Croatia–July 2002

South Africa Brings Back The Gold

By Adrian Pilling

The National Precision Flying Team have just returned from Zagreb in Croatia and are pleased to announce that they have succeeded in bringing back the gold medal in the landing section, a magnificent accomplishment, and 4th place overall for the tournament. This is the first time that a world event has been run using the new electronic logger system. The story follows.

Deon van den Berg and Paul Barter
The Old and the New. Deon van den Berg wishing Paul Barter and the team good luck before departure from Johannesburg International

After an intensive training program lasting months, using the new electronic logger systems – developed here in South Africa, and mental training prepared by Deon Van Greunen from The Network of Training, the team felt that they were ready for the Worlds in Zagreb. The crews (Adrian Pilling – Captain & pilot, Nigel Hopkins – pilot, Barry de Groot – pilot, Jan Hanekom – pilot, Hans Schwebel – pilot, Ron Stirk – International Judge & current World Landing Champion and Paul Barter – manager) met at Johannesburg International Airport on Wednesday 3rd July, where we had a quick presentation for our new team manager Mr. Paul Barter – who had done a great job of organizing the team thus far. After the sad goodbyes and hugs we all boarded the Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt (thank you to Lufthansa for arranging special deal for the team – no other airline seeing fit to contribute).

After arrival in Frankfurt we changed terminals and then we on our way again to Graz Airport in Austria, a beautiful town situated on the border of Slovenia. The rain was pouring down and we busied ourselves with the paperwork to validate our South African Flying Licenses in Austria. This was a necessary step as we were renting Austrian airplanes for the competition. Herr Otto Bauer, a member of the Austrian Flying Team and an former World Landing Champion, met us at Graz and guided us all through the paperwork and the formalities. Everybody was most helpful. We spent many hours looking at the weather radar and after carefully checking where the current front was moving we decided to board our aircraft and head over Slovenia and into Croatia. We were airborne and flying in three rented C150’s along with other aircraft containing members of the Austrian and German Teams. The trip was uneventful if a bit interesting due to low cloud and the odd rain shower. The different fortunes of the different countries was evident as we passed over the border with the expensive Austrian houses in stark contrast to the poorer Slovenian houses.

After around an hours flying we were through Slovenian airspace and into Croatian Airspace. We landed at Zagreb where we cleared customs and then departed en mass for the competition airport of Lucko (pronounced Lucho). We arrived on the parallel grass runways and were marshaled to our parking positions. After shut down we wandered across to the main hangar in time to see Ron and Paul arriving by car – they had driven down in two separate rental cars (kindly sponsored by Imperial Rent A Car).

The rest of the team departed for the hotel to sort out the checking in, registration, etc. Adrian & Nigel stayed behind to plot a small route and get in some navigation practice before the light fades (it’s light to very late there). They each flew a route and reported to the rest of the team that the map was indeed very accurate but the country side very monotonous, with thousand of little red roofed houses and country roads to navigate around. After a great supper, and chatting to old friends again, it was off to bed.

Friday 5th

Up bright and early and off to the airfield to get to grips with flying in Croatia. Paul had purchased three training routes form the organizers and we shared this amongst ourselves. We found that the countryside was very challenging and it was clear that it was easy to make a mistake on this terrain as each valley was similar to the next – forest, fields, houses, forest, fields, houses and so on – wow this is not easy!!!! We flew navigation, all day and shared our landing slot with the French team – this way we got to have a decent landing session each. The runway was very rough but adequate for the event. At the end of the day we had a team session at the hotel, sharing our experiences and giving pointers to each other about the map. This we wrote down on a large piece of paper stuck to the wall in Paul’s room. This is something that Dean asked us to do as it improves the group knowledge Ron is quite an artist and he did a drawing each day of what was the funniest happening. After a few days the wall was full of drawings and tips – this really helped the team.

Saturday 6th

Again up bright and early and off to practice. The team really put in the practice here with each pilot doing at least two navigations and a good set of landings (again we doubled up with the French team, giving us double landing slots). We flew so much that the control tower eventually asked us to stop – we certainly were getting our money’s worth.

Back at the hotel we had a small presentation to ourselves (we were running an internal competition and each person won an award for the most improved performance in various categories: Hans – best track keeping, Barry – best landing improvement, Jan – best landing technique, Nigel – Best observation, Adrian – best timing, and Ron & Paul – special thank you cards). Hans won the Best Overall Improvement Award for the day and won the pot (we all put money into a pot and the most improved won it), and so the drinks were on Hans. We celebrated by going to town and finding a good restaurant.

Sunday 7th

South African Precision Flying Team
The Team neatly dressed for the Opening Ceremony

This was the day of the official opening ceremony. We all took the opportunity to sleep in and then off to the airport for the ceremony. After the teams marched to the standing area (each with their own drum majorette), and the dignitaries had said their bit, the air display began. As the cloud was low the air display was close to the ground and very impressive indeed. The Mig 21 was particularly impressive as was the Austrian Aerobatic Team – these boytjies were good and their formation flying world class. After the event is was back to the hotel to watch the Grand Prix. That evening was the official briefing attended by all in the hotel. A total of 17 countries had entered.

Monday 8th

This was the day of the official Landing Practice. Each team could make their four allotted landings and then that was it for the day. This we did and then back to town to find something fun to do. We found an old bowling alley, in a sports centre, we got the staff to switch it on and then played 9 pin bowling – it’s a little different to 10 pin, and there are no finger holes in the balls. We had a great time and were able to relax before the commencement of the competition the next day.

Tuesday 9th

Navigation One – this is where is all happens. The pilots walked into flight planning – each in accordance with our allotted time. The flight planning was really difficult (normally an easy exercise) with the organizers giving us long legs and high winds (23 knots) to work with! Needless to say there were many flight planning penalties at the end of all this. Ron was in charge of checking all the pilots as we came in – it was nice to see a friendly face.

The route was tough and for most of us we found the photos difficult to find (taken directly on track and from above), it took us a while to get used to this. The new loggers were working well and this new electronic system meant that the organizers were able to insert no less than 15 timed points – wow a whole new ball game.

After many protests and complaints – to do with the newlogger system – the results for the day were finally published late into the night. Nigel had done magnificently with a 2nd place for the day, Adrian 18th (battled with observation for the first part), Hans 29th, Barry 31st and Jan 40th (had flight planning penalties). The new rules meant that you kept the best two of three navigation days so today was interesting but still no picture emerging about who would be placed where on the final day.

Wednesday 10th

More of the same except that the start order was swapped around the later pilots of yesterday going earlier. The format was the same and the route took us over some seriously hilly areas. This route was very difficult, with ground markers cunningly positioned in step valleys. After all the crews returned it was off to the hotel to await the results. A similar situation to the previous day occurred. Later in the evening the results were published. It was interesting to note that Nigel and Adrian were only 19 penalties apart but due to the closeness of the competition their positions were as follows; Nigel 9th, Adrian 13th, Jan 34th, Hans 40th, Barry 44th. The winner of the day coming in with an incredible 1 photo missed and only 18 seconds out over 15 timing points – wow!

Still their was no picture emerging as the two best navigations counted. However tomorrow was the landings and we are traditionally very strong in this and so we had a real chance to make up some positions.

Thursday 11th

Official landings day. After 5 hours of delays where the organizers had to layout the landing grid three times, due to tail winds, we finally got underway. To cut a long story short by lunch time – after we had completed two of our four landings – we as a country were well in front. Nigel had got two bingo’s, Adrian a bingo and a Plus 1, Jan was up there and Hans and Barry were not far behind. Ron, who was still the reigning World Landing Champion at this time, was rooting for us in a big way. By the time the landings re commenced, using a right hand circuit now as opposed to the left hand circuit earlier, there were only four people who could win this trophy – Nigel (South Africa), Adrian (South Africa), Bats (France) and Bauer (Austria). There was all to fight for.

South African Precision Flying Team
The Team hard at “Work”

There were many comments about the South African landing technique. You could see when a South African as coming in–we were high and controlled. The rest of the world was impressed. Soon it was back to the line and the competition re commenced. Nigel Flew early and scored a Minus 1 and a Bingo. Now was the nail biting section as he was sitting with 4 penalties and the Frenchman was still to fly. Bats did a bingo and another. This gave him joint equal points with Nigel, (however the way that the score is calculated the Frenchman is positioned first – it’s not fair but these are the rules). Herr Bauer did his set but had a bad landing and was no longer in contention. Then the only person left was Adrian – depending on his performance – he could win. Adrian got airborne and his landing was a close Plus 2 and Plus 1 – very close but not quite good enough– giving Adrian the 2nd place in penalties, but because of the rules the Frenchman wins the trophy, Nigel came 2nd and Adrian 3rd. These incredible scores are all below 10 penalties – world class by any standard. We anxiously waited for the other members of our team to complete their landings. Hans and Barry did a good set and Jan did us proud – achieving 10th place overall – his first top 10 achievement in a world event. This was smashing news as this meant that South Africa won the Gold Medal in Landings – we won it out the park beating the Czech team who had more than double our penalties, and France was third. We won the coveted New Zealand Landing Trophy – only the second country to do so. This means that we have stamped our authority in the field of world landings – in the past few years we have achieved 1st place, 2nd place, 3rd place both as individuals and as countries. We really do dominate the landings now.

Friday 12th

The day of the 3rd navigation. We decided to give this a really good tonk. Nigel and Adrian went for broke, the rest of the team trying a more conservative approach. The visibility was not the greatest and the winds were blowing up to 19 knots over the mountains. To put it bluntly for us it was a disaster, many of us missed timing gates and consequently we were blown out. The notable exception was Barry who had a good day and came first out of our team for the day as well as getting himself a 21st place overall for the day.

Later that night the results for the day were released and wow – what incredible scores the locals had got – the winner of the day was Lubos Hajek (Czech Team) with a perfect observation score as well as only 8 second out for the day – this was a real eye opener for us, the former eastern block countries firmly occupying the top eight positions for the day. Oops – we will have to wait for the final day before knowing our positions (there were some protests outstanding so we did not know the final scores).

We celebrated the completion of the event and had a fun evening in the hotel.

Saturday 13th

Nigel Hopkins and Patrick Bats
Nigel Hopkins and Patrick Bats

A fun day for us as we decided to fly to the Adriatic coast and see the coastline. Barry drove back to Graz to collect his girlfriend (Sam), and Hans and Jan took the tour into Zagreb. The flight to the coast was spectacular, after passing more of the same countryside we flew over the last mountain at 4500 feet and then descended down to the Adriatic. We flew over islands for about 30 minutes eventually landing on a rough strip on the island of Unije – a perfect little jewel – comprising around 60 houses, a small harbour and 2 restaurants. We swam in the sea and walked around the village. After calamari (very fresh) we flew around the Adriatic and then back home to Zagreb.

It was whilst back there that we got the message that Barry & Sam could not get through the Slovenian border and were effectively barred from coming back for the Awards Dinner that night. We tried everything – calls back and forth to the customs officials and more – but nothing helped. Eventually we went into the final awards dinner without Barry.

At the awards dinner the results were announced, after the final protests had been heard and a few last minute corrections to the scores were processed. They were:


  • 1st Place Lubos Hajec CZE
  • 2nd Place Janusz Darocha POL
  • 3rd Place Predrag Crnko CRO
  • 4th Place Krzysztof Wieczorek POL
  • 5th Place Nigel Hopkins RSA

The rest of our positions were:–

  • 15th Place Adrian Pilling RSA
  • 32nd Place Barry de Groot RSA
  • 36th Place Hans Schwebel RSA
  • 41st Place Jan Hanekom RSA


  • 1st Place Czech Republic Lubos Hajek, Jiri Filip, Michal Filip
  • 2nd Place Poland Janusz Darocha, Krzysztof Wieczorek, Waclaw Wieczorek
  • 3rd Place Croatia Predrag Crnko, Zelimir Trifunivic, Andrej Bagar
  • 4th Place South Africa Nigel Hopkins, Adrian Pilling, Barry de Groot
  • 5th Place Austria Hubert Huber, Otto Bauer, Johann Gutmann


  • 1st Place Patrick Bats FRA
  • 2nd Place Nigel Hopkins RSA
  • 3rd Place Adrian Pilling RSA


  • 1st Place South Africa Nigel Hopkins, Adrian Pilling, Jan Hanekom
  • 2nd Place Czech Republic Lubos Hajek, Petr Opat, Michal Filip
  • 3rd Place France Patrick Bats, Joel Tremblet, Bertrand de Greef.

We had a great time and partied till late. Unfortunately Barry & Sam were still stuck in Austria. We were lucky in that the careful donation of a South Africa T–Shirt was all that was required for us to get a C172 for the morning so that we could fly to Austria and collect Barry & Sam. All was organized amongst much merry making and fun.

Sunday 14th

Our day off. Well Nigel and Adrian were airborne in the C172 and off to Graz to collect Barry & Sam. We arrived at Graz and they were waiting for us. We loaded them up onto the C172 and they flew back with Nigel to Croatia whilst Adrian, having an European passport, drove the car back. Several hours later we were all back at the hotel. The rest of the team had driven to the coast so we followed them and met up at KRK Island – one of those incredibly beautiful places you see once in a lifetime. The journey took forever as the roads are small and this is a popular area. We arrived late in the afternoon just in time to have a brief walk around one of the villages, grab a pizza and then it was back in the car for the 6 hour trip back. We stopped on the way and had a braai at one of the eating houses. We all got back into the hotel very late.

Monday 15th

Up bright and early and off to the airfield. The three aircraft flying back to Graz and Adrian and Hans (European passports – just in case) driving back, Barry and Sam departing on their own holiday trip. Within a couple of hours we were in Graz and had the planes sorted out. We had a little time to kill so we saw the aviation museum at the airfield and then it was onto the plane for the trip to Frankfurt. In Frankfurt Hans arranged for members of his family to show us around his home town. This was great and then back to the airport for the trip home.

So ends another world event.

We had a great time and all went very well. A special thanks must be said to Lufthansa for their great service and help, Imperial Rent A Car for their vehicle assistance, Brits Flying Club and many special members (you know who you are) for helping the team in their training, Imperial Bank as always, SAPFA, Deon Van Greenen and Neil Summers for their help, Midmacor for our uniforms, Flying Academy for their facilities and last but no means least the wives and girlfriends for putting up with us.

In order to raise funds – Hewlett Packard – have donated an amazing laptop that is being raffled. Thanks to them for this – please contact us at SAPFA 012–6667109 for your ticket – the draw is still two months away. A special thanks to the following who have bought more that one ticket each–Wings ‘N Things, Midrand Aircraft Maintenance and Alton Air Services. Come on guys buy a ticket and help us. Don’t forget next year is the World Rally Flying Championships in Sun City – watch us win the gold there