering cloud base. This was incredible bad luck. He was not allowed to fly again and thus was given maximum penalties for the rest of the course.

The rest of the team also battled through bad weather with Nigel Hopkins doing the best of the South Africans followed by Hans Schwebel, Ron Stirk and Barry De Groot. By the end of the day Swedish pilot Mats Warstedt was in the lead. The bad weather affected quite a few people and the organisers had to make some serious adjustments to the results in order to compensate for the weather.

The only good that came out of Adrian’s experience is that everyone applauded his professionalism and sportsmanship – the ATC also asked permission to use the actual voice recordings in future for training.

Sweden Precision Flying Medalists

Gold, Bronze and Silver Medalists

Day two (Landing Contest)

The weather forecast was not so great so it was decided to run the landings as soon as possible, so the schedule was changed and the landings brought forward a day.

This day was “revenge day” for South Africa. The first two landings, the powered and the glide, were followed by lunch. Wow this was turning out to be a battle royal. The conditions were great for landings and as of lunch the South Africans were doing great. Adrian had scored two perfect bulls and Ron had scored a bull and a +1. This put them at first and joint second respectively. Something was happening here and everybody was wishing us good luck. Next in the SA team were Nigel, Barry and Hans. At last we were in with a chance!!!!

After lunch we strolled out to the planes and then the real battle began. The next landing was the glide without flaps. Ron came up with a +1 and so did Adrian. After the landings Ron and Adrian strolled back to the landing line to check out the rest of the field. We discovered that, we were in the front. There it was, either one of us could win this, we could be world champions – but which one?

Ron Stirk - World Landing Champion
Ron Stirk – World Champion – Landings

Ron and Adrian strolled back to the planes and nervously wished each other the best of luck. This last landing was the barrier landing, one that carried the most penalties, and usually sorts the men from the boys. Ron was the first to get airborne and when he landed he did not know his score. The rest of the team was at the line and they knew – he had scored a bull – the trophy was definitely going to South Africa, but who would be world champion. Only one person could beat Ron now and that person had just got airborne.

Adrian turned onto finals and approached the line – he touched down and also did not know what he had scored, but the team did and the entire field of pilots were thrilled at the result. As Ron and Adrian climbed out of their aircraft, they were greeted by Nigel and Hans running at full speed to congratulate them. They were jumping up and down and shouting well done. Adrian had scored +1. This meant that Ron was first with only 4 penalties. Fantastic!!! – at last we had our very own world champion. Well done and congratulations Ron, a first for South Africa.

Second place went to Adrian with 5 penalties, followed by Jakes from Czech Republic with 6 penalties and followed by Opat also from the Czech Republic. This gave South Africa the honour of being second as a country in the landings behind the Czech Republic, the results being calculated from the performance of the top three pilots in each team. Well done lads.

Day three (Navigation task 2)

This day dawned beautifully with early fog, delaying the start. The route was very carefully planned with secret checkpoints in all sorts of places that were difficult to judge. We flew over several islands and even these had secrets and targets. It was a tough course. The team did better but this did not improve the overall results by much. When the results came out our team positions for the day were, Adrian, Nigel, Barry, Ron, Hans. It was a tough navigation task and a real anti-climax after the day before.

Adrian Pilling - Sportsmanship Award
Adrian Pilling – Runner up Landings and Sportsmanship award

We had a great celebration that night and after a fantastic tour around ancient Viking settlements and a castle the following day we had probably the best closing ceremony we have ever experienced.

The announcements and awards were made:-

The new World Champion is Jiri Jakes (Chech Rep) with Mats Warstedt (Sweden) second and Janusz Darocha (Poland) third. The team results are Poland first, Sweden second and Chech Rep. third. Our placing were: Nigel Hopkins – 16th, Barry de Groot – 51st, Ron Stirk – 59th, Hans Schwebel – 61st, Adrian Pilling – 66th.

For South Africa the best was yet to come….

Ron was crowned World Precision Landing Champion 2000 – Fantastic – well done, a marvelous achievement. Adrian was awarded the Masonhall Sportmanship Award for airmanship.

It was a great event and one that we can learn from. Watch out world… We will be back.

A special thanks to our supporters and families.